How Marc Köhlbrugge uses side projects to test new tech

Published on
February 24th, 2022
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In August, Marc Köhlbrugge launched #buildinpublic, a website that makes it easy to see what other makers are tweeting as they build their products in public.
Marc is the maker behind a number of products that support founders and help startups grow, like BetaList, Startup Jobs, and WIP. He’s known in the tech community for building “really great and useful tools” like Push More and Tweet Photo (acquired), and for flexing his wit and creativity with products like Caption Cat.
After Marc launched #buildinpublic, the powerful kitties that be bestowed Marc with a $5,000 Maker Grant for his work. Now, we’ve learned more about the maker behind these launches and you can too through this interview.

You’ve launched a lot of projects! But #buildinpublic is the one that secured your Maker Grant. Tell me more about how and why you built it?

Building in public is a great way to get early feedback, keep yourself motivated, and build your network. It’s also extremely helpful for others as it shows them what’s possible and hopefully inspires them to start building as well.
It’s been exciting to see more and more people build in public. What surprised me is that the #buildinpublic community is a lot bigger than just people building startups. The hashtag is being used for all kinds of creative pursuits like illustrating, drawing, and even learning.
Of course, I can hardly claim credit for any of this as people were building in public long before I launched the site, but I do hope it has built and continues to build more awareness for the movement.
Besides learning that the community is much more diverse than I thought, I learned a lot of new technologies. One of the reasons I like building side projects like these, is that they give me a blank canvas to work with. They enable me to freely try out new technologies, without having to worry it’s going to kill my existing business.
For example, for #buildinpublic I decided to give Tailwind CSS a try. It’s a new way of writing CSS which seemed really appealing to me. Converting my existing websites to Tailwind CSS seemed to big of a gamble, but with #buildinpublic I got a chance to try it. If I didn’t like it, I would have just abandoned the project or converted the handful of pages I had designed. That would have been a lot harder to do on a bigger site like Startup Jobs.
Turns out I love Tailwind CSS and it’s something I plan on switching to for my existing sites as well. Same for Hotwire.

Love how much better the UI for #buildinpublic is compared to hashtags on Twitter. Have you thought about applying this concept to any other hashtags?

Thank you. Yes, providing a better interface was the driving force behind the site. Technically you can already browse a specific hashtag on Twitter, but it’s far from ideal. The goal with #buildinpublic was to provide a better alternative and make tweeting with the #buildinpublic hashtag more valuable for you and your followers.
I have considered applying this concept to other hashtags. In fact, quite a few people have suggested I’d turn it into a SaaS where anyone can create something similar for any given hashtag.
That said, I’m not sure it’s something I want to pursue. I built #buildinpublic because I believed it was something that should exist plus it would be a great way for me to experiment with some new technologies (more on that later). But I don’t see a clear business model for it or any other hashtags for that matter. So while I want to continue to grow #buildinpublic itself, there’s no clear incentive to pursue other hashtags as well. From a return-on-investment perspective, that time is better spent on my other businesses.

What has been your own experience with building in public? What have you learned or gained from doing so?

Building in public has been a major contributor to the success I’ve enjoyed so far. It’s been a great way to get feedback early in process, allowing me to avoid costly mistakes and build something my customers actually want.
It’s just too risky to spend months on something without getting any outside input. Building in public changes that as anyone can follow along and it becomes easier to get others involved while you still have the freedom to change course.
It’s also been a great motivator for me personally. Part of what drives me is the interaction between what I’ve made and the people that use it. While people might not be able to “use” a mock-up for example, getting their feedback on it also motivates me to keep going.
Finally, it’s been a great way to market myself. By merely sharing my process, I’m implicitly also marketing the product I’m working on.

Twenty-four launches!

What have been some of your favorites?

Wow, I didn’t even realize it’s been 24, haha. I didn’t even formally launch each project!
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but in terms of the actual launch, 😁.to’s launch was really exciting. Back in 2017 I discovered that the .to domain extension allowed emoji in the name. Being curious which ones were still available, I wrote a script to iterate through every option. I registered the best ones but there will many available so I put those on a site and launched it on Product Hunt.
Within about a day literally hundreds of emoji domains were purchased basically selling out the vast majority of available emoji domains.
It was a lot of fun to see which domains people registered and what kind of websites they put up. I wrote more about it here:

What have been your most frustrating, disappointing, or hardest to work on?

My more recent product named PAY.GAME was rather hard to ship and ultimately didn’t get as much traction as I hoped.
It was my first blockchain-based website, so I had to learn a ton of new technologies including Soldity (programming language), React (Javascript framework), a bunch of different Javascript libraries, Adobe After Effects (for some of the artwork), and a bunch more.
It was really rewarding to learn all that, but in hindsight, I bit off more than I could chew and it took a lot longer to ship this side project (about two months in total, although by no means full-time). Part of what made it difficult is that once something is deployed to the blockchain you can’t really deploy any fixes. Any bugs are there forever.
When I finally did ship it, I posted in on Product Hunt but didn’t get a ton of traction. My products normally do quite well, but I think I posted late in the day and I got a feeling not everyone is as much into web3 as I’d like to think.
(Editors note: Check out our recently updated Launch Guide for tips on when to post!)
So while the launch generated quite a bit of traffic and revenue (~$2,000 USD in Ether) it didn’t fulfill my expectations and from a purely financial perspective; it hit about break-even.
That said, I did learn a lot and these types of projects can suddenly get a burst in attention at a later time when an influential person picks it up.

You founded BetaList, a community of makers and early adopters showcasing their startups and exchanging feedback. What has it taught you about community? About sending/sharing feedback?

In terms of community, I learned the best way to build your network is to be the one facilitating a community. Before I started BetaList, I didn’t know anyone in the startup space and nobody knew me. But the moment I launched BetaList I started to connect with tons of people in the space. Founders would come to me asking for feedback, I got an excuse to reach out to more experienced founders, I started making introductions between people who could help each other, etc. Although it wasn’t my intent, I quickly learned that being the one that facilitates a community tends to become really well connected themselves.
As for asking for feedback, it’s important to clarify what exactly you want feedback on, what not, and give the other person a sense of how direct they can be. That way you don’t waste each other’s time and you get exactly what you need.
Also be sure to follow up once you implemented the feedback. People will appreciate it, and will feel a sense of ownership in your success.

Highscore Money, PAY.GAME, and Expensive Chat feel like art as much as fun products. Do you think of them in that way?

Yes, for sure. Even though they are all about money in some way, they make relatively little money compared to my real businesses.
The reason I create them is because I just come with these random ideas and I’m curious what would happen if I actually execute them.

You’ve written on your blog that you believe in building with the products you know. What are some of your other philosophies about makership?

Hah, yes I believe in using the tools you’re familiar with. But then again I also like to try out new tools when building side projects.
I guess the underlying philosophy there is to use whatever you’re comfortable with and allows you to ship fast, but still find opportunities to experiment with new technologies. Just be conscious about what you’re doing. Learning a new tool is fun and might end up being a great investment. If you want to build a business, there’s a lot more to learn besides tools — understanding what your customers want or how to reach them,or example.
Something else I believe is that you don’t need to grow your business at all costs. If you really enjoy using new tools for example, just go for it. If you hate doing sales, maybe don’t do sales. It’s okay. It’s your business. Run it however you want it.
There’s a hundred different things I could do to grow my businesses, but I care much more about spending my time on things I enjoy and growing the business in a way that is aligned with my values. It has worked out pretty well so far.

Can you talk a little bit about how you spend and prioritize your time?

I basically work on whatever I feel like working. My schedule is almost completely empty by design. I hardly plan any calls and try to do any communication over email. It isn’t always the most effective, but it means I can do what I feel like doing in the moment. That’s something I value a lot and worked hard to achieve.

What’s next for #buildinpublic? What are you working on now?

For #buildinpublic, I’m exploring using machine learning to extract trending topics and group tweets by those topics. It’s another example of me using the site as an excuse to learn a new tool which I might later apply to one of my other sites.
Apart from that, I’m focused on growing Startup Jobs’ revenue. The last couple of months revenue has grown a lot and I feel like there’s a big opportunity to accelerate that.The last few weeks I’ve been laying the groundwork for that. Refactoring some stale code to get it ready for faster product iterations in the near future.
I also continue to build out WIP and for BetaList we’re exploring some new sponsorship models (Might still need to do some calls for this haha).
Comments (4)
Yakubu Yusuf Tambaya
I like Marc because he does want to be doing
Rich Taylor
Nice article. Thanks Sarah and Marc 🙏🏻
Michael Eatonn
Michael Eatonn
The opinion of the local community is no less important than the opinion of experts for the safe functioning of the entire infrastructure of space objects They came to ORBEX Space, and try to participate in events in which they seek to convey information about the benefits that their activities bear.
Aadil Mclean
Marc Köhlbrugge is a technology entrepreneur who often uses side projects to test new technologies. He uses these projects to experiment with new ideas, tools, and frameworks, and to learn about new technologies in a low-risk environment. By working on these side projects, he can gain a deeper understanding of the technology, as well as identify any potential challenges or limitations, further, you can Read Full Article to solve remaining queries. One way he uses side projects is to test new technologies in a specific industry or area of interest. For example, he might start a side project to explore the possibilities of a new programming language in the context of a specific application, such as building a mobile app or a website.