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Ask HN: What's your 1-man startup?
57 points by cmacole on Sept 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments
A lot of advice out there says find a co-founder. But for those of you who are doing it alone, what is your startup?



My startup is a fashion magazine. If you look at a monthly fashion magazine's masthead, you'll see a list of 100 people. But I've done everything myself- from sleeping on the floor of the print shop for a week during printing, to photographing runway looks during fashion weeks, to casting, to selling ads, to creating web back ends & JQuery plugins, to art directing & designing fonts, to finding things (clothes/movies/creatives) that are going to be trending in 2 years, to writing and interviewing, everything really..

Currently I'm building individual relationships with hundreds/thousands of top fashion brands - brands most startups would kill to work with.

I had "co-founders" when I started, but they weren't cut out for the brutality and nihilism of the fashion world, and quickly left. It really is a different world, of wealthy old-world people with no commonality with the middle-class. Some of the major luxe fashion brands still avoids the Internet. I don't know of any successful fashion-tech startup.

The whole thing is a fun experience doing it myself... some tasks take longer because of the work involved, but some are quicker because you directly make decisions yourself.

See:

http://www.issuu.com/futureclawmag/docs/issue_6 (with Helena Christensen)

http://www.issuu.com/futureclawmag/docs/issue_5 (with Cindy Crawford)

http://www.futureclaw.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FutureClaw


I created and manage hiTask, https:// hiTask.com the Team task and project management tool. Started as pure web application 7 years ago it is now platform with multiple components, google and outlook sync, apps for iOS and android. Competing with companies like Asana and Basecamp that employ tens, hundreds of people.


That's impressive. Are you making any money on that? It seems like it would be hard to do.


You have 100 people but did everything yourself? :S


That's not what he said ...


Yep that's why I was asking what he meant...


Yeah, it wasn't written clearly. I think what was meant was "A major monthly fashion magazine has 100 people on staff. I am the only staff member for my fashion magazine."


I made Nomad List (https://nomadlist.com), which lets you find the best places to live and work. It's a mix between a cost of living index and a community for digital nomads, remote workers and general (modern) travelers.


Re: the question of this thread.

I've built it by myself and I think it gives me a big advantage. I see a lot of people partnering with co-founders, and then they have to discuss every little new feature. And ego gets involved. And meetings.

I just have a meeting in my head before I sleep every night with what I'm going to make the next day. It means I ship faster.


I have been travelling and using nomadlist for quite some time. Works like a charm to find quick info.


Very nice.

What was your motiviation to give it a go? The lack of options from AirBnB in this segment?

I like the idea of your challenge: 12 Startups in 12 Months. (-: Would love to hear how it works out in the long run.


Airbnb? Umm... how do you mean?

My motivation was that I wanted to find places that would be suitable for me to travel to and work, but I didn't want to browse countless of blogs to figure out.

I thought approachign it from a data perspective would be easier. The data will always be subjective and never completely accurate, but it can give people an idea.

It now seems like the sites inspires people too to start traveling, when they see all the options. That I never expected.


Hey I'm just wondering. Can I know how do you get the data for those? As in the figure? Great work btw!

ps - saw your post in regards to data. Thanks!


Very cool project. What is you tech-stack, if I may ask?


I don't know his tech stack on that specifically but he did a blog post on how he builds stuff here https://levels.io/how-i-build-my-minimum-viable-products/


It's raw html, css, js and php. No frameworks. Just me hand coding everything :)


Very cool. How is the data curated and validated?


It's crowdsourced and validated by data moderators. But it'll never be 100% accurate.


I run Improvely (https://www.improvely.com) myself for a living. I'd be happy to answer questions.


How did you find your first 10 customers? How about the first 100? That's always the hardest part when you start something.


I'd like to say I did something clever, but the first customers just came from a little bit of advertising. I'm talking $100-200/month in AdWords clicks the first few months, and a $79/month banner ad on a web stats site I bought through BuySellAds.com. I'm no novice to advertising, so I had the right keywords and the right ads to make sure I only paid for people looking for what Improvely offers.

I then spent my afternoons all summer with a live chat widget on the site that automatically prompted a conversation to anyone who kept the page open for 10 seconds, and talked quite a few people that came in from Google into signing up. It only took a few people at $25-99/month (I tried a bunch of different minimum prices in the beginning) to pay back the initial investment and keep the ball rolling.

Word of mouth referrals started really really quickly, as some of those first customers were both super excited about the product being way better than what they were doing, and very well connected socially. Now referrals are my biggest signup driver.


This is after the product was fully built, correct? How did you decide what features to include? Did you talk to customers first, or you knew because of prior experience etc?


"I'd like to say I did something clever"

...

"I then spent my afternoons all summer with a live chat widget on the site that automatically prompted a conversation to anyone who kept the page open for 10 seconds"

Given that's the first time I've ever heard of that particular approach, I'm not exactly a novice to marketing either, and it's sufficiently smart that I'm going to test it out myself on a project in the near future... I think you may, in fact, have done something quite clever there. :)

Any recommendations for backend technology for that? I've found that live chat solutions tend to be... sub-optimal.


I was using SnapEngage, which was $19/month at the time. They've raised their prices since.


Ah, that's a pity. Looking at their website they seem to have moved into the "if you have to ask you can't afford it" range :)


Awesome :) Thanks, I learned a new trick today.


Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. When you say you are no novice to advertising, care to share a few tips? Thanks!


Must be a lot of opportunity! My experience with Adwords is that fraud was the norm.


Hi, we extensively work with AdWords and fraud definitely is not the norm... you´ve got real good control and high quality traffic, if you have done the setting right.


How much revenue do you have?


A bit over $38K MRR right now.


It fascinates me how quickly your one man shop is growing. I remember reading a few months back that your MRR was $30K. Kudos Dan! Have you ever thought of hiring someone to offload some task or take it to another level or you prefer to keep it as it is right now?


There's really not much to offload. Sysadmin is 99% automated, from making (and testing) backups to scaling capacity ("the cloud!"). I've never done outbound sales, so there's no sales machine to grow with staff. Support consists of a half dozen e-mails most weekdays, which isn't enough to keep even a virtual assistant busy for more than an hour. All that leaves is occasionally seeking out new marketing opportunities, and working on the product, which are the parts I like, and can do as much or as little of as I care to any given day. Slow and steady growth will work for me.


That's awesome. How many hours per week would you say you work on it?


I have two: http://twiddla.com and http://s3stat.com

They combine to bring in a nice living, though they take up little enough of my time between them that I've actually taken a full-time consulting gig as well, doubling up on the college fund for the kids while the getting is good.

Hit me up with any questions you might have.


S3stat looks great, but I would say that handing out my AWS credentials is a non-starter; definitely you should make the self-managed as easy as possible.

Also, this page: https://www.s3stat.com/web-stats/how-it-works says $5/month, and others say $10/month.


Indeed. We actually don't ask for AWS credentials anymore. We have a tool you can use to set things up from your end and create an IAM Role with read-only access that we can use to grab your logs.

That saves a bunch of hassle, since I really don't want to be sitting on a database of AWS keys.

(and fixed, thanks!)


I just saw twiddla for the first time the other day when discussing remove tutoring as a market. Always good to hear a bit about the people behind such projects. Nice work.


I created LyricSmith (http://lyricsmith.com/) for my mom. It does not make me a living ;)


wow thats a pretty well made website


Thank you. I appreciate that.


I built https://numbers.today. A quantified self platform with an API available for everyone.

In the beginning was very hard; it's your new baby and you need to put a lot of effort, passion and discipline to get things done.

Now I'm struggling because I don't have much time to work on this, but I hope in the next few weeks I'll be able to ship some features that are already built.


where did you promote your API and site?


I built https://info-beamer.com. It started as an open source project to easily build an animated info screen for a conference using a simple Lua API. Since then I ported the software to the Raspberry PI (https://info-beamer.com/pi) and built a hosted service (https://info-beamer.com/hosted) around it. Today you can either purchase licenses for the PI version and build everything around it yourself. Or you can just download a prepared minimal distribution, unzip it to an SD card and instantly control your display(s) remotely.

I have multiple companies that build products based on the software: From advertisement displays to complete purchasable hardware showing weather, RSS and images. On top of that I provide consulting for custom visualizations.

It's a really fun and challenging project since it consists of low level C/OpenGL/OMX programming, building a custom PI linux distribution and running a quite complex website.


This is what I call real niche , very impresive. How do you promote it ? Do you make a living out of it ?


Promotion is a mix between word of mouth (I run installations at hacker conferences) and being found when people search for a PI based solution. So far it's not enough to make a living, but it's ramping up. Hopefully I'll break even in the next few months.


I run BugMuncher (http://bugmuncher.com/) - a website feedback tool that allows users to submit screenshots direct from their browser, no plugins required.

I started BugMuncher as a side project about 4 years ago, but this month I quit freelancing and started on my quest to make it my full time job. Exciting times!


Very nice!


I created Pickk (http://www.pickk.co) a mobile app that lets football fans predict what will happen next in the game. Each play has different options and multipliers.

Just getting started. Tonight was the first game of the season.


http://hackr.io was pretty much a 1-man startup for a long time. It's only recently that we got a couple of more people on it.


I've used this site a few times - good work


Doing alone but have a very good network for domain-specific work in case of funding, which I pursue to get serious. Will be based at http://www.wedonp.com and put together data science with Gen IV nuclear engineering. It can go from a public platform for shared / democratised research to b2b virtual prototyping of specific components.


I'm the first guy to send a Minecraft redstone signal to a cellphone: https://boomtree.com/r2p/explain

The punchline: the whole site, boomtree, is a web-based way to create web apps, R2P is a demo. Still working on videos to show how it is programmed.

Next up: demo apps with Littlebits. Hopefully some customers in that world!


I created and manage hiTask, https://hitask.com the Team task and project management tool. Started as pure web application 7 years ago it is now platform with multiple components, google and outlook sync, apps for iOS and android. Competing with companies like Asana and Basecamp that employ tens, hundreds of people.


I have invented a new agile method that makes it really easy for leaders to give makers a purpose, autonomy and mastery.

The method is called TimeBlock and beside teaching users the method after selling it to companies (paid onboarding) I am building an app to support teams better than the paper and pencil version ever can do.

http://timeblock.com


I made http://www.valueforest.co.za a website that aggregates all the major South African classifieds into one place. Growing well 50K unique users a month, will probably have to get partners at some point, as they say you need a hacker/hustler/hipster and I'm the hacker.


Been working on this for a while... http://www.strategic-options.com/trade

But people keep paying to build there lame websites... I got to stop doing that.


Link to wiki on that page (http://trade.strategic-options.com/index.php/open/wiki) seems to be broken.


Thanks for the catch, I think I fixed. But if not this works. http://www.strategic-options.com/trade/open/wiki


I am working solo on a web app for food. I hope to launch a bare bones mvp in the next two weeks.

I tried working on two other startups with two different co-founders, but they had other priorities and could not commit enough time to make it happen.


Just started http://babbleaway.com pretty much on my own. It lets IT-Startups find people who are in need of the startups solution on a very narrow level.


I started https://www.kopiee.com because I love independent artwork from the T-Shirt industry, but would like to see them on the wall (with frame).


I made http://kassomat.net - a tool for desktop and mobile which let's you declare sales tax in under a minute. Current scope is Germany only.


Creating Marvelogs (http://marvelogs.com) - a site that keeps all your favorites in a single place.


Tinytinytrophies.com making fun of people and learning about launching with social media




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