I Launched A Profitable Side Project With $400

Daniela
Founder, CtrlAlt.CC
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I Launched A Profitable Side Project With $400

Hey! I’m Daniela and I started CtrlAlt.CC - a directory (with a twist) that helps you easily find tools that might fly under the radar, but will make your startup life a lot easier.

I started CtrlAlt.CC at the beginning of 2021 as a side project and only recently did things start to kick off & generated the first bit of revenue!

ctrlalt-cc

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

This wasn’t my first platform though. For some background - I did architecture in uni, decided it was not for me, ended up working in sales & recruitment for a while then quit and started freelancing as a designer whilst teaching myself how to code, so I could build a platform that was supposed to “solve recruitment”, had to get a cofounder as VCs didn’t want to invest otherwise.

Then after doing this for a while I shut it all down and have been running my productized design services alongside making side projects, happily bootstrapped ever since (you can read the whole story here).

But anyway, whilst consulting all these startups & working on my stuff, every time I would look for a tool for a specific task, I would end up googling & reading a lot of blog articles, to finally find what I was looking for, hours later, in a corner of the internet somewhere, where no one could ever come across it. I was always bookmarking all of these things and then one day I had so many bookmarks that I thought other people might find them helpful too!

When I decided to make them into a directory, I wanted its UX to be a core feature as I disliked how other websites out there didn’t focus enough on what the user wanted when coming to the site (i.e. to find stuff). And on the other side, between SEO and all the marketing needed to get visibility, it’s pretty hard for makers & founders to get their products found on the internet anyway - so why not make this straightforward, when a person is specifically looking for stuff in a directory! Many chats with users and iterations later and CtrlAlt.CC came to be.

It has a bit of a weird name but it’s supposed to be a play on the “Ctrl + Alt + Delete” windows command that lets you reboot an app that’s not working. So for me, Ctrl Alt CC (where CC is referring to the email term) stands for rebooting how people come across stuff.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I honestly lost track of what version this is because before I had the idea for CtrlAlt.CC I’ve built a couple of MVPs for some tangent ideas (the first one was called leadsnomore & the 2nd one was startup2startup). These helped me learn, get feedback and refine what I was doing. However, looking back at it now I think there was always just one underlying idea that connected all these things that I’ve built - they all intended to make marketing easier.

I tested a few different distribution channels for these initial product MVPs but nothing was sticking, so when I decided to make CtrlAlt.CC, it made sense to kill those projects and use that work as a foundation on that I could build this new platform.

Here is how it evolved from prototype to the site you use today:

leadsnomore + startup2startup ideas & mockups:

ctrlalt-cc

CtrlAlt.CC initial prototype:

ctrlalt-cc

Messaging & design iterations:

ctrlalt-cc

Describe the process of launching the business.

For my previous projects, my launching process was -> make an MVP, find people through some paid ads, cold emailing & LinkedIn DMs (this is how I was bringing in revenue in my recruitment and B2B sales days, so I was quite comfortable with these channels), then get the interested people to test the MVPs, get feedback & iterate. Had some good responses and some not-so-good. As expected. But nothing was clicking.

So when I started working on CtrlAlt.CC, I was reading all the blogs that I could come across trying to see if I could find a better way to reach people. Most of these blogs were just talking about “growth hacks” and contained a lot of buzzwords. But then I came across the Indie Hackers platform. I started reading articles on it for a while and then decided to add my project there to see what this community thinks about it!

My message was not clear at the beginning as I was trying to use “marketing language” that no one, even me, understood. So this “1st launch” didn’t go stellar, but it gave me my first users who got what I was trying to do, even if I was not expressing it so well! (Still so grateful for these people!)

I then got some further users from some slack channels and then I launched on Product Hunt where it was a massive flop. I didn’t have an existing audience to leverage, so my product never made it into the “featured” page and anyone got to see it.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

After this, I started doing some cold emailing, which also worked. The problem that I now had though was that all of these channels were bringing in people for only one side of my marketplace - the people who wanted to have their products displayed in the directory. I had a few users on the other side too, but not many.

It was about a year in at the time (this is when most people would say you should just kill that project and move on) but because the feedback, from everybody who knew about the site, was so positive I decided I needed to try everything that I can think of before I let this project go, even if it hasn’t produced any revenue yet.

So I switched my focus to cracking through to the “product seekers” side too. Iterated on my messaging so that it now focuses on this audience and started testing twitter a bit (it was a hard start with 0 followers!)

Then I recently started a newsletter - I thought this would bring some more value to the current users who have been patiently waiting, remind them to check out the site every once in a while, but also might transform some of them from being just on the “product makers” side to being on the “product seekers” side too.

To my surprise, it did even more! It created site traffic, people started talking about CtrlAlt.CC on Twitter, the current users started visiting the platform more often and more people started signing up for the newsletter. Everybody seems to be enjoying reading it! It’s finally working!

Daily visitors graph over the past 12 months:

ctrlalt-cc

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I am now trying to double down on the effect the newsletter has & give product makers a platform to share their stories directly so that they can connect to the CtrlAlt.CC “product seekers” even more!

I’ve also started generating tiny amounts of revenue lately, which is a massive step! Especially as this is not my main focus right now at all. My plan, for now, is to keep finding great products built by awesome people, and feature them on the site & in the newsletter, which should help increase daily site visitors as well as generate traffic for these products, along with a focus on Twitter for marketing a bit more too.

Revenue-wise, I’d like to keep most of the platform always free and generate stable revenue through purchases made by founders & makers, they can purchase a more “visible” spot for their product, on the directory page, if they want to. In exchange, this should bring more visitors to their site and should create a win-win scenario.

Long term I am hoping CtrlAlt.CC will become “the place” where people go to find a tool for any task they might need help with. I am hoping it will give founders & makers a place where they can reach an initial audience, where they can validate an idea before they build it, and where they can find their first customers.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is how to deal with failures. This also comes from my days in sales, where it was always about the laws of averages (talk to 100 people and one of them will say “yes”).

But as a former straight-A (nerd) student, I’ve always been super competitive. So looking at failures as lessons were a foreign way to address stuff for me. But with time it started making sense, because what makes you you is how you address those situations, and if you can use them to your advantage, you’ve already won as it’s all just a journey of ups and downs.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I try to use indie tools where possible, but for the site, I use wordpress & elementor mostly plus wordpress plugins. Then for my day-to-day, you can find a list here of the other tools that I use.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Anything is possible - you just need to want it hard enough and then you can make it happen! I know it sounds like one of the quotes you see on a motivational poster, but it’s true. How else are you gonna make it happen if you are scared to imagine & want to achieve that thing?

Sometimes it’s easier than others and sometimes it can take a lot out of you, but that’s also why so many people give up along the way. You have to be prepared that there are gonna be ups and downs to go through. It’s how you come out of those that make you who you are.

It’s also super important to surround yourself with supportive people! Overlooked but a huge advantage to have. It will help you make it through the tough times easier.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Daniela, Founder of CtrlAlt.CC
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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