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Ask HN: Are you a single founder ?
82 points by jarsj on Mar 15, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments
A small survey, please answer as many you want,

1) How long have you been working on your idea ? 2) Were you accepted in YC ? 3) Have you raised money from the VC ? 4) URL to your demo/company.

1) Since late June 2006.

2) I have not applied to YC, and do not have plans to do so in the immediate future. (Never say never.) Nothing personal: I love what YC does, but to make the deal mutually beneficial, I'd have to take outside investment in my business, swing for the fences, and achieve an exit in the next few years. These do not match my personal vision for the next few years of my life.

3) My feelings on outside investment: I have had a relationship before where somebody could call me and berate me for the lack of progress in my projects. He was my boss. At least he had the decency to pay me money every month. I do not fancy having a relationship in which someone can call me up to berate me for my lack of progress and then say, at the end of the call, "Don't forget, we want you to pay us lots of money!"

4) http://www.bingocardcreator.com and more projects early in the pipeline

patio11, I agree with you that bootstrapping is the way to to - the "Italian restaurant" software company

That Italian restaurant example drives me nuts: the economics of a small trattoria are pretty much night and day from most software products.

Your missing the point of the analogy. The idea is focus on customer acquisition in a niche rather than trying to go big with VC funding/IPO. You could have just as easily replaced "Italian restaurant" with "local flower shop" or whatever.

The niche a trattoria competes in is inherently limited by geography, whereas there's no reason a VC funded bingo card creator can't try and muscle in on patio11's turf. The only reason is probably that there is simply not enough money there to support that kind of investment/expected return.

So I guess if there's a fair point in it, it's to go after some niche that has an upper bound to its profitability as a defense against large competitors. In the US, at least, though, chain restaurants make the 'little restaurant' example once again a bit suspect because they end up competing in a niche that can, to some degree, be filled by a large corporation.

I think it's a flawed analogy, and that rather than trying to make it work, it would simply make more sense to discuss the economic factors and business decisions that make something like patio11's company successful.

but what could money improve there? advertising, and ? Corporations are usually not run by subject matter experts; my experience consulting for corporations has been that the decision is usually a compromise that ends up being... suboptimal. I mean, they usually get the job done, eventually, but they spend a lot more money on it than they need to, and they usually don't solve the problem in the most elegant way.

I guess that's the idea with mass-market software. the marginal cost being nearly zero means that the chance of hitting a few out of the park justifies a whole bunch of expensive flops.

> the marginal cost being nearly zero means that the chance of hitting a few out of the park justifies a whole bunch of expensive flops.

Yep. If you're interested in the economics of our field, I can't help but recommending 'Information Rules' ( http://www.amazon.com/dp/087584863X?tag=dedasys-20 ). One of the co-authors is now the chief economist at Google.

heh. I'm a janitor, not a programmer, so the marginal costs in my field are definitely non-zero. As I sadly say when I buy a particularly large amount of hardware "But, that's my porsche!"

But my point was that I think the advantage that the large corporation has is not as big as people seem to think it is. It's a lot more expensive for them to swing the bat than for you to do so, and you don't have to do as well. I think the only large advantage that large corporations still have in this arena is advertising, and of course in software like modern games that is too big for one person to complete in a reasonable period of time.

1) 2+ years

2) Never applied

3) Nope

4) http://duckduckgo.com/

Btw, a lot more single founders left comments here (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1045694) and on the associated blog post (http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/blog/2010/01/will-single-foun...)

I recently tested your search engine and I must say I am utterly impressed. Your results are structured well and you hit the nail on the head regarding the relevance of search results in the few searches I tried. I am really impressed with your work!

I think it's a shame that any search engine always gets compared to Google immediately. They've had years and thousands of people to perfect their work. I would really love to see Duckduckgo grow.

yes, its a very well done engine. The amazing thing is, its done by one guy, awesome. Another interesting thing is, it is done in Perl.

Is DDG profitable?

1) Since September 2006.

2) No, but the fact that I couldn't relocate to the bay area was a factor in this.

3) No. I've been approached by a few angels, but (apart from one early attempt which didn't work) I've avoided going down that route in favour of bootstrapping.

4) http://www.tarsnap.com/

1) In my spare time for a few months. 2) I have never applied. 3) No, I am entirely self funded. 4) http://www.sliceapp.com / http://www.clevercollie.com

Wow, I sure could've used sliceapp about a week ago :P Bookmarked!

I like your 2000-2020 copyright. Beats having to update it every year.

1) Started officially working on the project December '05 (before that, it was just a personal project for fun - no serious business intentions)

2) Never applied

3) No. Bootstrapped, launched running a single crappy tower server in colo (AMD XP 2100 with a gig of RAM). Started part time, on the side from consulting work. I was offered a pretty meager sum ($20k) in my earliest days, but I was already profitable, and turned it down.

4) http://www.dkpsystem.com

I've been profitable since the beginning, and went full-time January '07. Business has been much slower lately, but I'm working to adapt.

1) About a week. Finally free of the previous failed startup, got my feet back with a quick project (co-founder finder, http://amb.itio.us).

2) Didn't try... I'd have tried for this round, but I didn't want to start any new work until I was completely clear of the previous gig. Lack of co-founders made it a real impossibility (partly inspiring me to write the co-founder finder).

3) I'm going to bootstrap, at least for the short term. Any course of action that leaves me in a position where I'm not substantially the master of my own destiny goes against the whole reason I'm pursuing this startup stuff.

4) http://localhost:8000/ and http://localhost:8001/ at the moment ;)

that co-founder finder could turn out to be really useful.

1) Since late 2006

2) No. Never applied.

3) No. Bootstrapped.

4) http://feedity.com

Feedity is a profitable startup. I'm currently working on a new project and hoping to go full-time sometime this year.

On a side note, I wonder if a lot of the services listed here are really startups. Some of them have an amateur feel to them - there's nothing wrong with that - it's just that startup doesn't seem to be the best description for a lot of the services listed here (and not because they don't have any VC funding). If we take a polished piece of commercial software as an analogy for a startup, then some of these projects are more like shareware. ("shareware as a service")

just to be clear: I'm not criticizing the services here. Some look very useful and as the owners have said are already profitable. I'm just interested in how others define a startup and whether or not people think that term fits these ideas. How exactly do you define a startup?

The question didn't mention startups at all. You can be a single founder without being a startup.

If a defining feature of a startup is that it's unprofitable and likely to fail, then I think these single founders should be pleased not to be considered startups.

I agree with you. A start-up is probably something that in theory can take over the market it defines.

Didn't we just have this thread?

1) about a year

2) never considered YC (and I'm sure the feeling is mutual)

3) no

4) http://pinboard.in

Just a quick word of advice. I'm not sure the "Sorry, I lost all your data." testimonial is a particularly good one. Yeah, I get it that it is a reference (and link) to the mag.nolia debacle, but most people won't. It looks like a troll.

Thank you for the advice.

I have used pinboard. Do you currently have a day job?

No, I earn my living from the site

I'd guess you've made around $19000. Congrats!

1) Jan 2009 2) Did not apply (not based out of US) 3) No, need to make a detailed case on how money could be used effectively. 4) http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/

What a cool product! I love it!

I'm curious, did you build/design this yourself and what did you build it on?

Design, yes and no. Used an existing template as a base and heavily customized it. Built it, yes (completely by myself).

Uses FlourishLib (http://flourishlib.com/) as programming framework, jQuery for front-end magic and iconfinder.net for the cute icons all around.

BTW, This particular app has been in development for last 5 months. Since Jan 2009, I was prototyping few different things (see http://www.wingify.com/labs.php) and finally built Visual Website Optimizer.

love it.

1) Since Feb. 2008.

2) Applied 3 times. Didn't get in.

3) Didn't take VC money (yet). Received funds from fbFund and an angel investor.

4) http://facebook.com/networkedblogs

Hey Waleed, I didn't know you were doing NetworkedBlogs. Cool!

Yes, it was a side project that ended up becoming the only project.

1) Since October 2009.

2) I haven't applied to YC. I participated in the inaugural San Diego Founder Institute session which finished a few weeks ago.

3) I'm not raising money yet. I'm still working a (percentage of a) full time software engineering job. I think I can get pretty far in terms of traction without funding.

4) I'm still in private beta and not ready to share just yet.

1. since 2005 or so.

2. no. I think I applied at one point, but really it is good that I did not get accepted. I'm not really in a 'get big fast and sell it' business; if I were to sell, people would expect to pay about one years earnings. (I'm a little surprised anyone sells at those prices; even with the capital gains advantages of selling vs. paying yourself salary, that seems a little like killing the golden goose. I mean, duck is delicious, but golden eggs, man, golden eggs.)

3. no.

4. http://prgmr.com/xen

I think my case is interesting because I am in an industry that is generally thought to be capital intensive; I buy capital goods and rent them out. The thing is, it lends itself fairly well to a 'buy as you go' strategy, for my little plans, a server pays for itself in about a month an a half. (for the big plans, a server takes 4 or 5 months to pay for itself) Support costs scale fairly lineally with customers, so at first there is plenty of time for consulting, and as time goes on, I earn more and more of my income from the servers, until I can stop consulting (It's been maybe 8 months now that I've been full time)

Note, buy as you go means that you will be turning away customers, and this does hurt you in the eyes of customers. You need to be sensitive to this, but there are some people who will tolerate it. Make sure to /always/ prioritize existing customers over accepting new customers. Even a few bad words in public about you can be impressively damning. Treat everyone as if they were a high-profile blogger. (at this point, nearly all your customers might as well be, in terms of how much influence they have over other customers searching for your business name.)

This is actually kindof hard, because on an emotional level, it hurts when people say bad things about me in public; but responding in a hostile manner is about the worst thing a business owner can do. Offer a refund to every disgruntled customer (at least of the last month) The surprising part is that many people won't take the refund, offering it is often enough. Accepting personal responsibility and explaining what went wrong goes a long way. (even better is to explain how you are going to prevent that from happening in the future)

Key here is finding a market that sells something that is simple for you to maintain (I've been a computer janitor since I was 12. really, there is nothing I'm better at doing.) and then slogging it out until the thing is profitable enough to support you. I wouldn't really call myself disciplined. Stubborn, or maybe arrogant, but not disciplined. It's a slog; you deal with emergencies when they happen, then on good days you go and write code so that there is less work to do, but mostly it's this slog of buying equipment and renting it out until you can buy more equipment. For me, at least, it's a lot easier than showing up at the office every day at the same time.

I've taken a different tack on marketing compared to many in this industry; advertising, I am given to understand, is often as expensive as hardware. Me, I have focused on brand-building to the exclusion of 'user acquisition' advertising like affiliate programs and pay-per-click ads - I don't know if I made the right choice. writing the book was an incredibly expensive brand-building excersise, and I don't know if what I did was the most effective and cheapest way to attract customers, but at this point I can largely ignore the advertising; I've got more customers than I've got hardware to rent, so finally, it /might/ make sense to get VC, but at this point I'm ramen profitable and the number of servers I can buy every month is increasing, so I'm really reluctant to break and let someone else come in and tell me how to do my job. Besides, slow growth means that my mistakes happen in more manageable chunks. I can tell you right now that if I started out in 2005 with all the cash I ended up spending on the thing, I would have failed miserably, due to some early dumb mistakes.

Another key to being a single-founder is knowing people who are both good and willing to work for low wages. I've been super lucky to get some awesome people for wages I could afford to pay. I'm a little worried because I'm almost out of poor but competent friends at this point (most of them are still friends; just they now have the opportunity to work for more than I can afford to pay. If you are going to underpay people, you /must/ be understanding and even happy for them when they graduate to a job with 'real pay' - That is what you are paying them; a chance to have some real experience they can use to get a real job later. )

1) Since Oct 2009

2) Not applied

3) Not applicable

4) http://www.smstweet.in : send tweets by a simple SMS http://www.ideabubbles.in : loyalty program on mobile phone and other such ideas

you do realize that twitter has an official sms thing, which was the thing that made it popular in the first place?

Yes I do. But you see, in India only one operator supports this service, and is not very cost effective. smstweetin helps everyone here tweet via sms.

1) Little over a year

2) Never applied

3) No, bootstrapped

4) http://mographstock.com

1) Varies... but let's say about 3 months.

2) Yes.

3) Not yet, but planning to.

4) Can't say quiet yet :) Launching this week! Currently working on the boring parts of the site like FAQ, Terms, Privacy, About, etc... the rest is pretty much ready to go!

1) Since June 2006. Last year gave equity to two team members in exchange for work they already completed.

2) Didn't apply

3) Didn't start looking. It's bootstrapped so far and I want to continue doing it this way until I no longer can. Not that there are any valley-type VCs in Saudi Arabia, but was approached by a couple of interested investors. One didn't really get web startups. Still in talks with the other one though. Investment is not currently needed, but can certainly accelerate growth.

4) http://www.qaym.com (in Arabic)

Very cool. What is it? =)

Seems to be a restaurant review site.

Restaurant reviews indeed.

1) A little over a year (Founded March 2009)

2) Didn't apply. Could use the advice, but not the money.

3) No, and not sure we want to. Got some solicitations last month from a few firms on the East Coast. This prompted me to contact Sequoia to gauge interest. Amazingly, got a sit down with Michael Moritz, and had a few more conversations and email sessions that convinced me (and them) that there wasn't a right fit there. I'm lazily listening to other VCs, but nothing has interested me yet.

4) http://www.pacsdrive.com

1. few years (amongst other projects) 2. no 3. no (have not tried/no desire to) 4. http://www.UniversityTutor.com

Interesting site. You may want to have a look at this page:


I don't know if it is accurate to say "yes, I am" or if it would be better to say "I'm a wannabe single founder". Only it's not really as simple as that either. My two adult sons are kind of in this with me, only they don't plan on being cofounders for my plans. They plan on founding their own company. Still, the three of us are collaborating on working out what needs to be worked out for all of us to get there from here. So I am not entirely alone, though I don't expect to have any actual cofounders.

1)I have been working on several things for a few years. Last summer, I began posting here because I concluded I need to learn a programming language and write a simulation/game as an educational tool for my health site. For better or for worse, the ideas on the site grow out of my own first-hand experience with getting well against impossible odds. Between continuing to work on resolving my health issues and working as much overtime as I can at my job, I haven't made much headway towards my goals for this site, and even less headway on goals for other websites I own. None of this started as a "business" idea. It is only fairly recently that my thoughts have turned in that direction.

2) I have toyed with applying and started to fill out an application for last fall. Stuff I have read recently suggests to me they would never accept me, even if I concluded it was a good fit for my goals. But i seriously doubt it would be. I plan to bootstrap it.

3) As above: No. I expect to bootstrap my business plans.

4) My health site is http://www.healthgazelle.com It is the best developed of the sites I have. The others are languishing in purgatory (or perhaps I should say "languishing even worse than this one").

1) Several months (say... November '09?). Spending about 2-3 months to build and launch each project (trying to get something with a little traction).

2) Never applied.

3) Not even close. Highly doubtful anyone wants to invest in my part-time startups, though angels might be more into this than VCs...

4) http://rankiac.com/ & http://bitbuffet.com/

bitbuffet seems cool, but the prices might be a bit high. Are you using something like S3 to keep your costs low?


Is rankiac profitable?

1) I've been positioning myself to work on a startup full time for about two years and have about another two years until my situaiton will enable me to do it. I've been working on Preceden, a platform for building timelines, for a little over four months.

2) Haven't applied, though I'd like to one day depending on my situation.

3) Negative

4) Currently working on http://www.preceden.com

1.) Since Sept. 2009 (Working on other things as far back as Feb. 2008.)

2.) No. (I usually apply, though.)

3.) No. (Doesn't seem like a good use of time to try.)

4.) http://www.fairoakslabs.com/iknowpeople/ or http://itunes.apple.com/app/iknowpeople/id349918351?mt=8

/iknowpeople: Too much text on the front page. I recommend hitting the user with your tag line and a few bullet points and then explaining more on a different page.

1) Two years

2) Never applied to YC but attended Startup School in 2006

3) Raised two rounds from VC

4) http://www.socialcast.com

1) Since November 2009, launched this March.

2) Never applied.

3) No, self-funded.

4) http://pdfcrowd.com - html to pdf online API

1) Full time 3 weeks ;), thinking and planning, 3 years 2) No - YC isn't for me. Think bootstrapping is probably the better model, particularly for an Australian based company. 3) No - self financed. 3) http://knowtu.com

The landing page lists the word connect twice. Might be a typo or is it a clever play on "dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!".

thanks ;) I would have preferred; stop, collaborate and listen but had a feeling this had been used before.

1) Almost a year on current project, but had two previous failure since I went solo.

2) Never applied and don't plan to

3) Not yet, hoping to bootstrap then raise money when needing rocket fuel.

4) http://alwaysontechnologies.com

1) Since July 2009

2) Did not apply to YC

3) Self-funded

4) http://www.signappnow.com

Nice design.

1) 6 months

2) Never applied, probably not the right idea/goals for it. Plus don't live in CA.

3) No VC, but who knows what the future holds. Just a for-fun project scratching my own itch at this point.

4) http://movief.ly

Site down.

eeek, fun stuff. Working now.

Hella fast, what's it built on?

Professional curiosity. :)

1) My idea is fairly new, so I've been working on trying to prove the concept first before I take it further with building a startup around it

2) No, I didn't apply

3) It wouldn't be appropriate at this time.

4) I'll make a note to add a link sometime in the future.

1) since 2007 on one startup, and since 2009 on another project

2) no, and I don't have any plans to apply for any of my current projects. while I definitely like YC's model and I think they do great things, I don't feel like the process matches my goals with any of my current projects. I'm more in it for the long-haul.

3) no, my projects have been entirely self-funded

4) http://www.ratemystudentrental.com/spp, http://www.leadnuke.com

1) since December 2008 </br>

2)No, never applied</br>

3)No, I've avoid the route in favor of bootstrapping</br>


1) Just under 6 months (part time).

2) No, didn't apply.

3) No, haven't tried.

4) http://www.brightspoke.com/

My goal is to put more people on bikes by creating educated consumers and helping them discover the joy of cycling.

I did a "rate my startup" post a few weeks back at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1111941. I got a lot of good feedback from that and have been making a lot of changes, but there's a lot more in the pipeline.

1) Registered the domain in Aug 2008 to do market research and to decide whether I wanted to go ahead with it. That was followed by minor prototyping and learning about the industry. Started working on it full-time a year ago.

2) Never applied. I'm not in the USA anyway.

3) Nope. One of my first customers did want to invest, but I didn't need it.

4) http://www.simplepay.co.za (Online payroll software. Not really applicable if you're not South African. For now...)

1) Two years (March 2008).

2) Never applied; would love to do it, but it’s just not right for me right now.

3) No (and I have no intention to).

4) https://ironmoney.com/

1) Over a year 2) Ask me again in a few weeks 3) No 4) http://ginzahq.com (be prepared for the ugly; working on that)

1) 3 to 4 months

2) Applied to YC10S, rejected

3) No, can self-fund

4) http://mercedhill.com, the product is in alpha and a newer version will be released soon.

1) 2.5 years, 1 year live

2) No, not seeking to be accepted

3) No, not seeking to raise VC

4) http://diveintothepool.com

I'm trying to make a modest income from this and a few other ideas. I got the idea when the leader of the free online dating sites said that there was no more room for anyone else, anyone that says that will eventually fall and I think with time I can take a good portion of the available users.

well, you certainly picked a heavily saturated market, but good luck. :) is there a special angle to your service?

Yep - single founder

1) 2 years since action / 4 since idea 2) Nope - haven't applied 3) Not yet 4) www.sketchl.tv

I'm crowdsourcing a sketch comedy show - anyone can submit, rank, vote - it's like Saturday Night Live, but with the best writing around that week, no writer's room inside jokes and stale humor. It gives writers a chance to get noticed, build a resume/reel, and get exposure on a national level.

1. ~12 months 2. I applied to Startl (same concept as YC, but focused on companies in the education space). I'm waiting to hear back (interview was last week). 3. No, TAG has not raised institutional money, although I'm strongly considering going down this road soon. 4. http://www.theascendancegroup.org

1) 3 mo 2) never applied 3) nope 4) http://www.dailydealsdirect.com

1) 2 years. 2) Never applied. 3) No. Bootstrapping. 4) http://callgraph.biz

1) About a week or two. Finished 2 days ago

2) Never applied

3) No, self-funded

4) https://text-factory.appspot.com/

EDIT: I just updated my app.... So, if you sign in, you will get 5 free texts that you can use to try it out....

Interesting. Can it be called from a script to send monitoring text messages (with cacti, for example) ?

yes... HTTP POST... For example, on Mac OS X Terminal.app:

curl https://text-factory.appspot.com/apisend --data-urlencode 'number=+1xxxxxxxx' --data-urlencode 'message=it works with space' --data-urlencode 'key=xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx'

1) Since early 2010 (but changed the idea several twice, began working on my first idea early 2008). 2) Nope 3) No again.

1) Almost a year now

2) Never applied (not from USA)

3) Never raised any kind of money

4) http://www.kangasbros.fi

1) one year or so

2) no, never applied

3) no

4) http://seashellapp.com and http://peashootapp.com - I run these two SaaS apps and thoroughly enjoy it. Would like to add a third at some point, then just spend time iterating and growing the customer base.

1. Part time since May 2008. Full time since June 2009. 2. Never applied. 3. Not yet. Hope to seek Angel funding soon. 4. http://www.social.com

Would actually be interested in a co-founder. It's hard to get everything done by yourself :)

1) current project - 1 month 2) applied last summer with a different project - rejected. Current project will not be applying. 3) that previous project had raised $30K. Current project is more of a proof of concept. 4) I'll post a review my app link in a week or two.

1) about 3 months

2) didn't apply YC, but graduated from founder institute

3) bootstrapped, maybe later planning to raise money

4) www.lellan.com

1) since March 2008

2) didn't apply

3) bootstrapped

4) http://www.bulldogbyte.com

1: Since 2004

2: No, didn't apply.

(Sidenote: we're #29 in "Startup Ideas We'd Like to Fund" http://ycombinator.com/ideas.html)

3: No, bootstrapped.

4: http://www.sitezoogle.com

1) 1 year 2) no 3) no with a but 4) http://www.swfstats.com/

3's but is I've had private offers from some of the leading companies in my little industry.

1) Since mid-2006, with a few pivots on the idea since.

2) Did not apply to YC.

3) Self-funded.

4) http://www.haystacksoftware.com/arq/

Arq is online backup to S3 for the Mac.

1. 1 Year. 2. No. 3. I've never applied for funding. 4. http://serverpulsehq.com

2 years Nope, didn't apply as I'm not 22 Nope again. They aren't exactly funding many companies right now... www.smartscalesystems.com

1) 2 years 2) no 3) no 4) http://wireframesketcher.com

1. 18 months 2. No 3. No 4. http://www.browsera.com

1) Since March 2009

2) Rejected YC S10. (Attended/enjoyed Startup School 09.)

3) Not yet

4) http://p10q.com

1) 2007, maybe earlier

2) No plans to apply to YC

3) Bootstrapped

4) MissedConnections.com

1. ~1 year

2. No, but an accelerator in Austin would certainly be nice

3. No

4. http://whyspam.me

1) 2 years. 2) no. 3) no 4) http:// windycitizen.com

1. 6 months

2. No. Haven't tried.

3. No.

4. http://roorky.com - Interactive ebooks (ibook??)

1) 18 months. 2) No (3 subsequent rejects). 3) No. 4) Will be announcing soon.

1. 15 months 2.not applied, 3. self funded, 4. announcing soon (in 3 months)

Yes, of a consulting and services company. Black sheep of HN!

1) off/on since ~2007

2) not really a fit for my goals

3) nope, see 2

4) Launching April 1st.

1) 6 months

2) Applied last minute - No

3) no - going the bootstrap route investing 15k of my own money.

4) demo currently offline -will be up later.

No Im currently seeing someone. Sorry.

1. Little over a year

2. No

3. No

4. http://www.hotindianstartups.com/

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