Want to Sell Your Side Project? Learn to Love Taking Risks, Says Founder of SupportOps

In December 2022, Hosam Hassan sold his side project on Acquire.com for six figures. He’d been running SupportOps, a CRM consulting business, in his spare time for four years. Not interested in running a consultancy long-term, he hired an advisor to help him find a buyer. 

At first, he was anxious about selling a business with no assets. He hadn’t written any software and didn’t own any stock or equipment. It was just him, the configuration process he’d developed, and a roster of a hundred or so clients. A solopreneur who did all the work himself.  

But Hosam thought: What have I got to lose? Three months later, not only had he increased his valuation tenfold but also sold at almost ten percent above his asking price. And it all started on LinkedIn where he’d read about Acquire.com and fantasized about selling a business one day. 

You might also run a side project you want to sell. And like Hosam, you might be unsure if your business is worth anything to another buyer. Your advantage has been the freedom to take risks others can’t afford – those bold decisions that often result in successful, attractive businesses.

Do you run an agency or consultancy in your free time? Are you picky about the jobs you do and the clients you take on? Do you even do some work for free? None of these mean you can’t sell. And in Hosam’s case, it was because of these things that he closed a six-figure deal.

Read on to learn how to sell your side project in the same way.

Quitting College and Several Failed Starts

Hosam confesses that he got into entrepreneurship by accident. Even so, you could say it’s in his blood. During the PC boom of the 1980s, his dad imported computer parts and distributed them across Europe and the Middle East, impressing young Hosam with his salesmanship. 

“My dad’s an old-school salesperson,” Hosam said. “I used to watch him sell computer parts and loved how he focused on the customer’s needs above everything else. I fell in love with that aspect of entrepreneurship. Fulfilling services is great, but I love sales and marketing.”

As Hosam matured into a young teenager, he began emulating his dad’s success by reselling mobile phones and accessories on Craigslist. He believed his future was in technology, so after graduating, he won a place at Fairleigh Dickinson University to study computer science.

Half a semester in, however, Hosam began having second thoughts. 

“I got a grant to study, but I couldn’t stop thinking about running my own business,” Hosam said. “I’d been working at a cell phone company and my manager thought we could branch out together. So I quit college and opened a cell phone shop at just nineteen years old.”

Unfortunately, the business didn’t work and the shop closed. Rather than return to college, Hosam worked at several companies as an IT specialist, eventually finding himself at WeWork in Manhattan. Surrounded by entrepreneurs, he was inspired to start another business.

“WeWork had just started and didn’t provide IT services for its clients,” Hosam said. “I quit and rented a WeWork office the next day to offer IT services to its tenants as a consultant.” 

Hosam named his new business Fyxie, and it was one of the first in the area to offer unlimited IT support at a low monthly rate. But unable to scale such a labor-intensive business, Hosam couldn’t afford to continue running it without racking up debt, so he returned to full-time work.

“Winding down Fyxie didn’t depress me as much as I thought it would,” Hosam said. “The idea was good, but I’d rushed into it. I promised myself never to go all-in on a side gig again unless I was certain I could scale it. And I’ve kept that promise – even with SupportOps’ success.”

How Hosam Built the Side Project He’d Eventually Sell

When Fyxie failed, Hosam got a job at a small internet provider. The money was okay, but a three-hour commute and expensive city lunches wore him down. He took a pay cut for a remote job in technical support and then spotted a trend that would later result in his six-figure exit.

“I wanted to do something with the knowledge I’d learned over the years,” Hosam said. “One of the tools I was most familiar with was Zendesk. I checked Upwork and the demand for support operations and helpdesk administrators was insane. I knew I could make a difference here.”

Building a freelance reputation is a slow process. Hosam began by taking every small job he could, charging as low as fifty dollars per project. Over time, he raised his prices, updated his LinkedIn profile, and then launched a website offering his services as a Zendesk consultant. 

“I thought, Let me build a company and create a brand that’s different than all of these legacy helpdesk consultants,” Hosam said. “I talked about it on LinkedIn, did free work for startups that couldn’t afford the service, and slowly built a good reputation in the CX community.”

The Challenges of Productizing an Agency

To sell a side project, you need to create a business model that’s repeatable and scalable. Hosam’s nascent business, SupportOps, was neither. Most agency-type businesses bill per project, which often results in scope creep, and Hosam’s was no different. 

“We’d say we’d do one thing and then end up doing a hundred for the same price,” Hosam said. “I then switched to hourly billing, but customers took forever to pay. They wanted ninety-day payment terms, so if I took on a three-month project, it would mean getting paid six months later. As a solo founder, it was unsustainable.”

Luckily, Hosam’s experience in the cell phone industry had taught him the benefits of the prepaid pricing model. Rather than charge per project or hour, he’d package up his service into bundles. The clients get flexibility and Hosam gets paid upfront. 

“I created bundles of ten, twenty, and thirty hours,” Hosam said. “It incentivized clients to speed up the project to consume those hours before they expire and solved the problem of me getting paid late. We always did a free consultation to match the client to the best bundle, and if the bundle ran out, they could simply buy another one.” 

Meanwhile, enterprise clients like Snap Inc., Blockchain.com, and SimplyHired began asking for Hosam’s help. Hosam had never taken on more than he could handle outside of his full-time job, but with the business growing quickly, those spare 20 or so hours per week weren’t enough. 

“When I started getting busier, I hired a couple of contractors. One was Gaby Bitar, a childhood friend I’d known for thirty years. He’s a front-end developer, so we started building and selling custom themes for Zendesk to increase revenue. I also brought on Aaron Corley, a certified Zendesk administrator, to help with journey mapping. 

“Now I had the staff, we could offer more services and take on more clients. Our rates rose from fifty dollars an hour to two hundred. Today we’re more of a premium boutique service that takes better clients at a higher rate. We’re picky about who we work with but still add new clients all the time.”

How He Knew It Was Time to Sell His Side Project 

At this point, you might be wondering why Hosam didn’t work on SupportOps full-time. I asked him the same question. While he’d promised not to make the same mistake as he’d done with Fyxie, surely SupportOps was making more than enough money to support a full-time salary?

“Being part of a team has always energized me to do more on my own,” Hosam said. “I get to be more passionate about my side project and take more risks because of the security of a day job. Plus, I love being at a full-time job because I get to learn a lot more.”

In SupportOps’ early days, Hosam worked for a software company that got acquired by Adobe, and now he’s delving into AI with ultimate.ai. Besides, his growing side project was pulling him into tasks he didn’t enjoy – like hiring staff – and it killed some of his passion to expand.

“One of the reasons I wanted to sell was that I didn’t have the appetite to grow a consultant agency with dozens of employees. That’s not something I like doing. I had to decide whether to leave my job and risk failure by hiring the wrong people, or sell my equity, put the business in the right hands, and watch it grow faster than ever. 

“If I’d waited a couple of more years before selling, I might have devalued the company. Maybe I’d have taken my foot off the gas because I was bored or made mistakes. Growing a consultancy business isn’t easy as it’s so labor-intensive. It’s the opposite of SaaS.” 

Hosam was lucky to meet a buyer, PartnerHero, who agreed to do the difficult parts of growing his business in return for ownership and Hosam’s expertise. Hosam now gets to focus on what he loves – sales and marketing – while the buyer focuses on the areas where he’s less helpful. 

“Part of the deal was me saying, ‘Hey, you guys know how to hire and train. You handle that part and I’ll continue doing sales and marketing. Thankfully, they agreed.” 

Learning How to Sell a Side Project

Let’s recap on what Hosam has accomplished by selling his side project:

  1. He got an above-asking, multiple six-figure cash payout.
  2. A 12-month transition period including commission on sales.
  3. Over 2,000 employees to handle operations.

In other words, Hosam gets to continue building his brand and selling his services without having to do the fulfillment. “That’s what was draining me – selling and then having to do the work afterward,” he said. All three benefits were the result of finding the right buyer

Like many entrepreneurs, Hosam is active on LinkedIn. While reading Andrew Gazdecki’s posts and watching Acquire.com grow, he began to imagine what selling a business would be like. He explored the marketplace and read interviews and watched podcasts of other founders’ exits. 

“I loved the idea of building a business I could sell. And later, while researching the process on Acquire.com, I realized I could sell my side project right now. I didn’t need to wait. I just wasn’t sure who’d be interested in buying a one-person business with little to no assets.”

To answer that question, Hosam connected with Christine McDannell, principal at The Magnolia Firm and one of Acquire.com’s approved advisors. Maybe he could get an expert’s opinion on his valuation. 

“I reached out to Christine at Magnolia, one of the top brokers on Acquire.com. I said, ‘Hey Christine, do you think I could get fifteen or twenty thousand dollars for my business? Somebody could just buy the website and domain.’ All I expected was a little guidance,” Hosam said. 

Immediately, Christine hit the pause button. 

“‘Let’s do a real valuation first,’ she said. And we did, landing on ten times what I thought I’d get for the business. Christine broke it down like this: ‘You’ve got tons of five-star reviews on the Zendesk marketplace, you’re an official Zendesk partner, and your brand differs from legacy companies. Businesses like yours sell for up to four hundred thousand or more.”

With Christine’s help, Hosam calculated SupportOps’ valuation and asking price. They received plenty of interest through Acquire.com, but many were individuals Hosam didn’t think could take the business in the right direction. As a result, he started doing some outbound research, sending DMs to potential buyers on LinkedIn. 

And this is where things get interesting. Remember how committed to helping people Hosam had been at the start of SupportOps? All those LinkedIn posts and conversations where he offered his advice and expertise for free? 

“I sent a few messages to people in the customer support space,” Hosam said. “One was a guy I’d never spoken to before, but he replied saying he’d been following me on LinkedIn for a while and liked my content. It was his company, PartnerHero, that bought SupportOps.”

Hosam is keen to point out that although he found his buyer on LinkedIn, he’d never have considered selling had it not been for Acquire.com making the process easy. “I probably would’ve just dumped SupportOps or shut it down in a couple of years after getting burned out.” 

The Challenge of Selling a Consultancy

After exchanging a few more DMs, the founder introduced Hosam to his M&A representative. Hosam’s timing was perfect. The company was searching for acquisitions as part of its 2023 strategy. Before they could move forwards, however, Hosam had to explain exactly what it was they were acquiring.

“Without Christine, I’m not sure I’d have been able to answer that confidently. But for anyone wondering, you have to gather all of your reviews and documentation. I essentially sold a repeatable process that I’d built and documented and that anyone could follow. It’s a step-by-step process but not automated – more of a guided workbook from discovery to configuration.”

When selling a side project that’s also a consultancy, social proof first proves your methodology is effective. Then it’s a matter of convincing the buyer that your methodology is sound, documented, repeatable, and easy to follow. 

“If you’re a one-person business, make sure your finances are in order. From day one, I used a CRM. I knew every dollar that was coming in and going out. So the P&L was a piece of cake. Again, I productized my services and invested in the brand and how it’s perceived online and by other competitors and customers in the space. I also think that increased my valuation.”

With Christine’s help, Hosam not only increased his valuation tenfold but also convinced his buyer of the value and transferability of his process. She helped him navigate due diligence and coached him through those critical early negotiations. And in three months, the deal closed. 

Today Hosam is grateful for the opportunity to continue growing the business he founded without getting bogged down in the day-to-day operations. If (when) he sells another business in the future, Christine’s advice will ensure he doesn’t settle for anything less than what it’s worth.

Reflecting on his journey, Hosam had one final piece of advice for people working on selling a side project. 

“I had an opportunity early on to bring on managed-services clients who would pay me monthly. At the time I only wanted to do one-off projects so I could shut down anytime I wanted without breaking any customer promises. But my advice would be anytime somebody wants to pay you monthly, take it, because that will only increase your valuation. Recurring revenue is probably the best thing you could do for your side project if you want to sell it.” 

If you’re curious how an expert like Christine can help you sell your side project, get in touch with our legal counsel, James Graves, who’ll match you with the right expertise. The fastest way to reach James is from the “Hire expert help” button within your seller account on Acquire.com. Don’t have an account? Sign up for free now.

How Do I Sell My Project?

You can sell a side project through your professional network, an indie-hacker community, with an advisor’s help, or on a startup acquisition marketplace like Acquire.com. It helps if your side project already has paying customers, although some buyers might acquire your side project if it saves them time building something similar themselves. 

If you have a side project you want to sell now, you can get it in front of over 120,000 vetted buyers on Acquire.com. It takes just minutes to sign up and list, and once our curation team adds you to the marketplace, you could be responding to buyer queries as early as tomorrow morning. Interested? Follow the steps below:

  1. Sign up for a free seller account.
  2. Enter your listing details.
  3. Connect your web, customer, and traffic metrics.
  4. Submit your listing for review by our curation team. They’ll help make your listing more attractive to buyers. 
  5. Start fielding buyer inquiries!

What Are Good Side Projects?

The best side projects are those that are easy to run while doing a full-time job. For example, if you’ve developed a self-service SaaS product or built a dropshipping brand. You can manage either type of business from a computer in a relatively short amount of time. Customers can pay for and use your SaaS without you approving and sending orders while a dropshipping project usually only needs you to respond to or send emails to fulfill orders as they come in. 

You don’t want to spend more than two to three hours a night on your side project or you can burn out from doing too much, which will ultimately impact the success of both your side project and your full-time job. Of course, if your side project becomes more successful, you can outsource work to contractors at first, and later, possibly hire your first employee. 

At that point, you can assume your side project is a bona fide business that needs your full attention. You might then choose to leave your job and focus on your side project full-time or sell it on a startup acquisition marketplace like Acquire.com.

What Counts as a Side Project?

Anything you do in your spare time that you earn (or hope to earn) money from could count as a side project. Usually, it involves producing something others consume, such as clothing, food, art, software, content, or something with value. You might run a travel blog in your spare time, bake cakes you sell at markets, or develop applications – all count as side projects.

Where Can I Sell My Coding Projects?

You can sell your coding products in many different places including indie-hacking communities, professional networks, startup acquisition marketplaces (like Acquire.com), and other forums. Your coding project should ideally serve paying customers, but it’s not essential to some buyers who simply want to buy time by acquiring a coding project rather than build it themselves.

Get content like this, and more, sent directly to your inbox twice a month.