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30 Comments

I make side projects as a full-time dad. AMA!

Good day everyone 👋

I'm Khoa, it's morning here in Oslo. I write this after taking my 2-year-old son to kindergarten.

I'm a long-time open source enthusiast on GitHub as onmyway133 with 1.8k followers and share technical articles on Medium with over 2.4k followers.

Early last year I gave Twitter another try, followed and made friends with more fellow indie developers, and got inspired by their work.

Having a small kid and full-time job, it's hard to find time for side projects, so I decided to give less time to open source & other entertainments, and try to wake up early 1 hour to work on my side project ideas, because if I don't act now, then when?

So I revamped my personal website, made a few apps. The result was lots of apps that no one know about since I don't tell about them anywhere.

Then I started learning about design, landing pages and rebuild some of them from the ground up. PastePal, GetAlmighty are some that got attractions and generate revenue.

I don't plan to show off my apps here, but just want to share how I got here and what I've learned along the way, as a full-time young dad who has a 9-5 job.

  • Ideas are cheap, really cheap. I used to write down a lot of ideas that I have, but then I realized most of them are just for fun and become irrelevant quickly. We might be able to do anything, but we can't do everything. Spend time wisely
  • What you don't know is what you haven't learned. Ever heard about imposter syndrome? I have, too. But then I find out that no one becomes expert on the first day. Don't compare your day 1 to Bill Gates day 10000

I'm happy to answer your questions about anything that I know: life, work, parenting, app development, ....

You can also connect me on Twitter at onmyway133. Again, have a nice day

  1. 4

    Hey Khoa,

    Awesome stuff. You've got loads of apps.

    1. Can you clarify what you mean by full-time dad? You mention that you have a 9-5 job. I read full-time dad as stay-at-home dad :)
    2. How many apps are generating revenue? and total revenue?
    3. How do you decide when to keep working / maintaining an app?
    4. Are you able to keep that habit of waking up earlier and working on side projects? Any strategies that help?

    I've got 3 kids and lately life has been happening too much and haven't had much time to dedicate to side projects.

    Thanks for posting. Got a much needed motivation boost.

    1. 2

      Hi Antonio, thanks for the questions.

      1. I do have a 9-5, yes. What I mean is I try to spend more time with my son, before work, after work, and on weekends. I don't work on weekends to spend even more time with him, I know these moments won't come 2nd time. In the summer I also didn't work at all.

      2. As per AppStore Connect, many of my apps are making money, but PastePal, Push Hero and Almighty account for the most. These 3 apps are what I started to focus more beginning of this year with major redesign and written from scratch. That I also tweet about the developments of these apps help with spreading the words too.

      For now all my apps are one-time purchase so it's hard to say about MRR, but so far they have been making steadily around $1.5k pre tax

      1. I organize user feedbacks and issues in Notion kanban now, and I give them priority depending on how easy/hard and painful the problem is. I don't have a fixed schedule but I try to pick the tasks I find fun the most.

      2. I've been waking up early almost every day since summer last year, thanks to my 2 alarm clocks :] That 1-2 hours every morning ensures I have nondistracted and productive hours to focus on working, that helps a lot. I try to stay away from working late at night as that gives a hard morning afterward

      Having 3 kids is a lot of work, so I can imagine it. As a father, I think we have high responsibility so this game is what I call ultimate hard mode. But our family is the reason we do all these hard extra work.

      I know it's demotivating and distress during this hard time, stay safe and take a break whenever you need to recharge.

      1. 1

        Thanks for sharing so many details. Completely agree that moments with your kids won't happen second time. Seems like you're spending your time wisely.

        Btw, what time do you wake up?

        1. 2

          I set timer to wake up at 5AM to work a bit until 6AM and then prepare breakfast and school bags for new day at kindergarten. I try to wake up at same time every day no matter how late I sleep. Try to sleep before mid nighty, that helps

  2. 3

    Hi Khoa,

    As an  platform engineer myself, I've come across your work, articles and also have interacted with you on a few communities online a few times - it's really great to get an insight into your life and how you balance it.

    Your thoughts on ideas and imposter syndrome are spot on.

    I've always struggled to build something to completion and have read time and again about validating ideas and failing fast.

    1. Do you validate ideas before you build them? If so, how?
    2. How do you come up with tangible ideas?
    3. How do you keep yourself accountable during the build phase?
    4. Do you use any project management tools for these side projects? If so, what sort of workflow do you use?

    Thanks!

    1. 2

      Hi Arvind, nice to see you here. And glad you find my work useful. To answer your questions

      1. To be honest the apps I've built are all my spontaneous ideas for the problems I'm facing, so they are not really validated before. But for few apps that work, I continuously improve and focus on them more

      2. Most of my apps are for Mac, mainly because I develop using Mac the most, so I see some painful problems myself. And the apps I'm building are solving around that. The nice things are that people also give feedback and I take their suggestions to improve further

      3. I see some kind of soft deadline, not too strict as I might not be able to finish, but enough to keep me accountable. And it's a bit itchy to see a task hanging in In Progress column for a long time

      4. I've been trying with some project management tools like Pivotal, Asana and Trello. But recently I started using Notion to organize my ideas and things, I also use Notion with kanban board to organize my tasks. The UI is a bit slow but I think it's OK at this point

  3. 3

    Khoa you are hard working man. All takes time so it's important to be patient 🙂

    Do you have some kind a plan what and when are you doing? Because having daily jod, kid and a few side projects are so excited and hard.

    1. 2

      Hi Ilya, thanks for the question.

      I don't have a strict schedule, but I note down things and plans. Recently I start using Notion, and I use it with the kanban board to plan ahead my work. Then I have a kanban board for each project with tasks and feedback to work on.

      These tasks, together with ideas, are things I start to experiment with multiple columns priorities, so only things that move to priority 1 column can be executed.

      Apart from that, I tend to not plan too much work and accept that I have to take things slowly. This mindset gives me much peace than before

      1. 1

        That's great. Similar to what I have now with Microns.

  4. 2

    Hi Khoa,
    Thanks for your post! We've exchanged a few messages on Twitter sometimes in the past, and it's great to see you here as well.

    It's indeed hard to be a father, having a morning job, and side projects to work on at the same time. Trust me that I really understand what is like everything you describe in this post, as I'm pretty much in the same situation. But it's comforting to find out that I'm on the same page with people like you!

    I come to confirm that waking up earlier than the rest of the family in the morning and working fully concentrated for an hour, even less, it's pretty productive for side projects. I've been doing it for a long time too, as mental fatigue in the after-work hours don't allow to do much.

    Enjoy your time with your son, and make it count as much as possible. I feel like I've lost some important time with my daughter because I chose to work more sometimes, and I can tell that it was not a wise decision eventually.

    Anyway, I felt like I wanted to leave this short answer here. Keep going strong with the great work you've been doing on our programming field!

    1. 2

      Hi Gabriel glad to see you here, and thanks for sharing. Agree with everything you said, this journey is both challenging and fun, and meaningful after all. Hope all the best to you and your little family

  5. 2

    Hi Khoa!

    I remember some time ago you mentioned you were obsessed with the idea of having 30k rating on SO. You then said that when you reached that you checked the statistics once and that was it.

    Curious why were you so eager to see statistics and why were you not that much happy after reaching the desired rating?

    1. 1

      Hi, thanks for asking. Stack Overflow has a privilege system where you gain more actions with more points and that incentivises people to submit quality questions and answers. I was curious to see the statistics of the site, which you can view here https://stackoverflow.com/site-analytics

      It was fun to see at first, but not something I want to stare all day.

      I think, after all, the fun is in the journey, not the destination. I for now still enjoy the quality questions and answers on SO, but not the privilege system

  6. 2

    Thank you for doing this. How...just how? lol

    How are you finding the time?

    I think my better question is: what are you sacrificing to have the time to do all this? You already said you were sacrificing 1 hour of sleep per day and some other forms of entertainment.

    How much time do you sleep per day?
    What else are you sacrificing?
    How much time do you average on those projects per day?

    Cheers and thanks for the inspiration 💜

    1. 1

      Hi Maxime, thanks for the questions

      I'm just an ordinary human, there was a time I only slept 5-6 hours a day, but now I try to sleep from 10PM - 5AM to have that 1 hour of free time in the early morning.

      Before I thought how could I do anything with just 1 hour of free time? But then day after day I realized it accumulates quickly, little work by little work, with much focus, we can achieve much more. We have to accept to go slow, but eventually we can finish a lot of things in a year, 365 hours.

      I don't use many social media, stopped Facebook last year. The only social media I use mostly is Twitter, but I try to not browse too much. I also don't watch TV. I mostly read news summaries, audio books, and podcasts when I'm the go

  7. 2

    Hi Khoa that is really awesome! You actually build quite a lot.Congrats.
    Here is my question to you, as you are a parent and a full time employee I assume you don't really want to waste time in meaningless projects.
    Are you trying to maybe move later to fully working on projects without a full time job?
    Also, how do you validate if an idea that you have is good? Or how do you come up with ideas in the first place?

    1. 2

      I like this question. How do you ensure that you are spending your time wisely?

      1. 1

        Good question.

        To be honest, before I kinda built whatever I like, mostly to experiment with new tech, it can be an electron, react or some javascript libraries.

        Then I start to realize that we can build anything but we can't build everything. So I tend to delay the ideas until it pops up again and again, until then I know if they are really painful problems to solve or not.

        The other thing is to consume less entertainment and negative news, they are the lost time we can't get back. Try to invest in building skills and making things, these will pay off in the long run.

        Hope I answer your question

    2. 1

      Hi, thanks for the questions. I have to admit I feel a bit demotivating working on someone's else projects than mine. But at the same time, I kinda enjoy my 9-5 job where I have friends, good projects, good company, and get paid well, that pays the bill. And I get to learn a lot from working together with people.

      I started doing side projects last year so I'm kinda new, for now, they generate enough for my rent (in Oslo, Norway things are crazy expensive). Until I have projects that generate more than my salary will I be able to think about side projects full time.

      About ideas, most of my apps now are Mac apps, and they are things I make first and foremost to solve my problems and to experiment with new tech. The moment they took off was after I apply the design knowledge that I learn, to make the apps look pretty, and when I started sharing about my apps so people know.

      The web app I made recently WWDC Together was built as a place to chat together during WWDC online, it also came as a spontaneous idea, not very validated, but I'm in this community for long so I know from my gut feeling that people are gonna need it to, and in fact it was.

      I think we can validate ideas to some extend by just executing our ideas, build many and see which fit.

  8. 2

    Very inspiring! As a dad of 4, and an indie hacker, it's really cool to see others that are pushing projects live despite sometimes hectic working conditions. 😊

    My current focus this year is shipping ideas as I have a nasty habit of starting and stopping...

    1. 1

      Hi Ryan, glad to hear. I only have 1 kid so I can imagine the hard work needed to raise 4. But as a father I feel we have bigger responsibility so the only way is to work harder and smarter, so we can spend more time with them.

      I see you're doing great with your products, can't wait to hear you share more about Shoppe

  9. 2

    Nice apps, How did you manage to build so many apps with such less time, toddlers are tough to manage.How did you manage?.

    1. 1

      Hi thanks for the question. Ja toddlers are both fun and time-consuming, from changing diapers when they are small, then to play and educating them when they are a bit older. But I see they are the reasons we're doing all of these hard & extra work, right?

      I like to experiment with new technology, say electron, react, web, webpack so I find fun when doing so. This knowledge that I've been learning before now helps me to make apps fast. I now do mostly Mac apps, and the experience working with Swift and iOS has helped me greatly.

      That being said, I have lots of apps, but the ones I'm focusing on now are just a few. But I plan to revamp the others when I have some time

  10. 1

    Hello Khoa, I like your title! Being Dad is great. I recently made a SaaS directory as a Tribute to my Father - https://www.chandrasaas.com/about/

    1. 1

      Great work, what are your further plan for the Saas Directory?

  11. 1
    1. Are you a night owl or a morning lark?
    2. How do you not wake up your spouse in the morning?
    3. What's a fun activity you've done with your son and that you'd recommend?
    4. When do you think your son will start building apps?
    1. 1

      Hi there Arnaud 🙌 thanks for the questions

      1. I would say I work best in the morning. After a long day at work & caring for kid, I find it hard to even concentrate on the things

      2. It's a trick I discovered. I setup alarm on my Apple watch to be in silence mode so it vibrates, and on the working table is 1 alarm that fire off very loud 1 minute after. So when my watch wakes me up, I need to get up early to turn off that loud alarm. By this I'm fully awake and not disturb my son.

      3. Going to the farm with him, taking him to the train museum, taking him to the kid play center near my place, and going around the regions on local trains. He loves train

      4. Haha this is a tricky one, let's see. I actually want him to practice some material arts or sports than to sitting in front of computer for long

      1. 1

        It's a trick I discovered. I setup alarm on my Apple watch to be in silence mode so it vibrates, and on the working table is 1 alarm that fire off very loud 1 minute after. So when my watch wakes me up, I need to get up early to turn off that loud alarm. By this I'm fully awake and not disturb my son.

        LOL genius. Just genius.

  12. 1

    Hey Khoa,

    Your hard works are really an inspiration.

    1. What's something you learnt recently that you wish you learnt much earlier?
    2. What are channels do you leverage to market your SaaS products?
    3. What's the one mistake you have done and will advice others not to repeat that?

    Thank you.

    1. 2

      Hi Anshu, thanks for the questions

      1. Recently I start learning about stocks and analysis, not something I wish I would know before, but very good to know

      2. This I have to learn from you. For now I mostly tweet about my app development on Twitter, very randomly, and launch on Product Hunt when it is ready. Besides that I don't have other social channels. In fact I try to reduce my social time to focus on work.

      3. Like I said when we called, I think is ignorance. Many of my mistakes come from ignoring. So now I try to be curious about everything

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