What I learned working 6 weeks on a shitty side project

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

About a month ago, I started working on Unfluence! It was going to be the perfect side project. In fact, Here is a list of things why it was going to be a perfect side project.

  1. The idea was inspired by a book.
  2. It solved a real problem I had.
  3. It was an anti amazon and anti dark patterns idea which is a hip subject these days.
  4. It contributed towards making people more rational. And if that is not the ultimate philosophical goal of humanity, I don’t know what is.
  5. I even made a low tech explainer video like the Dropbox guys.

Before we go further, let me explain Unfluence real short here. Unfluence is a chrome extension that removes the recommended products and sponsored product panes whenever you are on a product details page on amazon. It also removes the strike through prices and “limited stock”, “today’s special deal” kinda things from the search page. Basically this:

and this:

You can also watch this youtube video if you are really interested in how it works.(but are you?)

Now that you know what unfluence is, you can probably guess why I haven’t reaped billions of dollars from it.

I had a very modest goal of getting a thousand downloads for the extension. A nice number I can put on my resume or LinkedIn or better yet, twitter. I had a pretty straight forward path towards the goal. And as we all know once you make a plan, nothing can ever go wrong. Ever!(After all I interviewed for a growth hacker role multiple times. I, of course know all about getting them app installs. The fact that I didn’t get any growth job is an entirely separate topic).

Here was the plan:

  1. Get ~ 50 downloads from friends and family.(Share on facebook, message download link to people) Get their feedback. Improve the product.
  2. Post on some subreddits get another 150 downloads. Again, get feedback. Improve.
  3. Post on ProductHunt and wait for it to go viral.
  4. Profit!!!!!

So, what happened to the grand growth hacking plan?

Well, I couldn’t even get 15 downloads even after posting multiple times on my facebook feed, whatsapp status, and personally messaging around 100 people.

I got a lot of replies like“Nice!”, “Cool”, “Will try this”, “Glad that you are working on something” and worst of all “Interesting” . For those of you who don’t know “Interesting” as a reply to a project is polite for “This is stupidest piece of shit idea I’ve ever heard”.

Most important, I did not get even a single “Hell Yeah!”. No one “really” wanted the product. There was not even a single fan of the product.

After some conversations about unfluence with people who clearly know more about products and people than I do. I came to realize all the things that were wrong with unfluence.

  1. People like to know they got a great deal: Here was my initial pitch for Unfluence. Suppose you can buy two shoes. One priced at 500 Rs. Other Priced at 1000 Rs but with a limited period 50% discount. Most people will go for the second pair even if the first is an objectively better shoe. Unfluence was made to eliminate this “discount” variable and help make a rational decision. Turns out people like to be fooled by the discount. People are more happy knowing they got a 50% discount even if they end up with an objectively worse product.
  2. Unfluence was solving a non-problem that was hard to explain: While talking to people about Unfluence, I had a very hard time explaining what exactly the extension is for. After reading the description above, you probably still don’t know why I made the extension in the first place. If your solution is hard to explain, you probably are not solving a real problem. You could say, selling Unfluence, not in my Influence . (😜 ba dum tssss)

Alas, I will also have to abandon my goal of making humanity rational and resort to exploiting the irrationality in people like all of the consumer tech industry.

Jokes aside(yes, the last sentence was supposed to be a joke), Working on Unfluence, I did learn that just because you have read about some “mistake to avoid” doesn’t mean you will actually avoid the mistake. “Make painkiller not vitamin”, “tap into human irrationality” there are common startup advice these days and I have read many blogs that talk about these things. But that did not help me evaluate my own idea better.

In any case, I got this blog post out of the project so it was not complete waste of time I guess. If you want to be the first to know about my current side project, leave your email id below. I promise the current project is actually useful and will make your video calls much better.

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