You can build it but will they come?

In all my 8 years of building software, the biggest challenge is never building the software itself. It’s to get real users to actually use it.

If a tree falls in a forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? Alternatively, if a website is published to the internet and nobody visits it, did it make a difference?

By far the easiest way to solve the ‘acquiring users’ problem is to become employeed by a company. In larger corporations, as a software engineering employee, your expected scope becomes limited to building the software, meaning that the user aquisition is the responsibility of an entirely separate department and discipline. Of course, the best software engineers are the ones who have a holistic view of the software and are able to give profound insights into how to make the product better as well.

If working for a corporation isn’t really your thing, there’s also the option to be independently contracted to build software. In other words, if someone is paying for the software you’re building, it’s highly likely that it will get some use and users.

The above examples are describing the deferral of the user acquisition problem to other people, or organizations. However, how would one solve the user acquisition problem themselves for a hobby project such as Pickr? In other words, how do you attract and retain users to come to your site, find value in it, and revisit it on their own volition?

One strategy would be to try and solve it through paid marketing. You can get more eyeballs to visit your site by running sponsored ads on social media sites, or by partnering with similar sites to drive users to your site. For a side project though, this is really not a valid approach since you likely won’t want to spend money to drive low-quality traffic to your site. It would be very cost ineffient, and also not very innovative.

A better approach, which is also marketing based, is what I would call guerilla or grass-roots marketing efforts. For example, going onto forums or sites such as reddit to post a topic that’s relevant to that subreddit or topic being discussed. Usually these efforts are free, but in my opinion can be time consuming and require lots of persistence since you may not see any results right away.

Finally, there is a third approach, which I would say should be in my realm of specialties. It is product-driven marketing. To build a product that’s so compelling and finely built that it basically sells itself. The ideal user only has to visit Pickr once until they are entirely sold on the idea, and start creating new topics and playing all the games.

For example, one of the biggest shortcomings of Pickr at the time of this writing is that it’s not SEO optimized at all, meaning that although it’s indexed by Google it’s likely to not appear in any key keyword searches. One reason for this has been that it’s been somewhat tricky to decide on a great tagline that can capture the essense of what Pickr is. Another reason is that it’s a client-side rendering React app, so there’s some technical work required as well. Another shortcoming is that the shared links are extremely non-user friendly, as they are just keyed by UUID, which is non descriptive to humans. A much better implementation would be if the links were slugged (eg. topic name “Best Cheeseburger Joints” becomes These are on my personal roadmap to be implemented in the near future.