March 23, 2013

We Build at Night

Last Tuesday, I officially launched my new project, We Build At Night. We Build At Night is an interview site dedicated to talking with people that build projects in their free time. The site will feature weekly interviews with developers, designers, writers, and artists that are working on some cool stuff on their own time - either individually or with like-minded cohorts. I wanted to write here a little bit about the project and the launch.

I’ve always loved reading interviews and articles about people that are dedicated to projects outside of their day jobs. I also always find myself working on random stuff at night and on weekends. It’s motivating to hear about people doing the same thing. The problem was that interviews like this were hard to find. It dawned on me that I could interview people and direct the flow of conversation to topics that interest me and potentially get a lot more out of the process by being an active participant. So I set about building a site to talk about builders.

The Platform

The site was simple enough to build. I wanted something clean and simple that focused on the content. After sketching out some initial ideas for the design, I set about building and refining it in the browser using my favorite CSS framework - Foundation. Foundation is great for getting a design up and running, and is way easier to customize and overwrite than something like Bootstrap. This being a night project, I wanted to build on something that is robust and easy to use rather than write a ton of CSS from scratch. I’ve used Foundation on a number of projects (this site being one), so it was a natural choice.

I was originally going to build on top of WordPress, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to manage a database and heavy installation. I’ve had great success with my personal site’s CMS, so I decided to use that for We Build At Night as well. I hopped on over and bought a new Statamic license and started coding. In a few nights, I had a site.

The Launch

After a very successful prelaunch on Hacker News, I had a ton of emails from people interested in being interviewed, as well as a pretty good email list to notify on launch. After getting the first interview in the bag, I built a new campaign in MailChimp and sent it out. I’m a veteran of email marketing and I’m always surprised to see the response to email campaigns. Being an email cynic, I expect most people to ignore email campaigns. I was very excited to see the results below:

MailChimp Launch

Mailchimp has a great little tool to compare your stats against those in a chosen industry. I opted to compare against the media and publishing industry, since it seemed to fit the content best, and was very happy to see that I was well above the average in opens. I was even happier that unsubscribes were so low, while click throughs and views were pretty high.

I posted a few times to Hacker News with a pretty limited response, but overall was very happy with the traffic from the email campaign and Twitter, as well as repeat visitors. Overall, about 400 or so people checked out the first feature. While that’s a far cry from the 16,000 or so from the HN prelaunch, I think that it’s a great base to build on. The next feature is with a pretty big name project, so I am hopeful that the readership will continue to grow.

What’s next

While I only have the one feature up right now (but the next interview already completed), I do have some ideas for how I want to proceed with We Build At Night. First, I want to maintain the once-a-week feature interview post. I am pretty busy and I am sure it will be difficult at times (and I may miss a few deadlines), but I plan on trying my hardest to stick to the schedule.

Next, I want to add in a “builder news” section where I can post quick links to relevant articles that I find throughout the week. I am evisioning a mini Hacker News, but without the submissions. Just quick links to cool shit I find around the web. I think it would be a good way to grow content on the site as well as feature some stories that might not make it on sites like HN or TechCrunch. I also want to add a “resources and tools” section where I can feature some tools to help people building things on their own. A kind of repository of time-savers and tools that myself and the people I interview find helpful, so that others can benefit from them.

Finally, and this one is entirely contingent on my ability to grow the reader base, I am thinking about adding a shop to support the site. As the audience grows, server costs and email campaign costs will most likely increase with it, and I may need to start generating money to cover those costs. I’ve had a few people ask me about t-shirts and the like, so I may start offering some shirts and stickers to help generate some cash. I don’t want to clutter the site with ads, so this seems like a decent route to take. In the end, it’s all about the content and providing value to readers, so whatever I can do to further that is what’s important to me.

I’m very happy with the launch of We Build At Night and look forward to what the future holds for the project. I have some cool projects on the backburner for future features, and can’t wait to share them with everyone. If you haven’t already, check out the first interview with Danny Banks and be sure to check back for new features every week!