My Journey to the First $ 9.99 with My Side Project

Passive income with Chrome extensions

Note: This article was originally published on April 4th, 2022 on Medium, and I'm now sharing it on this blog. Although things have evolved since I wrote it, I've decided to keep it unchanged to highlight my personal journey.

When it comes to product development, there is a simple rule that I always follow:

Build something 100 people love, not something 1 million people kind of like. — Paul Graham

With that in mind, I realized that I reached 1 % of that goal right after I launched the first version of my Web Highlights Chrome Extension. I loved my extension. That is why I developed it. It gave me confidence that there must be people searching for the same practical extension. One that enables you to save text and bookmarks on the web more efficiently. Medium inspired me with its text-highlighter. I wanted to create one that works similarly but on every website.

Just Do It

If you’re not embarrassed by your first release, you’ve launched too late.— Yevgeniy Brikman

The biggest hurdle to take is to launch your product. The problem is that many developers continue developing their side projects for years. They spent hours creating a product without ever publishing it. Why? Because despite dreaming about making money through their product, the real potential of launching a product nobody likes is far scarier than developing a product nobody's heard of.

We can be truly successful only at something we’re willing to fail at. If we’re unwilling to fail, then we’re unwilling to succeed. — Mark Manson

So ask yourself: What could happen? It might be that nobody will notice your product. Or maybe, users will not like your product and get rid of it again. You might also receive negative reviews. So what?

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. — Yevgeniy Brikman

I remember when I first launched my Web Highlights Chrome Extension in November 2019. After one month, I have had four users - Me, my brother, my mum, and a friend. Two months later, I have had eight users - Me, my brother, my mum, and five friends. My brother used to be (and still is) a "bug-hunter" and always sent me screenshots to fix stuff and my friends were more or less using it to do me a favor. But, I remember the day on March 12th, 2020 - The first unknown user signed up. I couldn't be happier!

After a year, I was a proud developer of an extension with 123 active users. Meanwhile, there are 2703 active users (Update from November 2022: 6590 active users). This is still not an overwhelming amount. But much more important to me is that many users love the application as much as I do.

Do Things That Don't Scale

Tim Cook doesn’t send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can’t. But you can. — Yevgeniy Brikman

When you are small, you have one significant advantage: You can do things manually that don't scale but will be highly recognized by your users. One possible option is to focus on outstanding customer service. Mostly big companies have set our standards for customer service. You can stand out from these standards and make an extraordinary effort not just to acquire users but also to make them happy.

Once you realize that existing conventions are not the upper bound on user experience, it’s interesting in a very pleasant way to think about how far you could go to delight your users. — Paul Graham

With an excellent relationship with your users, you will be forgiven for many bugs in your application. For example, a user gave me a 1-star review in the Chrome Web Store because of a bug. I quickly responded to him and offered to fix the bug as soon as possible. Luckily, I was able to fix the bug on the same day. What happened? The user changed his review to a 5-star review:

Doing things that don't scale can help in many areas of product development — for example, marketing. A fascinating story is Pinterest. They used to go to Apple stores in their early days and set all the browsers to the Pinterest homepage. They are probably not doing it anymore, but they were successful with it. Airbnb rented a $ 5.000 camera and went door to door, taking professional pictures of as many New York listings as possible. And, Wufoo sent each new user a hand-written thank you note.

There are several stories of companies doing things that don't scale to acquire their first customers. Get inspired by reading more stories on and set your product uniquely apart from competitors.

Validate Your Product Design

A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good. — Yevgeniy Brikman

Unfortunately, when you are a programmer, you know so much about your software that you think of it completely different from the users. We often can not remember what it was like not to know every detail of the program — this is called the curse of knowledge.

[…] the curse of knowledge, a cognitive effect beautifully demonstrated by a Stanford study: When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself — tap out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head. Meanwhile, the listeners can’t hear that tune — all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code. — Yevgeniy Brikman

So, how can we validate our product design? The easiest way is to let others use your product without explaining anything. Ask your mother, father, or, even better, grandma to use your product. It is crucial to only observe without helping. Your product design should be fine if they can navigate your application successfully.

The number-one goal of all computer users is to not feel stupid. — Yevgeniy Brikman

Over time, I realized that my extension was sometimes terrible regarding product design. The only problem: I was not aware of it.

My extension offers to create folders and subfolders. You can create subfolders by dragging a folder onto another folder and deleting folders by dragging them onto a bin icon. At some point, I realized that many users didn't get that.

To realize those problems earlier, getting as much feedback as possible from your users is necessary. Make sure that users can contact you quickly by revealing any contact channel. That might be a contact email address or even a live chat functionality on your website.

I took action and added a simple Google Forms page, which opens every time a user uninstalls the extension. That enables me to reveal the problems and wishes of users earlier. Furthermore, I implemented a guided tutorial that navigates through most of the functionality for freshly signed-up users to ensure all functionality is evident to everyone.

Offer One-Time Payments

In 2021, I made users pay a one-time payment of $ 9.99 if they wanted to store more than 50 highlights. It was a tough decision, and I wondered if any user would spend money to use my extension. I consciously decided to offer a "pay once, use forever" payment option to decrease barriers to paying the amount. I think everyone hates abonnements, and I wanted to provide a fair price to use my extension forever.

In July 2021, I received the first payment. It is not that much, but it meant the world to me. I am still so so far from making a living from my extension. But, that is real passive income. Every single confirmation email of receiving $ 9.99 puts a smile on my face. And I am very excited about where the road is going in the following years.

Talk About Your Product

For me, talking about my product and making it public was, at the same time, one of the most important and also the most difficult. When I first launched the Web Highlights Chrome Extension in the Chrome Web Store, I couldn't be sure if people would like the extension as much as I do. I asked a few friends if they could test the extension, but I had the feeling they were not wholly convinced of it. Afterward, I know that that's because they were not actively looking for an extension that enables you to highlight the web.

Any product or application exists to solve a specific problem. Users who love my extension were looking for a solution to organize their web research efficiently. My extension solves their problem.

Still, you should never be shy about your product. Talk about it whenever and wherever possible. Actually, that is why I started writing articles on Medium. Here is my very first Medium article:

Frankly speaking, I am writing this article right now to get more users to love my extension. But, I hope everyone else is also getting some value out of it and can apply my learnings. Eventually, I realized that writing technical articles is something I like. If someone had told me two years ago that I am writing blog articles on Medium, I would have thought they were crazy. So why don't you try it as well?

Start blogging about your application, talk to colleagues, and ask for opinions. Don't be shy.

Final Thoughts

I hope my side-project journey to the first $ 9.99 can finally motivate you to publish your side project. Launching your product is the very first step towards an exciting future. Remember that you can only succeed if you are willing to fail. So, don't worry too much. After all, it's only a side project. Take advantage of being small and do things that don't scale. That will differentiate you from big competitors. Validate your product design to ensure users understand all of your functionality. And finally, don't be shy. Talk and write publicly about your product. That will give more people the benefit of enjoying your product.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I am always happy to answer questions, and I am open to criticism. Feel free to contact me at any time 😊

Follow me not to miss my next articles. I write about Typescript, Web Components, Frontend Frameworks, Software Design Patterns, Chrome Extensions, and many more topics! 🙏

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