When to KILL your side project

Shane Labs January 2, 2015 10

It’s been about a year since I decided I was going to focus hard on a specific side project – and it’s been quite a struggle. Traffic has gone up, and so has revenue – but my profit is still in the red. Looking back at the data makes me wonder, “When is it time to kill my side project?

Background

The side project I’m referring to is AmpedSense, a wordpress plugin aimed to help people split test their AdSense configurations. I had presented it at Pat Flynn’s 1 Day Business Breakthrough event and got a great response. I had a plan of action, validation from those attendees, and more motivation than I knew what to do with. It seemed like there was no way I could fail (ha!).

ampedsense-screenshot

Looking at the numbers

Let’s take a glance at the numbers over the last 12 months:

Visitors:

ampedsense-visitors

Revenue and Expenses:

ampedsense-rev-exp

Cumulative Earnings to Date:

ampedsense-profit

Despite the growth in visitors, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize I’m in the red. My site redesign was a huge expense, as was article writing. I was hoping these expenses would be investments that would be recouped by an increase in sales. It looks like they may eventually, but it’s so slow it’ll be several years before I break $1k. That’s not the kind of momentum that excites me.

Looking at the product

The plugin itself has worked solidly for me. It’s helped me double my AdSense revenue on my niche sites, which brings in about 1/2 of my steady monthly profit. But there are a few things about it that make me hesitate about it.

First, I am highly reliant on Google. With a simple product update to AdSense, my plugin could become instantly useless. For example, they could integrate split testing into their ad code directly. Or the API I use to create the ads could be deprecated. I’d be obsolete overnight. That scares the crap out of me.

Second, the API Google provides to create the ads is old. They haven’t updated it in years, and that means I can’t take advantage of their new responsive ads. With almost 40% of web traffic these days being on mobile screens, that’s a huge shortcoming.

Third, getting the plugin set up is a bit complicated. In fact, the original installation process was horrendous (you had to follow so many steps I was forced to make a video). I was able to fix this by getting it down to a much simpler 2-click process (auto-login with Google), but that didn’t affect sales at all. Regardless, AB testing is a tough concept and many people don’t easily understand the math behind it.

In short, it’s hard to be 100% behind the product.

Looking at the effort

In addition, it takes a great deal of man-hours to keep AmpedSense running.

Supporting it is almost a full-time job. WordPress is a beast. Everyone’s theme and set of possible conflicting plugins is a nightmare. I once spent 3 hours creating a custom build of the plugin for a customer that would work specifically just for his site. My time is valuable – I should have just given him a refund instead.

Making connections has been difficult. There’s simply not as much industry love as I would have hoped. I contacted many industry experts – some wanted to make their own product, some were too busy, some didn’t respond at all. I did end up forming a relationship with Spencer Haws from Niche Pursuits. I gave him a demo over Skype, and he planned to try it out on his own sites, but never followed through (or perhaps he hated it and was just being nice to me). It has been draining reaching out to these people, with no success.

Skyping with Spencer

Skyping with Spencer

Marketing was a time-sink. SEO competition for “making money with adsense” is super saturated. Reaching out to people on reddit and other forums feels spammy. I set up a free email course and have so far received 20 signups (1 actually bought), but that wasn’t enough to get the ball rolling. I would have loved to try Adwords advertising, but Google kept denying my ads since they were very particular about what I could and couldn’t say about one of their own products. I did try facebook advertising – that was $50 I’ll never get back.

AmpedSense Facebook Ad

The ad I have been running in Facebook

In short, I’m kinda not excited to work on this product anymore.

Is it time to KILL it?

Considering all the above, I see a lot of negatives. It seems evident that AmpedSense has very little potential. Does that mean that I should kill it? Maybe.

Well I am going to kill it. But I’m going to kill it for another reason: I’ve lost my passion for it. My heart simply isn’t in it anymore. It used to be, but this past year has beat me up, and I’m simply not motivated to continue to work on this particular side project.

Additionally, I have other projects I’m really excited about. HostBenchmarker has been making waves in the industry, and I’m super stoked to continue to drive it forward. There’s also a related idea I’m playing with that has huge potenial. My heart IS behind these.

How to retire your side project

Does that mean I’m going to take down the site, delete all files, and ignore my existing customers? Absolutely not.

Almost all of my side projects continue to generate income even after I stop working on them (mostly because SEO continues to build with time). Throwing all of this away would be like trashing lottery tickets without scratching them first.

But I am not going to spend any more time improving or marketing this side project. I’ve proven that this effort is a time-sink, and as a new parent I can’t justify wasting any second of my free time.

You may remember back in April I killed a previous side project – TaskShot. In that situation I did end up taking down the site. What makes this situation different? Simply that TaskShot had never generated any revenue (I didn’t even have a business model), and I was going to have to continue to pay hosting and domain registration to keep it alive. Plus since it was such a minimal prototype I had to spend a decent amount of time manually supporting users. No point in spending money or time on something I know isn’t going to give me a return.

What do you think?

Pretend you’re in my shoes. Would you give up on AmpedSense? I don’t want to be a quitter, but after considering all this I feel like I’d be an idiot to continue spending time on it and not focus on other projects that are picking up momentum.

Have you ever killed one of your side projects before? What happened? Let me know in the comments below.

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10 Comments »

  1. Kent Chow January 3, 2015 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Shane,

    It’s ok to let go a business, you can focus on bigger business opportunity.

    I let go many no traffic niche sites to get to where I am.

    Be agile, and may you have another home run 2015.

    • Shane Labs January 3, 2015 at 12:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Kent! Although it looks like a failure I’m fairly excited to move forward with a new focus. Good to hear from ya!

  2. Noel January 4, 2015 at 7:28 am - Reply

    Great article and a nice change to hearing about all the huge successes we’re all hit with on various business and startup avenues.

    It takes as much courage to bin a lost cause as it does to start a new business in the first place in my opinion.

    • Shane Labs January 4, 2015 at 7:29 am - Reply

      Isn’t there a stat about how 95% of startups fail? I’m really surprised we don’t hear more about the failures, as we can all learn from any experience. Anyway, thanks Noel!

  3. Corey Northcutt January 4, 2015 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I’ve been there as well, it seems the projects I have to kill off the most are dev-heavy like AmpedSense as well. So many hidden time-sinks there and obscured path towards translating that time into revenue with reliability.

    As a side-note, I’d actually stumbled on HostBenchmarker in my hosting marketing work and really like where you’re going with it. It’s the content you’re creating, that no one else has made spectacular yet. Stay passionate about it and I think you’ve got a ton of potential to keep making waves there.

    Cheers.

    • Shane Labs January 4, 2015 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      Hi Corey! Yeah, the dev-heavy stuff doesn’t excite me not just due to the hidden time-sinks but also since my full-time job is dev-heavy – I don’t want another maintenance job.

      Thanks for the kind words about HostBenchmarker, glad you like it!

  4. Dave January 7, 2015 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Great post! I too have had to put a few projects down. The biggest was a T-shirt company I started. Without any market research I bought $800 in product. Sold a few, got discouraged and let it slowly die in a closet for years. It always reminded me of that failure when they caught my eye.

    Finally after years of putting it off, I laid it to rest by leaving them on curbs with a ‘free’ sign. It felt really good to close that chapter of my life. Lessons were learned.

    • Shane Labs January 7, 2015 at 8:08 am - Reply

      Hey Dave! I’ve heard tshirts are a competitive market, so I’m sure you’re not alone. Hopefully you’re trying something else. Thx for sharing!

  5. Calin January 10, 2015 at 12:30 am - Reply

    I know how much it hurts to have to kill a project. In my case, it seems that every project I really love and am really interested in fails and has to be killed eventually.

    I did, a few years ago, take down around 20 niche websites and blogs that I had no time to work on which generated very low to no profit – it was my way of saying that “I’m done with it”. I often got to regret my decision: I had blogs that were years old, they had some links, they had some traffic, Google knew them and I killed them. I ended up regretting that when the PBNs started to get the attention – they could’ve been useful at least for link building. I consider it a major and stupid mistake on my side.

    So my advice: even if you stop working on a project, don’t take down the website. Maybe a few months from now, out of nowhere, you get a huge traffic spike and get a nice profit to put you in the green. Anything can happen.

    • Shane Labs January 10, 2015 at 7:31 am - Reply

      Yeah I hear ya – sometimes the SEO potential in old sites is worth the few extra bucks a year just to keep them around. Will definitely not remove anything, I’m simply not going to put forth effort or money in promoting. Thanks for the tips, Calin!

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