A few weeks ago I came across a side project called Namevine while working my full time job. We were in the middle of getting social media accounts set up for a new product of ours, and Namevine helped us decide on our social media handle. Although it sounds simple, Namevine accomplishes the very helpful task of checking username availability across several social sites so you can ensure a consistent online presence. For example, it looks like MyCompany is taken on Twitter, but is MyCompanyOfficial available across all social media? Without Namevine you’d have to check countless sites many times for every possible name you’re considering – a huge time saver!
I reached out to Mike Jarema from Namevine after using his service and was stoked to hear back from him. Here are a few insights I’ve learned about his side project that I thought were worth sharing with all of you.
Mike is a sidestrapper, just like you and me. He works full time as a CTO in a Toronto-based startup, but uses his free time to develop his own projects on the side. At 33 years old, his current goal is to eventually be self-employed and live off of the projects and products that he’s personally built and launched. He claims he’s still pretty far from that goal, but that’s why he’s spending the time on Namevine and other side projects.
He’s discovered what I have as well – that the skill set we’ve built up through full time work helps us pursue our side projects, and vice-versa. A lot of the knowledge we’ve gained from side projects has directly translated into big savings for our companies and clients. Some people think that working on the side takes away from our full-time potential, but agree with Mike that they complement each other.
How did Namevine start?
Mike is an ideas person, constantly coming up with product ideas and working through the positioning and implementation in his mind. Naturally, when you’re thinking these things through, you want to give your product a name. There’s a good amount of value in grabbing a .com domain and registering the matching social media handles to set a product up for success and brand it consistently, so he’d go through the legwork of checking the availability of each when brainstorming a name. This is such a pain to do manually and takes up way too much time in the early stages of a product. So of course he whipped up some quick little tools for himself to automate the checks, and turned those minutes/hours of name brainstorming into seconds.
On the other hand, at the time he was impressed with domain search tools like Domainr and Instant Domain Search. Searching social media handles seemed like such a logical feature for those tools to implement, but at the time, they hadn’t. Mike saw an opportunity to productize the personal tools he had prepared. A couple weeks later, Namevine was born!
Mike didn’t do any traditional idea validation like running adwords, landing pages, etc. Namevine just naturally grew out of his own needs. I think its important to mention that he didn’t spend weeks and weeks building a ton of features on top of the core Namevine experience. Rather, he put something together reasonably quickly, and when it was useful enough for himself, he released it to the world.
You’ll notice that Namevine is quite snappy, and that’s a result of some additional time he later spent optimizing the backend code (another few weekends worth of effort). From start to present, Namevine is the result of 80-100 hours of work building the infrastructure and site.
How’s it going?
After a little over 2 years since its launch, Mike’s willing to share some numbers with us:
- In 2014, Namevine averaged about $275 profit per month, all from affiliate commissions (most of which was via GoDaddy sales)
- There were an average of about 3,500 user sessions per month, sessions averaged slightly over 6 minutes long and the site saw a 30% bounce rate (visitors who didn’t search at all).
- Revenue and user count numbers grow by about 5% month-over-month
A 5% monthly growth rate is pretty stellar for a side project. He attributes this to two things — the site has reasonably good retention (47% of visits each month are from repeat users). Also, there are a few high profile links which continue to drive solid traffic to the site, namely from Mashable and Quartz.
What’s great about this side project is that maintenance is a breeze. Mike doesn’t spend more than an hour or two per month making adjustments or updates to the site. Sometimes social networks change their APIs or site structure so that Namevine’s checks start reporting inconsistent results, and he have to make changes in those cases. Beyond that, the site just works (and consistently brings in revenue!)
Every so often Namevine gets some coverage and he sees a spike in user metrics. The most recent of which was when it was mentioned on Reddit. In those cases, he always puts aside some time to be present in the conversation and answer questions people have about the site.
Where are his struggles?
Namevine makes money by referring sales to domain registrars for which it receives affiliate commissions. This is a challenge because its a “black-box” and he doesn’t have many insights into the sales process beyond the number of clicks he refers and the number of sales which are made. Also, many affiliate programs attribute commissions to the affiliate which refers the last click. In many cases this ends up being coupon sites like RetailMeNot and FatWallet. Frankly he expects that he’s losing something like 25% of sales commissions to those sites, but that’s just a guess.
In order to combat this, he’s done two things:
1) He’s tried to increase the number of referrals Namevine makes. The most prominent example of this is the initial popup on Namevine.com where you’re asked for your preferred domain registrar. It’s somewhat annoying — he’s not going to argue against that — but the truth is that it nearly doubled the referral commissions overnight without affecting important user metrics, so he viewed it as a win for the site. It’s also indirectly a win for Namevine’s users: putting up with that initial popup is a small price to pay for a free tool and it helps him justify spending more time working on the site.
2) He’s added coupon codes to Namevine’s referral links. This is mainly an effort to provide some value to users so that they don’t have to go searching for a code elsewhere when they’re purchasing a domain. He doesn’t have any concrete numbers on how this has impacted Namevine’s revenue, but he believes it’s a win overall.
Mike’s side project stood out to me because we both have the same challenges in referring users to purchase an online presence. My side project HostBenchmarker attempts to encourage people to change to a better web host, while Namevine encourages you to register a domain. I can attest to the fact that it’s difficult to get the referral. I have similar stats that show how often people are being redirected through my affiliate links, but once they leave I have no idea why they didn’t follow through with the purchase (or if they did, but I didn’t get credit for it).
Since we both struggle with similar issues, I’m not sure I can offer much help, but here are a couple ideas to try to increase his side project earnings:
- Consider ranking the domain name suggestions by popularity. I notice a ton of domain suggestions that take the existing search query and add a keyword to it. My guess is that some of these keywords get clicked on more than others. If he has stats on which are more popular, try sorting those at the top and they may increase overall referrals
- Consider linking the domain name suggestions directly to registrar. When I clicked on a domain in the suggestions list, I was assuming it was going to refer me to register it, but instead it performs a namevine search. Try testing setting those links to be the affiliate links.
- Consider creating an info product. All your users are interested it setting up their social media, so what do they want to do immediately after it’s set up? Answer: Get followers! What if you created a PDF that walked them through step by step how to get followers. Something like “The 7 sure-fire steps that will get you from 0 to 5,000 followers within 10 days.” Sell it for a couple bucks.
- Consider other affiliate programs besides domain names. What else are people that are searching for social media handles interested in? Services that help them utilize Twitter and Facebook better? Something to help them manage their Twitter advertising? Think about these kind of services (Buffer and HootSuite come to mind), and see if they offer affiliate programs.
Let me know if you end up trying any of these ideas – am hoping one of them provides at least a little bump for ya!
I want to personally thank Mike for sharing his experience with us. It’s easiest for me to learn through examples, and having real stories like this helps me improve as a side project developer. Thank you!
If you are interested in giving Namevine a try, go here: http://namevine.com
Did you have any other suggestions for Mike? Let us know in the comments what you think of his service!
PS – This post is the third of the “Sidestrapper Profile” series where I interview successful (or struggling!) side project creators to see how they’re doing. I’m always looking for side projects to examine, let me know if you’re interested in being featured.