I launched Anon Friendly a week ago today! It's a site that lets you find and post jobs where you can work pseudonymously.
Here's how it went, what I learned, and what's next.
I've launched three times so far: on Twitter, Product Hunt, and Hacker News. I plan to launch many more times. If you're planning to release something, or already have, you can, and should, launch repeatedly. Anyway, here's how those launches went.
Pretty underwhelming (numbers wise). I posted a thread. It didn't get as much attention as I had hoped. As of today, it has:
That being said, some awesome people did comment or reach out in DMs to praise the idea and express support for the mission. That made me really happy. That's one of the best things about releasing something in public. You get to connect with really cool people.
I launched on Product Hunt a couple days later. I got two upvotes. One of them was mine. Alas, we persist! Later, Ryan Hoover (founder of Product Hunt) would tweet about the site. But that's not until we launched on Hacker News. And what a launch it was...
I was at home, and in a rush. My friend was moving today and I said I'd help them. But I still had one more launch I needed to do. I pulled up Hacker News on my phone and submitted a link. I titled it: "Show HN: I made a site that shows jobs where you can work pseudonymously" and pressed submit.
I refreshed Hacker News a couple times. Nothing. Yeah, this is probably going to get buried, I thought. Five minutes later, still nothing. Oh well, at least I won't have to worry about HN whilst we're moving things. I requested an Uber, put my laptop in my backpack, and got ready to head out. Three minutes later, my Uber is about to arrive. Hard to believe, I know. As I leave and walk towards the pick up point, I refresh my phone again. Hey, an upvote!
And then... a comment. And another upvote. And another comment. And a few more upvotes. Oh God. This is going to the front page. I get in the Uber. Say hi to the driver. I pull out my laptop. Thank God I brought it. And now the upvotes and comments are flooding in. This 30 minute car journey would be difficult. And not just because I'm defending my precious website against the notoriously tough HN crowd, but because I can't go on my phone in the car for a minute without feeling deathly sick, let alone respond to a flood of comments on my laptop. Still, I started replying. And before I knew it, Anon Friendly was number one on Hacker News.
When I thought about launching in general, I thought it could go one of three ways. People could:
To be fair to HN, the comments weren't as toxic as they often are. Some people were really supportive. Some offered seriously great ideas as to how we could grow in the future. Yes, many comments were low effort and cynical. But all in all I thought there was a pretty thoughtful discussion. It was lovely.
What wasn't lovely was my driver's road rage. Never have I been so close to crashing, so many times, in such a short space of time. His swerving and sudden stops only exacerbated my nausea. The uncharacteristically hot, humid, weather, was the icing on the cake. I arrived at my destination certain that I'd throw up in the middle of the street. My friend told me to come up to the apartment. I said I needed a minute. I spent the next 30 minutes sitting outside in the sun, recovering, and replying to comments. I would spend the rest of the evening checking the comments and replying. It felt good to have so many people engaging with your product and the idea behind it.
I use Plausible for site analytics. It's open-source, privacy-friendly, and super easy to use. Unfortunately, it does still get blocked by adblockers. My audience is largely technical. And I imagine at least 50 - 75% use adblockers. That being said, here's the impact that Hacker News had on the number of unique visitors to the site. Starting from day 1 of launch. Hacker News was day 4.
At the time of writing, the numbers of unique visitors on day 8 (today) are already over 400. And it's only been 12 hours! Which is promising.
As well as direct traffic from HN, it also led to some indirect traffic, too. Dan Romero tweeted about the site saying:
"This is fringe now but will become more normal over the next 5 years. Interregnum startup opportunity where you build a brand on privacy / security that verifies an anon ID but allow normie companies to hire anon with some amount of compliance."
This was really cool to see. It gave me some reassurance that this idea isn't completely terrible. There is potential here somewhere. Dan often shares lots of great ideas. On two occasions I've been in the process of building something when I'd see Dan tweet basically that exact idea. It was always equally motivational and terrifying (great, now someone else is going to build it too)! What's funny is I didn't know Dan tweeted about the site until the next day. I was just browsing through Dan's timeline to find an old idea he had tweeted about. As I was browsing, I saw his tweet about Anon Friendly. And remember that underwhelming Product Hunt launch? Well, in a reply to Dans' tweet, Ryan Hoover (founder of Product Hunt) would say "Love emergent projects like this". That was really nice to hear, too. Thanks, Ryan!
I'm assuming as a result of HN, Marcos Marino wrote an article about the site in a Spanish tech publication. I saw quite a bit of traffic from that, too! I also noticed some traffic from a post on GeekNews which seems to be the Korean equivalent of HN, though I could be wrong. That was pretty cool. I had an idea. I built it. I released it. I sparked a conversation in Korea. I love the internet.
Some other bigger accounts on Twitter found the site interesting and shared with their audiences, which was dope. If you're one of those people, thank you!
I'm happy with how the first week went. I made almost $1000 in revenue. We're therefore default alive. Hundreds of people subscribed to email updates about new job posts. That's really important. An email list lets you create value and distribute it straight to your users. And it's a powerful mechanism to get people back on the site, in a direct way. I added a small email sign up box to the site literally hours before launching. I was getting impatient and considered leaving it out but I just couldn't. I knew there was a chance that we could go somewhat viral and that we may not see those sorts of numbers again for a while. If that happened, and I didn't get a single email, I'd regret it forever. I'd go so far as to say it could even end up being the difference between failure and success for us in the long term. These things matter. God is in the details.
Another thing I did right was indexing some job posts manually, for free, prior to launch, as a way to bootstrap the marketplace and solve the cold start problem. No one wants an empty job board.
I'm happy that I managed to get my first paying customers. Paying customers are evidence (though not necessarily conclusive) that you've made something people want. Hence why I felt it was right, for this particular product, to build in monetisation from day one. I'd rather the pain of no one wanting to pay for my product, and knowing that now, over the pain of trying to monetise a year from now, and realising only then, that no one wants what I've built. The latter is far more painful. Time is precious.
As an aside, I'll never forget the first payment that we got! I was at a restaurant eating with my girlfriend. I was checking my phone periodically to make sure the site hadn't crashed (it didn't, not even once, good job me). I pulled it out and saw a Stripe notification on my lock screen. The message was hidden. I placed my face into the frame. Unlocked. You received a payment of $373! Sweeeeet.
Though the launch went pretty well, it won't lull me into a false sense of security. Yes, we made money, but the organizations who paid for those posts were also driven quite heavily by their philosophical beliefs and their desire to support the mission. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I'm eternally grateful for them. Early support is so important. I won't forget theirs. And aside from getting them as many job applicants as humanly possible, I plan to thank them further in the future, when I can. But it does mean that I still have some way to go. I won't get complacent. In fact, my urgency has only increased. I need to create even more value for customers, quickly. It has to be compelling. And it will be.
From the feedback I got, the discussions online, and from the thoughts that came as a result of my many long walks, I'm going to make some changes.
Firstly, I plan to expand the scope of the listings allowed on the site, and create a way to filter them. Currently, lots of organizations describe themselves as anon friendly. But they all have different definitions for it and offer it in varying degrees. For me, anon friendliness exists on a spectrum. At the far end of the spectrum you have the quintessential anon friendly organizations. At these places, you work pseudonymously and don't provide a single piece of information about your legal/government identity. This is the end goal for the pseudonymous economy. This is what we're working towards. On the other end of the spectrum you have organizations where you can work pseudonymously, often even in person, but for legal purposes, you need to share your legal identity, at least for onboarding, or to certain members of the organization (like finance, HR, execs). The term I've coined for these organizations is "anon friendly lite". Now, some maximalists may scorn me for even considering these organizations anon friendly at all. And prior to launching, I wasn't really sure how I felt about them myself. But now I've come to the conclusion that even though they're not fully anon friendly, it's still worth embracing and celebrating them. The current state of our laws make it extremely difficult to be fully anon friendly. Frankly, I don't know how some of these organizations are doing it! I'm trying to find out. Given how difficult it is to be fully anon friendly, and how difficult it is to run a startup or company at all, without worrying about anon friendliness, the fact that they're at least trying is something to applaud. One of the companies (with a presence in Brazil) that posted twojobs on the site, wrote this in the response to the mandatory question on the job form, "how is this job anon friendly?":
"We haven't done this before but we are excited about exploring it because we miss the early days of the internet when things were like this and we envision and are working on a future where all technology maximizes human agency. So we don't really know, but we're excited to figure it out!"
I think that's beautiful. That's what this is all about. That's one of the biggest things I learned from all the feedback online. There's many individuals that want to transition to this way of work. There's many organizations that want to, as well. They just don't know how. They don't have the tools, the knowledge, the ability. And that's why I launched anonfriendly, to accelerate the advent of the pseudonymous economy.
There are two major changes coming that will transform the very core of the product. But I'll talk more about that in an upcoming post. Sign up here so you don't miss it. One thing that I'll be focusing on a bit more this week is community. That word, "community", usually evokes a visceral reaction from me. It's usually a buzzword employed by cash-grab NFT projects. For me, it triggers alarm bells (and some eye rolling). However, this movement has so many proponents and supporters and there's nowhere for us to meet, share ideas, and plan. But there will be. And that place will be Anon Friendly.
I know there's demand for this because someone asked if we have a Discord. We didn't. So I made one. People have been joining of their own accord and we've had some thoughtful discussions there. But Discord UI just sucks so bad. Even worse, all of these important conversations quickly end up getting lost forever. Inaccessible to the outside world. Near impossible to search through. So that's why I'm thinking of opting for a traditional, early web, bitcointalk-style forum. I think that might be nice. It'll help preserve these conversations for posterity. It'll be nice for future generations to look back on them and see the early days and see the early people involved in bringing about the pseudonymous economy. Imagine if the late, great, Hal Finney had shared all his ideas on something like Discord, rather than bitcointalk. It would have been a huge loss for us all.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for any startup, if that's what this is, do we have product market fit? No, not yet. One of the best analogies that I've heard is that trying to get to product market fit is like pushing a boulder up a hill. Reaching product market fit is when you reach the top and the boulder starts rolling down the other side of the hill. The gravity of demand is so strong that you can barely keep up. You sprint down the hill in pursuit, each footstep just grazing the ground. You're more flying than running. That's product market fit. And that's not what we have. Not yet. But we'll get there.