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Ask HN: One-person SaaS apps that are profitable?
171 points by Im_a_throw_away on June 17, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments
Hi HN,

Do you know any one man SaaS app that are profitable?

I'm asking this because I'm considering starting a SaaS app as a side project, and I'm looking for some inspiration.

Thanks!




I run S3stat (https://www.s3stat.com) and Twiddla (http://www.twiddla.com) by myself and they combine to bring in a nice living.

I built both with the stated goal of bringing in recurring income while minimizing the amount of time I actually spent "working". As such, I had plenty of time along the way to bootstrap via consulting work and to travel and otherwise lead an interesting life while the product businesses ramped up in the background.

They're both ticking away nicely now, to the point where it's Officially Silly to continue working for anybody else, ever. As a result, "work" hours are defined as the ones where it's raining, the kids are in school and I've been mountain biking recently, or it's been sunny for a week and I need a rest day. Even with those constraints, you'd be surprised how many new features get shipped.

I mention this side of the business by way of convincing anybody sitting on the fence that it's probably worth giving this whole SaaS thing a try. It really doesn't impact your life in the way a "startup" would, can be done while still doing gainful work for others, and doesn't take much in the way of capital investment.

But if and when it starts paying dividends, it does in fact get as good as it seems it should.

Good luck!


Hey Jason,

Thanks for sharing your 2 projects! To be honest, I'm surprised that a few simple projects like that could support someone! I'm completely new to this, and was wondering if you could break down some numbers for me? Like: how many users, where they come from, what you think is the total market, how much of that you currently capture, and any growth hacking or marketing you did?

Thanks a lot!


Hi Jason,

Thanks for your story. I absolutely agree that this whole buzz IS INDEED worth giving a try.

I am a part of a very small team, working on a SaaS app and I know how challenging it gets when there are so few people around.

But it's also a huge advantage - nobody can really limit you.

Good luck and all the best!

https://userengage.io


Did you sell Blogabond? I think I first saw it/you back when Joel's BoS was still going strong.


Thank you for inspiring me :)


I run Improvely (https://www.improvely.com) and W3Counter (https://www.w3counter.com) alone. I initially developed Improvely in 2012, and W3Counter in 2004. They, along with some other side projects, are how I have made a living for most of the past 10 years.


Glad to see you're still around. I remember when you used to post on SitePoint often. I always looked up to your work. Just felt like saying that.


Hey, thanks. I remember the old SitePoint forums fondly, and other people there inspired and helped me get W3Counter off the ground. I occasionally check up on people I knew from there as well... Zach Holman (lo0ol) sold Good-Tutorials and became one of the first engineers at GitHub, Josh Pigford (shpigford) went on to make Baremetrics, Roger Stringer (freekrai) made Flybase, Josh Catone (bleys) became a writer then executive for RWW/Mashable... SPF was our HN before HN.


I miss the old SP days, I wasn't very active as a user, but I did a lot of business there buying services. The redo messed that all up and since I haven't had as good of luck finding talent. :/


Ah, man...I LOVED the old SP forums. I spent an absurd amount of time there back in the day. Seriously nostalgic.


I like your landing pages.

How do you monetize W3Counter? I'd imagine you compete directly with Google Analytics, which is free.


It's freemium. People pay between $5 and $50 per month for extra features. It's really not hard to compete with Google Analytics (especially when you start before GA existed). There are a ton of large companies making millions and billions in the analytics space.


How do you handle taxes? Did you incorporate?


I run Nomad List (https://nomadlist.com) which is not exactly a SaaS but it is a subscription revenue based company. It just passed $300k/y


Have you thought about adding vacation rental listings? I'm in the vacation rental space on the backend at http://ownerrez.com.

I hear a lot of customers clamoring for the old school pay for listing, get inquiries via emails method, particuarly after the big guys in the space are stumbling: https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/homeaway-vrbo-service-f...


Yes I have Airbnb median prices listed https://nomadlist.com/airbnb-vs-hotel

It's not my main focus atm though!


Nomadlist looks awesome. I'm actually going to do some traveling soon to Stockholm Sweden and then Romania. Can you shoot me an email (in my profile)? I'd love to chat more.


Tweet me questions at @levelsio, I don't use email!


Ok :-). I just signed up for a Nomad membership as well.


Thanks! 300,075$ now haha


Loved the site and became member few months back and went on my first nomad trip in South Asia. Keep it up your good work.


Thanks!!


Your about page says you have a 5 man team, though?


Yep, that's all part-time contractors. 95% of work is still just me.


I'm pretty sure https://pinboard.in is only one person. Apparently a healthy skepticism about everything is useful for running your own SaaS.


And he's making 20K every 3 weeks, according to some previous comments.

I paid for the app before it went to a subscription model and it's perfect. Nothing more and nothing less than what I want in bookmarking app.


Very inspiring :D


You're correct that the business is only one person. But the twitter account is run by a team of 3 out of work comedy writers.


Is that true about pinboard's twitter account / 3 comedy writers? If so, that makes me feel a little better about my own comedic productivity. I thought that was all Maciej and it's amazing how much hilarity he comes up with on a consistent basis.



I run https://formcrafts.com and http://formcraft-wp.com, and both are profitable, netting over 150k+ a year in total. They were my side projects when I was in accounting school, lol


FYI: uBlock Origin blocks formcrafts because it's used by malware.


We do get people using our site for phishing (perks of a freemium model), and, being a small fish, sometimes get the whole domain blocked. Working on the uBlock thing. They haven't replied back.


> They haven't replied back.

I am responsible for uBlock Origin (the other uBlock is abandonware), and I haven't received anything from you. In any case, my answer would have been that I am not responsible of the content of 3rd-party filter lists, and in the current case you would need to contact malwaredomains.com, they are the ones listing you as malware.


My apologies for the confusion. I contacted malwaredomains.com and got formcrafts.com off the list.


Nice sites!

I've got a small plugin that I've been struggling to get traction with (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-content-calendar-lite/). Would be very interested to know what you've done to get users.


It's pretty hard to get traction through the plugin repository. I offer mine for sale at codecanyon.net. I feel the repository is good for utility plugins, but well-made, premium plugins should definitely be on a marketplace.


I sell a plugin on CodeCanyon as well. They get a big cut from the sale value and the marketplace could have been better but there's no better of its kind so I can't complain. I make around 400usd a month with very little effort.


What kind of plugins do you make?


I started Complice (https://complice.co/) 2.5 years ago while in university, with the goal of making enough money by graduation that I didn't have to get a job. I succeeded at that, and have now grown it to about twice that, and it continues to grow, mostly via word of mouth and a few communities.

I mostly work on it one day a week, when I have a super maker schedule day and code for like 14h straight. The other days of the week I answer support emails and sometimes write blog posts. Total time these days is about 20h/week, and if I want to it can easily be 4h or less.

I've written a bit about my experience getting to here: - http://blog.complice.co/post/129788685472/complice-goals-ach... - http://blog.complice.co/post/130460454477/complice-at-2-year... -http://blog.complice.co/post/139686741757/my-complice-origin...

In some senses it worked fairly smoothly for me, but I'm not assuming it's easy. Some basic advice: (the posts above elaborate on some of this) - do things that don't scale - charge people from the beginning: ideally get 10 people to literally send you cash for their first month's subscription before you do much work--message friends directly rather than setting up a huge sales site - then gradually automate it with software, - (before you get monthly payments running on your app, you can run them with moonclerk (which uses stripe, so it's a seamless transition))

By following these principles, you know that at each step of the way, you're building something that people will pay for, because you have people paying for it. This also forces anyone you talk to for advice to take you more seriously.

Feel free to hit me up on twitter @Malcolm_Ocean with questions or just to connect :)


I think all the Laravel-related SaaS apps are one-man, and I'm vaguely sure they're profitable going by mentions in relevant podcasts

https://forge.laravel.com/

https://envoyer.io/

https://spark.laravel.com/

I'm not associated in any way other than as a user - Just the first things that popped into mind.


Plenty of Fish is the canonical example (although I guess it isn't really SaaS per se).

For years he ran it by himself, eventually hired a couple people to help him out, and then sold it for $575M in cash, keeping about $500M for himself.


http://geniepad.com is quite profitable. I work when I want to. At a minimum I need to put in about 1 hours of work a week total. I travel, enjoy life, read a shitload of books, etc. Total lifestyle business.


I see that a few of you are requesting pricing info and videos from the website. If you have any questions about the process let me know ;)


Can you write about how you started and how your sales and promotion strategies evolved.


I started monetizing https://sheetsu.com two months ago. It's profitable right now. I'm the only one involved, wearer of many hats. I'm opening my Baremetrics.com dashboard soon to be transparent.


So each document is an API and the paid plans support multiple sheets/tabs per document?


Yes. Each document is separate API. Paid plans support multiple sheets/tabs. Also, on the paid plan you've got bigger quota of available APIs/Sheets you can create and number of hits you can perform to each API.


I developed and run https://analytics.statvoo.com (realtime analytics) and https://statvoo.com (aggregated website stats) alone. Both are profitable. I found doing things by myself to be the most productive way of getting things done very quickly without all the politics of a normal business environment.


I run broadstreetads.com (2x techstars finalist, 3x reject), and it's profitable with plenty of growth potential.

Building a profitable sass business lies in the ability to understand your market, the problem your product solves and execute on sales goals. Learning how to do that takes a while though - you generally don't get your business legs for a while.

I'd be happy to share tips if you want to connect: katzgrau at gmail


Executing on the sales goals seems to be the part that most engineerings (at least myself) get hung up on, because that's not our expertise. It's pretty easy to learn once you devote a lot of time to it, but it's a new thing for sure.


I'd love to write about this more at some point but something I think that engineers don't understand is some of the key advantages they have over a lot of traditional marketing folk (like myself).

My background was always in that space and about 3 years ago I started to teach myself to code. Albeit not great but enough to probably land a job as a junior full stack developer if I ever wanted to.

I think the canonical example of this was someone like Patrick McKenzie, I remember when I first came across him a while back and being blown away at what he could do with just a little bit of marketing knowledge and some code.

I look back on many of the things he would suggest to SaaS businesses for example now and while they were no doubt "clever" very few of them were actually complicated ideas from either a marketing or engineering point of view. Those kinds of things are entirely within your reach.

I don't want to trivialize the marketing side of it but honestly I feel like you could EASILY learn enough concepts within under 2 months that you could apply to everything you ever worked on again forever. I'd also make the argument that if you are in the one man SaaS space that would be a very profitable and very worthwhile endeavor to embark on.


Rob Walling started out doing his stuff on his own. He's a prolific writer and podcaster - his material is well worth looking up. His book is somewhat dated, but still pretty good: http://amzn.to/1UdN0Ap


I _think_ http://cushionapp.com might be profitable. The founder has recently started using some freelancers to help with features but as far as I know it's still a one person company.

The founder writes about their experiences here: http://cushionapp.com/journal


MinuteDock (https://MinuteDock.com) was just me until last year - scaled up a couple of staff to try grow faster :-) still bootstrapped and profitable!

Also the guys at Quotientapp.com are just 2 dudes bootstrapped - and multiple times bigger than MinuteDock.

World's your oyster - it's a hard slog just grow slow and steady and you'll get there.


Interesting. Can you write more about how you got started and your sales and promotion strategies.


Sure

Got started scratching our own itch basically. Needed time billing software that integrated with Xero for tracking consulting work, was nothing really available at the time. Also hated traditional timesheet/timecard approach, hence the slightly different take on the user interface (twitter-esque time entry)

Built something using Xero's API which was in beta at the time, and then slowly grew off the back of that through friends/colleagues liking the product, word of mouth & channel referrals (Xero had a landing page for their 3rd party integrations).

We also engage closely with the accounting/bookkeeping community, so we get a lot of referrals through accounting providers who need software for their clients that integrates with their back office accounting packages. Repeated the same process with other channel partners (QuickBooks, MYOB, etc.).

It's definitely been a long slog - no hockey stick growth yet.

Would say that sales & promotion is one of our WEAKNESSES to be honest - I'm very much a developer who has fallen into trying to manage this kind of stuff. Always open to ideas, suggestions and feedback :-)


Thank you.

So if I understand it correctly, integration & being featured by Xero was the leverage the product needed.


Founder of Commando.io here (https://commando.io). One man... Wearer of many hats.

Commando.io is SaaS that helps companies and people manage their servers. Think distributed SSH with a full audit trail, versioned scripts (call them recipes), and automation (full API and scheduling).


Very cool, but this definitely worries me a bit

> Commando.io is SaaS that helps companies and people manage their servers

I'm not sure if I want the tools I use to manage my production servers to be managed by one guy. What if things start breaking and you're not around?


Valid concern for sure. So the answer is basically I've setup lots of tests, monitoring, and alerting (thanks Pingdom, Runscope, and Pagerduty). Quite truthfully the code is stable and mature as this point. Shoot me an e-mail, I can go over more details if you're interested in learning more.


Interesting! Do you face resistance from customers not wanting someone "else" to access their servers as root like that! How do you deal with it?

Can you share some tips on attracting new customers? the marketing aspect


I run https://SendToMyCloud.com and https://PrivateForms.com, which are both profitable. SendToMyCloud is an order of magnitude more successful, though.

Both were created in 2015.


I host https://dns-api.com/ which allows you to use Git repositories to host DNS, via Amazon's Route53 infrastructure.

I seem to pick up new users pretty organically, and it's been running for over a year now.


I run http://www.designertask.com, steady growing every day. We offer on-demand designer with unlimited requests & revisions.


I am running http://provulo.com all by my lonesome (at the arse end of Africa to boot) and it provides a very comfortable income


Sorry to hijack this thread, but it's great to be able to make a SaaS app because you're a developer. But how can I non-dev do it?

For example, I use a VoIP tool quite often (almost daily). There are a lot of backends that can be used, like Twilio. The only thing is the front-end (ofcourse, it's not all front-end but you know what I mean)

I've been burning up knowing that if I were to have such a SaaS app, it will really do great.

Any suggestions on how I could start that up?


You can start here: http://www.saasmgr.eu

Before you start your first SaaS, read this:

http://www.saasgenius.com/blog/how-saas-will-change-technolo...


Thanks, but just curious on how to bring a dev in on it, or if it's even possible.

I'm great with ideas (like everyone lol) but mine are practical and definitely niches. Logic, and Usability are my strengths. I can really chart out a great experience.

Currently running a successful & profitable marketing agency where the "grunt" work is done by contractors. Wondering if developing a SaaS app can be the same...


Hi Im_a_throw_away

If you are looking for SaaS inspiration, maybe it's better to start with sales & marketing (Between January 2014 and January 2016 the number of SaaS companies grow from 947 to 3874.)

Source: http://www.saasgenius.com/blog/does-growth-hacking-work-stor...


I am working on https://www.podrover.com. It's totally self funded. I didn't quit consulting yet, but I am happy with how it's going. My suggestion is to start your side project right away, regardless of whether you think it will be profitable or not.


I started https://scrap.me as a soloprenuer though we are still very far from reaching 1M ARR but we are doing good. I have started this tool as a helping tool for my other venture but launched as a seperate product after our customers started to ask about the product.


I run OptKit (https://OptKit.com) -- it's been ramen profitable for almost 2.5 years now.. I built it from a need I had in my other business- a small web agency. I'm phasing out of the agency work, and full-time into OptKit soon.


Thanks for sharing this. I'm bootstrapping www.actionpages.co and www.actionwins.co. I'm curious to learn how other entrepreneurs who have bootstrapped their SaaS companies have managed to keep their CAC low enough to not raise money. What strategies did you use?



How does it work? As far as I can remember - Google's API was deprecated and their ToS forbid scraping, right?


There are several services like that. They all scrape Google: think tons of distributes proxies all over the world, regular IP/proxy rotation, etc.


is this like hootsuite ?


I run http://www.saasgenius.com and it's going to be profitable in next year. Started it in 2015 as a side project and now working full time on it!


I run DripEmails.com and SimpleDonation.com both are profitable.


I'm looking to buy a SaaS app where the owner would to move on to next project. Let me know if you or anybody you may know would like to sell.


I have two new side projects (pagecull.com and flit.email) I am looking to sell. PM me if interested.


Just curious: How should people contact you given there is no information in your profile?


I run www.terminusapp.com and it's profitable. Started it as a side project and now working full time on it.



I created voipspear.com about 8 years ago and have been running it ever since.


PDFBUDDY.com is one.


laracasts.com by Jeffrey Way.


That's not a SaaS.



it is a SasS.


StatHat is profitable.




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