Leo Trieu

If you want to start a side project, this is a Must-Read...

5 min read

In the previous post, I promised to show you how to transform your idea into an MVP and share growth hacking strategies that I used to gain traction in early stage.

Here we are.

You will see that it actually doesn’t require much money or big product to be successful.


Actually, C4S was not my first idea when I decided to do something as a side project. Before that, I was struggling with other 3 ideas:
  • 1st : A community where people trading their spare time to do a certain task for each other.
  • 2nd : A directory site for booking appointment. Similar to MyTime.
  • 3rd : A marketplace where people can rent their spare stuff out for extra bucks like cameras, office chairs, etc.

But when I went to meetups and talked to founders and entrepreneurs, I realized that most of them were non-tech guys and frustrated in finding a tech co-founder.
Suddenly, I thought: “Why don’t I just teach them how to code to create their own ideal app in short time by working on practical projects? This is what I’m really good at.”

That was where POA (Project Oriented Approach) idea came from.
And Code4Startup was born.

Note: If you don’t even have any ideas yet, I suggest go to Betalist, ProductHunt and look around to see trending or apps and get inspired.


How I started:
  • Creating a Coming Soon page:
    It was simply a static HTML page with MailChimp code embed to collect emails. I hosted it on AWS S3 with $1/mo. MailChimp was free for 12.000 emails/mo => Done. Quick and cheap!

  • Submitting to Betalist, Earlibird:
    It took about 2-3 weeks to be featured on their site. I got about 400-500 emails expressed their interest on potential courses. Good start!

  • Designing logo:
    Here was the funny thing. I created the coming soon page with everything set up in matter of 1 day. But it took me 3 days for trying to get a “beautiful and cool” logo design. It was my biggest mistake. No one even care or remember your logo when they visit your site. I wasted so much time for thing that doesn’t matter.

  • Tough time began:
    Spending 2.5 months to practice English pronunciation and create my first 2 online courses with a MacBook and an Apple headphone. Thousands of “recoding-deleting-recording-deleting”. Countless sleepless nights. So many frustrations. Lot of “WTF” moments. Most of time I just slept about 4-5 hours per day.

  • Validating my 2 courses on Udemy (a online learning marketplace with 10M+ users):
    Eventually, I got 2 courses (products) ready to go. I decided to host them on Udemy and made them free to see if they get any traction or feedback. Honestly, I was a bit worried about the sound quality (recording with the headphone) and my English accent. But at the end of the day, it was just for validation so I wasn’t too afraid of failure or negative feedback.


Fortunately, people just loved it (not 100%, of course).
Once I saw good feedback from students on Udemy, I decided to create my own platform on code4startup.com
I built the first MVP of C4S in 3 days (14 hours, to be exact) with few basic functions allowing users to register and watch videos.
Then I added my 2 free courses on the new platform.

Free tools I used (setting them up is super easy and quick):
  • MailChimp: I needed tool to handle users’ emails. DONE!
  • Zopim: I needed tool for live chat with users if need. DONE!
  • Disqus: Users need place to discuss questions or bugs. DONE!
  • Google Analytics: I needed way to track traffic sources and useful insight information. DONE!

Paid services (cheap)
  • Domain: $50/3 years
  • Hosting: Digital Ocean - $5/month
  • Video hosting: Wistia – Free package


It’s time to get more traction but I didn’t have budget to spend on paid Ads.
So here were strategies that I used to grow audiences:

Facebook, Twitter:
  • Posted links on Facebook groups and twitter.
  • Did not gain much traction.
  • Posted links on Reddit subs.
  • Some other students posted it as well.
  • It worked really well.
  • Emailed to Firebase and told them that I’m creating a course using Firebase.
  • James Tamplin (CEO of Firebase) posted message on Google Group about our course.
  • Firebase tweeted to 20K+ followers about my course.
Product Hunt:
  • Once C4S was featured on PH, it gained huge traffic and traction.
  • Many people loved the POA (Project Oriented Approach) and keep sharing.
  • Sadly, at the same time, haters and destructive comments came in (will share more on this in later post).
  • Emailed Wistia and asked for a potential partnership in which I will create a free course to promote Wistia.
  • As a return, I will get discount deal for video hosting.
  • After back and forth emails, we became good friends :)
  • At the time, I was the very first person ever offered Wistia such a deal.

How MUCH money did I spend to get started?
Less than $100.
That is SMALL.

How BIG was my MVP to gain traction?
A product with only few basic functions.
That is SMALL.

In the next post, I will show you:

  • How I built trust and brought values to our customers and moved C4S into real business from a side project.
  • How I leveraged those free tools to build a sustainable business.
  • How I made $4,563 from a course that didn’t even exist at the time.

See ya!

I'm sharing everything on my journey

from a solo coder to a $1M entrepreneur.


Leo Trieu, Founder of Code4Startup

Leo is also a Full Stack developer and instructor in Code4Startup who is passionate about EdTech.