It's due time I start typing away about Chartbrew, a side project that I worked the longest so far. It all started in the summer of 2018 when Kate and I were wondering what to work on through the three hot months. We bounced ideas off each other and then settled on the idea of creating a simple tool for data visualisation. This tool would have to be able to connect to different data sources so that no extra coding was needed.

The important part here is that we didn't need super complex visualisation tools like the ones already available in the market - we just wanted something to help us visualise data from our small side-projects and share them with the world. The final idea was to put the design in the spotlight and leave the functionalities on the 2nd plan.

And because it's hard to work on a nameless project, we had to come up with a name for it. After a few back and forth's we settled on Chartbrew. It had a nice ring to it and we both instantly liked it. Next, because we both have technical backgrounds, we started working on setting up the project and coding different aspects of it.

Our temporary base in Valencia

It's worth mentioning that we wanted to make a business out of this new project, but we took the wrong approach of completely ignoring the validation process. When summer was drawing to an end, we started thinking more and more of how to approach people to see if anyone will be willing to pay for it, but the whole process was alien to both of us.

September was approaching and we were both due to return to studies - a two years Master course. During the first couple of months after we started our course, we began showing the project to online communities and we were getting a lot of positive feedback but nothing worth for validating the business idea. In other words, nobody was hinting that they were willing to pay for the platform. At this stage, we thought the clean design was just attracting eyes and it was easy to receive positive feedback on something that was pleasantly looking.

About this time we received our first $9 for a monthly subscription on the basic paid plan. Unfortunately, this user churned out right after and we couldn't get in touch with the person to find out more about their intentions with our product.

One of the first iterations of the dashboard

The slumber

It was time to switch the strategies a little. Since we both studied at KTH in Stockholm, we decided to get involved in the entrepreneurship scene over there. We managed to get into several programs meant to help out people that wanted to start businesses. In about the same period we started contacting small companies in Stockholm to try and get a call or a meeting with them to show them Chartbrew. This didn't work that well. We managed to have a meeting with a company but our product was not aligning with how they wished to work with a data visualisation tool. We realised we didn't know who our customer was and this was pretty late int the business and product development cycle.

Our initial goal with Chartbrew was to concentrate on making this into a working business, but it seemed we avoided most of the processes that involved developing the business and concentrated mostly on the product with our tunnelled vision.

A very important lesson here is that it's important to align your goals with what you're willing to do to reach the goals. It's a bit of a backwards approach. If what you do doesn't take you to the goal you had in mind, you start enjoying what you're doing less and less. This culminated with a burnout period where we stopped working on Chartbrew almost entirely.

Big direction changes happening

It was time to switch gears

Time has come to learn from past mistakes. Last time, the goals and actions were not aligned, so a shift was waiting to happen. Since we invested quite a bit of time in getting Chartbrew to this stage we couldn't just leave it like that. Moreover, we received a lot of good feedback before so there was definitely something there.

After the first master year in Stockholm, the degree continued in Paris. This is the time when thoughts about restarting work on Chartbrew started to crawl inside our heads. This time it had to be different. And we thought that since we don't have a clear idea on who our target customer is, let's open our codebase to other people and see what everyone thinks and how they would like to use a project like this.

As I mentioned in an Indiehackers discussion, these are roughly the reasons why we made Chartbrew open-source:

  • Some companies don't want to part with their data in any way, so they can run the whole project on their servers
  • Companies that run the project on their servers might contribute to the codebase or would require our services
  • Extra visibility in the developers' world
  • Give back to the open-source community

The Road to open-source wasn't like a snap of the fingers, though. The codebase needed some maintenance. The SaaS elements were also coupled with the rest of the application and these needed to be removed. After 2-3 weeks of working on it (part-time) everything was completed:

  • SaaS elements decoupled
  • Homepage replaced
  • Full-blown documentation is written
  • Slack community created
  • New repository for the open-source project
  • New guidelines for making open releases on GitHub
  • Code of conduct for the community around Chartbrew
  • Contribution guidelines
  • Public roadmap
  • Modified the chartbrew.com homepage to reflect all these changes

So as you can see, is not that easy to roll out an open-source project.

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New releases being rolled all the time

The next step was to keep the current SaaS project working. The next piece of work was to make sure the two repositories were synced properly. This was done without too much hassle and now it works like a charm; release updates on the open-source repository > merge changes in the SaaS repository.

Moving to open-source and also keeping the cloud version running puts us in a better position to tailor our services with potential customers and at the same time build something for the whole community of open-source software to use. And now to refer to a point I made above:

The goal is not to create a successful business, the goal now is to create something that people want to use!

I think this is an important lesson. You can have goals, any goals, but as long as you're not willing to direct your actions towards achieving that, it makes no sense to pursue it and you should analyse how you can turn it around. If the goals are aligned with what you're willing to do to achieve those goals, then you're in the right spot!

And that's what I think about the current state of affairs with Chartbrew. I actually enjoy working on it and telling people about the project. I started streaming the development over on Twitch and I'm super thrilled that most of the people that drop by are amazed by the project and happy to know it's an open-source codebase that the could contribute to.

Chartbrew will represent a big shift in how we think about specialised software like in this case, a data visualisation tool. All this design knowledge from HCI and interaction design research will contribute a lot to the direction where Chartbrew is going and we hope you'll join us and witness it. 👋

This is just the beginning of the story of Chartbrew. If you want me to keep you posted with the latest learnings, designs and frustrations of building this product, subscribe below and/or give me a follow using the links below.

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This blog post was originally posted on my blog here