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Ask HN: Do you have a profitable side project? How long did it take to achieve?
310 points by laksmanv on June 14, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 197 comments

5 years. (2011-2016) While working on my first startup (Sauce Labs), I made a robot that plays Angry Birds as a side/art project in the autumn of 2011. The serious part of the project is that you can use the robot for testing mobile apps and devices. I started to sell the robots (still as a side project) on Tindie when that first launched in the summer of 2012. I made a couple of thousand dollars the first few years, but basically broke even profit-wise. I got my first "big" enterprise order of robots in late 2014 and that made me start wondering if I should ramp things up. I formally incorporated (http://www.tapster.io) in May 2015 and took some seed funding (Indie.vc) to sell the robots full-time. Since incorporating, it's now veeeery close (this summer) to ramen profitable while paying a few salaries.

It's interesting to me that your approach to automated testing includes a real, physical device.

How well do you think your robot offering is positioned versus fast and free virtual automated testing within an Android/iOS simulator? I assume there must be some material advantage to testing on a real device, but I don't know a lot about the domain. What happens if the layout of the app changes slightly- are your testing programs purely based on physical coordinates?

Example #1: How do you automate a test for what happens to your streaming music app when a phone call comes in? (This was a real scenario a client couldn't figure out how to automate any other way.) Example #2: You're a car company and have a mobile app that controls parking your car. You have a business (and possibly legal) requirement to test the app with the same unmodified hardware your users will use. (So you can't only use simulators.) Example #3: You make wearables that measures steps taken. How do you test the wearable to make sure it's logging steps properly? (You shake it with a robot.)

Every company that makes a device (phone, car, wearable, anything with a touch screen, etc) has a secret robot testing lab.

I didn't know all of these examples were real business problems (with the associated big enterprise budgets) when I started the project. But after enough of these conversations, I realized there's something there.

At the Previous Company I was in (Bindo Labs) I was coding the NFC Payment Integration with the Point of Sales System (POS). One of the requirements for the integration was that every transaction has to happen less than 0.5 seconds including the hardware card-reading part. So I ended up having to wave the card around the reader all day testing it. I thought of building a automated testing robot but tight deadline prevented me from diverging, and it didn't end up happening.

I'd be curious to know how big a business it is for you now that it's 5 years past. Sounds like a very interesting case-study.

We're now at about $150k in bookings halfway through the year. Last year was $30k revenue for the entire year. I hope the numbers keep going up or this will have to go back to side-project status!

In that case, my I humbly suggest turning the tapster.io landing page to a more informative experience, rather than expecting visitors to click over to the Tindie project site?

I've been involved in automated testing with a robot for point-of-sale systems. The pinpads are secure devices, so there's no way of injecting commands, and there's no adequate bug-compatible simulator. It's cute watching it carefully insert a card, type in the PIN, remove the card, etc.

This isn't meant to be snarky, but I seriously suspect that your business will really take off when the bot + ad click farming communities clue into what they could do with such a system.

This is the first time I wished a company had a giant "jumbotron" video on their marketing page. You sell robots, add a video!

Yeah, the website needs some love. I didn't even have a separate website for the project until this year.

I made this: https://www.behance.net/gallery/23269525/IOJS-logo-concept

I can build you a website.

Email in profile.

That's hilarious! I totally expected some sort of automated testing suite for emulators/simulators, not a physical robot with a stylus! Awesome work!

I remember when it started selling in tindie. It was really interesting but I wrongly thought that no one would use that. Im glad I was wrong. It definitely opens yo my eyes for opportunities. Best of luck!

I was just as surprised as you are. :)

I'm really happy for your success. Its these type of robotic applications that open up the market for others. :)

I had this same idea about a year ago and started working on it with my cousin. I don't think he was as excited about the idea as I was, and we never got past the LEGO prototype. I'm glad you have done this. It convinces me that it's at least a <i>decent</i> idea.

Long time Selenium and Sauce Labs user here. Thanks for all the good work Jason!

This is extremely cool, I need one of these little guys on my desk already!

Your website needs a video of the robot in action.

i just tried using sauce labs real device testing and I must say its pretty unusable for any real testing. Browserstack has this running pretty amazingly these days as I found out after saucelabs failed for me :(

Sorry to hear that. I'm sure, though, that the Sauce folks would want to hear more detail about the issues you saw.

It was just really slow. No real bugs, just insanely slow and difficult to use because of it.

Where were you testing from? (Which country?) The user experience can be great or horrible depending on how fast your connection is and how far away from the data center you are.

US, Vermont - 50mbps comcast cable

I made Server Check.in 3.5 years ago (HN announcement thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4901350 ), and it's been earning around $2k/year with almost no maintenance. Just a few updates to the Drupal front-end/UI, and the Node.js backend every year (maybe 20 hours total).

Costs are incredibly low, as I have ~15 low end box-type servers running as check servers interacting with Drupal via a private API, and one DigitalOcean droplet running prod, with a hot backup droplet. Everything was automated via Ansible early on, and I don't have to touch anything except for patching/updating from time to time.

I also have run Hosted Apache Solr for almost double the time, and it actually earns a decent secondary income. Up to about 25 DigitalOcean droplets now, also all managed via Ansible/Jenkins, and it has a few hundred clients (a couple who have been stable clients for over 5 years, and a few very large names that made me realize even a side project can be stable/good enough for 'big companies' to trust them).

I haven't advertised either except for mentions here and there and having them in some of my social media profiles, but I've learned so much from running both—and even turned some of that knowledge into a book that gives decent passive income on top!

I'm happy for your success, but I'm not sure I'd consider running a hosted distributed database as a side project. You're on-call 100% of the time for a single point of failure. Also, a bad/inexperienced tenant can serious performance issues.

I learned early on, it's all about proactive monitoring, 'self healing' (e.g. restart on fail) services, and simplicity in everything.

I've been running between 300-500 Apache Solr search cores continuously for almost 5 years, starting with 1.4, migrating up to now 4.10.4 (5 and 6 are in the works), all with around 99.98% uptime (averaged on all the servers over time).

I have detailed logs and per-search-core stat tracking (queries, index size, query time) for the past 3 months and archives back further, and I have only had to remove noisy neighbors a few times (and did so quickly, by first isolating them on their own VM, then helping them move off to dedicated resources if needed).

Also, I explicitly state I offer no SLA in the support docs—some people are okay with that.

But yes, I'm always on call, technically. I've only had to fix 'emergency' scenarios about 3 times in the past 5 years though. Even security updates are automated via Ansible/Jenkins. I just need to log in and click a button and things are updated, or a new server is built.

I highly recommend Google's new book on SREs; whether a one man shop or a multi billion corp, the learnings are exactly the same!

Would that be this book? https://landing.google.com/sre/book.html

That's the one!

I'm always on call, technically

Do you have a partner who can do support when you need time away?

I run a small game website. A couple of years ago it experienced an outage while I was away from home on a 2-day climbing trip. I didn't learn about it until I checked email the first evening. It was a terrible feeling to realize I'd been out having fun, and the site had been down for most of the day. I had to drive home to get the site up again. It was miserable.

All the primary automation and functionality can be controlled by my smartphone; and if the worst comes to be, I can still login to all my servers via Prompt. I've only had to do it once, but it's good to know if can control all aspects of the system on any device, as long as I have my password manager and the right SSH keys.

That goes along with the 'keep it simple' philosophy; since the service has a very small public API and surface area, it's easy enough to diagnose issues quickly with limited analysis of log data and simple monitoring.

But no, I don't have any partner actively, but I do have a contingency/succession plan in case anything would happen to me (for the sake of my customers).

maybe you can try something like chatops, ex: hubot

Very interesting case study! And kudos for being able to pull this off! Curious to learn about some $ numbers

I have several apps on the iOS app store. I make between $4000AUD - $9000AUD per month.

I quit my job 3 years ago to do it, so I guess it isn't really a side project any more. That said, it is a lonely way to make money and I am over it. My career was computers, and I'm pleased I've done the apps, I can achieve anything technical so it isn't a challenge any more and am looking at something more physical, hands on.

When I quit my job I was making approx $3 a day from apps, I learned a lot.

The great thing is that I can quit and the apps keep making money. It is trivial to keep them updated to the latest iOS version, design standard, or advertising API - I've just put Firebase Analytics and the latest Admob API in them all. Pleased with the iOS10 announcement today, it will not add burden to my apps, nor are they sherlocked like my first app was. My most recent app took me 10 days to make, it is fairly professional, I have one more I want to make it will take a similar amount of time. Every time I get asked a support question I answer it and also post the answer on a support website, this has cut down support enquiries to one every week or two.

On to the next thing!

Care to post some links? Always nice to see some context.

Thanks for asking, but I'd like to retain my anonymity for now :) I also have enough competitors at the moment!

Well if you ever decide to write about what you've learned I'd certainly pay for that kind of knowledge!

I may blog about it sometime.

Nice work :) No matter what you do next that is certainly a very handy chunk of change to have coming in each month.

Thank you :)

So how many apps would this be?

About a dozen

4 months.

I built a Slack bot called Standup Jack (https://standupjack.com). It's a ton of work upfront but if you launch early, keep an open dialog with your users, iterate on their feedback and keep your costs low, it's a nice way to earn some side income each month.

Udemy is a pretty easy way to start since they do the marketing for you (for a pretty big cut).

A fantastic tool built around a great idea. When people ask me the timeless question of "why Slack", I actually point to Standup Jack as an example of how a simple and useful integration can save time and increase transparency through Slack's API. I actually had no idea it was a one-man show until just now. Seriously awesome execution!

I really appreciate the kind words and thanks for spreading Jack!

Looks great, going to show the team tomorrow! Can I ask what it is coded in? Node or something else?

How does Udemy market for you? All I knew was they were a course-learning company.

Would love to hear!

There are 3 ways for people to buy your course:

1) Direct marketing - Udemy drives a ton of traffic to their website, so people just naturally see your course(s) and buy it.

2) Affiliate marketing - Udemy advertises your course(s) via things like Google Adwords. You make a very measly cut on these sales.

3) Personal marketing - You can promote your course through your own channels / reputation. You make like 98% of the sale when people purchase it this way.

Without doing your own marketing, you can easily earn decent side income though.

You can pay them a small amount to promote your course, but they will do so for free if they find it a useful project, I think.

I made a course on Udemy on how to make complete web applications without writing code using APEX.

Link and free coupons:



$100 for a nice microphone (not necessary) but didn't want to record a bunch and have it be garbage $100 for Screenflow (to do video editing). 20 hours time (split across a couple of weekends


I've made $1405 on it so far. It is almost completely passive income.



If you know any of the topics in the Hot Topics list and can do desktop recording, maybe you should think about teaching others and making some side money while doing it. Best of all, the Udemy community is awesome. They are very supportive of each other.


How much time did it take you to create the course and how much to promote it?

3 Months.

I made https://www.myothernumber.com (online temporary sms/mms/voice numbers) about a 1.5 years ago, was making ramen money within 3 months.

Now tracking in the 5-figure/year range.

It's a very, very crowded market so primary cost is user acquisition, but then again that's exactly why I built it, to better learn (consumer facing UA) and have a platform to experiment with.

About to officially launch http://artistic.af (neural artistic transfer meets instagram + canvas printing). I expect this one to take a bit longer to scale, but it was just an excuse to learn DNNs.

Just wanted to let you know that there is a typo on the first page of artistic.af: "...a lot of historic genuius..."

Site looks great!

Awesome, much appreciated!!

And another one: ...and the inspriation of you...

For these ideas, did you do any customer interviews or did you just decide to launch and iterate?

I wrote an online multiplayer game called Aberoth: http://aberoth.com. I released the first version to the world in January 2010, but the game did not have many features initially, and there was no way to buy anything. Toward the end of 2012 I felt good enough about the product to start selling memberships.

I continued to work on the game on the side over the years, and I released the game on Steam in July 2015: http://store.steampowered.com/app/354200/.

It does not make near as much a normal software engineer's full time salary, but it is profitable.

Hey looks good , mind telling us which server stack you are using and how much money it cost ?

Huh, this looks cool. Good job.

I wrote a digital book, plus art, engine and example code about how to make a JRPG style RPG. (http://howtomakeanrpg.com/ <- the current copy is pretty terrible!).

I'm still in pre-release but early-access has been available for mailing list subscribers since January. Release should happen "soon".

Profit-wise: ~$500 a month (apart from the first month which was ~$5000). If I include my own time, I've roughly covered my costs.

It's taken about 3 years (!) to write the book in my spare time, usually an hour each morning. In a lot of ways it wasn't a great side project:

  - Hard to make
  - Small market
  - Complex
But it's the first commercial side project I've attempted and I've really enjoyed the experience. Rather than jump straight on to a new project, I'll probably spend time after release experimenting with marketing (google adwords, content marketing etc).

(Previously I've written a programming book published via a traditional publisher and my day job is as a game developer.)

Here's a brief list!

* Wakeup.io - Simple Phone Wake-up Calls @ https://wakeup.io and it is fully automated and runs itself with actually really good profits. It was built in 2-3 days.

* GetProve, Simple Phone Verification @ https://getprove.com and it is fully automated and runs itself with again, really good profits. It was built in a week or so.

* Teelaunch, Kickstarter/Indiegogo Fulfillment Service (exited/sold) http://teelaunch.com (the site is different now than it used to be here https://web.archive.org/web/20140110204830/https://teelaunch...). As you can see from Wayback Machine, the site was just a landing page when I had it... took me day to put it up!

* Standard Signature, Email Signature Automation for Gmail Business @ https://standardsignature.com/ (built in 48 hours)

* Glazed, a Rapid MVP boilerplate for NodeJS @ http://glazed.io (built in a week or so, but this was work/thoughts accumulated over like 5+ years of hacking - this landed me paying clients, so I still consider it a side project)

* Asynchrosend, a MailChimp competitor (site is down now, but I did have paying clients and successful startups like Notehall.com had used it), built in a week in college!

* I have a bunch, at least 20 more on my list TODO still, if you want to build one with me let me know! I really would love to find super talented people, or people that are motivated. It's really hard to find good people if you know what I mean. I am not working on these right now though as I'm solely focused on one big project.

I have a bunch more projects I've built, that are also profitable that I can share. Email me and I can share more!

Update #1 - I really wanted to mention the most important thing about this. I read a Max Klein blog post that flipped the switch on me before to get into this hack and ship fast mode; it was something like build small little projects, but build a dozen of them. Once you build and release one quickly, it's addictive. You soon start to release more and more, and you get so creative and confident. You can literally build ANYTHING you want in a matter of days if you truly focus and WANT to.

Update #2 - I added a few more side projects since this topic is fun!

Way to go man, I recall you kicking ass at CT back when I was there too.

If you get a sec - which blog post?

haha thanks man, nice to see you here! you kicked butt too.

I found it on the Wayback Machine, here's the blog post in particular: https://web.archive.org/web/20120424194627/http://maxkle.in/...


I am really curious about which software stack (especially the backend) you are using to iterate this fast

I just released Glazed, my latest boilerplate that I use for this stuff. You can find it here https://github.com/glazedio/glazed.

However I have a HUGE absolutely STELLAR update coming probably in the next week for Glazed. I basically dog fed this on my own startup/project and have a ton of little but important updates to the project.

What's the benefits of using Nunjucks, in your opinion?

If I used a SPA framework on these projects they would take me 100x longer to build a MVP with. If the project is viable and gets traction, then you could consider rewriting with a SPA like React or something.

Hey I really like your approach of a lot of little project with a framework that suits a quick pace. I hope its okay to reach out to you through the email you provided in a different comment to correspond.

yeah it's definitely OK

It's incredibly fast, I still may try using https://github.com/marko-js/marko on v2 though since it seems to be much faster. Haven't really tried their plugin/system yet. I came from using Jade for like five years straight and when performance time came around with it, it hurt. Nunjucks is really nice!

I recently came across getprove when looking for no. verification. I always wondered why anyone would use it when there's cheaper options (nexmo, twilio, etc).

I also thought that since this more expensive service exists, perhaps it's worth building my own wrapper around twilio and provide a single service that does 1 thing and does it simply just like you do.

Which service are you wrapping for getprove?

Edit: Just saw at the bottom of the page that you're using twilio :)

I think on that one I'm using Twilio.

i've been trying to come up w/ these really simple ideas like this which turn small profits. Death by a thousand paper cuts I guess. Having trouble coming up w/ one :(

just clone what someone else did and make it simpler to use and easier to understand, haha

Really cool to see these, how do your customers get to your pages? Do you actively advertise?

Absolutely zero advertisements. It's all natural growth. I would say I spend 2-3 days in time giving the services a little push. Just give them a push of traffic, whether it be Wakeup.io being featured in LifeHacker, or GetProve getting to the #1 spot on Google for SEO, you need to find the one viral thing that will boost you and give you credibility.

What do really good profits look like? Enough to quit a regular job?

Enough for true ramen profitability. http://www.paulgraham.com/ramenprofitable.html

I don't know how you find the time/focus to become proficient as a full stack web developer with like 10 different frameworks AND iOS AND Android, that's not normal.

Haha you're telling me!!!!

How much time did you spend on marketing each one of these, and through which channels ? I have built a few tiny services/tools myself, deployed them but usually get close to 0 traction...

Great to see your success. How many projects have you launched total? How much marketing time and money did you put in?

Thanks, though I'm really just trying to focus on ONE project now as opposed to running ~30 side projects. An immense amount of time... Email me if you want to chat more! Let people tell you you're crazy if and when you say you're going to build this this this and that. Then go and build it. You will awe them.

I want to put together a timeline like @yegg had once, not sure where it went since his blog switched to Medium. But I've been working on side projects since I was at least 16, I have tried to build competitors to services like MailChimp, Facebook, etc. It's a ton of failure honestly, but it has been a fun ride. My biggest failure is due to lack of focus on ONE project, which I have changed recently and built the habits required to stay hyper-focused on just one or two things. I am doing contract work to help fund myself building and hiring a team to build a massive & global side project now. Who knows if it will get traction, but just like the others, it is merely a FUN experiment.

You sound like me haha, always working on different things what I have found works best for me is working with others who have skills or experience in those projects directly. People who can help scale and maintain the product. I think of it as a investment.

I'm currently working on 3 projects in all different areas. Looking for a partner for 4 which is a Saas for life automation.

Also drewwilson.com has a cool timeline for his projects check it out

As long as you're learning, failure is good. Better off work than on. Are you really going to fire yourself? :-)

I appreciate your sharing the story.

Congrats and wow, it's amazing how many of these micro-services you've launched.

Did you do any customer interviews or did you just build these projects out of love and just released them?

I just built them because I wanted them for myself. The biggest motivator that makes me build something is when I see something that I know I could do better.

I feel the same way and yet I get trapped trying to do so many customer interviews in the past.

Can you explain the liquid chalk concept more? I use chalk to absorb and dry sweat on my hands, how does liquid do that? Does the alcohol evaporate super fast and leave the chalk to soak up my sweat?

Lots of climbers use liquid chalk because it's less messy than using powdered or bagged-chalk. It comes out as a thick milky goo which you rub on your hands, the alcohol evaporates off and you're left with a coating of chalk. I've had mixed experiences with it, it lasts longer, but that only seems to be the case if your hands don't sweat. I gave up and went back to powder because I need to reapply often.

email me at niftylettuce@gmail.com, I deleted that from my comment here because I haven't really publicly released that project yet, but basically the gist is you put the liquid chalk on as a base layer, then use regular chalk. the marketing & sales is the true magic in a business like this. the liquid evaporates near instantly.

niftylettuce-- so does one have to leaarn node.js/react/etc. or ruby on rails to get involved with this stuff? Asking for a friend. Thank you,

if you want to start with something simple, have them install Node.js https://nodejs.org/ and learn to use Express (it's a simpler version than Glazed) at https://github.com/expressjs/express (see examples folder)

Would love to have a chat and build some stuff on the side.

Interesting, what service do you use for Wakeup.io?

Great post. What's your email?


super inspiring. Thanks for sharing man.

I've worked over a year on https://www.boxfactura.com/ which is a special email service for invoices in Mexico.

It has been profitable since January after quite some legwork, on the technical side as well as the sales and persuation side.

Hey man, I'm also from Mexico but currently live in NY. This is pretty awesome. How did you manage to get traction with small businesses? Would love to chat if you have time, my email is emilioolivares, I use Google email.

Hey, Emilio!

Sure, I'll send you an email, however, I'd like to keep the answer to your question on the public side, if you don't mind.

It has been quite a ride to get traction, mostly the first clients signed up after talking to them about their issues with their invoices and expenses--once they're interested, we begin the education process. The other sources are a mix of everything. One of our services is a platform in which our client's vendors can upload invoices so they can manage them. We get some information on several businesses, both small and big so we can begin to offer our solution. This particular product might be the best source for viral growth, as one client can introduce 10 or 20 new users on our platform.

We also have a relatively successful side project on a related field [1], which has several hundred hits daily. There's an ad there, there might be some optimization on both the ad and the landing, but we're still trying to figure that out. Finally, our focus has been towards explaining the product, as there's nothing like it on the market (actually there are, but they're small and having the same difficulties we have). Once they sign up, our onboarding process is focused on one point: send your first invoice. As we saw many of the new signups not completing this step (or the previous 2), we set up an email communication strategy for each one of the steps, with our contact information in each email. I've blogged a bit [2] about it.

Now that we're sure our product is helpful for the businesses, we just started promoting heavily with a sales force.

I hope that answered your question!

1: http://isrmatic.com/

2: http://www.therror.com/weblog/2016/mar/como_el_email_marketi...

Hey Rsoto,

I'd recommend an English version of your website. There are companies in the US which have to issue Factura's and I have found it hard to find websites discussing Factura's and offering Factura solutions in English.

Hey Jeff,

We have not considered it, since our main market is Mexico, because of how taxes and invoices work here. Also, we don't issue invoices—we just receive them. But sure, we'll look into your suggestion!

A year.

I was spending way too much time on eBay, so I wrote something for myself that would scrape the web pages and use a kill list to filter out the junk. I wanted a better UI to add words to the kill list and realised I could make money via the eBay affiliate program.

So I took two months off between contracts and wrote the first version of AuctionSieve - http://auctionsieve.com

There was a D&D forum, the Acaeum where a bunch of people started using it and giving feedback.

It was making me money from day 1 but it probably took about a year to repay that 2 months of time investment.

It's now been 13 years(!) and it still makes me money - not enough to live off (the payout calculations from eBay have changed several times) but a nice chunk of change. And I only have to occasionally prod it. And add the occasional new feature.

For those curious, it makes about $500 or so per month. At one point it was making $2000 per month but eBay changed the payout strategy - one thing to be aware of when dealing with affiliate programs.

Are you still scraping or did you migrate to their API?

Still scraping. If you use their API, you need to submit your app for evaluation and there are a bunch of restrictions and other things you need to comply with. I'd need to do a whole lot of work and remove some of the features. The level of effort has never felt worth it. It means there are occasional breakages every 6 months or so but it's usually the work of half an hour to fix it and push out an update. My users very quickly tell me if it's broken. ;)

Can I ask you what you are using to scrape with? I am finding that Amazon's anti-bot strategies change every so often, so unless I use phantom.js or Selenium, I have to change odd things like headers and various things every so often.

I finally reworked my code to just download the html files using phantom.js and parse it with perl so that I can run this on a headless server, and this method hasn't broken lately. I find trying to use phantom.js is kind of crazy (mainly I have a hard time with the documentation) and javascript is not my native language. I was using curl, LWP, and wget in the past.

I'm not using any libraries. All hand coded to just get the bits it needs in the html using lots of indexOf.

With regards to the anti-bot problem, this isn't running on any server, it's running on the user's computer. The number of requests they make per second doesn't seem to trigger any anti-bot measures. I'm just using plain Java URLConnections.

About 9 months ago i created https://namesmith.io , a business and domain name generator. I practically did nothing to boost the search engine ranking but the volume of visitors is growing (very slowly).

So far the site can barely cover my vserver cost but that's ok since I can use the server for more than just namesmith. Most of the time some few dollar amounts tickle in but I had some sales of premium domains which gave > 50$ each.

I still plan to add some more features, such as URL shortening, but at the time it is not worth it.

I just tried it, list of X was generated, clicked Register on 1 I liked, took me to register, said 'is taken' :(

Is this common or did I do something wrong?

That's very nice tool! You can add accounts so a user can persist the starred ones.

Thanks! I considered accounts in the beginning but didn't go through with it because most users don't want to create yet another account.

Also the favorites should persist via cookies at least for some time.

this is pretty good! haha i am gonna use it (:

A day. Okay, it isn't quite that simple. My sideproject is Breaker 101, an online class for web security. (https://breaker101.com)

I launched on HN and sold out (75 seats or so, $1500 each IIRC) that same day. I had designed the syllabus over the previous couple days, but there was no product -- because I honestly thought that only a few people would buy it, and I'd just have to refund them.

I built the class over the next few months and that went really well (not perfectly, but definitely well), but subsequent runs never got anywhere near the same success in terms of sales -- just couldn't get it in front of enough people.

I recently relaunched it at $150 in more of a self-driven form. It's profitable by all means, but it needs marketing behind it. I've been thinking a lot about selling it to someone that can give it the love it needs, but I'm still on the fence there.

Hey, maybe a little off-topic. This course seems very interesting (I'm currently studying https://secureyournodejs.com/?p=setup), is there a demo of a course or a sample to see the flow of the class?.

If you want to pursue the marketing support angle, drop me a note. I have something that might help. :)

If you define 'profitable' as $100 a month, that's where one of my iOS apps (http://postcardpanda.com) is at after 2+ years. I've only recently started putting actual time into it though.

If you want the full income report, here is May's: http://mattsencenbaugh.com/postcard-panda-may-2016-income-re...

I know this goes against accepted wisdom and I cannot yet prove that it works, but I no longer believe I am capable of the "build something small, fast and succeed". Niftylettuce in this thread has shown it an be done, but I have not succeeded in doing so.

I am now working on big, highly functional, fully working on launch utilities for DevOps people. Hopefully this will result in building something people want.

It seems the startup world is made up primarily of people pumping out easy to build shit.

I don't consider these really startups haha. No way. I think you have not succeeded YET because you need to find something fun to work on that you want to build for yourself.

I honestly built the wake-up call service for MYSELF and nobody else. I couldn't wake up for classes in college even with an alarm clock (didn't sleep much since I was hacking all the time). I thought having someone call me made the world of difference in signaling my brain to move. So I built the wakeup thing for myself, then maybe a year or two later I added international support after I realized people were paying like $2 a week with it. People actually paid for it? That blew my mind.

The other services and things I built were again just because I wanted them for myself. Just have fun with it. True, these are easy to build projects, but the real skill comes in when you can pump one out in a day!

* I mean pump one out in the sense that you build it, both front-end and back-end, and then release it on the internet. A lot of these projects I didn't do any fancy deployment stuff with, I popped open `screen -DR`, did a GitHub deploy key to the server, cloned repo, installed deps, and ran `node app`.

Sometimes it's better to have smaller self running projects to help fund the big ones.


Two and a half years ago I started working on the idea. It took me about a year to get the initial offering done and launched. The first calendar year in business was technically profitable. We ended up reinvesting the profits into new computers as well as paying all of the operational expenses upfront for the following year.

This year, it's tracking at roughly 5x of last year's revenue and we've also improved our margins by about 2x.

All said and done, we both put about an hour a day into it, five days a week, and one full weekend day a month.

This is really cool. Got a share to my friends out there. If you don't mind me asking, what kind of printing service do you hook into?

I started a Product Hunt style newsletter that curates the best UI designs every day (http://uimovement.com).

It was profitable from sponsorships about 6 months after launch (slightly over $1,000 a month in revenue, costs $300ish a month). I spend about 10 minutes a day on it. I need to spend more time marketing it and updating some of the tech - but I'm too lazy.

Also, I'm not sure the 6 months to profit counts, because I worked on 3-4 similar side-projects before launching it for about a year before.

Is the money from advertising on the website or the newsletter, or the cost for people to get the newsletter?

99% of the money comes from the newsletter sponsorships. Newsletter sponsorships generally can earn wayyyy more than website ads. Incase you're interested in more details, the newsletter has ~10,000 subscribers (~50% daily, ~50% weekly) and the site gets about 30k uniques a month.

Also if anyone is wondering why the costs are so high, the main expenses are CloudFront (huge HUGE gifs) and Mailchimp. I'm sure I could reduce the costs to $50-100ish a month, but laziness.

Great work! I was wondering if you earn more by charing a buck for the daily post. I wonder how it would work?

I built a journal-over-email app that has been a profitable side business since day one. Defining "profitable" is necessary, I think - in this case it's covering it's own costs + more. This isn't my full-time gig, so I'm not counting any sort of hourly rate for my own time. The MVP is something I built over a long weekend, and I occasionally work on it while my wife and I watch TV/movies (so the time investment hasn't been too drastic, and the alternative is $0/hr).

The app is called Dabble Me (https://dabble.me) and you can read about the inspiration and costs to run here: https://medium.com/startup-lesson-learned/increase-your-happ...

Today (18mos since launch) it's generating around $500/mo in passive income. I played around with a few different pricing models. The first was a "donate whatever you can" for a few pro options (did not generate what I expected), the next was a pretty lenient freemium model (lacked the upgrades), and what seems to be working best is a very stringent freemium model.

A big part of Dabble Me and my passion for the project arises from this being a "scratch your own itch" build. I want this service to exist more than anyone else...so I built it and charged others to use it. That seems to be a theme that has a higher success rate than others.

I built http://serpentinegame.com in 2008, an online multiplayer boggle game, and it makes a modest amount of money for me from ads and premium memberships. The only costs have been my time, a server on linode, and the domain name. I've had a couple other attempts but nothing has really taken off in the same way.

This isn't me. I found this on reddit and it's a pretty good AMA about Gleam.io. https://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/comments/3hpt9z/iama_c...

I open sourced all of my (two) side projects. Has anyone turned their open source project into something profitable?

YouTube video tutorials on niche tech topics. Upfront investments: $50 for a decent microphone.

Spent about 40 hours creating and editing the videos. They have been online now for nearly 11 months and i have a total of ~300k views. That made me nearly $400 from video ads.

I don't know anything about YouTube ads, but I figured it would be more $ for that many views.

(Not trying to be insulting, so I hope I don't come off that way.)

Between $1-$4 per 1k view is quite typical.

I think certain demographics will influence it (depending upon how much they click links and I'd imagine tech people are less inclined to click on links and more likely to adblock)

1 year.

Built up a hobby site slowly over the past two years, at the end of the first year it was making £7,700 a month..

It is still active and earning around £2-3k per month with only about 1 hours work a week.

Currently looking to sell it on as I have just started on a new project.

What do you mean by "hobby site"? A site covering a specific hobby or something else? Can you tell more about how you earn money (memberships, advertisements, something else)?

Things that people do outside of work like mountain biking, yoga, paintball, cooking, whatever. There is lots of opportunity for ad revenue and affiliate links

Yeah. You can get affiliate links for pretty much everything these days.

I have also just started work on this project: http://cupomterra.com.br/

Basically I started built a website and my hobby is to work on it and improve it.. The main goal was not to make revenue.

The revenue it makes now is through memberships and affiliate revenue.

3 years. Took 6 months of earning 100 a month and then in my 7th month it did 20kgbp. It currently does about 100k per year

Go on...

I did until it was shut down by a legal threat from a Fortune 100. It took about 1 year to go from 0 to profitable.

Could you explain more about this?

Could you go deeper into this? The fact that you got bullied by a F100 company means you had the potential to go big, what was your project about?

My product was not a competitive threat. It operated within their ecosystem and was only used to help people give them money faster. A lot of people were pretty confused when they decided to shut it down.

The project's operation depended on accessing factual information published on the F100's web site (things like event times, maintenance status, etc). Since this is data that originates with the F100, there is no reasonable alternative source. Someone else in the community started abusing this data in a way that led to bad press and the F100 unleashed their $1k/hr law firm on everyone they could find that was reading data off their site.

We were sent a cease and desist alleging infringement of the CFAA and copyright/trademark infringement for accessing their web site in a manner disallowed by their Terms of Use (which state the site cannot be accessed by any spider, crawler, bot, or any other automated or manual method). We were able to pay for a few hours with a lawyer who had experience in the CFAA and he tried to get them to agree to a licensing deal, but they refused to do so. Since I could afford to buy 4 hours of his time, the EFF (of which I have been a supporting member off and on for the last 10+ years) decided I didn't need their charity and lost interest since I had shown "ability" to pay for my own attorney.

Barring the materialization of $1 mil+ that I can send to my lawyer, this is where the matter lies.

To be frankly honest, I can understand how, from the perspective of the F100, it's easier if my side project simply doesn't exist. The problem is that their company shouldn't have the right to decide that. We aren't supposed to allow companies to decide who gets to exist.

For example, car companies can't say "Oh, you know, I really don't like 7-Eleven putting gas in our cars, I'm going to send them a C&D telling them to stop." If 7-Eleven is capable of providing a functional gas pump, it is the consumer's choice whether or not they wish to input gas there or at a competitor, and the big car companies have no say in the matter. The same should be true in the digital world, but it's not.

"If 7-Eleven is capable of providing a functional gas pump, it is the consumer's choice whether or not they wish to input gas there or at a competitor"

Excellent analogy. Totally agree. The reality is that big companies just bully whomever they don't like and simply win because all they need to do is threaten.

It would be helpful if you just brief a little further. In case you do not want to reveal anything specific, you can give an outline of your product, and F100's product. That should give some idea.

I created a WPA(2) password lookup web-based service in April of 2008:


I just added ads and it's made 50-300 a month (had ~1000 unique visitors a day for the last 8 years).

Added https://www.nickkusters.com/en/Services/UPC last year for a different brand model


https://www.nickkusters.com/en/Services/DownloadFundaImages for the Dutch real-estate market

And a few years ago, I reverse enginered the encryption of the Wordz game and post the new game 20-30 seconds before the new roud starts, and more: https://www.nickkusters.com/nl/Diensten/WoordJacht/

This combined is my hobby/fun website. It used to cost €300 a month in server fees; it's now down to €80. Over the lifetime of the site, I probably broke even :) But it's still used daily, generating ad revenue, and if I had put in time to cut down cost, I could have made some money.

Those ads (in the first link) are almost certainly a breach of the AdSense placement policies.

Not sure I agree; the button in question is 240px high in size to make sure it's a huge click target; the ads are adjacent, true, but I tried to make all actions huge to make sure it's usable without fat-fingering it.

Textdropapp.com - web-based plain text editor for Dropbox. It started off as a scratch to my own itch, and I listed it in the Dropbox app directory. I started collecting feature requests and after a year or so I completely rewrote it as a paid app. The rewrite took 3-4 months of nights and weekends. I haven't touched it in 2.5 years but it still generates maybe $30-50 per month, net.

Oh man, I would love to have this functionality. Unfortunately I value the security of the contents of my Dropbox too much to open it to 3rd party services. Frustrating. Great idea making this.

I've been working on https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.teamtol.li... for the past 2 years. About 2 years ago Valve released an API to get data for Dota and other games in their portfolio. It was a good excuse for me to learn Android development which is something I had wanted to do for awhile. About a year in to the project I added some ads which in turn made the app almost instantly profitable. I built the API to be super performant from the start and the whole thing runs on the equivalent of a micro-instance despite needing to serve up a few hundred thousand requests per day.

My main goal with the project right now isn't to generate profit though. If you were to account for the cost of my time I'm sure the project would be deeply in debt. I just enjoy working on it and it gives me a good excuse to travel to different Dota events throughout the world and meet awesome people.

What are the figures you earn a month if not a secret? I am also a dota player and have a tool in mind (not competitive to yours) I want to build and wonder how profitable is the niche.

https://rebrickable.com - A LEGO database that shows you which sets you can build from your existing collection, also includes thousands of fan-submitted designs. I built the original site in a few months, but have been steadily expanding it for 5 years now.

That's cool, I think there are probably several fields that you can apply this approach to - the obvious one which has been done is cooking. I.e. if you have so many ingredients, what can you make that also maximises your use of leftovers etc.

I wonder if electronics would work the same way. I have a lot of random crap in my component bin, odd sensors and things that need projects. I guess a curated list of e.g. projects you can do with a BMP180 would be nice, rather than having to google. On the other hand a pressure sensor is a pressure sensor, so there wouldn't be much variety.

Yes, I've had lots of suggestions for applying the tech to other things but the problem is I have no interest in those other things :)

5 years of bootstrapping a nutrition & fitness tracking web/mobile app for me.

After the first few months it was only making enough income to cover basic hosting costs and not much else, so I ended up getting a job (well, co-founded a different startup with good funding). In the next two years, I was just doing the bare minimum to keep it running, and it grew 80% each year. Start of year 3, other startup failed and I had spare time to invest in the site and it was making maybe 8000/month in revenues, and the decent yearly growth has continued so that now in year 5 I can comfortably live on the business, and have a few employees / contractors to help with support and development.

I'm surprised very few people here (no one?) is selling physical stuff. I have a profitable side project selling stuff online. I found a manufacturer through Alibaba, set up a website and now most of the work is dealing with shipping items.

I can just speak for Germany, but selling physical stuff is not that easy here. There are lots of regulations, for example on taking back and recycling used batteries, if you shipped them with the product, and stuff like that. Lots of things to take care about and have in mind, so selling physical stuff is not that popular as a side project, I think.

I build iConvert Icons [see http://iconverticons.com/online/] six years ago without any intention of making money off of it.

Unfortunately about three years into it, it became a full sink (negative time + negative money). I was actually going to sell it off for a couple of grand about that point, at which my wife encouraged me to have a go at making something out of it.

It was profitable within a month, and has been ever since. Not enough to pay [my] bills, but it pays for itself and enough left over for some other hobbies.

2 years. I built ( https://itunes.apple.com/app/id714882169?mt=8 ) three years ago as an idea to test shooting videos at 60fps on the iPhone. At the time there was no iPhone 6 and you couldn't shoot 60fps videos with the default camera app. I did zero advertising of the app, and it's currently bringing in around $100/month.

I have a major update that I've been working on for the last 2 months, but other than that it seems to be running all by itself.

Don't have it anymore (sold it in 2013) but http://myapptemplates.com. Took it from $0 to $3,000 a month in about 1 year

Why sell?

Stupidity. Did it to raise money for the 'big idea'. Went nowhere. Next time, I'll hold.

I made an app to generate .gitignore files, It's as simple as a brick.


but it doesn't make any money though.

https://searchcode.com/ is my serious side project. It has been profitable (If you ignore my time) for several months now. However it took 5 years to get there. I am planning on making it unprofitable again soon to allow it to scale up to the load requirements it needs. Most of the profit is though ads and the fact I run it on a shoestring budget (less than $100 a month).

If the downloadable version takes off that would really help as well.

I wrote https://leanpub.com/trellodojo in about 4 months to start, and periodically spend several hours a month updating it. It earns ~100 to ~300 a month. I do have some ideas for software and other digital content that I can't seem to get traction on. Reading the rest of this is motivating though. Keep up the good work everybody!

I'm currently writing something to be published on leanpub. How do you take care of marketing/promotion? Do you just leave it to sell or do something more proactive?

To market, I make comments on HackerNews mentioning it as an aside ;) Seriously, marketing is the hardest part for me. I feel like I have something worthwhile that has helped 1500+ people learn Trello, but marketing and self-promotion is not something that comes natural to me. I will say, my first sale happened by accident via the platform. I accidentally hit publish, and was surprised when I got my first sale before I even knew I was selling anything ;)

Since then, I've put on Google Analytics so I can see my traffic sources. The top referral sources are:

- Direct and Organic Search. I wish I could figure out how to understand those a bit more...

- A card on the official Trello Resources Board. I got up the nerve to "just ask" and they put me there.

- Some comments/articles on Lifehacker. I commented and link to the site, and they've referenced a few of my template boards (which link to the site).

- Reddit/HackerNews. I don't want to be spammy, but if it's relevant I will link to the site like what I did here.

- My own blog and trellodojo.info. I've had a longtime personal nerd-blog and am trying out trellodojo.info as a dedicated "niche site". I plan to do some other products out of there.

So, yes, their promotion does help, but I do see spikes when I actively market.

I created searchtempest.com as a hobby project in 2006, starting with zero web knowledge, although a bit of programming experience from electrical engineering. Within about a year and a half it was earning enough to pay my (very modest) rent. By 2009 I quit my day job to focus on it full time. Added autotempest.com around the same time and now have several employees working on the two. (The first hired around 2010 iirc.)

Did all of the "No affiliation with craigslist." warnings come after some legal action?

No, craigslist hasn't taken any legal action against us, perhaps because we go to significant effort through legal reviews and measures like those disclaimers to ensure that we don't infringe on their rights. (We also don't scrape their results, or indeed visit their site at all; we get everything from public search API's like Google Custom Search and the Bing search API.)

Nice. I've jumped on searchtempest a few times to avoid flipping through results on CL and to get results from multiple regions at once. It works!

I run mailsac.com and skim a profit. I failed to properly sell to a couple of customers that would have made it fairly profitable (at least two very large companies use it for email testing). It has a decent number of users and signups but I haven't spent the time to figure out if there is more they'd pay a lot for. It took about two years of literally doing nothing to make a profit.

After six years of doing it on the side, I'm now doing it full-time (for a year and a half) and have one employee/apprentice (for the last half year). I provide IT training and consulting.

Started out with CFEngine, now offering Git training as well. Companies fly me in for 1-5 days to train their staff. I love getting to see different parts of the US.

This is a cool gig, at least for a while :) Especially if one is young and childless, as travel becomes easy.

Exactly. My employee is going to do the travel from now on as much as possible. He's younger. :)


I built DocsApp in 1 year and now is ramen profitable.

Tech stack:

* Play Framework (Scala)

* PostgreSQL (RDS)

* S3

* Docker (cloud.docker.com)

* Scaleway

* HAProxy

May I ask which S3 plugin do you use ? Haven't found anything useful for Play!.

Use AWS Java SDK since my S3 usage just simple upload file.

Alright cool, why did you decide to go with Scala instead of Java ?

I had done couple of projects before and one of them was somewhat successful. I made around $1.5k from that. Giftcardzilla an aggregator for discounted gift cards. I had to shut it down after Google Penguin update.

Currently building AppsUlagam.com (apps world) as a mobile app discovery site for apps with Tamil language content.

Clickable link http://www.appsulagam.com

Built www.sum-reviews.com over the course of a year (14 months), probably 2-3 man months of full time effort. It's now pretty automated though not enjoying the marketing part as much, that a more mature project requires. Having said that, it's kind of self entertainment / joy.


I run GTheme.io for 2 years and now ramen profitable. Current site running with minimal management.

The site selling premium ghost.org theme.

I have been working on a side project about food dishes, but it does not even have a revenue stream. It is more a labor of love. I have been at it for over a year now.

I recently started doing some competitive programming and going trough advanced algorithms...not really a side project but i'm looking forward to make a Network Monitoring service something that runs in your computer and acts passively to monitor system changes... to protect against malware mostly . -My current side project isn't even 10% complete but it's on my scope I'm working on a micro virtual file system for important documents...due to the rise of Ransomware and people being lazy I think that making a secure,encrypted virtual filesystem could be a great idea . Those are my thoughts only

Not currently. Lack of ideas/inspiration/perspiration.

It'd be nice to have a few on the side making enough to support hobbies though.

for me it has been http://allthefreestock.com , it's not a serious side project and the only revenue has been ads.

No, but I am trying.

18 months

Man i always post such questions but never get responses at all. Sigh.

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