I’m Manu and I like to call myself a software engineer (because I love solving problems).
I’m building my solo web development agency at Aceternity - where I design and develop websites for businesses. I’ve been building software for over 6 years now, ranging from mobile applications, Websites, HHT devices, and even hardware. The idea is to solve problems as creatively as possible - helping people along the way and enjoying the process myself.
The product that I love the most is Algochurn - this is what I’m going to talk about today. Algochurn helps front-end developers ace technical interview rounds. It comes with a curated list of front-end and algorithmic problems that are presented in a real-world setting (with a code editor, compiler, and preview options). The end users are people who are seeking front-end jobs. I help them prepare for front-end machine coding interview rounds.
Currently, the website hosts 800+ registered users. I don’t charge them anything, it's a completely free platform for users to come and practice. I built it for myself and then opened it for the world to experience.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started coding when I was 18 years old and haven’t stopped since then. I’m a self-taught programmer, my learnings mostly came from YouTube, Udemy, and Googling. I’ve always loved building products and web apps that potentially can impact thousands of lives.
It was early in my career that I appeared for a lot of tech interviews when I graduated from college. Sure I had basic knowledge of programming and how web development works in general (I’m more of a web person), but I was really bad at interviews.
Not because I didn’t know the concepts or the problems that were asked, but because I lacked the interview setting experience. That is when I googled and tried different platforms out there to help me with this.
Surprisingly, nothing struck. I was failing tech interviews because of lack of practice and the only thing that was available on the internet was blog posts, some generic front-end interview questions lists, and nothing to track my progress.
That is when I came up with the idea of algochurn. I wanted to have a list of popular questions asked in tech interview rounds - specifically for React because I build websites with React and wanted a job in that domain. I set out to build the platform for myself to practice - a place where I can attempt time-bound questions that are real world, with hints and resources to support my learning experience and help me when I’m stuck.
Also, I wanted to keep track of the problems that I have solved, bookmark some questions that I find interesting, and mark questions as completed when done so that I can track my progress right before a technical interview round.
With these points in mind, I started building the first version of my “side project” - which was essentially for helping myself.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
The initial version of the product was really simple - it didn’t even have a landing page. I divided the project into two parts
- Algorithmic questions
- Front-end interview questions
Algorithmic interview questions were a list of popular questions that touch almost all the commonly asked question patterns. I built out a code editor with Monaco (A popular code rendering module by Microsoft that powers VS Code).
The next challenge was to compile and execute code on the website. For that, I used Judge0 - an open-source project that compiles and executes code snippets via APIs and has support for over 40+ programming languages. I took a week to design and develop the architecture, design, and basic layout of the application.
Front-end interview questions were easier because I didn’t use any in-house editor for that. Instead, I opted for stackblitz - an online code editor for front-end frameworks and libraries. React was my choice and it was easier for me to write code on stackblitz and add it to the platform.
Along the way, I got a lot of other ideas that I incorporated into the project that make it more real-world. For example - I added solution tabs that I could quickly reference if I was not able to solve the problem. This was done to stop me from googling endless possibilities and jumping right into the code that works well.
There have been times when there was negative feedback I received on the application but I focused on making it better each day. Enjoying the process helped me stay focused.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched algochurn on Twitter and ProductHunt. It gathered a decent amount of attention and users loved the application. But before launching, I was building algochurn in public on Twitter. I used to share all the relevant information on Twitter as and when I was developing the application.
Building in public was probably the best decision for me because that helped validate my idea. I was sure that it was going to help people and provide immense value. I got instant feedback from the community and applied it as and when I saw fit. I bought a $5 digital ocean droplet and deployed it for the world to see.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Traffic from Google is one good source of organic traffic at algochurn. With the question description, the solutions, and all the other content that people are searching for, algochurn ranks decent for search engines. Another source is Reddit (I just posted a thread there on r/sideprojects about algochurn and it has been picked from there ever since)
I haven’t promoted it with anything (Google / Facebook ads) and word of mouth is all that is working for algochurn.
To increase traffic, I started writing blogs that I thought would help the users better understand interviews in general. That helped me grow a decent amount of users.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, I’m focussing on adding more questions on the platform and have a list of features that I need to implement to give the user the best experience possible. The idea is to mimic an interview setting as close to the real world as possible.
The short-term goal is to add more questions, giving the user a richer question bank that finally helps them practice more.
Long term goal is to provide courses on how to clear front-end interviews, enable mock interviews with a real interviewer, and host webinars on how to think like a programmer.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The only regret that I have is that I took 40 days to build the platform and some more time before promoting it. What I have learned is that I should launch as soon as possible (from the idea itself) and validate early on. Do not wait for the product to be perfect because it will never be. Launch and let your users tell you what they need.
Burnout is real. It can happen (and eventually happens) with everyone. The idea is to take a break and don’t take things to heart. There have been times when there were negative feedback I received on the application but I focused on making it better each day. Enjoying the process helped me stay focused.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Digital Ocean for hosting algochurn (It is a Next.js application and requires a server). The database, Serverless application, and judge0 are hosted on digital ocean droplets.
I use Twitter to promote it and occasionally write blogs about things that are important and will help the end user.
I use ConvertKit to send out emails if I have to (I generally don’t but until something is really important or it provides a good amount of value, I send it to a list of 800+ people)
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The best book that I read was The Mom Test . This book helped me to figure out how to effectively evaluate your idea and if it makes sense to work on it early on. A good read.
I also read The Almanac of Naval Ravikant and find myself re-reading it quite a lot. It is a book about Naval - an entrepreneur and his wisdom towards business and happiness in general. This book helps me keep my focus and figure out the bigger picture.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Ship fast. Don’t wait and just show the world (even if it is an idea). You don’t need a massive following to build something cool. Build because it’s cool. The process is rewarding and if you can find fun in the process, there’s nothing like it.
It doesn’t matter if your products “work” or not. You will learn something from it that will help you in the future. It only makes sense when you look back and realize it helped you.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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