Why I created and launched Roadmap, a community where makers share their projects and progress
I’m Adam, and, like many product makers, I’ve always struggled to find the time to complete my personal projects. I came to the realization that what I was missing was that sense of accountability — so I created Roadmap, a public accountability board where you can share your ideas for future and ongoing projects with an active community of product makers.
In this article, I’d like to share my experience of launching projects before they were 100% ready, making mistakes, and why you shouldn’t get too hung up on trying to be unique!
No more excuses! Making myself accountable
If you’ve ever worked on any kind of personal project, then you’ll know just how difficult it is to balance everything. Work, family, friends, hobbies... there are so many other ways to spend your time that it’s easy to “forget” about your personal project.
The more I found myself making excuses for neglecting my personal projects, the more I realized that I was missing the key ingredient that helps us follow through with our plans: accountability. I couldn’t just no-show for work or ignore a friend’s birthday, but I could drop my personal project at any time, and no one would really notice. I realized that if I could just share my plans with other people, then I’d be much more likely to make them a reality.
This realization became the driving force behind Roadmap: I wanted to create a platform where I could announce my plans to the world so that I’d be accountable for actually following through with them.
Making my idea a reality — in 7 days!
I do most of my work in PHP, and Roadmap was no exception. I also used the Bootstrap framework to help speed up the process of creating the first release because I just really wanted to get Roadmap out there as quickly as possible.
I didn't face any major technical challenges while creating Roadmap, probably because I was using technology that I was already pretty familiar with: CSS, HTML, jQuery, and, of course, PHP. It was simply a case of buckling down and pulling a few late nighters. Then, within the week, I had a version of Roadmap that I was ready to share with the world!
Launching Roadmap as its own Roadmap
The first release of Roadmap was really just a rapid prototype. But, since the whole point of Roadmap is accountability, it felt appropriate to release Roadmap as soon as it was usable — if I knew that other people could see this first release, then I’d feel accountable for actually finishing it.
I launched Roadmap at a few minutes past midnight (UTC-8) on a Thursday night/Friday morning, when Product Hunt resets — it’s a neat little trick to help ensure your project stays on the Product Hunt homepage for as close to the full 24 hours as possible.
Despite the carefully timed release, by the end of the first day, Roadmap had amassed a grand total of five upvotes. It had zero chance of making it onto the ‘Popular’ list for that day.
I didn’t let myself get too discouraged. While there’s always a part of you that secretly hopes your project is going to make a huge splash, my main motivation for launching Roadmap wasn’t to get X amount of traffic or upvotes. I’d just wanted to get Roadmap out there so that I’d feel accountable for actually completing it. Even though Roadmap was sitting right at the bottom of the Product Hunt homepage, I’d still achieved my main goal.
A few days later, I was sitting at the dining room table doing some work and I thought, “I’ll just check Google Analytics to see if anything interesting is going on,” and I saw this huge spike. I had no idea why I was suddenly getting all of this extra traffic. When I popped onto Product Hunt though, I realized that they’d chosen to feature my project a couple of days after its initial launch.
I spent the rest of that Saturday at the dining room table, responding to comments on Product Hunt and Twitter, fixing the bugs that users were flagging, watching the traffic increase in Google Analytics, and praying that my DigitalOcean stack wouldn’t crash! By the end of that day, Roadmap had around 400 upvotes — I definitely felt accountable for Roadmap now!
A complete re-code for version two
I got some really positive feedback from version one, but the same feature requests kept coming up over and over again. People wanted ‘milestone upvoting,’ which would allow you to list all of the features you planned to implement and let your users vote on what feature(s) they wanted to see first. This way, you’d be able to streamline your roadmap and make sure you weren’t wasting time on features that your users don’t want or need.
Milestone upvoting had already been on my roadmap for Roadmap, but now it was the driving force behind version two.
I’d planned version two as an upgrade that delivered milestone upvoting, but it ended up being pretty much a complete re-code. The original Roadmap code was functional, but it wasn’t the best. When I started working on version two, it quickly became clear that I’d need to re-code. It wasn’t what I’d originally planned for version two, but it did greatly improve Roadmap’s quality. Even with the complete re-code, V2 was still ready in just under three weeks.
Version two of Roadmap is out now, so you can get feedback on the features you’re planning to implement. Even if your project is in the early stages and doesn’t have a user base, you can still get some valuable feedback from Roadmap’s active community of product makers.
While I designed Roadmap as a public accountability board, there may be times when you’d prefer to keep your plans under wraps but still need a tool to help you plan your project. Maybe you’re in the very early stages and aren’t ready to share your idea with the world or developing a product for a client who doesn’t particularly want their roadmap out there in the public domain — whatever the reason, you can create private roadmaps by purchasing a Roadmap subscription.
4 things to know before starting your own project
Break your project into manageable chunks
It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so do yourself a favor and break your project down into manageable chunks. I like to create a list of tasks that I can complete within a couple of hours and then write each task on a post-it note. I can then just pick a note off the top of my ‘To Do’ pile and know exactly what I need to do next —- much less intimidating than sitting down in front of your computer and thinking, “Okay, I need to build a whole website now.”
Ask for help
Sharing your work with friends and family can give you a much-needed boost, as they’ll (hopefully) provide you with some words of encouragement. Not only that, they may also be able to help you out with certain tasks. For example, I was using an icon of a bicycle in Roadmap, so I asked some of my friends who are really into cycling, “What’s the cycling term for certain parts of the journey?” This is where I got the term “milestones” from.
Friends, family, and co-workers can also help you test your project. Some of my co-workers were kind enough to test Roadmap’s forms, and they flagged some things that I hadn’t noticed —- as the project’s creator, I was too “close” to Roadmap to properly put myself in the shoes of someone who was approaching it for the first time.
Don’t get too hung up on being unique
If you’re unsure about where to start with your project’s look and feel, then try turning to your favorite products for inspiration. While you should never copy someone else’s work, “creative borrowing” can be a great way to kickstart the creative process.
My other piece of design advice is simple: practice. I design a lot of websites and have completed a number of personal projects. They’ve all helped to improve my design skills. Plus, if I have an idea for a new project, I’ll sometimes do a quick design in Sketch — even if I have no real intention of making this idea a reality, it’s all good practice!
If in doubt, just release your project!
Finding the confidence to actually launch your project is something that all developers struggle with at some point. Even though I created the first release of Roadmap in under a week, I still had plenty of time to doubt myself. “Even if I do release this thing, will anyone want to use it? Am I just wasting my time on this?”
You just need to push through those doubts and get your project out there! Even if it doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic or upvotes, you’ll still get a confidence boost from the knowledge that you actually took the plunge and published your work.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did!
Even though Roadmap has proven more popular than I could have ever hoped for, if I could do it all again, there are definitely a couple of things that I’d do differently.
My first big mistake was launching Roadmap without an email signup form. Around 15,000 people visited my project in the first few days and I didn’t capture any of that traffic for my future projects!
My other mistake was launching Roadmap without any idea of how I might be able to monetize it. There’s a bit of a stigma about wanting to make money off of a personal project, but every project, no matter how small, requires time and effort, and may even cost you money if you need to pay for things like hosting. Monetization can simply be a way of making sure your project doesn’t leave you out of pocket.
As project makers, it’s easy to dismiss the idea of monetization (“who’s going to pay for this thing, anyway?”) but give your users a way to support your work, and you might just be surprised!
What’s on my roadmap
Roadmap is still getting a good amount of visitors, but I haven’t been able to spend as much time marketing Roadmap as I’d like. I definitely want to invest more time into promoting it in the future.