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OAK COVER Magazine

  /  Work   /  The thing I had built 15 years ago could have been a great success if I only had the right mindset back then.

The thing I had built 15 years ago could have been a great success if I only had the right mindset back then.

In 2004-2007 as a teenager, I accidentally created Poland’s largest online science forum. I’m reflecting on the roots of how it happened – my distribution channels, growth tactics, and why the internet was an entirely different beast back then.

It was the golden era of phpBB forums. As surprising as it may seem, it was really easy to set up a website like this 16 years ago. You would just buy a domain with hosting, download a free phpBB script and upload it to the server. Very similar to WP installation.

In 2004 I bought scientist.pl domain (pretty neat, right?), and downloaded a free template. I also told my two classmates about what I was about to do. They joined me right away. We didn’t have any goals, all just for fun. To see how it looked back then, feel free to check the original twitter thread

In the next couple of weeks, we would organically spread the word. In our class, in school.

Two months later, we had around 30 users. It became sort of cool to post stuff on scientist pl- we started noticing sign-ups from schoolmates we didn’t know. 15 y.o discussing black holes, popular science articles and posting their math homeworks.Wow, we got traction (of course, this word was alien to us back then)

We spent $0 on marketing.

Of course, where would we get that money from? But we had precisely two online growth hacks.We were active on adjacent forums, and advertised in the post footer signature. Nobody would say it’s spammy.

Another growth hack was Gadu Gadu status. GG has been a polish online instant messaging communicator (read more) You could set your custom status (similar to bio on Twitter). Mine, of course, was the url to our science forum.

Three years later, we had

  • 1250 users

  • 29337 posts

  • 2288 threads

It looks really humble compared to current standards. But we were the largest polish general science online forum. Wow.

Around that time, we were slowly becoming less interested in the forum. We grew up – my interests gravitated towards girls, skateboarding, parties etc.

Scientist was burning out and died in 2011. Someone just forgot pay for hosting.

We haven’t made any money out of it because we were too young to have that mindset.

We had no idea such things can make money.

But that’s ok. I had been immature to understand the opportunity, but eventually I ended up where I am today.

I’ve been thinking about how this experience framed the mental models I have today.I haven’t arrived at the answer yet, but I realized the internet was a completely different place back then. Also, learned a little bit about myself.

If you build it, they will come was definitely a thing those days in the Polish internet.The internet was scarce. Only genuinely interested people used it. You didn’t have to fight for attention. Almost everything was treated as signal.

There was no mob, no trolls, no people posting shit/abusive content. Moderators were busy adding new interesting posts – giving bans or deleting posts were super rare. Most users were content-hungry and willing to contribute to the discussion.

Since we had no financial incentives, we had no expectations either. Pure joy.

I know nowadays I wouldn’t be so patient and chilled. I’d expect growth, revenue, etc. When I was 15, I was passionate, enthusiastic, yet careless.

If only I could emulate this approach today.

School, the physical community of people I was surrounded by all day, was responsible for the initial traction. I realized how I miss such a sense of belonging.

If I could give a piece of advice to my younger self, I’d tell him to keep working and become an indiehacker at a young age.

I’m really happy of where I am today, but I’d probably be way further in terms of career if only I hadn’t given up on this project back then.

Or maybe it all should have happened this way in order to revisit it years later and reflect on it like I’m doing it now.

I will always be proud of Scientist.

Thanks for reading! I usually share all stories on twitter first, come and say hi! 😉