What I learned from selling a side project online

What I learned from selling a side project online

What happened?

In 2014, I made a simple website and Chrome extension that let users save recipes online. It was extremely basic and initially started out as a project where I could learn basic authentication with services like PassportJS. Over time, I continuously improved it and added more features and better UX. I didn't market at all, but after several months, a few hundred people were using the service. Eventually I wanted to move on to other projects so I listed and sold my site online last year.

Recipe Saver - My side project baby 👶


1) Your site is worth whatever someone is offering

Start with a number in your head. Now, throw it out! Sure, you can list a minimum bid amount, but you'll quickly see your true market value once you start fielding inquiries. Unless you're selling a well-known, highly established website, you'll need to negotiate off whatever buyers are offering. Mine had 2-3 serious inquiries and ultimately sold for a few thousand dollars. Not enough to buy that yacht, but I'm proud of it!

2) Selling can relieve the burden of perpetual maintenance

Very few web apps require little maintenance. Customers will forget their credentials, server stacks and databases will require upgrades, and so on. In my case, I felt that I had experimented enough in monetizing my app without success. There's an opportunity cost to everything and selling can award you peace of mind of successfully ending to your side project baby.

3) You don't need a ton of customers

You may think your product needs hundreds of thousands of customers for buyers to be interested. Not necessarily. I had a userbase of 7,500 accounts - many of which were very active. Based on user feedback, my customers liked the site overwhelmingly because it was extremely easy to use. Potential buyers may see value in less-obvious ways. Perhaps your site uses some technology or algorithm that can be repurposed for a different application. Or maybe user-generated content is valuable for marketers to understand trendlines in an industry. There are dozens of ways your application can hold value for others.

4) There's no guarantee your project will live on

This was the most painful lesson learned. Despite the buyer agreeing to continue supporting the site, after a year it was sold again and the new new owner was apparently only interested in the data. Not only were old customers unable to use the service anymore, but I had to retrieve backups of their data so they wouldn't lose their recipes. I felt terribly about it and did my best to make things right for those who loyally used my service.

5) Be prepared to support things for a while

Set expectations for both the buyer and your customers that services WILL be disrupted for a time. In my case, these were just some of the supporting services that had to be individually transferred to the new owner: Heroku, GitHub, Cloudinary, Gmail, Mailgun, Google, Facebook, Stripe, Google Analytics, MongoDB, the domain, etc.

A few of these did not allow "adding an admin" to the account so transferring can take lot of time. Further, it's essential that you create stellar documentation so that your buyer can be self-serviceable (otherwise, be prepared to be pinged a lot!).


So that's it! Despite the eventual discontinuation after the second sale, it was still the right decision as my desire to support and evolve the site had waned long before I listed it. Another driving factor was that similar sites starting cropping up and this kind of service became available for a dime-a-dozen. With competing priorities and interests, I knew it was time. Hopefully this gives you an idea of what to expect if you go this route, but if you have any more questions about the process or how it went down, let me know in the comments!

Where can you sell side projects?

There are actually a look of places! Here's a few popular ones:

Places where you can showcase your site and garner feedback before taking to market:

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