Creating Successful Chrome Extensions

I got the chance to chat with Chris Achard and Christian Genco on the podcast. We talked about some of my projects, including T.LY URL Shortener and Weather Extension. The episode covers how he came up with the ideas, how I developed and marketed my projects, and where I see the future of my products and Chrome extensions in general.




Hello and welcome to Makers out of episode number 70. We are joined today by guest Tim Leland. Tim is the founder of the Link shortener T.LY, which recently launched on product hunt and weather Tim, hello and welcome to Makers. Dev hey, thanks for having me. It’s good to have you. I’d love to get started with a bland, generic, boring question. Tell me about yourself. How did you get into this world of bootstrapping that seems like a very small community that not very many people find themselves too of, like, this mix of technical, like, you know how to build stuff and you also know how to sell it. What was your way into this world? Yeah, so I guess kind of goes back to graduated college, computer science degree, and then worked full time for a company working as a developer and then started building websites for local businesses around town. And then that kind of eventually led into building more of apps or websites that once I realized building one website, then selling it is a lot more work than building one website and then having multiple people sign up and pay you for it. So the more that build once, sell multiple times type of thing. So that’s kind of where I got started. And as you mentioned, the weather extension was kind of my first project that did pretty well and has done pretty well over the last six years or so. Did you find yourself building weather dashboards for multiple clients? How did that happen? No, a lot of the websites were like restaurants and just local businesses. So, like a lawn care person that wanted a website and then a few restaurants. The weather extension actually came out of just my need for quickly checking the weather. So I’d be sitting in my computer and, yeah, I could pull up my phone or I could go to or something like that. But what I realized is it would be nice if I just click an icon in my browser and it would tell me the temperature. And it also updates constantly, so at any point I can see what the current temperature is for the default location. So it was actually my own desire and then also just wanting to learn extensions because I thought they were pretty neat. I’ve started having a much deeper interest in the weather. I started flying ultralight planes. It’s called the pair motor, and it is so sensitive to weather. So I’ve got apps on my phone that are telling me hour by hour what the wind speed is and what the gust is, and I’m having to learn a lot more of it. What you did of scratching your own itch. Chris and I just came from a conference where we found out, I think it’s something like 86% of bootstrappers started by building something like that that was scratching their own niche. So, yeah, you’re in good company. It sounded like you started in consulting of making smaller websites for long term places and local businesses. Did you move from that into product size? Like you had a package of instead of a bespoke website, people could buy it on a template that you had. What was that transition? The middle step between the client work and the weather extension? Yeah, I’m trying to think back that far. So the weather extension was kind of the first one that took off and had quite a bit of users. But before that it was actually all the way back to a college project. It was going to be like Craigslist, but for selling your books. And that project I translated into building like a web app that was going to be more of like a Craigslist, but for Facebook only. So before Facebook Marketplace existed, I’m trying to think of what year that was. I built it was actually called Social Traders and really creative name there, but I built that and the whole idea was you had to log in with your Facebook login. So I don’t know if it was a unique idea, but it was before Facebook Marketplace and then Craigslist existed and tons of people used it, but you never really knew who you were dealing with. But with the Social Trader, the ideas would be you’d go and you could see who you are friends with, maybe your friends of friends, and then you would feel, okay, I know this person that knows this person. And then you just feel a little bit more comfortable meeting up with them. And around that same time, I think there were a lot of stories like Craigslist kidnappings or whatever, I grew that and actually had at least for a small website like that, I had maybe 100 people using it, and then people actually had sold and bought things on there. So that was kind of neat but sweet. Then a little bit later, Facebook released Facebook Marketplace and I kind of shut it down after that. That makes sense. Two sided Marketplace apps also are just notoriously the hardest to do that went from a Chrome extension all the way up to a two sided marketplace. Talk to me a little bit about the Chrome Marketplace topic chris and I have been talking about a lot recently is the pros and cons of building an app on a marketplace. You have like this built in marketing engine that has its own little SEO that’s much easier to game, and it’s a place where people are naturally shopping for apps. But then there’s this downside of Chrome. Tomorrow could build in their own native weather extension, or they could just shut you down for no reason. You lose some of that control. How do you think about Marketplaces for apps in the Chrome store in particular? Yeah, that’s a good question because I think I use Mac and Windows. But Windows within the last couple of updates actually released a weather widget in the toolbar. So I had some people say I no longer need the extension because they have that now that comes with when you click on it, I think you see a bunch of spammy looking news articles. So there’s some negative there. But yeah, that is very valid. There’s a lot of risk if that was your only source of income. Definitely. You may want to think about, how can I not be reliant on the Chrome Web Store? Because one day I’ve heard stories of extensions just awesome being removed from the store. No notification or messaging. It’s just somebody decided and usually they end up getting it back, but it might be a week or so. That’s always a risk. So far, I’ve had pretty good success where none of mine have been removed. Chrome over the last six years that I’ve been building extensions has changed a lot of things. They’re trying to improve more people trust extensions a little bit more. Back in the day, there were a lot of issues with extensions being taken over, and then people might sell it to somebody and then they start injecting malware into it. Yeah, you probably heard some of those stories. For the most part, I haven’t had any major issues, but it’s definitely something to consider building it in a way that somebody could potentially use your app and not rely on the extension Store. That’s where the other T.LY and then the Link shortener extension, they’re not really to use T.LY. You don’t have to use the extension. So that’s one way I kind of try to separate myself from being fully reliant on the Extension Web Store. Is there a weather extension paid for free, or does it have ads or how does that work? Yeah, so it’s free and you get most of the features for free and weather apps. Extensions are definitely a tough one because most people think of weather. They think of, I have a free app on my phone, I go to, and obviously there’s like ads and stuff on most weather sites. The way that it makes money is there is an upgrade that gives you a few extra options, like multiple locations, weather alerts, and a few other features that people have asked for over the years. So that’s the 999 upgrade lifetime deal thing. People were donating before I even had that plan, so I felt like people would pay if I added in the extra features that a lot of people were asking for. But where he makes his real money is by stealing people’s information from the browser and reselling it on the Dark Web. This is a conversation I wanted to have for a while. I have a lot of trouble with the idea of a Chrome extension because on the one hand, what a fantastic flexible you can inject it at any level of the stuff people are doing on the Internet and you do everything on the Internet. That’s your email and that’s your bank and that’s your Facebook and everything. So anything you would want to do if you want to scrape Facebook, you can do that. If you want to automate something, you can do that. As a developer, I love it. And as a user whose privacy contracts, it’s terrifying because it seems like all you need is one extension that’s like some extension that has a reason to have access to every page. Maybe if it was like it’s a weather extension, but also whatever the weather is outside, every page you go on will have that weather going on in the background. How cool is this? And then as a consequence of that, you can now change the address that someone is sending bitcoin to when they’re on Or you can get access to their email and selectively hide the emails that are coming from Coinbase saying that like, this person just submitted this transaction. What do I want to ask here? As a user, you make Chrome extensions, but I’m sure you also have them installed. How do you think about the security of making sure that a rogue extension that was sold by a wellmeaning developer to some hackers somewhere, how do you protect yourself from that? Yes, so over the years it’s gotten better. So one of the big things when you install an extension, it will always show you the permissions. So that’s an important thing to look at. And back in the day, a lot of extensions would just include access to all websites, access to all these APIs that it may or may not even use. So that’s really about definitely when you are installing extension, it’s worth looking at reviews and if you can look at the source code. So there’s an easy way. There’s actually an extension that makes it really easy to look at the source code of extensions. If you want to link it, I can send it to you later. If it’s one that I’m not sure about, I’ll look at the source code. It doesn’t really tell you everything, but at least you can kind of see what are they doing behind the scenes. It’s also a great way if you’re a developer of extensions, to look at how I wonder how they’re able to do that. And since it’s all HTML, JavaScript, CSS and extension, then it’s pretty easy to inspect and see, I guess. To answer the question, be careful when you install, make sure you look at permissions. Right now, Google Chrome are going through where they’re requiring right now. It’s manifest version two. They’re requiring all extensions by 2023 to move to a manifest version three. So there’s a couple of things that could go along with that. But one of the big things is they’re really locking down to where you only are using the permissions that you’re actually using. But also if you’re requesting access to all URLs, to be able to do what you’re talking about, like steal credit card numbers and all that type of stuff, you’re going to have a much stricter review process. So in my case I’ve pretty much removed where my extensions really are only using the bare minimal what it needs. So like the weather one, it uses your geolocation to automatically find your location. So that’s like one of them. And then I’m trying to think if there’s anything else notifications because I do show like if there’s a rain coming or whatever, it’ll do a notification, I think that’s it. And then the link shorter extension. I don’t think it even asks for any permissions because all it accesses is when you click on it, it takes the current tab URL and creates a short URL from that. But the other part of the manifest V three that’s interesting is if you are a developer and you’re wanting to get into extensions come 2023. If a lot of these old extensions that people are no longer maintaining but there’s still hundreds or thousands of users. Definitely an opportunity to get in there and say. Can I build a better version of whatever because knowing Google they’ll just deactivate hundreds of thousands of these. That’s just my guess. But it’s opportunity to go in there and build a better version of one. Maybe if it’s an extension you use and it gets deactivated, then you say, well let me go and rebuild that. And obviously you need to do it in the new manifest version, which there are some changes that go along with that. But I think they’re going the right step. They’re trying to make it more secure. I actually have an old extension that I just got an email recently. It said you’re not using this permission if you don’t update it to remove that permission, we’re going to deactivate it. So they give you a little bit of time. But in this case I have plans to move it to the new manifest version. Went in there removed because I think what I had done is I put a permission in there that I thought I would need in the future and there’s a whole story behind that too. But I never used it or haven’t used it yet. So I just removed it. And if I do come back and I need the notification permission, let’s say, then you can prompt the user when they turn on that feature to accept that notification. That’s more granular like that. So you don’t have to build it in at the beginning. Like if you change functionality, you can ask for the permission later. Yes. So there’s back, I don’t know when it was maybe 20 16, 20 17. My weather extension had grown to maybe like 100,000 users or something like that and I didn’t know this. I went to add, I think it might have been the notification permission because I was going to start showing in browser notifications for weather alerts, and if you don’t do the prompt version of requesting it, you just had a new permission, it automatically disables the extension. Oh, no. For all users, it was a big whoops. And unfortunately, a lot of those users don’t always go and reenable it, so you lose a lot of active users. So that was kind of a lesson learned there the hard way. Yeah, I’ve definitely had some extensions pop up saying like, Chrome automatically disabled this because it requested new permissions. And then when that pops up, I’m like, well, have I really used this? I’ll go ahead and uninstall it. This seems like the safer thing to do. You’ve got me thinking about this upcoming manifest. V three. Sounds like it’s going to be a cleansing of the App Store. Seems like a fantastic opportunity to either launch similar products because there’s going to be a bunch of people googling like, this thing doesn’t work anymore. How do I find whatever? And if you have a landing page, it’s like, were you a previous user of X Chrome extension? Use this instead. Or I imagine if you contact the developer of some of these extensions, like a month before and reach out and say, hey, I’m interested in buying some extensions. And just so you know, this thing’s coming up and your extension is going to get disabled. Would you be interested in selling that? This would be a fun market event to have more of those sales go through. Have you thought about that? Of being in this space and understanding the Chrome App Store really well, acquiring a portfolio of them? Yes, I have thought about it. I’ve written a few, like, I wrote a blog post, I think about it and an article. I guess my problem is I’m in the middle of updating so many of mine that I haven’t quite gotten to a point where I’m going to start looking at some other opportunities there. But yeah, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you found one that you can see when it was last updated. I’m kind of giving away all my secrets here, but you can go see when it was last updated, see how many users it has, roughly. And then often there’s an email, there contact. Just try not seem spammy because over the years I’ve gotten, I don’t know, maybe 100 offers to buy the extensions, and a lot of them are the people trying to do the malicious stuff. So just come off as legitimate. I think that would be a good idea. The URL shortener extension that I built kind of came about from what you’re talking about. I built like a web scraper that scraped the Chrome Extension Store, and I found all the most popular extensions and then kind of looked through that list and was thinking, what could be the next one to build? And I saw a Google URL shortener extension that had a million plus users. Wow. And this is about the same time that Google had announced that they were actually shutting down the URL shortener. The Goo GL. Oh, perfect. Yeah. So I tried to contact that person and never got anything back. So I just built my own. And the way I built it was it used multiple services. So it used the Google one when it was available, it used tiny RL bitly and a few other ones that I found that had APIs that were available. And I built the extension, just left it sitting out there. And that was maybe a year before Google shut down their URL shortener. And around that same time, once they did shut down that million plus Google URL shortener, that was just made by some random person, that extension just was deactivated or just removed because it no longer worked. So all of that million plus users went looking for another alternative, and mine was there as a good option that worked. And that’s something well, I can keep going on it, but that’s something that is a way to find something that you can go from zero to 10,000 users pretty quickly. And that’s kind of what happened. I went from zero to 50, 60,000 users in like a month or something. That’s great. Looking at it now, you have the Chrome Web Source has over 300,000 users, so you recovered like, a substantial percentage of the million plus users that were on the previous one. That’s great. Yeah. So that number, it goes from 300 and it’ll jump up to 400. I was at 400, and it kind of over the weekend. It’s an active count, so it’s really right at that. It’s right at 398,000 right now. But if I combine all the other browsers, it’s over 400,000. So pretty. That’s great. I’m excited about that. That’s a ridiculously huge number. Do you ever just think about, like, there are almost 400,000 people out there in the world that on their computers, they have software that I wrote. It’s like helping them to do a thing, something Chris had to talk about. Numbers on the Internet are so stupidly big and difficult to concession. Like 300 city of people that all have your thing installed. That’s so cool. Yeah. I would love to see it be a million. That’s kind of, oh, come on, enjoy the $400,000. That’s the problem though, right? You go from one number to, okay, now how am I going to get to the next? But yeah, once they hit 100,000, that was neat. 200,000, 300,000, and now 400,000. So I’m kind of looking ahead and seeing how I can continue to grow it. Maybe when you hit a million, you can finally be truly happy. Yeah. You said you use the back end or the APIs of other link shorteners. How does a link shortener work? I guess? Do you have your own set up or does it just use the API and does it go through your domain? Like, what is that sort of stack look like for that? Yes. In the beginning, before I had my own service, it just called directly out to these APIs. So, like, tiny URL, their API is kind of just open. You can build on top of it. At least for now you can. And then I think bitly I have a way for them to put in their API key. And they have like you can do so many for free or whatever, but there were a bunch of other ones that were popular, that were real good short domains. But what would happen is people would be using it and then they’d say, hey, I emailed out this link and it’s no longer working. Why it’s not working? I’m like, I don’t control the domain, I just build the extension. So what would happen is the domain would go down due to, I don’t know, multiple different reasons the certificate expired or the servers were overloaded, whatever. So at that point, when I had enough people complaining and saw the growth of the extension, I was like, I need to build my own URL shortening service. And that’s where the T.LY came from. So that’s the default for the extension. I’m still kind of undecided all these people installed it to use possibly bitly your tiny URL or the T.LY. So right now it’s open to all. I don’t know if that’s a great business move on my part, but I’m trying to figure that out and so far it’s worked. I’d rather see the million users then people get unhappy type of thing. Right, so how do you make money on this one then? Do you have free limits or something? And then it’s paid? Yes. So you can go and create a short URL and then you can use the extension and create short URLs. There is a limit. It’s pretty high, though. It’s more so just to prevent malicious people spamming and that type of thing. So to use all the extra features that T.LY offers, which is like the API access, the ability to do smart links, which are like if you want to put in one link or get one short link that then redirects to multiple different places depending on like browser and country and a few other things. And then custom domains is another big one that people want to use their own domain and that’s what T.LY allows you to do. That’s cool. I’m getting flashbacks because a long time ago, one of my job interview questions was design a link shortener. I’m rethinking about that interview. Yeah, I had to explain why or why not I would use in memory, like python objects versus memcache and stuff like that. And I still think about that interview sometimes. Anyway, yeah, that would be interesting. If I ever had that kind of question pop up, I’d be like, Well, I kind of built one, but how much time do you have? Here’s all my documentation. I love the business move of the vertical integration of, like, you were offering this service. What’s a good example. Like, you’re Henry Ford, and you’re making the cars, but the steel you’re getting is a par quality. And so you take over a steel manufacturing plant. It’s brilliant. And then with that tighter integration, also like Apple Two and the M one, and then with that integration, you can have a much better service. And because you’re so familiar with these customers and you’re so familiar with the support requests of what they need, you can come out of the gate with the best link shortener for the use case of the customers that you have that are using it. Really strong move. That’s really good. What’s the pitch of why T.LY what’s the marketing position of why someone would choose T.LY over something like Bitly or tiny URL? Yeah, it’s definitely tough to stand out because those have been around for a long time, and Bitly especially has so many features. I guess my pitch is simpler URL shortener. So the API is really easy to use. If you’re just a developer, you generate an API key. There’s documentation with examples and some of the other features, like the custom domains. When I originally created it, I think they since changed it. But at one point, to use Bitly to have a custom domain, I think the minimum plan was $1,000 a month. So they since changed that to where it’s now more competitive. But that’s where I was originally. Like, let me see if I can just do this for anybody who wants a URL shorter with their own domain and keep the cost low. And that’s what I set out to build. The other big one would be if you just want to create a short URL, if you go create one right now on Bitly, I think it comes out to I’d have to look, but maybe like 89 characters long, so it’s not really short anymore. And partly the reason is the domain is two characters longer than my domain, T.LY bitly. And they have so many short URLs, there’s only so many possible combinations, so all of those are already taken. So with Ti, you have the option or the ability to get maybe URL endings that aren’t already taken, and then also much shorter URLs than you can with some of the other services just because the domain isn’t taken over by ten years of people creating short URLs. What an interesting quirk of link shorteners in particular, that you kind of want a not very popular one because there’s more URLs available. The more popular a link shortener becomes, the harder that would be. I wonder if there’s a trick around that of, like, subdomains or something that if I have a premium account, I can have G-T-L-Y or something, and then I can start with just single digit shorteners. I’m interested in the features of Redirecting based on geography and stuff. Are you familiar with NFTs? A little bit. I’m a little skeptical in the NFC stuff, but I mean, yeah, there’s a quirk of NFTs where the thing you’re selling is just a URL pointing to an image. And it was famously this takedown of the concept of NFTs that they’re not as decentralized as they claim to be. And the author of this post posted an NFT and sold it, but he listed the image as something that changed based on where it was coming from. So depending on the marketplace where the NFC was listed, you saw a different image. I wonder if that would be like if you’re looking to expand into a very strange market, being able to change your NFC image would be uninteresting. I don’t have anything else interesting to say about that. That’s where my mind went. T you’ve got blog posts that look like they’re really high SEO. Like the titles of them are things that I would imagine people are googling. You’re going on podcasts, you’re launching on Product Hunt. Your marketing playbook seems like it’s on point. Where are you getting this from? What’s the full marketing playbook? Just following, I guess, what other people have done. The blog posts are kind of just attempt to get some SEO traffic, possibly help people out. And then the podcast thing is I listen to tons of podcasts, so I get a lot of value out of it. And then I’ve had a blog for six plus years, like a personal blog where I share a lot of stuff, and then I’m pretty active on indie hackers and those type of sites. So kind of just following that standard playbook of launch and just trying to get it out there. So a lot of people create short links, but they just kind of go to the default. So just getting the service out there and more people to become aware of it is kind of my goal. Do you know, between all the different marketing things you’re doing, what’s the most effective? I would imagine it’s probably people coming from the Chrome App Store. Yeah, so I’m not the best at tracking. I think I could improve that, but a lot of people, they come from the Chrome Store. So if you search URL shortener, my Ti service isn’t on the first page. Usually isn’t on the first page, but the URL shortener extension is. And I don’t really have an answer to that other than it’s on Google’s Domain for the Chrome Web Store. And also it’s popular with the amount of trafficking kits. So that then leads to people finding about TDI. How do you think about search optimization within the Chrome App Store? Chris and I was just talking about this with the Slack App Store that it seems like the current way to game the Slack App Store. Is just to have the title of your app have, like, a million different descriptor words in it. Is there something similar for the Chrome app store? Are there other tricks of ranking better in product marketplaces? Yeah, so I thought a lot about that. The search feature in the Chrome Web Store doesn’t always seem to be too great. Like, you could search something, and then it’s not always the best. But I don’t know. How do you normally find extensions? Do you search it in Google or you go to the Web Store and then search? I think most people search it in Google or they see it in Article, that type of thing. I think I do a Google search for the thing I’m looking for Chrome extension, and then usually that takes me to the Chrome App Store, but I guess sometimes it doesn’t. Chris, how do you find Chrome options? We talked about this a while ago, but because of the security issue, I have three extensions installed, and I never look for new ones. I have an ad blocker. This is not in your customer target? No, I’m not a video speed up thing. And one password, and that’s it. I’ve got, like, 40. It’s a problem. The tip you offered earlier, just look at the source code of each one. That would take me years. I am not about to do a code on it on 40 extensions. I’m going to get my identity stolen. Someone’s going to link back to this episode. Like, you knew this was coming, right? And yes, I did. Cool. Have you noticed anything of, like, if you change up the video that you have or, like, the screenshots or the description, do any of those matter? Do you notice any sort of an uptick in installs by changing those? Or is it so fuzzy that, like, you’re just trying to improve it, and the numbers are generally going up. So for the URL Shortener. Its name is URL Shortener. So when you Google that, that’s why I think it pops up so high versus, like, some of the other ones, it’s the brand. And then URL shortener, you can put in your description a lot of keywords, and I’ve played around with that to see if I can improve it. Some of it doesn’t seem to help. And like I said, it depends on if people are coming from Google searches or the Chrome Web Store search. And also you go look at some of the top extensions and see if there are they doing a video? Because you have the option to do video and or screenshots. So some people do videos, some don’t. It depends, I guess, on the product. But definitely, and I’m not the best at it, but screenshots, I think, are important and giving a good description. Reviews are really tough. There’s a whole story on reviews, so there’s not really an easy way to ask people for reviews. And usually people only leave reviews when it’s like they have a problem. They just mad or whatever, unfortunately. So having good reviews, trying to get your users to go give you a review is important. And the story behind that is the weather extension had a whole lot more users, and at some point, I don’t know if it was another extension or somebody was mad, they somehow spammed the extension. So it went from five star review whatever to like, one star, because this is back 2018 ish, and they did not have a great way, I guess, to prevent it. So it went from having good reviews to bad reviews. And then I tried to contact Google and be like, okay, how did I get 5001 star reviews when I didn’t even have 100 reviews before this? And they were like, yeah, there was some spammers and we removed them, but some of them, I guess, they deemed legitimate, so they kept those. I’ve been trying to get users to leave reviews to help with that. So if you do look at the weather extension, you want to leave review, that’d be great. But also, I think it’s like maybe close to three or maybe four stars. So it’s been a struggle to try to their response was you could just create a new extension and start over. There’s no way to remove them. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about of it being really difficult to be in a store like that’s. Just totally outside your control. There’s nothing you can do. Also, who’s getting that mad at a weather extension? What wrong could you have possibly done? Are they planning a birthday party and it got rained on and you said it would be funny and they’re just furious? What sort of person would do that? Yeah, I don’t know. My only thought would be it would be another competitor. There were a few weather extensions out there that they gave you the weather but also took over your search engine. So it was kind of that shady. They were getting extra ad revenue or something from searches, and when you would search, you think you search in Google search. So that’s my best guess is they were upset that I had taken over their spot. That’s just a guess, though, man. What? Scumbags. That sucks. Yeah, it bothered me for a while, and I kind of moved on from it because I’m not over it. I’ll hold that anger for you. Cool. I guess. On the topic, I’m curious, with your knowledge of Chrome extensions, if you decided if you had some sort of a tragic story where you lost your faith in humanity. It’s dark Tim Leland in an alternate universe, and he’s going to be as malicious as possible. What’s your strategy? How do you have the most malicious possible Chrome app? What are you going to do?

I think it depends on if the extension had access to all your URLs and your browsing, you could do quite a bit of stuff, like you said, what would you do? I wouldn’t do any of it. I’ll just say that hypothetically, theoretically, this is the son that we’re going to take out, by the way, Tim Leyland, terrible person who wants to take over your Chrome account. The one that I was really proud of was like, I haven’t seen anyone doing attack yet, where they’re replacing your copied crypto address. So I would target in, I would see only when you’re on Coinbase and only some of the time when you paste in an address switch it really quick, but have a whole database of addresses where the first few digits and the last few digits are the same. So put some effort into mining ones that are roughly the same and then you send the crypto and you do your whole confirmation thing. But then, haha, I got them from you and I’ll just see how long you thought about it, haven’t you? Yes, I have. I was going to say, I was just going to add that John Oliver just did a piece this weekend about data and how it’s mined by cookies and stuff like that. So I think the play is just collect all the data because they seem to make a killing on that. The data brokers. Interesting. Where do you sell? Can you just sell I was joking before about selling it on the dark web. Oh, no, it’s completely legal. You don’t have to do it on the dark web. You can sell it to data brokers and then the data brokers sell it to people like so the examples they gave were a lot of politicians want it so they know how their constituents spend money and everything, so they can get really how often they’re checking the weather. Exactly. And then they have stores. So stores want to know, for example, as soon as a couple gets pregnant, they want to spam them with all sorts of babies and stuff like that. That’s definitely true. Well, when my wife was pregnant, we’d get mail for it. So they knew based on, I guess, searches and things like that. But you made me think of the whole crypto thing. I don’t think this is possible anymore. But if you remember back to was it Coin Hive? It was one of those JavaScript mining. Are you familiar with that? So there was a time where extensions, they’d say, hey, just drop this JavaScript file. Websites would also do it, but what it would do is you would use your computer, you’d load the website and it would mine some, whatever coin in the background. So that was something that Chrome had to real quickly say, no mining bitcoin in the extension of the users because people were doing that to make money. And they do have quite a bit of stuff on, like trying to prevent people from injecting ads and that type of stuff. But yeah, I think it’s hard to make money off of an extension. What you can do, though, is build like, a service on top of it. So, like you said LastPass or one password or so many of these other ones have built services that really just the extension kind of enhances the browsing experience. So I’m not having to copy my password from the one password app is doing it for me. And people are willing to pay for that versus if it’s just an extension. They kind of expect that to be for free. So that’s something to think about if you’re building one. And that’s where the ti is a little bit better because it’s a separate service that people pay for, and then the extension just makes it easier to use. That’s a good way to mitigate the downsides. I like that encompasses several if your service is not merely its presence on the Chrome Store. So, like, Weather Extension seems like it live entirely in the Chrome Store. If Chrome decided to shut you down, you’re done versus two ly that’s a separate service? Yes, that would be a blow because it sounds like one of your biggest marketing channels of people searching it through the Chrome App Store. But that exists separately. And you can be on the Chrome App Store and you can have a Safari add on and a Firefox add on. And I was going to say a mobile app, but I guess that doesn’t totally well, no, I can see that making sense. If you had, like, a native app that hooked into the Share feature, how you can share Snippets text and then that would automatically go and shorten. I think that’s what I’m thinking about this. The more App Store games you can be playing, but treating them as just their own marketing channel, not totally depending on them. I think that’s what I’m getting. That’s how you win this game. Yeah, that’s a good point. Yeah. Try to make it to where that’s a way to get users and obviously people find value from it. But if it went away from the if weather extension, if Chrome shut it down, it would be gone. There wouldn’t really be a way to use it besides maybe like, installing it manually or something like that, which no one’s going to do. If someone could do that, they’re going to build their own link shortener. I’d love to go back to talking about how you might build a link shortener. As much as you’re comfortable sharing, I’m kind of curious how you build this. I’m getting really into serverless functions right now. If I was going to build a link shortener, I think that’s what I would reach for because my gosh, for 400,000 users. I don’t know what your server data looks like, but I imagine there are spikes, and if it goes down, that would be a big problem for Usability. How did you architect this at a infrastructure level? Yes, probably not as fancy as you would think, but so I try to keep things simple and maybe eventually I’ll move it to more of the serverless type of thing. So a lot of it’s built using Laravel, which is PHP frameworks. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that. And then MySQL database and the way to keep it aware, keep costs low and scale and stay up and all that stuff is a lot of background workers, so there’s a lot of jobs. And then for Redirects, the main thing is like caching it, so if one URL has hit a whole bunch then if you cache it and that helps a lot with the scale. I guess. So far that’s worked for me. That’s two hardest problems of computer science, right? Naming things, cache and validation and off by one errors. Yeah. Do you use like a CDN for caching or do you just do it in memory? I’m using Redis and it’s just another server and yeah. So far it’s worked well and I’ve had to scale the database as the number of links grows and the analytics stuff that has grown. But so far so Lee L has an offer where you can run it serverless. So one day that may be where I move it to just kind of scale endlessly. But so far I’ve added additional servers and things like that but I haven’t had any major issues. No nightmare scenarios of like your phone goes off at two in the morning and the whole thing is down and you got to get it back up. That happened to be at Microsoft. My database went down just in the whole morning, like getting it back up, it was terrible. The only nightmare would be just kind of not knowing enough about the whole URL shortening ecosystem stuff. So when I launched the service, put it out there, everything was going great and then one day the service went down and I didn’t know why. And I got an email from my hosting company that my server had been turned off and it was hosting malicious content. So that was like, okay, I got to figure out, figure this out. So I let them know the URL shortener and they’re like, okay, so just take care of this, you have to block this URL or whatever. And then from then on I had to build probably six months worth of automated background checks checking to see is this URL safe, and there’s a whole lot that goes on with that. So whenever you think of the whole if you were interviewed, how do you build a URL shortener? Building it is not really the hard part. It’s the other side of keeping it running and make sure you’re not blocking good links. So there’s a lot that kind of went into figuring out all that side of things. So that’s something I didn’t really know about until I started working on this project. That seems like an impossible problem. How do you filter for links that are malicious? Like you can’t do document is malicious. How do you do that? Some of it is probably pretty common. So there’s like list out there of like, these are malicious domains. So you could go off of the URL and then also the domain and then pulling in those and doing checks on it. And there are some other services out there that allow you to say, okay, give me a rating for this URL and then it returns back. I haven’t been able to find one solution that kind of just handles it because there’s still some that get through. And then you have a lot of times they’ll just email and they’ll say, hey, this URL is malicious and it’s redirecting here and building like automated stuff to pull that in so that you’re not having to automatically having to manually review all of them. And as it grows, that definitely becomes a bigger problem. Interesting, I’m also in that same vein, sort of like you have 400,000 active users. Presumably only portion of them are paying. How is support for that? That’s really freemium. You have a ton of free users. How do you handle support for that many people? So as far as the extension goes, as long as I’ve had people request new features or add different things, so that is just when I get time to work on it, I’ll add something new and put out a new release. And then for the T y service, it’s pretty much runs itself for the most part. I have some people who will email and ask questions, but it kind of amazes me. People just figure it out and they go through and they say, I guess it’s common enough. You’re creating a short, URL. They’ve done it. You put in your long URL, click shorten and then a lot of the features. That’s back to keeping it simple so that I’m not having to do a ton of support and have like a whole knowledge base or anything like that. I try to keep the feature set limited and keep it simple so people kind of figure it out as they go. And that’s worked pretty well. I don’t really get too many support emails. Okay, awesome. Yeah, I’m envious of that. I should have built a link shortener. What was I thinking? Looking forward, what’s the next few steps you’ve got? It sounds like a really good marketing channel with the Chrome App Store. That’s a game that you’re familiar with that surprises, like the manifest. Version three, you’re ready for your blog posts. It seems like you’re following a playbook that is doing well or is going to do well with SEO, like from Google, of course, you’re on your way to a million active installs on the Chrome App Store. What else? What’s next? What are you thinking about for the future?

Yes. That’s a good question. I just want to keep growing it and obviously thinking about what kind of features are people willing to pay for and adding those and then what else can you do to help people who are wanting shortened URLs? So I did start working on a feature and it’s like maybe 10% of what it could be, but I called it one links which are like LinkedIn bio type of thing. So if you’re familiar with those I think like linktree. So I built that feature. So I thought if I keep working on that, that people would be interested in signing up for the service and then adding their own domain and using it. Right now it’s real basic, it’s pretty much you could just get one link and then you can add in multiple links. Adding your social media, but I don’t have like theming. So that’s kind of something I want to see about adding more features to that. Maybe some more analytics stuff people have asked for. And then I think at some point I may look at getting a better design on the home page and start thinking more about marketing and maybe more blog posts, more content. So to continue to grow it classic developer want to think more about marketing. And the theme that you mentioned, chris and I just did theming independently I think on the same week we both made theming for each of our apps for future development of stuff we were going to do. I’m curious about who your current paying customers are. Who is the person who is paying for premium link shortening? Are these businesses, are most of your paying users coming from people who are using this link tree building feature? Why are people giving you money? That’s something I probably need to do a better job at, talk to the customers. I think that’s kind of a common problem. But I’ve seen teachers to businesses, teachers use it a lot I guess for creating short links. I guess it depends on the free users. The free users are probably a wide variety of people, anybody who’s just needed to create one offshore links. And then I do have businesses using it and they’ll use it for the print material, the QR code stuff. So I do have a little more than a basic QR code builder kind of built into the site to where you can add an image and customize colors and things like that. So people are doing QR code stuff. But yeah, really marketers are probably the biggest one. Just people who are sending out links. The API was kind of built because at my previous company we had to build something to send SMS and include links. So that was kind of where I thought, okay, which people are using it for that? So they’ll use the API and create short URLs because with SMS you have a limited number of characters. So that’s like a big use case. If you had to double MRR in three months, what would you do? What would you focus on? That’s a tough one. If I knew that I would do it. You say that, but I feel like Chris and I have known that we needed to do that. I often know the right answer and ignore it anyway. Yeah, probably more marketing because it’s like, fortunately, it’s good and bad URL shortener, depending on you could go look at some of the other ones and they have some really advanced features that I don’t even know what they really do, but for most people, if they’re just creating short links, it’s just giving them that ability and then helping them out with the custom domain stuff. So, yeah, I think maybe just if I were to spend most of the time, it probably be marketing to kind of get the word out. That would probably be where I’d focus, which I think for most developers, that’s kind of the biggest challenge. I think if every developer trying to build something, if they could also partner with somebody who’s really good at marketing. Are you aware of, like, Justin Jackson? Yeah. And him building Transistor. He’s really good at marketing. And then he paired with the developer and they had a successful podcasting hosting company. So that’s where I would probably put all my focus on marketing. Yes, that’s the dream. We all got to find our own Justin Jackson. You’re doing marketing right now, talking on a podcast. That’s pretty good. And you are in the Chrome App Store playing that game. That sounds good. And you’ve got your blog posts for people finding you. What else might you focus on for marketing? Are you doing any sort of paid ads? Is there another channel of I don’t know where people would go to look for a link shortener, like where the businesses would go that are paying for this sort of thing? What sorts of marketing things would you do to increase MRI? Yeah. So? I don’t know. I guess people have in their mind, I need a URL shortener. I think if I could figure out a set of companies and developers that are needing to shorten URLs, and when they say, hey, we could just build this ourselves, or we could just use this API, maybe right now you can use the API, but I don’t have, like, SDKs for all languages. That might be something I could focus on. And then you mentioned paid ad. So recently I’ve been feeling like I’m just wasting money, but learning about Google search ads, I actually played around with Facebook ads and Twitter ads. There’s so much there, and it’s definitely easy to spend a lot of money and not see a lot of results. So I don’t know if you have any experience with that. Right now, I’m running campaigns and trying to see if I can convert people from that are searching because that’s where I thought, okay, where are people looking? They’re probably not looking on Facebook for a URL shortener to Pay, maybe Twitter. And then I was like, they’re probably searching Google. So that’s why I went with the paid search ads and trying to figure out the best way to target people who are searching for those keywords. You asked if we had experience. I do have experience losing money on paid ads. I also have experience losing money on paid ads. It’s a game, though, that I’ve seen people just kill it. I know it works if you can unlock it. Like, Moyzova has a whole consultancy based on Facebook ads. If you can unlock it’s, tweak the right things, and have a tight enough funnel like, that can kill. Jordan Gaul had a talk at Microcomp, I think, two or three years ago about how he bought something like $5,000 in Facebook ads and turned that into something like half a million in increased arr. I know it works, and it feels very frustrating that I haven’t quite cracked, like, oh, these are the things I need to type into Google AdWords that turns this into a machine where I can put money in and get more money out. The Chrome App Store does not have paid ads, is that right? Not that no, you can advertise your extension on Google’s search, but no, they don’t have a way, I guess maybe to promote it within the extension store. I think they could definitely do that. And people would be willing to pay because there’s a lot of extensions out there that are willing to probably pay to be featured right now. It’s like a hand picked thing. It also seems like who you know, type of thing. If you know somebody I was fortunate. My weather extension was picked as Editors choice for firefox or for their mozilla store. That’s cool. Yeah. But I don’t know if I’ve ever been picked as a Chrome top one, but I know that you can go and look and see the other kind of features. I don’t know how much that helps, though. That’s really interesting because that might mean that an effective marketing tactic is figuring out who the intern is at Google, who’s picking those choices, just sending them stuff, like buying them lunch and sending them cakes and get to know whoever the people are who are making those decisions. That’s interesting. Yeah. If you could figure it out, that would be could help you out. I don’t know. This is a problem that Chris is about to start taking into on the Slack App Store. So I feel like a lot of these things are directly analogous, that marketplaces in general sort of operate under the same sort of rules. If there’s a tactic of, like, you just got to get featured, and to get featured, you got to schmooze the person who picks who the featured people are, that seems like a playbook that could be copied for every marketplace that there is. Yeah, I think doesn’t Apple allow you to pay in the App Store to be promoted recently? I think yeah, I think so. Yeah. And shopify does as well. I could see Chrome if you go look at their ads, that’s how they make most of their money. But I can see them or Google adding eventually the Chrome web store. If you look at it, I don’t know if it’s really been updated very much in ten years or so, it’s pretty much been the same. So I think if they could, you know, eventually they may come back and say, all right, let’s revamp this thing, and then make it to where you could promote your extension. I think they could make money doing it too. In the meantime, I feel like it’s advantageous to incumbents to have 400,000 installs with a really good name. That is the name people are searching for. I feel like you’re playing that game really well. It sounds like for as much as you can be marketing on the Chrome App Store, you’re doing it, you’ve got the screenshots, you’ve got a really good name, you’ve got the install, so you’re going to pop up the top that list. So that’s a healthy channel, it sounds like. Neat. What a cool business. I think this is my new example mentally, of like, a simple technical business that lets you focus on what the marketing thing is like. Bingo card creator was just fascinating to me because I was like, oh, my God, you can make money for generating bingo cards. You take a list of words, you shuffle them around, you put them in a grid, and he’s making how much money for that amazing. In the same sort of a link shortener is a crowdedish marketplace. There are known people to do this, and yet there are still businesses and people who are able to find their own niche. If you just have a unique marketing channel. I get customers from the Chrome App store. It can be a totally viable business, even though technically it may not do anything differently than Tiny Rail does, although you have the tree pages, which is interesting. But it’s really cool to me that the differentiation and software businesses doesn’t need to be that you made some crazy technical innovation with shorter links. Although you do, I guess you have links that are like, two characters shorter. I think the message I’m getting is it’s much more about the marketing and how are people finding you and how can you help people as quickly as possible when they’re looking for this with a limited attention span? Yeah, I think especially if you’re not looking for funding and you’re not kind of the direction I’m trying to go is, if you’re creating a brand new market, you have to educate people, and people don’t necessarily know they need it and all that stuff. So in this case, people. Already kind of understood what it did and it’s pretty self explanatory. So that’s definitely usually the products or ideas I usually go after are more on the simple. There’s already people doing it and making money off of it, and then, how can I just make it better, make it a little different, and then trying to figure out how to market it. Love it. Tim, thank you so much for your time. Where can people find out more about you? And more importantly, where can they go to get shorter links if they have very long URLs? Yeah, I guess to find more about me. My blog is and I post tech related stuff and then quite a bit about extensions. And then also I’m pretty active on Twitter. I don’t have a great Twitter handle, but it’s Tim Leland. And then obviously the T.LY domain is another place to go if you need to create short URLs. And feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Sounds good. We will link to all those in the show notes. I don’t have a good sign off for when we have three people. Usually I say, see you next week, but we’re not going to see you next week. Goodbye. Thank you. It was great talking to you. Yeah, it was great. I enjoyed it. You all had a lot of getting insight.