October 2020 - What I learned building blogstorm.io

This is the story of my first attempt at the 12 Startups in 12 Months challenge.

For a bit of context, I've been writing software since my early teens but I've still got a lot to learn about marketing and running a business. I've also got a full-time job, 3 kids and a wife which constrains me to working only a few hours each day on my side projects.

It's really challenging.

What was the idea?

The idea behind blogstorm.io came from a friend. It was a pitched to me as:

Product Hunt for blog titles

The idea is that authors submit blog titles and short descriptions of what they're going to write about. Members vote and comment on the titles to provide feedback to the authors.

Each author has thier own profile page and when they publish a post the subscribers get notified about it.

My goal for the first month of development was to build a working prototype and see if there's any interest in it.

What went right?

I got some stuff done and shipped it!

Only having a month to build something from scratch is really motivating.

I've built similar websites before at my day job but even knowing how to do all the things, I was still surprised how much boilerplate was involved getting a project like this off the ground.

It was totally worth it though, I've now got a much better foundation for starting new projects that I can build upon over time.

A working prototype (kinda)

To be honest, I didn't finish as much as I'd planned by the end of the month but I did complete enough to have some meaningful conversations.

The feedback I got was pretty consistent. The bloggers I talked too told me that they don't usually share their blog post ideas with others unless it's someone they trust. To decide what ideas to write about they focus on targeting SEO keywords.

I struggled a lot to reconcile just sharing blog post ideas without allowing people to also share the published posts. So I tried to pivot the idea slightly to allow sharing of published blog posts as well.

Lots of new ideas

One of the more surprising side effects of working on this project is the amount of new ideas I added to my Trello board.

In hindsight, it makes sense that ideas start to flow when you're in battle facing the day to day problems of actually working on something.

But I think it's more than that. It's also about being in the right mindset. I've spent the last 10 months learning how to look for problems, recognize markets and see opportunities. This, coupled with working on real world problems seems to be the key ingredient to creating ideas.

What went wrong?

No distribution or launch strategy

I'll admit, my distribution strategy was really weak. The site got some visitors simply by being part of 12xstartup.com and a tiny few from Twitter.

But overall, I really had no solid plan on how to reach bloggers that might be interested.

As a result, aside from a few close friends, nobody signed up.

Struggling to connect with the idea

I really wanted to make this idea work. I think the idea has a lot of potential and I was hoping it would motivate me to become a better blogger.

But the truth is, blogging is not my strong suit. This idea might work for someone else, but it's not a good founder fit for me.

Failing to find a market first

Some lessons can be taught and others need to be learned the hard way.

At first it was fun to start building the project but as the days rolled on I couldn't shake the feeling that I hadn't validated the idea.

Honestly, I don't regret spending a month on it because I've now got a much better idea what I can achieve in a single month. A lot of it can be reused in the next project and I'm learning.

See you in November!