Side Project Marketing

The complete guide to find, qualify and convert high quality leads with side project marketing in a processed way.

By | engineered marketing, Growth hacking, playbook, Side Project Marketing | One Comment

I am pretty confident to say that you know at least one person in your network which has an ad blocker installed right now, but also that a lot of people don’t know about side project marketing.

Not because I am some kind of future fortune teller, but because of hard core data.

In 2017, 615 million devices now use adblock, which increases the odds that somebody in your network is using an ad blocker right now.  In fact, on the 15th of february 2018, Google Chrome has launched his own ad blocker, increasing that number even further. Or maybe you are already using the Brave browser like I do.

It turns out 95 percent of people don’t like being interrupted and the other 5 percent absolutely hate it.

To put it in the words of Jeffrey Zeldman:

We hate advertising so much, we’ve trained ourselves not to look at the top or right sidebar on most sites.

My parents would even mute the TV when commercials started during the break.

Sounds pretty familiar?

As Seth Godin puts it, the key to great marketing and sales is that you need to gain the privilege to contact your prospects, over time by building trust. A great way to build trust is creating value for your prospect, which leads to blogging or other types of content creations.

Great, but as we both know, creating high quality content and hitting that publish button on a consistent basis is one of the hardest challenges as a company.

What if we needed a shortcut to attract find and attract high quality leads without disturbing them with ads?

This is how Side Project Marketing was born.

An alternative mix between content marketing and paid advertising that is slowly taking over the world, and this guide will help you build yours from scratch.

This guide will teach you how to:

  1. How to build your Side Project to find, qualify and convert leads to achieve the best sales prospects.
  2. Lead acquisition – finding tangible values to provide to clients as an inbound strategy, that they actually need.
  3. Teach you how to sell your service or product without selling.
  4. An alternative to blogging and spending wasteful money on ads that don’t convert.
  5. How to create an effective lead magnet that is scalable.
  6. The exact proven process to build a Side Project. No hacks, just process.

This guide will not teach you:

  1. How to distribute your Side Project since every product has different traction channels and every target group is on different platforms.
  2. How to inject the mentality of failing fast into your team.
  3. How to gather data insights for you Side Project, which is preferably the phase before prototyping and building. If you have these already, you are already a nice step ahead.

This guide is for:

  1. Business owners or Marketing Managers who are looking for an additional  way to grow their company next to their paid ads and blogging efforts.
  2. Growth Consultants that would like to introduce a new way to grow their clients companies.
  3. People who are curious about how to build and develop a prototype in less than 3 days.

This guide is not for:

  1. Business who have not proved their business model (clear retention, NPS satisfaction, language market fit). If you have not figured this out yet, go work on creating a better product. Like serious.
  2. Businesses who are still figuring out who their target audience is.

Side Project Marketing Content Breakdown

Examples of Side Project Marketing     

The psychology behind Side Project Marketing (or why it works)

The 7 step Side Project Marketing Checklist    

The Side Project Marketing Sprint: How to set up your design process to build the right Side Project that fits your business     

How to test and validate your Side Project without writing a single line of code

How to use a simple trick to get unlimited free trials at any software company    

How to design the perfect landing page for your Side Project 

Install these analytics before launching your side project to optimize your feedback loop.      

Frequently Asked questions about Side Project Marketing      


What is Side Project Marketing?

Imagine you would always have troubles with creating the right formats for your different Social Media channels, wasting a lot of your time.

You start asking around in your network or google a solution and encounter a tool that does exactly that, absolutely free.

You are playing around with the tool which has helped you created those amazing posts for a couple of days.

As human curiosity kicks in, you are wondering who made this tool.

Yes, it’s that exact same feeling when somebody has watched your Linkedin profile and are wondering: ‘Who the hell is this person?’.

On the top right corner, it reads ‘get started with Buffer’ and you give it a click.

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 15.28.38

It takes you all the way to a landing page saying: ‘Buffer, a better way to manage your Social Media’

Providing you with ever more tools to help you win at Social Media and you give it a spin.

This is exactly what Side Project Marketing or engineered marketing is all about.

“Building something of value that solves a small problem of your target audience in order to upsell them your related product/service later-on.”

Pablo helps Buffer to find, qualify and convert high quality leads for Buffer, a social Media Management platform. Which is exactly what you’ll be learn to build in a step by step way for your company.

These are the 2 main questions you’ll need to solve to build your side project:

  1. What is the core product you are selling?
  2. What kind of tiny problems do your target audience who would buy your product face, preferably every day.

Examples of Side Project Marketing

There are a lot of well-known Side Projects that would win the wall of fame such as Unsplash by Crew or Website grader by Hubspot.

Although these projects are great for inspiration, they come far from the reality you will be building.

Not that I don’t believe in your amazing skills, but because I am a strong believer that if you want to increase the speed of your learning curve, you should look at projects or people just a few years ahead. Not a Richard Branson.

Therefore, I hand-picked some great examples that are more in line with building your Side Project.


Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 16.21.20 is a website that allows you to download royalty free (even for commercial use), unique and beautiful video footage for your website.

Video backgrounds you would normally pay thousands of dollars for, are now completely free to use.

Of course, these are great for your smaller projects, but what if you need a skilled videographer for your larger projects?

That’s where those little white words in the top corner comes in handy and human curiosity takes over.

“Coverr was made with love by the Codersclan and teams”

This is exactly where you land after clicking those little shiny words.

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 16.23.23

Of course.

A marketplace to find projects as a videographer or a videographer as a company.

As you can see they solved the 2 big questions when creating a successful Side Project:

  1. What is the core product is selling? A marketplace to hire a videographer.
  2. What kind of tiny problems do people who create websites have? Finding high quality videos to use for website in smaller projects.

To show you just how powerful this project was, here is a quick recap of their data.

In March 2018 they had 360K visitors.

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 16.33.09

20,68% of that traffic actually had that ‘human curiosity’ effect and continued to the website of

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 16.33.21

Ad budget spend? 0€.

Does this mean you won’t need to spend money to get your Side Project from the ground.


It does show you the power it has to reduce the CAC you are having right now and how scalable this can be.

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 16.33.412.Game of Hacks

Another less known but amazing example is done by Checkmarx, a cyber security company that launched an addictive yet useful mini-game called “Game of Hacks” which tests coders ability to spot vulnerabilities in code, helping them to learn along the way.

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 16.46.33

The game received massive positive press coverage, had over 35,000 players in the first 24 hours (it’s 80,000 now), and drew thousands of visitors to the Checkmarx website.

Many of those visitors were quality leads which have turned into real customers. And now the team is working on productizing an enterprise version of the game.

Marketing done the right way.

If you didn’t capture the idea yet, here is the formula to your great Side Project:

  1. Figure out what the core products/services you are selling.
  2. Figure out who is buying your product and what tiny problems they encounter during the process that is related to your product or service.

The psychology behind Side Project Marketing (or why it works).

To follow the philosophy of Einstein (which he probably never said, since most quotes are just assigned to famous people to make it look smarter):

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.“

These are 4 human principles of why Side Project Marketing can be such a powerful thing to build.

1. Principle of Reciprocity

Do you remember the last time you were invited to a party? (if you haven’t, no worries, nobody is judging you)

After the party, you might have felt that little obligation to invite them back over the next time you are hosting a dinner/party.

This little feeling is what we call reciprocity.

Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first.

It’s a mechanism that was builds into humans to make sure we stay human.

One of the best demonstrations of the Principle of Reciprocity comes from a series of studies conducted in restaurants.

The last time you visited a restaurant, there’s a good chance that the waiter or waitress handed over a little gift.

Probably about the same time that they brought you the bill.

A liquor, perhaps, or a fortune cookie, or perhaps a simple mint.

So here’s the question.

Does the giving of a mint have any influence over how much tip you’re going to leave them?

Most people would say no, maybe you did too.

But that mint can make a surprising difference. In the study, giving diners a single mint at the end of their meal typically increased tips by around 3%.

Interestingly, if the gift is doubled and two mints are provided, tips don’t double. They quadruple—a 14% increase in tips.

But perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that if the waiter provides one mint, starts to walk away from the table, but pauses, turns back and says, “For you nice people, here’s an extra mint,” tips go through the roof.

A 23% increase, influenced not by what was given, but how it was given.

So the key to using the Principle of Reciprocity is to be the first to give and to ensure that what you give is personalized and unexpected.

This is exactly what is being triggered when you are build something of true value for your clients/prospects.

It allows you to build trust faster in a world where trust is being shattered every single day (yes, this is a little nudge at the Facebook data leak).

2. Principle of Authority

What the science is telling us is that it’s important to signal to others what makes you a credible, knowledgeable authority before you make your influence attempt.

Of course this can present problems; you can hardly go around telling potential customers how brilliant you are, but you can certainly arrange for someone or something to do it for you.

What you want to achieve at the end of the day is what Sidekick (now integrated) did for Hubspot or Unsplash for Crew.

“Oh yeah, I know those guys or company, they are the ones that build XYZ. They must know what they are doing“

If they know how to build this and solve that one small problem I had, they probably also know how to fix this bigger problem I have.

Since you are solving that little problem they are having right now, you have just triggered the power of authority.

Guess where they will be going the next time they have a larger problem?

3. Principle of Consistency

Imagine receiving 2 cards from your favorite coffee bar around the corner.

As always, if you manage to get a full card, a free coffee will be added to your bill.

Now, on the first card, you’ll see 10 numbers before hitting that free coffee.

But before you leave, the barista gives you 2 stamps on the house.

The other card has 8 numbers on it, and no stamps are given to you.

Which of the following cards do you think have the highest redemption rate?

Now you might be thinking that in both cases you’ll have to gather 8 stamps in total, making no difference between the 1st and 2nd card.

Yet, as research by Joseph C. Nunes shows, the 1st card has a higher chance to be redeemed.


People provided with artificial advancement toward a goal exhibit great persistence toward reaching that goal.

It’s a phenomenon called the endowment progress and shows why the principle of consistency is that powerful.

In other words, people like to be consistent in their actions, therefore we are more motivated to complete tasks we’ve already started.

By receiving help of your Side Project and solving that little tiny problem they have right now, they are going to feel more open to work with you in the near future since the power of being consistent kicks in.

4. The power of free

Free is this magical price that everybody seems to love and it’s changing the way we do business right now.

In the 19th Century, a man by the name King Gillette invented the world’s first disposable-blade razor.

His strategy was simple.

He sold the razors, only the handle part, cheaply to places like banks who would give them away to new customers as part of their promotions, absolutely free.

As most men know, the handle isn’t the expensive part, the replacement blades are, and they sell them with a hefty profit, later in the sales cycle.

Yet, customers were more than happy to accept this free gift. To truly understand why free is such a powerful marketing method, we need to understand the psychology behind it.

Behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, tells us that most transactions have an upside and a downside. But when things are free, we forget the downside.


Because as humans, we are intrinsically afraid of loss.

With free, there’s no visible possibility of loss.

So we speed right by all those questions we would otherwise have about the value of an item and land directly on “yes please.”

That’s exactly what Side Project Marketing is about.

Giving value to your customers that would normally cost them money for free to earn their trust and sell something related later-on.

The 7 step Side Project MarketingChecklist

  • Needs to provide value

Pretty obvious one but keep in mind everybody’s perception of the word value is differently. Think very clearly how much value your Side Project is going to deliver without thinking of all the fancy features you would need to build.

  • Cheap to build

If it’s going to take your development team ages to set it up, this might not be the right Side Project to build. Try to understand, most developers won’t be able to tell you how long something is going to take since it will always ‘depend’ on the difficulties along the way.

  • Cheap to maintain

It’s just another startup if you need to be spending more and more time maintaining the thing you are going to build.

  • Attracts qualified leads

The reason why I always shout that knowing who your target audience is and what their real pain points are is because of this. If you don’t know who you are building it for and what they go through every single day, you might attract tons of leads, but not the right ones. Wasting everybody’s time. And time is … money.

  • Focus on a niche problem

Pretty straightforward, the trick is to do something very well, not everything very bad.

  • Leverages unfair advantage, if you have something on your team that you can do better than your competitor (not a must)

The best Side Projects are build out of some competitive advantage you have been building on all these months.years. Think about the data you have gathered along the way which might be relevant to your target audience and how you can build something to share it with the world.

  • Easily marketed

A Side Project should be something which is easily picked up by media or writers who need content for their blogs. For the simple reason that you want to keep you CAC as low as possible.

The Side Project Marketing Sprint: How to set up your design process to build the right Side Project that fits your business

Back in school I always used to be the idea guy. My creativity was like the stomachs of people eating hot dogs at these crazy competitions on Youtube.

A bottomless pit.

Until one day a good friend of mine stopped me in the middle of my talk saying: ‘You always talk about your ideas, why don’t you put your mouth where you words are and start building it?’.

It was just that little push I needed to realize that ideas are worth nothing in the real world.

The real golden nuggets and insights come in the building phase, not the ideation.

Yet, when you start brainstorming about what side project you should be building, it’s going to be tempting to start with solutions.

It’s just a human thing to do.

It’s the same psychological effect that happens when people are talking about their problems and you are trying to help them with ‘let me tell you how I solved this problem’.

It’s a recipe to failure.

Seek to understand then to be understood

Use this exact same process to start with Side Project Marketing

Before starting out:

‘’Side Project Marketing has one goal and one goal only. Build something of value for your target audience in order to get more of those people.‘’

If you don’t know who your target audience is, there is no point of building a side project.

This is why this guide isn’t for people still discovering their business model or target audience.

It’s important to understand that if you have multiple audiences, you’ll need to focus on just one segment of your audience and invite experts on these segments to your Side Project Workshop.

Do this now:

  • Talk to your team (and make sure you have the decider/moderator in your team aka people that can take big decisions) to discuss which target audience you would like to go after.
  • Find relevant people who can talk more about this segment for your first workshop. This is probably your customer service, CEO/CMO, Product Owner, Sales,… If you can have somebody who falls under your target audience, also invite them.

Pro tip: If you are an advanced company like Hubspot and offer multiple services, you’ll need to decide which service you want to gain more traction and choose the target audience accordingly.

What you need for your Side Project Marketing workshop:


  • A facilitator (You?)
  • A diverse team who understands the target audience you are going after
  • A decision maker aka Manager/CEO/CMO/ Team Leader

Stuff you’ll need to thrive:

  • Whiteboard/wall space
  • Tons of Post-it notes
  • Just plain old white paper
  • Sharpies
  • Sticky dots
  • A good old time timer
  • Good coffee, beer comes after.
  • A lot of water
  • Some snacks
  • At least one energetic and enthusiastic person.

How long it takes:

The workshop should be between 2-3 days depending on how advanced your team is with other kinds of sprints or if it’s a first or a second run.

What the ultimate goal is:

  • Figure out what Side Project you should build for your target audience.
  • Figure out if what you are building, is really solving a problem.
  • Better understand the needs of your target audience apart from your product.

Bonus tip: These sprints are also great for product managers to better understand what to build next into their product or service.

Day 1: Seek to understand then to be understood

Meet the Experts and How might We – 15min/chat

Your team probably knows a lot about the challenges your target customers might have.

But that knowledge is distributed, or maybe not even in house.

Before starting a Side Project it’s important to gather as much knowledge about the problems you want to solve for your target audience.

Monday morning is devoted to an exercise called ‘Meet the experts’.

A series of one-at-a-time interviews with people from your team, from around your company and possibly even an outsider with special knowledge about a specific topic you are trying to counter. Preferably these are people who have deep knowledge about what struggles your target audience have (note to people reading this: if you don’t know who your target audience is, this might end very bad for you).

These 15-20 minute interviews with the experts will consist of 3 big questions you want to hear more information about (feel free to add more):

  1. How would you describe the product/service you are selling to (insert target audience)?
  2. What is the problem your product is trying to solve for them?
  3. What (other) kinds of problems do (target audience have) which are related to our product or service?

As you go, each member of your team will take notes individually by listening very carefully about problems they hear from the interviews and translate them in ‘How Might We’s’.

Especially during the last question, writing these down is of extreme importance since this is where all the golden nuggets are.

It’s important to keep this structure since it will allow you to compare notes later-on and save time.

The principle if very simple, experts talk and your team converts them into questions starting with ‘how might we’.

For example:

When somebody is talking about the fact that men who come into a store can’t really decide on how to pick his jeans size you translate it into a how might we.

‘How might we help men who come into our stores to pick their jeans size?’ → this is what you write down on your post-it.

The more the better.

At the end of the exercise your team will have multiple notes starting with ‘how might we’.

Since this random thought of helping men choose better jeans just popped up while writing this, I’ll guide you through this guide with this example.

Heat Map Vote – 6 min

If everything went well, you have now a pile of  ‘How Might We’ notes.

It’s time to stick them all against the wall or whiteboard.

The moderator gives each member 2 voting dots — Everybody must now vote on the challenges they consider to be the most pertinent to solve, without discussion.

You can vote on your own post-its here and you can put both your votes on one challenge if you feel strong enough about it.

Once the 6 minutes is up, the moderator quickly takes the voted problems and arranges them in order of priority. The last call is always given to the moderator of the sprint.

You should now have a clear targeted problem you would like to solve together with your team.

Don’t forget it’s just an exercise, if you strongly feel another option is better, go ahead and discuss why you think you should target that problem.

A Sign Of Life – 30 min

The worst thing that can happen to you and your team is building something nobody cares about or doesn’t really see as a big of a deal.

Before starting a brainstorm on how to solve the problem you have discovered and voted, it’s a must to go and figure out if there is any sign of people having this problem online/offline.

This is why I named this exercise ‘A Sign Of Life’.

It’s spending at least 30 minutes time with your team going on a hunt to figure out if more people are actually having this problem and if they fit in your target audience.

The goal is simple: validate if the problem actually exists and is big enough to solve.

Now you might be wondering: ‘Do I just randomly google stuff?’.

That’s one option, but here are 3 strategies that could take you a little further.

Also, to join you in the trenches, I’ll be guiding you hands-on with an example I mentioned above: “How might we help people choose a pair of jeans”.

Strategy #1: Quora

You probably already know Quora. It’s a community where people ask questions and look for solutions to their problems. It is also an excellent tool to find problems to solve!

So, how can I find a problem to solve with Quora? Here are my three favorite Quora-based problem investigation methods:

Search in reverse

Search on Quora as if you were searching for a solution to a problem.

People who are looking for solutions usually say things like:

• Is there any way to…

• How can I…

• Who can help me to…

Screen Shot 2018 04 24 at 17.22.46

As you see from the picture above, people have already been asking themselves on how to choose a pair of jeans and 6 people have answered the question, leaving you with some initial data of the existence of the problem and what solutions people are suggesting.

Screen Shot 2018 04 24 at 17.30.13

The best part?

Quora is giving you related questions to the problem you are looking to solve.

Have a look around and see what other related problems people are having to buying or keeping their pair of jeans.

The disadvantage of this method is that it covers all kind of problems, so you will have to search deeply until finding a problem you really want to solve.

Search for different topics

This method is more adjustable to your personality and knowledge. It consists on browsing on Quora for topics you would like to solve a problem.

For example, let’s suppose you want to solve problems people have with jeans. You could then search “Jeans” on Quora, and visit the topic.

Screen Shot 2018 04 24 at 17.35.46

Now you have a full list of what people are looking to solve and the suggest solutions paired with the questions.

Ask the question

The last method is pretty obvious but won’t be able to help you in the short time frame you have. Just ask the question on how people are solving their problem right now.

Make sure to invite people to help out with answering your question.

Strategy #2: Twitter

Twitter is a great source to figure out the problems people are having. In fact it also helps validating if more people are having this problem since they are retweeting it.

People who need a solution usually tweet things like:

  • Anyone knows how to…
  • I need help with…
  • I don’t know how to…
  • More people having trouble with..

So, you can search for these phrases on Twitter.

And with a deep search, you will find great tweets that can lead to validation of your problem.

Strategy #3: Reddit

If you haven’t heard of Reddit, don’t worry, but you might discover a whole new world right now.

Reddit bridges communities and individuals with ideas, the latest digital trends, and breaking news.

If a cat video went viral, it probably was first seen on Reddit.

By subscribing to communities, called subreddits, like AskReddit, your fellow Redditors will provide you thousands of problems people are facing every day.

Search for things like:

• How do I

• How do you

• Can’t seem to

In my case I could find a discussion on how to pick a jeans which keeps validating the problem is out there.

Screen Shot 2018 04 24 at 18.31.33

Strategy #4: Buzzsumo                        

A great way to figure out if the problem you are trying to solve is broadly shared is by figuring out if there is already content tackling this problem and see how much it has been shared.

This is where Buzzsumo comes in handy.

Screen Shot 2018 04 24 at 18.45.47

As you can see the number 1 shared topic about picking jeans is huge with 3,9k shares. This article and strategy will also help you on the next exercise: Solution Mapping.

If you can’t seem to validate your idea online, try and have a swing offline by asking your target audience if the problem really exists.

If not, try to go for the second choice you made with your team in the ‘How Might We’.

If you validate the assumption, it’s time to write it down in big letters on your whiteboard since humans tend to forget things very fast.

Solution Mapping – 30 min

There is a famous saying: ‘If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’.

In other words, it’s not because you found the problem, you also know how people would like to have it solved.

This is where solution mapping comes into play.

This exercise is pretty simple, you find out how people are currently solving the problem they are facing.

This is how to get started:

  1. Make a list

Ask everyone on your team to search how people are solving the current problem and ask them to put it into a list.

Everything you review should contain something good you can learn from and something you feel needs improvement

After 20 minutes of finding and writing down the solutions, everyone should narrow down to his or her top one or two solutions they found.

Write the collected list on the whiteboard. It’s time to begin the demo’s.

2. Give 3 minute demos

One at the time, the person who suggest the solution gives a tour on how it works.

Since people like to go overtime and debate, it’s always a good idea to keep a timer

During this exercise you should always consider the words ABC, Always Be Capturing.

While people are presenting always wonder and write them the answers to:

  1. What is something that sticks out from the solution given and could be used?
  2. What is something that could be improved?

These notes are just to jog your memory later in the day, so they don’t have to be fancy or detailed.

Use 1 post-it per idea that runs into your mind to make sure everybody can see the big idea that hit you later-on when sticking them to the whiteboard.

This is how your whiteboard should look like after this exercise:                        


                        Screen Shot 2018 04 24 at 20.06.19


Now you and your team know what kind of solutions people are using, what is good about it and what could be improved. Now it’s time to figure out what to build in the afternoon.

—————————————————- AFTERNOON ————————————————–

Lightning Demo’s – 30 / 45 min

Take a look back at the whiteboard with the solutions people are using right now. Before starting this exercise, have a look at what other people have jotted down as good or bad.

Take a look back at the ‘How Might we’ that you are trying to solve in order to refresh your memory. Preferably, this is written down in big letters on the whiteboard.

In this exercise we are going to look at all the different Side Projects that exist and see how you can steal the most effective parts from all of them in order to incorporate them into your Side Project.

Spend at least 20 minutes going through all the different options that exist. To make it a little easier, we have gathered all the greatest examples out there into one simple to use page right here:

Feel free to look around a little more if you have encountered other examples.

All done?

Now it’s time for everybody on the team to choose 1 or 2 side projects they could see working for the How Might We question you are trying to solve.

It’s time to present them in another 3 minute pitches with a slight difference.

While presenting, the moderator on the team has to ask the following question after each presentation:

“What’s the big idea we can take away from this Side Project?”

Then make a quick drawing of that inspiring component, write a simple headline above it and note the source underneath on the whiteboard or post-its.

After the exercise you should now have a full board of the best ideas out of each Side Project.

IMG 5076

You’ll probably want to do it a little more organized than us. You’ll probably want to aim for a result just as shown below:


The One-Step Sketch

As much as I love the design sprint philosophy, I always felt that not all parts are always useful to certain situations. In the case of building a Side Project, we aren’t aiming to build and validate the next big Slack venture, it’s still just a Side Project of your core activity.

Therefore, I am a strong fan of the one-step sketch instead of the 4 step sketch for these kind of projects.

And it’s pretty simple.

Every team member now has whiteboard full of ideas of how the Side Project should look like in different pieces. Now it’s all about putting the right pieces together.

Revise your How Might We and spend 30 minutes alone trying to come up with one or multiple drawings of how you see the Side Project. Try to use as much parts of the drawings shown on the whiteboard.

Although you are free to draw anything, here are some general rules you should remember while drawing (make sure to write these down):

  1. Make it self-explanatory, if nobody understands how it’s working, it’s not a good drawing. Which doesn’t mean you have to go all Picasso.
  2. Keep it anonymous
  3. Ugly is okay
  4. Words Matter, since it has to be self-explanatory you need to think very carefully about the words you use to explain the Side Project.
  5. Give it a catchy title (this one is pretty obvious)

This could be an example of your sketches, but remember words matter.


Once everybody is finished, put the solution sketches on a pile but resist the urge to look at them.The moderator will now hang them up just like an art museum, since we don’t want people to know which solution is from whom to remove biase.

Before you leave, it’s important to start looking and invite at least 5 people from your target audience over to your prototype on Wednesday or in 2 days depending on when you run the sprint.

Try to avoid friends and family.

——————————————————— Day 1 Ends ————————————————

Day 2: Taking a decision is better than no decision

From here on onwards the process will look very familiar to the design sprint process with some minor tweaks tailored to Side Projects.

Heated Art Museum  – 10/15 min

If everything went right, you now have a full wall with ideas on how the Side Project should look like. Without actually knowing who drew what. I do understand that some people just have a horrible drawing style that is very typical, just pretend you have no clue from who it is, okay?

Empower your team members with 20 dots each and let your team follow these steps:

  1. Don’t talk
  2. Look at a solution sketch
  3. Put the dot stickers beside the parts you like (if any)
  4. Put 2-3 dot stickers on the most exciting ideas.
  5. If you are having trouble understanding what he/she means, write it down a sticky note and place it next to the drawing
  6. Move on to the next sketch and repeat.

You now have a wall full of Side Project ideas with dots on the most promising ones.

It’s time to discuss.

Speed critique – 3 min per sketch

In the speed critique, you and your team will discuss each solution sketch and make not of standout ideas. The conversation will follow a structure and a time limit of course.

During the speed critique the facilitator is going to be really hands-on to guide everybody on the team through the exercise. This is also the reason why somebody will need to be appointed as a note taker. As you are reviewing the sketches on the wall, the note taker will write down standout ideas on the sticky notes and place them above the sketch.

Got your note taker?

Let’s start with the process:

  1. Gather around the solution sketch.
  2. Set a timer for three minutes on each review session.
  3. The facilitator narrates the sketch, meaning, just talks about what he can tell from the sketch. Note that the person who made the sketch does not talk or make a move, even when it’s wrong.
  4. The facilitator calls out standout ideas which are shown by the clusters of dots. During this process, the note taker is taking notes on his post-its of all the big ideas.
  5. When the sketch is finished discussing, the creator can now explain the missing ideas the team failed to spot and answers questions.
  6. Move to the next sketch and repeat.

This is something which will 99% happen to your team.

People will start to see new ideas that can be combined with their ideas. It’s natural and amazing at the same time. Make sure to keep these ideas to yourself and just focus on writing down what stands out of the solution. This is how it will look at the end.

1 sr0PPx8VaB4ZP rg sK4tg

Mix Match Voting         – 10 min + ⅔ min per vote

I call this Mix Match Voting because of something which happened in the last exercise. Because people are exposed to new ideas they’ll most probably see their idea combined with aspects they didn’t realize.

This is how it works:

  1. Give everyone one dot which represents a vote (represented by a big dot sticker)
  2. Remind everybody of the How Might We question
  3. Set a timer to 10 minutes
  4. Each person privately chooses which option they feel more likely to succeed. But here is the twist. They can also add one of the aspects from the other sketches on the board to improve the choice they are picking. For example: I love idea of having a who is your jeans quiz but I would love to see it together with a rapport of a case study about jeans (whatever). Make sure people write this down.
  5. When the time is up, place the votes  on the sketches.
  6. Each person briefly explains their choice and what they would love to combine the idea with. Count 2-3 min per vote.

Now you should have dots hanging of what your team believes are a great idea to execute on, it’s time to supervote

Super Vote

The supervote is the ultimate decision. Each decider, which is mostly the highest authority, will get 3 special votes, and whatever they vote for is what your team will prototype first and test first.

Deciders can choose whether to go with the mainstream and go for sketches that were the most popular or ignore the straw poll. In short, the decider can do whatever they feel answers the ‘How Might We’ question the most. But remember, be honest about your decision, your ideas aren’t always the best.

The sketches with supervotes on them are the winners. This is the prototype you’ll be creating first. This is how it will look like:

download 1

Don’t forget to keep all the ideas that aren’t chosen that day. You might and will probably need them in case the first prototype turns out to be nothing.

They are just called ‘Maybe-Laters’.

It’s important to understand that a process is just that. A process to align people. It’s not pixel perfect and it will never be. If you feel something is missing you should be doing differently, go do it. Experiment and remember, always have fun.

Now it’s time to build the actual prototype.

Pro-tip: take pictures of every single sketch and voting, you’ll thank me later.


Head over to the next chapter ‘How to test and validate your Side Project without writing a single line of code’ to start prototyping without writing a single line of code.

——————————————————— Day 2 Ends ————————————————

Day 3: That’s just your opinion.

The last day has arrived.

The day where you have invited 5 people from your target audience to spit out all the things you haven’t been thinking off and validate the side project.

To not just let people walk in and say: ‘So, what ya think’?. You can follow this template.

This structured conversation makes sure you capture as much data from your interview as possible.

The Five Act interview

  1. A Mexican welcome to start the interview (pretty obvious)
  2. Open-ended context questions about the customer
  3. Introduction to the Side Project
  4. Detailed tasks to get the customer reacting to your awesome project
  5. A little debrief ato capture the last thoughts and impressions.

A Mexican Welcome

When doing business in Mexico you’ll notice one thing. They never talk about business on the first meeting.

You talk about family, friends and drink tequila. Even in the Morning.

Trust me, I am half-Mexican.

When the person walks in, go ahead and just have a small chat about the weather, how his/her day was or why he/she is wearing those weird shoes.

The goal is to make the person feel comfortable to be open, honest and critical (maybe the shoe isn’t that such a great opener after all).

Before starting out, it’s important to have your team capturing every single detail that is said or done.

ABC, Always Be Capturing.

Context Questions

There is this awesome feeling you’ll have when building a prototype. It’s the same feeling you have when buying new clothes. You feel like wearing them.

The same will happen to your prototype, you’ll be eager to show it straight away.

Not so fast.

Instead, start slow by asking some questions about the customer’s life, interests, and activities. These questions won’t only help you to better understand your audience world, but it will help you understand the reactions and responses given.

The goal is to ask natural questions to better understand the life of your target audience that is tailored to your product.

For example, if I would have build the website I would have talked about the jeans he or she is wearing and talk about how awesome it looks and where he/she bought it.

Afterwards you could ask about the pains he had during the search for his perfect jeans size.

Let them tell you the story about their pains and lives, in a natural way. Preferably, connected to what you are going to show them.

Prototype introduction

Alright child, it’s time to unpack your new clothes. Before unpacking it, it’s important to follow these steps:

  • Ask for permission by asking the person if he would like to see the prototype. It’s important to understand the psychological reason behind this. By asking him for permission, you are gaining mental buy in from your customer.
  • After asking permission it’s important to tell him/her that some things might not be working. Rome wasn’t built in 2 days, neither is your perfect prototype.
  • Remind the customer that there is no right or wrong answer, any critique is useful.
  • Remind the customer to think aloud when walking through the steps, this will help understand the choices he is taking. This won’t feel natural to people so try to pull it out a little. Don’t go all freaky by saying: ‘I can’t hear you’.

Tasks and nudges

During the process you want to get the most out of their thinking. This is where open-ended questions come into play. As the customer goes through the task, the interview should ask questions to her think aloud:

  • What is this?
  • What do you think of that?
  • What do you expect it to do?
  • Which problem do you think it will solve?  
  • Do you feel this is the way you would want your problem solved?
  • What would you do next?

The goal is to understand if you are actually solving the problem and if this is the right format to solve the problem. Maybe you have build a chatbot, but people would rather have a website or visa-versa. Understanding their motives why they would want to choose another format is crucial.  

Always keep in the back of your head that if you would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. Not cars.

Quick debrief

You’ll see and hear a lot during the interview, but might miss some important aspects since you were focussing on something else they were doing. Especially men are pretty good at doing only one thing at the time.

Here are some great example questions you can ask to capture the interview:

  • How does this product help you compare to how you are currently solving the problem xyz?
  • What is something you liked and something you disliked about the product?
  • How would you describe this product to your friends? (probably the most important question in order to build your landing page!)
  • What is something you feel should be build before you would use the product?

And well, you are done.

You have now a Prototype Side Project with all the feedback you need to be honest to yourself and see if you are really solving a problem and if this is the right format people want this problem to be solved.

You are now literally doing better than 99% of the companies that are targeting people while sitting on their toilets with lousy ads.

Go conquer the world, like for real.

How to test and validate your Side Project without writing a single line of code.

Sometimes having no tech resources is actually in your advantage since you can’t imagine how many stuff has been built around the world that was just wasted code.

I have to admit, I have also been there.

And even if you have a lot of tech resources, nobody likes working on stuff nobody is actually going to use.

I remember talking to my dad how it used to be in the ‘old days’.

People would walk around with phones the size of a shoe and you would only call the IT guy out of his cave when you had a problem with your ‘computer’.

In order to show the world about your idea, you would either have to be very creative with Knex/Lego or you would have to spend a ton of money to get your prototype out.

Times have changed, leaving us with a huge amount of possibilities to build prototypes of what we are actually trying to say.

Get Started

When I asked The Design Sprint Slack group, owned by Jake Knapp (founder of the sprint book), what the favorite tools are to prototype.

I came to a surprise.

Screen Shot 2018 04 26 at 20.45.59

I had given away 5 of tools I used to test and validate assumptions recently, hoping to get their favorite stack of tools.

All I got was one tool that stuck out, Google Slides.

Which I totally understand because of the simple reason that everybody can or has worked with this kind of tool.

Making adoption a little easier.

So if you feel like prototyping a little more on how it should look like or which tool you should use, Google Slides is all yours.

If you want to take it a little further, this might be the stack you would be looking for.

Since these tools are always evolving, I have build an always up-to-date directory of tools to start prototyping your Side Project without writing a single line of code.


Have an idea but don’t know how to bring it to the world? Hosting a growth or design sprint, but feel like you are missing some design or engineering hands?

These templates are easy to use, incredibly professional and hugely varied – bringing you everything from business cards, brochures, photos, real-life settings, tech devices, posters and much more!

  • Applaunchpad has a great tool to bring your idea to life called the Mockup Generator. Just paste your picture or design into their tool and see your idea on any type of screen. Combine it with Canva or any other design tool and call yourself a designer.
  • Mockuups provides a drag-and-drop tool for creating beautiful app previews and marketing materials. Place your design instantly to the huge collection of mockups and find your ideal in a second.
  • Screenpeek is a super simple mockup generator of your current website. Simply copy and paste a URL link and a simple mockup is generated. Currently they provide the latest iPhone, iPad, iMac and MacBook. Only the iPhone is free.
  • Mockupsjar is similar to applaunchpad this tool is taking it a step further. It also includes some great picture frame mockups, t-shirt, packaging, vinyl, books, billboards and almost every current device imaginable including the new iPhone X (10) and Apple Watch. Mockupsjar is also free to use.

Stock Images

Trying to figure out why you have seen the same picture around the web? These websites and tools might be guilty.

  • Unsplash has beautiful high quality free images and photos you can download and use for any project. No attribution required. They have just raised a bunch of cash, which looks promising for the future of the platform.
  • Pexels has free stock photos you can use everywhere. Free for commercial use and no attribution required.

Color picker/stealers

Like a color you see on another page or don’t know which colors to use for your website? All solved now.

  • Colorzilla looks shady as ****. But it does the trick. Download the chrome extension and pick any color you would like to steal from your or another page. Yup, for free.
  • Coolors is amazing. Imagine you could press your spacebar and get color schemes that fit together. All for free.
  • Web gradients is an awesome tool that collects 180 free awesome gradients, that will help you design the background of your website.

Logo design

The only downside to the free/ freemium logo generators is the low res download quality, although for the purposes of getting a quick logo put together without the need to hire a professional designer, these options below are more than capable for your Side Project, unless you feel like building it within your own website.

  • Canva is one of the most versatile online design tools out there. If you are looking for more customisation options compared to some of the other logo designers, then Canva is the ideal tool. Download straight away for free in .png format.
  • The Ucraft logo designer is one of the simplest customisable, modern logo designers I’ve used. Ucraft includes a large variety of font types and colour pallets, plus the export process couldn’t be easier. Its completely free!
  • Logo Dust has provided all its unused logo designs available for free. The designs are simple and clean and available to download at the click of a button. There isn’t a huge collection like some other libraries but the quality is great and frequently gets updated.
  • Logopony is powered by artificial intelligence, which will help you design an awesome and unique logo, containing even some icons. Paying $19, you will get a web quality logo. If you pay $49 you will get lots of sizes and combinations.

App builders

Validating your assumptions is the first key step you should take before getting in the building phase. Since, I assume, you don’t want to be another app in the app graveyard, are you?

  • Thunkable is a native app builder for anybody and everyone who wants to build apps — from the non-developer to the highly skilled developer who wants to do do something quicker and easier. Starting from a price of free.
  • Bubble lets you build apps without code. The greatest part I feel is the learning curve to create your first prototypes. A great way to build and learn faster than your competitor. Starts between 0-14$) depending on functionality and whitelabel.
  • Launchaco isn’t really an app builder. Say again? Yes, this is not an app builder, but I use this awesome piece of software in combination with an app builder in order to create landing pages at lighting speed for my app mockups. Starting from free.

Chatbot builders

Having conversations is a basic need of humans. Yet, most of our digital stuff online is still a one way stream. Why not prototype your chatbot idea before wasting all of your money and resources?

  • Manychat is my personal favorite since they have really understood that integration and segmenting are key to building a great chatbot. You can start for free, or pay 10$/month to get some more advanced settings and integrations
  • Chatfuel is the also one of the best bot platform for creating an AI chatbot on Facebook. Learn how to create a Facebook message bot quickly and easily, no coding required.
  • is a simple tool to build conversational websites and improve lead conversion rate. Think website + chatbot in one. Start for free.

Landingpages & page builders

Knowing that people have the shortest attention span in ages, it’s important to have a quick and easy overview of what the potential gain is going to be when they keep on reading. This is exactly how you can build in hours, not days.

  • Instapage is one of the most powerful landing page software that provides post-click optimization for all digital and advertising campaigns. What used to take years, now takes hours. You have a 14 day free trial.*
  • Launchaco is pretty much the simplest way to build a website for your Side Project for free.
  • Webflow is used when you want to take your Side Project a little step further since you need a basic knowledge on HTML and CSS. It makes the website design process sooooo much easier than the competition. Moreover, the price is quite reasonable.
  • WordPress + Template is a great way to build your entire side project without writing a single line of code. Just choose a template from the envato market and start the building phase. Warning: sometimes a template can slow you down because of the quality or non adjustments you can make.

All these tools come and go, use this always up-to-date directory of tools to start prototyping your Side Project without writing a single line of code.

How to use a simple trick to get unlimited free trials at any software company.

What if there was a trick to get unlimited amount of free trials with your favorite software like the landing page builder I just mentioned above?

This is exactly what I asked myself a month ago while cursing on an expensive piece of software with a free trial.

So I did what I like to do best, find solutions to a problem.

Here is exactly how I pull this off in less than 3 seconds and no technical skills.

Now, most people know that I have a very cheap mindset.

Why overpay if something can be tested with limited amount of resources.

It’s a mindset I had to craft over the past years with high ambition and limited budgets.

In one of my growth guides I explain how I scrape attendees from websites to segment them and see who would be interesting to meet in order to get the most of my events.

Now the problem I encountered is that the software I am using, only provides a 7 day trail.

After that, the cost goes up to a minimum of 1999$.

Which I prefer to spend on a holiday.

Here is how to bypass it with what we call an alias.

Use your normal email and add a +1.

For example mine would be:

Create an account and you’ll see that you’ll still get the confirmation mail, but the email registered is different.

The best part? It’s super scalable.

Change the number and you can make up to a million combinations.

How to design the perfect landing page for your Side Project.

Did you know that the average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitized lifestyle on the brain.

Hence the importance of being able to create a well structured and written landing page in order to capture the maximum attention and learn as much as possible.

Nope, this is not going to be the most comprehensive summary of a great landing page since this would be a book itself. This will show you some of the sometimes overlooked pointers that will put you ahead of the curve.

Here are 4 basic rules on how to improve the quality of your Landing page. Remember, these are just the basics.

The 4 basic rules of a Landing Page

  1. Your USP / one liner

The biggest struggle I see a lot of companies make before they hit Product Market Fit and (also after) is finding Product Language Fit. In other words: ‘How do you explain in one sentence what benefit the user will receive and what kind of language they speak” (which is also different depending on the segment you are targeting).

Remember, we have now a shorter attention span of a goldfish.

The best way to figure out how to get the one liner to work is to send your early prototype to people you think would use your Side Project and ask them the following question:

‘How would you describe this tool/website to your friends?‘

You might be surprised what responses you’ll get.

For example, when we started out with our design sprint for the ECB (European Central Bank), our goal was to figure out a business case where instant payments could flourish in less than 4 days.

Based on the data we had gathered beforehand and feedback of our initial MVP, we figured out the best business case was tailored to people who needed to prepay large amounts and were afraid that they would have to spend ages asking back the money from their friends or strangers.

IMG 9728

In case you were wondering, the blue dots on the screen is our market research data, placed in a nice jacket by our data scientist helping us to build better arguments in order to better understand what to build. It’s not some kind of decease we found in somebody’s brain.

Based on the initial feedback, Yuomi (You-owe-me) was born, the fastest way to get your money back.

side project marketing 3 - ricardo ghekiere

side project marketing 3 – ricardo ghekiere

Which brings me to my second point

2. Your baseline describing the USP

Your USP line should grab the attention of your user to continue reading, your base line should explain exactly what problem you are solving and why they should opt-in.

In other words, it should answer the question: ‘How are you solving my problem exactly?’.

In the case of Yuomi the baseline was: ‘Purchase concert tickets, refund trips and pay restaurant bills as a group’.

This tagline was based on our initial data since this is where we discovered the biggest pain points were.

3. Your Call To Action

To design your CTA properly, take the following factors into consideration:


This one is pretty obvious, but somehow most companies haven’t understood that your CTA should be above the fold (meaning people shouldn’t scroll to see it).


When deciding the color scheme of your landing page make sure to design the CTA button in a contrasting color. This will help the button “pop” off the page and be found easily by visitors.


Similar to the overall copy of a targeted page, the CTA button copy needs to be customer-centric. This is because CTA buttons are meant to inspire action and the copy that should be action-oriented. Explain exactly what will happen when they click that button.

4. Supporting image

All too often I see people placing images that have nothing to do with what you are selling.

The image must be relevant and empathetic so that it explains what your product does and also connects with your visitors emotionally, not another video your designer felt was awesome.

If it doesn’t support the message you are trying to enforce, it shouldn’t be there.

Remember, the goldish.

When you have a look at the Landing page of Youmi, you’ll notice we are taking the customer on a journey that makes them dream about sending reminders to their friends to pay them with a click of a button.

Which also came from the initial feedback round.

Consider these 4 psychology tricks in your next Landing Page

Psychology plays an integral role in the success of your marketing materials, which includes your landing pages. This is because your visitors are human beings who make irrational choices based on their cognitive biases and past experiences.

  1. The principal of Social Proof

Imagine you are walking on the street, and suddenly everybody is looking up.

What do you do?

99% sure you might look up as well.

This is the power of social proof.

The principle of social proof dictates that human beings tend to do things that they see other people (like themselves) doing. This is where the herd mentality comes from.

Adding social proof is easy. You just add testimonials, just as we did below.

side project marketing 2 - ricardo ghekiere

side project marketing 2 – ricardo ghekiere

Now you might be thinking.

I haven’t got people who have used my product yet.

Good point, we didn’t either.

So all we did it was add our team as a testimonial to describe how it helped them.

Nick loved it, like for real.

2. The Principle of Scarcity

If you have never visited the site Appsumo, you should spend some time checking it out right now.

In short, they allow you to buy upcoming saas software for a fraction of a price.

Here is the catch, it’s only available for a certain amount of time.

They do a fantastic job activating some of these psychology principles.

Notice how they trigger the principle of scarcity?

Just 4 days left to buy yourself a deal worth 500€ for a great price of just 49$.

side project marketing - ricardo ghekiere

side project marketing – ricardo ghekiere

Which brings us to our next principal.

3. The power of asking high favors to ask your real favor.

Yes, I pretty made these words up, but the principal still counts.

Actually it’s called the door-in-the-face technique, but who cares anyways.

The principle is quite simple yet super effective.

Sales people start with asking a bigger favor (buy this software for a lifetime at 500$/year), which you’ll probably end up a saying no.

The moment you say no, the salesperson would ask, what about the same deal at 49$ for a lifetime?

The price now looks like a bargain compared to the bigger price, right?

Give people a price to compare with. We all like discounts, that’s why Black Friday is such a big deal.

Here is how I showed a homeless guy in Antwerp to use this technique right now.

4. The principal of authority

This is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.

It’s the same principle that explains why people buy from people the know, like and trust.

By placing authoritative people of well-known brands on your page, you are able to increase the chances that people will trust your Side Project since they associate it with the people of brands on your page.

The brain goes a little bit like this: ‘If they felt it was good for them, it should be good enough for me’.

This principle is a little tricky since brands and especially people are not always keen to having their face on something which is just a prototype. This one is up to you. 🙂

Install these analytics before launching your side project to optimize your feedback loop.

The biggest mistake you can make before launching your Side Project is not installing the right analytics.

The reason is simple.

What people say what they would do, and what they actually do are most of the time not the same.

The key is to have not only qualitative but also quantitative data to help you figure out puzzles you might run into.

Remember, these analytics can vary depending on your Side Project.

  1. Google Tag Manager

How would you feel if you were slicing bread in the morning and just before taking your first bite, your kids or partner would ask to cut another slice?

You would cut a slice.

But what if this would happen every single time you would want to take your first bite?

You would probably do two things:

  1. Tell them to cut their own slices.
  2. Tell them to tell you how many slices they want so you can cut them in advance.

This is exactly the feeling your developer will have when they are being asked to install yet another code to track or test another program.

Before launching anything, make sure to install the google tag manager code which will allow you to place code on your website without the need of heading over to your developer.

Let the poor guy or girl eat his first slice of bread. 🙂

2. Google Analytics

You have now installed the Google Tag Manager code, awesome!

Now you can start adding you own code.

Adding Google Analytics code is pretty obvious to understand where your visitors are coming from and how much time they spend doing things on your website.

Feel free to take it a little step further by adding goals you want them to perform.

3. Heap Analytics

Google Analytics is great to tell you exactly where people are coming from, but is having a little trouble explaining what exact events they have been performing, unless you spend hours of time installing tags and triggers with Google Tag Manager.

Install heaps analytics code and it will track anything anybody does forever, you can use this guide to help you out with the implementation.  

4. Hotjar

See how visitors are really using your website, collect user feedback and turn more visitors into customers, that’s pretty much how to summarize Hotjar.

It’s a all in one tool to understand how your customers perceive your website with their set of eyes.

5. Sumo

The perfect free tool to start building your email list, welcome people to your Side Project or help people share your creation. The set-up is as simple as me saying ‘apple-pie’.

6. Facebook Pixel

What a shame if you couldn’t retarget the people testing your product in an early stage to test your new improved version, right?

Frequently Asked questions about Side Project Marketing

  1. What’s the difference between side projects and Side Project Marketing?

Side projects is what people work on the side while working their 9 to 5, hoping to make a buck one day.

Side Project Marketing is with the specific goal to be free and upsell them later-on with your real product or service. These 2 criterias should always be there:

  • The tool must be small in size (usually 1–2 pages).
  • Because your side project will be small in scope, you want to reduce the need for maintenance and updates.
  • It shouldn’t be a startup by its own, although this has happened before.

    2. Aren’t Side Projects going to distract us from our main product? Should we stop blogging and advertising?

When consulting companies in their growth phase I always see the same story.

Lot’s of content out there, nobody actually reading it.

They are playing the numbers game because somebody once told them that inbound is a great way to attract valuable leads.

And it does, if you are able to deliver high quality content people actually want to read.

But most people forget that content marketing is just like the liquor business.

Coca cola isn’t only successful because of its addictive drink (great content), it’s a leading company because they have found a great distribution system to get their drinks to the right people at the right time.

When I am thirsty, sitting in my favorite bar somewhere in Belgium.

Distribution is king when it comes to content.

I am not saying that Side Projects are the cure all solution to not blog or advertise anymore.

They should be part of your overall strategy to mix up your Marketing Mix.

3. How do you I explain Side Projects to my peers?

Great question!

I always explain it with a piece of cheese in the supermarket.

When walking into a supermarket, you might have encountered a person handing over a little piece of cheese for free.

Now, it’s good to understand that this piece of cheese wasn’t given to you because of your beautiful eyes.

Marketers and salespeople know that giving real value upfront is key to convincing customers later-on.

In this case, it’s a piece of cheese to convince you to buy the bigger cheese later-on.

Side Projects are the cheeses in the digital world.

You give them a little taste of what you got to convince them later-on with your product or service.

But remember, the piece you are giving away for free should be related to your core product.

Giving away cheese to upsell people for cheesecake, does not work.

4. Can we use something we’ve already built?

The best way to predict the future is by looking at the past. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel if you already have something which is validated.

In fact, the best Side Projects were built on top of existing content. Try having a look at your Google Analytics and try to figure out how you could build something of more value out of your best performing blog.

5. Should Side Project Marketing always be free?

Yes and no.

Yes if you want to makes sure it’s shared with maximal impact. Remember the power of free discussed in the first chapters?

No, if you feel it would bump up the quality of your Marketing Qualified Leads.

You’ll need to test and validate this with your market.

Good like with getting started with Side Project Marketing!

trust economy, ricardo ghekiere, marketing strategy, side project marketing

How trust is going to impact your marketing strategy (and what to do about it)

By | engineered marketing, Growth hacking, growth trends, Side Project Marketing | No Comments

Suddenly, your friend tells you to turn right.

A quick glance at your phone is showing you have to go left.

What would you do?

Would you trust your friend over a computer?

Or will it depend on how much reviews he has in ‘roadmapping’?

Key things you will learn from reading this:

  1. Why the trust economy is going to change the way we do Marketing.
  2. How the trust Economy will impact your Marketing efforts.
  3. What you can do today to prepare your company and start building trust faster than your competitors.

The rise of the trust economy.

We have all been there.

A person stops you in the street, trying to sell you a membership to help kids or animals in need.

Sometimes you are even having one of those days where you can’t help yourself but listen to their story, but at the end, most of us don’t buy anything.

The reason is simple, they might have had our attention, but they haven’t earned our trust to sell us anything.

The exact same phenomenon is happening in today’s online world, an area where people have shorter attention spans than a gold fish.

You might be able to trick your customers into clicking on your add, getting their undivided attention, but have you earned their trust yet?

With more companies and people fighting for our attention, we turn to the things we already know.

The things we trust and believe in.

Getting attention doesn’t lead to anything sustainable.

Only trust does.

The codification of reputation

Trust was once an expensive pursuit. Hotels were built from luxurious materials to provide the most powerful declarations of solidity and trustworthiness — and to project a sense of enduring history. It was their way of showing (potential) customers that they can be trusted.

That has all changed now.

Nowadays we decide our hotels based on global trust such as reviews and average scores.

We are even prepared to place our lives in the hands of people we know barely anything about. All we need to know (and care about) are the number of reviews and their star rating. We’ve taken our most visceral fear of the unknown and cast it aside with just a numerical value.

As Jeffry A. Simpson writes:

“Trust involves the juxtaposition of people’s loftiest hopes and aspirations with their deepest worries and fears.”

This description makes it clear why so many people have trouble trusting: for them, the benefits of closeness and intimacy are overshadowed by the possibility of pain and betrayal.

Giving people or experiences a numerical value is a way to reduce this possible fear.

The rise of Collaborative Consumption

Reputation is now carried by a new system, which takes rather elusive notions of credibility, influence and status and turns them into measurable scores.

What is actually happening here is that people are realizing the power of technology to unlock the idling capacity and value of all kinds of assets, in ways and on a scale never possible before.

It is an economy and culture called collaborative consumption.

But the real magic and secret sauce behind collaborative consumption is not the inventory or the money. It is using the power of tech to build trust between strangers and even companies.

The irony is that these ideas are actually taking us back to old market principles and collaborative behaviors that are hard-wired in all of us.

We are hard-wired to buy from people we like, know and trust.

They’re just being reinvented in ways that are relevant for the Facebook age.

But, the question remains, would you trust a computer over a human decision.

In order to answer this question, we need to have a look at human behavior.

Death as an opt-in

Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car.

One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head towards a crowd of 8 people crossing the road.

It cannot stop in time, but it can avoid killing 8 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the driver and occupant.

What should the car do?

This was one of the questions Bonnefon and co needed to answer in order to find a way through this ethical dilemma by gauging public opinion.

The results are interesting, if not, very predictable.

In general, people are comfortable with the idea that self-driving vehicles should be programmed to minimize the death toll, which means the last option in this example, they’ll die.

This utilitarian approach is certainly laudable but the participants were willing to go only so far.

Participants were not as confident that autonomous vehicles would be programmed that way in reality — and for a good reason: they actually wished others to cruise in autonomous vehicles, rather than they wanted to buy vehicles themselves.

And therein lies the paradox.

People are in favor of cars that sacrifice the occupant to save other lives — as long they don’t have to drive one themselves.

In other words, people feel the right thing to do is to save all those people, as long as they are not in that car.

But, these are the same people that are going to decide whether you are going to run against a wall or not.

Or is death going to be an opt-in when buying your car in the future?

As the grandma (true story) of Bart de P. said:

“You always have to fear technology because you don’t know which technology is going to invent that technology.”

Social proof & tricking the system

As humans we view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

The more people doing it, the more this rule works into making us believe that the behavior is correct.

In other words, we use behavior of people (to whom we feel similar), to determine proper behavior for ourselves.

Just like canned laughter in your favorite tv shows causes viewers to laugh longer and more often.

Social proof is what makes reviews and ratings so powerful. It helps our brain to take shortcuts into making decisions.

Yet, the system still has some flaws when fake reviews and star ratings come into play.

Of course, as a data driven person, I have put the power of social proof to an experiment.

We started out with creating a profile on, a platform that enables people to receive and give advice in exchange for cash per minute.

We decided to use this platform for our test, since we’ve noticed that it looked pretty easy to rank ourselves above other experts on our core business, Growth Hacking.

The experiment: To start the experiment and not waste time time of our own, we spend 5,31€ on Fiverr* to have a person create accounts and leave real reviews on our profile (this is the part where we are probably going to get banned).

* Fiverr is the world’s largest freelance services marketplace for lean entrepreneurs.

The result: In less then one day we ranked top 1 as an expert in Growth Hacking. About 2 months after setting up the experiment, we received our first customer on the 22nd of December 2017, who was more than happy with the advice that was given.

As shown in the autonomous car example, we tend to be egocentric in decisions that have an impact on our own lives. But the system that is build to create trust, is not bulletproof enough to create and build that real trust.

The question is not: Who is going to control the human race? But who is it going to trust in the digital age and how can we earn it?

The trust economy: things to consider while re-thinking the way you do Marketing.

Decentralized trust economy

“Decentralized technology, such as Blockchain, is not an attack on the banks or even on the government, it’s an attack on the trust economy.” Bart Vandepaer

This is the one of the simple explanations why companies that offer review software such as Yotpo (raised 53$) and Trustpilot (raised 123$) have reached a point where their evaluation has skyrocketed.

Clearly, there is something here.

It’s not about what you think or say about your brand anymore. It’s about how many people have reviewed your product or service. The more, the better.

What is great about these platforms is that they enable people to see reviews from real people who have actually bought the product. Which makes it a lot harder to trick the system and helps building the trust we want in order to help our brain decide faster.


To get back to our example of the self-driving car: What happens if the creator is in the driver’s seat? What if he/she gets to decide which reviews are shown to the general public, with just one click on a button.


How honest and trustworthy are reviews in a centralized system where we are still in charge of what people get to see about us by just unpublishing your bad review.

This is exactly what is happening in China with their Citizen rating. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?

Take George Orwell’s 1984. Now sprinkle in that episode of “Black Mirror” (Nosedive) where characters live in a world in which every aspect of their lives is dominated by ratings.

In conclusion, the only way to build real trust between brands and people is to have a decentralized identity controlling what we see and how we see it, without mediation of the creator deciding which and how many reviews will be shown.

Review syndication & the battle of reviews within a trust economy

As much as we all think that Amazon is the leading player in ecommerce, it’s not the only player around selling products or services online.

With 8.4% of all U.S. retail shopping now done on the web, reviews will only become more important, raising the urgency for companies to offer insightful and crowd-sourced insight.

Even better is that the more reviews a product has, the more likely they are to sell, even if the are reviews are negative.

“There are companies today that are gathering their online reviews and spreading them across multiple platforms where their brand is being sold. And it’s power is only increasing“ Miel van Opstal

The importance of reviews are going to rise because they help us decide faster on things we don’t want to be thinking about at all. Or support a decision we have already made.

How to start building trust in a trust economy

How would you feel if somebody you didn’t know, walked up to you in the middle of the street trying to sell you an expensive pen?

Chances are, you might not even lift a finger, let alone, your wallet.

The reason behind this is simple.

People purchase from you based on your KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST factor.

A stranger nevertheless, has none of these factors.

So how can we make people know, like and trust us?

You provide them with value first.

It’s that simple.

Yet, this is the part where most companies get it wrong.

You need marketing that isn’t perceived as marketing.

Understand this story before building trust.

We all know what favors are, but what most of us don’t know is this unwritten rule.

It’s a social rule that implies that people give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they have received from another.

Psychologists call this Reciprocity.

This is one of the fundamental psychological principles which directs human behavior.

In other words, if you help people first, they will be more likely to help you out.

Now think about the last time a good friend, who helped you out, asked you for a favor.

Did you say yes?

A great example of reciprocity happened in 1985.

The early morning of 19 September 1985, Mexico City was being struck by an earthquake with a moment magnitude of 8.0.


At least 5000 people died that day.

Luckily, my mother was not home and ended up looking at a destroyed house sparing her life.

But what happened next, was something nobody would have predicted.

The day after the earthquake, a relief donation of 5.000$ was sent by a country that was low on food supply and where an internal war was still ongoing.


The question remains, why would a country that was suffering this much send a relief donation?

To answer this question, we need to rewind our clock back to 1935.

In 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia when it was being invaded by Italy during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

So the reason why Ethiopia helped out, was because of the help they received 50 years ago.

This is exactly the reason why giving something of true value will get you to sell something related/similar later on.

Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and trust with your customers.

Solve people’s small problems, and they will come to you with their big problems.

As you were able to read trust is the key of succeeding or failing. The next question is: how can you build that trust?

How to build trust and value faster then your competitor.

While most marketers — nearly 53 percent — say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority to provide value and build trust to its prospects and customers, the tactic is becoming less effective between the 2,527,635 blogs written every day (and those are stats from 2010, imagine what number it would be today).

While the compounding results, meaning organic search increases their traffic over time, are still very effective. They tend to be long-term strategies, especially if you want to do it right.

What if you need quick traction right now, what if you want to build report and trust quicker then your competitor. What do you do?

You build a Side Project.

You create something of true value in order to solve a very small problem of your target audience in order to gain their trust and sell them your service or product later-on.

A great and well-known example is done by Hubspot. Their main objective and core service is selling you marketing automation software for inbound marketers. But before buying expensive software, they first need to know if their website is running at full speed; therefore, HubSpot created a free tool, called Website Grader. In exchange of getting you a free overview of what to improve on your website, they go home with loads of valuable data about their target audience.

In other words, Side Projects should help solve a small problem of your target audience for free to help grow your core business.

There are 2 questions to keep in mind before making your Side Project:

  1. What is your core product or business?
  2. What is a small problem my target audience is having and how can I solve it in the best possible way.

Trust economy: 4 type of Side-Projects you can make in order to build trust with your users.

1. Directories

Yes, you can buy happiness — especially if the money saves you time.

People who dole out cash to save time on things like housekeeping, delivery services and taxis are a little bit happier than those who don’t.

Well, that’s exactly what these directories are, a nice-looking curated website to help people save time. A great example of this is one of the most upvoted product on Product Hunt, called Startup Stash, a curated directory of 400 tools and resources for startup founders.


As people like to say: ‘you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, if it’s already invented’. One directory, called Marketing Stack, looks quite similar to the product above, with just a small twist. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get started with your Side Project.


2. Quizzes

Everybody loves quizzes, except cats, they don’t really do quizzes.

That wasn’t actually a real quote, but you might get the point.

And there is proof to support this statement (except the cats part).

A great example is this little but highly successful quiz called “You’ve Been Framed”, which helps the (potential) customers of the the eye glass company pick the right framework for them. The result? The quiz generated $1 million for the company. Not bad for ‘just’ a quiz.


3. Generators

“Solve people’s small problems, and they will come to you with their big problems.”

That’s exactly what te people at Board of Innovation understood very well when they designed the

By helping people generate ideas on their own, they are solving a small problem of a much larger puzzle, which is digital innovation.

And here is exactly when the reciprocity effect kicks in.

By helping somebody out in an early stage, they are much more likely to work with you in the future. Returning you the favor.

Because now, you gave them a small reason to trust you over your competitor in this trust economy.

4. Graders

A grader is much harder to make, but it can deliver wildly amazing results.

Just like in school, it’s a report, personalized to your needs on what to do next and where there is room for improvement. A great example is the Company Culture Test developed by Intuo that allows users to test how strong their company culture is. A tool to create awareness around the importance of company culture.


5 Pro-tips in order to build your Side Project

1. Why Side Projects should be free.

“Free” is this magical price that everybody seems to love and it’s changing the way we do business right now.

In the 19th Century, a man by the name King Gillette invented the world’s first disposable-blade razor.

His strategy was simple.

He sold the razors, only the handle part, cheaply to places like banks who would give them away to new customers as part of their promotions, totally free.

As most men know, the handle isn’t the expensive part, the blades are, and they sell them with a hefty profit, later in the sales cycle.

Yet, customers were more than happy to accept this free gift.

To truly understand why “free” is such a powerful marketing method, we need to understand the psychology behind it.

Behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, tells us that most transactions have an upside and a downside.

But when things are free, we forget the downside.

Why? Because as humans, we are intrinsically afraid of loss.

With “free”, there’s no visible possibility of loss.

So we speed right by all those questions we would otherwise have about the value of an item and land directly on “yes please”.

Side Project Marketing is about giving value to your customers that would otherwise cost them money.

2. Focus on solving one (small) problem only and solve it fast.

If you have ever seen an episode of Kitchen Nightmares by Gordon Ramsey, you’ll understand that every single episode has the same problem.

Too many dishes on the menu turns out to be the bottleneck of every restaurant.

Of course, we can all understand the logic behind having more dishes on the menu.

It attracts more potential customers.

Nevertheless, we all know that feeling when we are looking at a menu with at least 100 possible dishes to choose from.

Not only is it hard to choose, but you might also question the quality of each dish.

Why is this happening?

When you ask most people what’s standing in their way to becoming a success, it’s usually some sort of variation of “I need more time, money and people”.

The thing is, when you ask these people what they would do with that extra time, money and people, they’ll probably show you a plan that does more of what they are already doing.

And that’s exactly a recipe for failure.

Focus on solving one small problem your customers are having right now and place a deadline for yourself.

If you can’t build it in less then 2 weeks, it’s not a side Project, it’s a second business.

Here is a guide on how to create one in 3 days.

3. Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Most people think that Edison invented the first light bulb.

They’re wrong.

In fact, Edison was tremendously late at the party.

It was not until 23 others had invented early versions called, arc lamps, that the 36 — year-old inventor started his journey to build a light bulb.

The question remains, how did he manage to still win in a field that was crowded with players?

In one word: experimentation.

For Edison, building the first commercial light bulb was synonymous with building an invention factory.

For the simple reason that the more experiments they ran, the more knowledge they had about what worked and what didn’t work for them, giving them the competitive advantage they needed to succeed.

Just like the creation of luck, the more you experiment, the more chances you’ll have to break free from your competitions.

You first Side Project won’t be a bullseye, don’t give up (trust us, we know).

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel and let the data speak

Unless you have really reinvented the wheel like these guys on Shark Tank, don’t (if you haven’t seen the episode, it’s a must right here).

As said before, a Side Project should be build in less then 2 weeks of time, if not, it’s just another business.

The thing is, when you are deciding what to build for your customers, what they say they want and what they actually want, can most of the times be the complete opposite.

As said in one of  my last guides;

“Sustainable growth comes from understanding best customers and figuring out how to find and acquire more of them.”

By having a look at your current data you are able to discover huge amount of opportunities to leverage your growth.

In other words, a Side Project doesn’t need to be something brand new.

In fact, the best way how to build & test yours is to repurpose the content which is already working and doubling down on it.

Let the data speak, since there are no ‘great’ ideas until proven with hard data.

5. Distribution is key

Imagine you are sitting in your favorite bar with your buddies.

Your best friend just started talking about his great journey throughout Belgium (if he is lucky with the weather).

He starts of with talking about all these great beers he was able to taste with a guided tour in Brugge.

But there was one in particular that struck his attention and tasting budds:

“Brugse Zot” (don’t even try to pronounce that).

While explaining about his experience about this beer, you naturally feel like having one.

But you can’t.

Because they don’t serve this beer at your favorite bar.

And that’s exactly why these big corporate ventures such as AB Inbev were able to grow this big, they understood the power of distribution.

Just like your friends favorite beer, your Side Project is not finished when it’s ‘finished’.

Your efforts should equally be focused on distributing your Side Project as much as creating it.

Now go out and create the needed trust within this trust economy.