Have you ever looked at a successful founder and thought, “Wow, they must have just gotten lucky”? It’s easy to assume that someone had overnight success, but the truth is often much different. It’s also easy to use this as an excuse why you won’t build your own project. In fact, most builders and makers have many failed projects before they finally hit on the one that takes off.
These failures are often the result of years of hard work and determination, and they are just as important as the success that eventually follows. This post is inspired by Pieter Levels’ tweet on how only 4 out of hit 70+ projects ever made money, and 95% of everything he made failed.
Unfortunately, many people only see the end result and miss the years of struggle and failure that went into it. This can be discouraging, especially for those who are just starting out on their own building or making a journey. But the truth is that failure is an important part of the process, and it’s something that every successful builder or maker has experienced.
This blog post will cover the past 10+ years of my past projects. Some are still around, but most have been shut down. I’ll explore why embracing failure and learning from it is important. I’ll share why it’s important for builders to persevere through years of failure before finally achieving success. Whether you’re a seasoned builder or maker or just starting out, I hope this post will inspire you to keep pushing forward, even when things get tough.
Custom Websites for Local Businesses 2012
After finishing college, I ventured out to start a side business building small websites for local businesses around town. This was my first attempt to make extra money from my web development skills. I found a few businesses that needed their sites updated or didn’t even have a site. My plan was to charge them $20 a month for hosting and $400 to get the site up and running.
But after finishing just five sites, I realized I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Making a significant profit would take building thousands of websites from scratch, and it would take ages! Despite the challenges, it was a fantastic learning curve, and I even still manage a few of those sites today.
Adivize 2013 (Shutdown)
Adivize was going to be a company that sold digital billboards inside the business. So think Tvs inside a business that would display ads for other companies. The plan was to use large flat-screen TVs and Raspberry Pi’s to manage an inventory of digital signage.
We got as far as doing a pilot in a local restaurant. The technology worked well, but doing sales was going to be a challenge. It was a chicken and egg problem, and convincing businesses to let us put digital billboards in their business was problematic.
Read Later Browser Extension 2014 (Active)
Read Later was my initial experience with building Chrome extensions. This experience taught me a wealth of knowledge and led to my first project, Weather Extension, which actually gained traction. To date, this extension still has more than 2,000 users. My ultimate goal for this project was to build a competitive alternative to Pocket.
Social Traders 2014 (Shutdown)
My plan for SocialTraders was to build an alternative to Craiglist that required a Facebook login. This removed the anonymous aspect of Craiglist because you could see if you had a connection with the seller/buyer before making a deal.
I was able to get people to use the site, and some people actually sold items. After 6 months after launching SocialTraders, Facebook launched its marketplace, and I decided to shut it down.
Tim Leland Blog 2014 (Active)
Back in 2014, I decided to start this blog. I was lucky that my first post went viral and was featured in Wired magazine. It definitely motivated me to keep posting all these years. I think everyone should have a blog and post regularly. It’s always great to hear from readers, and it’s a place to share all the projects I am working on.
Weather Extension was my first project that really took off. I was fortunate that Lifehacker shared the extension, which quickly grew to hundreds of thousands of users. To date, millions of people have installed and used the extension.
My first big win was a project called Weather Extension. This was a simple extension that gave people updates about the weather. I was pretty lucky when Lifehacker, a well-known tech blog, found my project and shared it. This helped a lot, and hundreds of thousands of people started using my extension.
Lifehacker’s shout-out was a game-changer. They have a lot of traffic who are always looking for cool new tools. So when they shared my Weather Extension, lots of people started using it. It was awesome to see so many people using something I made.
The best part is that it didn’t stop there. More and more people kept finding out about the Weather Extension and using it. Now, millions of people have installed and used it. That’s a huge number, and it feels really cool to know that something I made is helping so many people.
MilkDrunk 2015 (Shutdown)
Right after we had our first baby, my wife was looking for an app to track feedings, diapers, and sleep. There were a few apps, but none worked the way she wanted. I built this and actually had a decent amount of users. I didn’t charge anything and eventually shut it down.
Review Booster 2016 (Shutdown)
Review Booster was an app I built for some guys I worked with. They wanted to start a company that helped the business increase its online reviews. The app would contact customers and ask for a review on Google, Yelp, etc. It never took off, but it was a fun project.
iOwnIt 2016 (Shutdown)
iOwnIt was an app where users could create profiles and list products they owned and used. The goal was to make money from affiliate links to places like Amazon. Several other companies exist in the space, and I decided to shut it down after not much traction.
GrubPress 2017 (Shutdown)
GrubPress was a site to manage restaurant online menus. I actually used it on several of the sites I manage. My plan was to charge and eventually add online ordering. I shut it down when I realized restaurant owners weren’t searching for this tool.
Step Tracker Browser Extension 2017 (Active)
I went on a spree where I created tons of random extensions in 2017. This was also when I was into tracking steps using a FitBit. This was a fun extension, and I used it throughout the day. Currently, there are over 2,000 users still using this extension.
Link Shortener Extension 2017 (Active)
The idea of the Link Shortener Extension was a testament to the adage that every failure is a stepping stone to success. Besides Weather Extension, most of my past projects were not successful. This led me to slow down and find a new project that might actually gain traction. I came up with the idea to create a tool that would catalog every extension in the Chrome web store, effectively providing an exhaustive index of available tools.
This approach revealed several of popular extensions that, fortunately for me, had been neglected by their original developers. Among these overlooked gems, one particular need stood out – a Google link-shortening tool extension. The Link Shortener Extension concept was born from all my failures, embodying the lessons learned from previous shortcomings and aiming to fulfill a need that had been largely ignored when Google decided to shut down its URL shortener. To date, URL Shortener extension has had millions of installs and currently has over 450,000 active users.
Link Unshortener 2017 (Active)
In addition to developing the Link Shortener tool, I also created a complementary website that serves the opposite function: unshortening shortened URLs. My ultimate goal was to establish these tools as the topology authority in the field of link shortening, and Link Unshortener has played a pivotal role in this pursuit. Thanks to its ease of use, it has become one of the most popular tools for expanding shortened links.
T.LY URL Shortener 2019 (Active)
T.LY URL Shortener, launched in 2019, was designed to simplify long URLs into more manageable, shareable links. The rationale behind its creation was to help users, particularly those involved in digital marketing, social media, and other online communications, easily share links without having to worry about character limits or overwhelming their audiences with lengthy URLs.
Besides being a simple-to-use URL Shortener, T.LY also offered features such as analytics, allowing users to track click-through rates and other metrics. The creation of T.LY was a response to the fact that long URLs still exist and short URLs are still needed for many applications. To date, over 15 million short links have been created, and hundreds of millions of redirects have been tracked. T.LY is the first SaaS product that really took off and has allowed me to shift all my focus to growing it.
WeatherTab 2018 (Active)
WeatherTab replaces your new tab page with the weather and search! WeatherTab shows a weather-related photo and the current forecast for your location. You can manually set the location by searching. You can also choose between Fahrenheit or Celsius.
AtomicQuote 2021 (Active)
AtomicQuote was my first venture into the realm of programmatic SEO. The objective was to create a website with millions of dynamically generated pages drawn from a massive dataset of quotes. Given my appreciation for quotes, the idea of building a quote-sharing platform seemed fitting.
The sited turned out visually appealing, similar to Pinterst’s design, and serves as a practical tool for sharing inspiring and thought-provoking quotes. However, despite its potential, I have run into the issue of getting all its pages indexed by Google, resulting in low search traffic than I initially envisioned.
LinkShield 2023 (Active)
In the AI-dominated era of 2023, my drive to mitigate the threat of malicious URLs for T.LY prompted the creation of a novel Software as a Service (SaaS) offering – an API specifically designed to discern between safe and malicious, or phishing, URLs. This platform, though in its infancy, is brimming with potential. Presently, it forms the protective backbone of T.LY, successfully curbing the prevalence of malicious links.
This post is a brief story of the history of the projects and apps I’ve built over the years. I want to highlight how important it is not to give up when things go wrong but instead, learn from these bumps in the road. For over 10 years, I’ve worked on many random projects. Some of these turned out well, while others didn’t. I left out all my countless ideas that never turned into actual code. Random bad ideas are part of the process too.
Looking back on all these projects, there’s one thing I keep learning: keep making, keep trying. Each project, whether it’s a hit or miss, teaches you something new. These lessons pile up over time and help you improve; eventually, you’ll succeed.
Every person who’s good at making or building things has had their fair share of failures. These failures aren’t just mistakes. They are steps towards doing better next time. They show how much effort and hard work goes into each win.
In the end, all these experiences do more than create a product or service. They shape you as a person. Each try, whether it works or not, helps you improve, see things from different angles, and understand your work better. This makes you a better builder, ready to take on new challenges and find success.
Thanks for reading. Make sure you follow me on Twitter to stay up to date on the progress of my side projects T.LY, Weather Extension, and Link Shortener Extension. If you are interested in the tech I use daily, check out my uses page.