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Ask HN: Single Person startup/company?
390 points by dhruvkar 499 days ago | hide | past | web | 389 comments | favorite
Pinboard's numbers* were just realeased, and that made me curious. How many of us currently run a single-person company? By company, I mean something that generates (or is intending to generate) revenues. Side projects count.

Three thing I'm most curious about - growth in user base, revenues & profitability over the years.

If you can share numbers, that would be fantastic.

*https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12059965




I'm a single founder, I'm nearing $400k/y revenue.

It started a side project on here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8107222 and then grew over the last 2 years.

2014: ~$50k 2015: ~$200k 2016: ~$400k

Also traffic also doubled every year, so revenue is tied pretty closely too that!

This also includes about $7k/m from my remote jobs site which is also tied to Nomad List: http://remoteok.io.

It's now a cost of living and city database with 1,000+ cities, and monetized with a 10,000+ people membership community of digital nomads, remote workers and general travelers. They pay $75/year to be a member (not everyone is recurring, I just started with that)

I haven't had a lot of costs as most of it I do myself. Although it's been very hard work, especially in the beginning before I automated everything. I do have to charge 21% sales tax, and Dutch tax is relatively high but I've just opened a Ltd. so it'll be less now.

The hardest part? I think early on capturing a new market quickly, keeping it while lots of competitors (including funded ones) keep coming in again and again and try to copy everything you did but do it better. And then hopefully don't get traction, haha. Also dealing with the hate you get when you charge for an online service requires you to grow a thick skin.

It's mostly been an extremely fun experience though and I'm really happy and proud of what I made ^_^

P.S. I've been lurking on HN since 2010, that made me learn to code seriously and build stuff. I'd read patio11's posts and was super inspired. So I'm really thankful that HN existed and helped me get here.


>"Also dealing with the hate you get when you charge for an online service requires you to grow a thick skin."

Out of curiosity, was the fallout over the lack of security very bad? I was in Chiang Mai last fall and nomads at coworking spaces and meetups were all talking about it. Several downloaded the entire chat logs from Nomad List. I was horrified to be honest but hadn't really chatted about much of anything yet so I never complained.

I will say though that it was a bit grating to see you bragging on twitter about not bothering with frameworks or testing right after having seen discussions I'd thought were at least somewhat private downloaded and passed around online.


What. No, there was never a security breach. We uploaded the logs because people asked for them.

Lots of people asked for the chat logs (of public channels only) to be public and searchable. Like the forum. So I made them. Then lots of people didn't like that and wanted them to be private. It was never a security leak, I uploaded the logs myself. That was the whole point. I've never had any security breaches.

It was never a private chat, it's always been publicly accessible by anyone who paid the entrance fee and then scraped it. And they could (and probably) have already done that since the beginning.


Woah... everyone was saying there was. I hadn't been engaged enough on the site after arriving to realize. Thanks for clearing that up!

(I guess misunderstandings are also difficult to catch as a solo team, too)


Haha yes. I think at a certain scale you get rumors. I was never aware people thought it was a breach btw! Pretty crazy.


Sincere congrats on your success.

Found this the other day: nomads: people who have larger collections of coffee shop wifi passwords than clothes - @jongold


Haha, that's probably true!


Great job man!

You've mentioned something about automating. Can you tell me more about it and which you've decided to not use?

As for competition, how do you specifically handle this?


I've automated mostly everything from getting weather data, to soon giving people refunds, to soon ad sales.

I mostly try to ignore competition and stubbornly make what I would like to use myself. It helps that I am a "nomad" myself, so I know kinda what they need.


Also one more answer: I think BECAUSE I work almost 100% alone, I work faster than big teams (the mythical man month thing). The stuff I make isn't top-notch, but it works just good enough for people to enjoy using it. It's not super hip flashy designed, but it does what users want it to do. I see many other (especially funded) startups build really flashy stuff with huge 20+ people teams. And it looks great but it's not simple to use for people.


What are some of your competitors? Haven't come across any other sites like yours!


Thanks for sharing. Immediately thought of NomadList when I saw this post.

> keeping it while lots of competitors (including funded ones) keep coming in again and again and try to copy everything you did but do it better

My current project https://remotebase.io borrowed a lot from NomadList. While it's not successful yet, I can see what you mean.


Hi Sung-won! I love Remote Base and I borrowed A LOT from Product Hunt, and they borrowed a lot from Reddit, who borrowed from Digg. So it's all just inspiration. I think it starts to bug when it's competition!


RemoteBase is awesome and I follow your work pretty closely :)


I remember seeing this when it just started (like two years ago, not sure if it was one of those 12 startups/year). Current one looks fantastic compared to that one, so I guess it's one more example that demonstrates you shouldn't hold off until it's feature-rich eye-catching candy. Your project story is inspiring!


Love your work with remoteok. Tried to emulate it with a solar-focused job board. What all did you do to start generating revenues from it? I liked the fact you gave credit to the original job boards, and focused on up selling existing listings.


It's about $2k in job ads, but another $3k+ in normal ads, partly from BuySellAds, which has a text-based native ad API they're letting me try out.


Hey, I'm curious, you mentioned that you've just opened a Ltd., so, what form of company have you been running until recently?


An SP, but that's stupid tax wise as almost 50% goes to tax then. With a Dutch Ltd., it's 20% corporate tax and minimum CEO salary about 50K/y. So then you pay ~50% on that salary + corporate tax on your revenue.


Amazing project and very inspiring! I'm curious about how do you scale to start getting revenue. For example, at remoteok.io companies have to pay to post a job. Was it for free at the beginning? How did you do the transition from free/low-fee to 200$? Thanks and keep up the good work!


I usually start with a low price and then slowly raise it until I see a big drop off. Not scientific in any way but it works for me.


patio11's posts? Could you share the link of the post?

Thank you.



Thank you.


I didn't even know that that site had a source of revenue. Where does it come from?


It's mostly from memberships (click Join) and some ads


Great stuff! How did you build the community around NomadList early on?


I built the site, but then I thought, omg I'm going to lose all these users once they leave.

So I added a MailChimp email box, then a chat group, a forum and kept making more for them. That's how people kept coming back and finally paying money.


Been following your blog for a while now Peter, since I first came across the article Wired did about you. I'd love it if you wrote a post about this, and your success in generalup until this point!


I will! My blog is a perpetual backlog of posts, but it'll happen :)


Why don't you open a company in Estonia? Its super easy


Because I live in the Netherlands. And if I want to keep living here, I can't just offshore my company to somewhere and run it from here. Especially not since it's a 1-person company. It'll be judged by the Dutch IRS as a Dutch corp. not an Estonian corp. Then I'm double taxed. Depends if you're audited or not for this to happen.

It's a myth you can just open a corp anywhere and benefit from low tax, a lot depends on where you live personally (as CEO), where your staff is, where your customers are and where you spend the "fruits of your labor". Why is it a myth? Because otherwise EVERY freelancer would offshore to a low-tax country. They can't. It's a loophole that doesn't exist.


Estonia will grant you a form of partial citizenship so you can do exactly this.

https://e-estonia.com/e-residents/about/


You can but I don't want to make a case since you already feel strongly about not doing it.


I'd love to be debunked :)


I am interested to know :)


I've just spend 30 minutes examining the cities on your site.

Great work !


Thanks! Let me know if you have feedback etc :)


Super cool! Congratulations for the success!


Thank you!


What stack do you use?


Plain HTML, JS and PHP


Best stack, Sensei! Zennn


Just hit $1 million/year in sales :)

About 20 years ago wrote a scratch-my-itch B2B desktop software for Windows. Side project for 10 years which is how long it took to reach about $120K to make the switch to full time. Added features and increased price accordingly.

Hired a few more people. Growth is slow but steady. Yearly renewable support contracts are the secret.

Coding is easy, marketing is hard. Persistence, persistence, persistence. In a very crowded niche. Desktop software is definitely not dead - you can charge a whole lot more for it, and ongoing costs (other than people) is comparable to trendy web apps.

Using throwaway so customers don't find this comment.


> "Coding is easy, marketing is hard"

It took me over five years in this business to fully internalize this. Programmers (me included) often complain about clueless entrepreneurs in this business, but even more rare than a good programmer is a good entrepreneur, who can sell/market and turn code into money.


Yep, this times a ten thousand. It took me years to unlearn all of the "marketing is all bullshit" attitudes I grew up with. Whole different set of skills to learn, and not like, say, imperative->FP. Much harder.


As a senior marketer who has to combat this myth frequently, thank you.

Modern day marketing is a complex orchestration of many parts that are often highly technical. Further, the discipline as a whole has some incredibly hard unsolved problems when it comes to measurement and analytics (attribution and viewability I'm looking at you).

If anyone has a product with initial traction but is unsure of where to go next, feel free to ask, happy to answer questions.


Don't have a product right now, but are there any resources you can point to which have quality marketing wisdom? Or is this something you just have to learn as an apprentice to a good marketer?

I am always torn because while I can appreciate good marketing, a lot of the marketing and advertising Industry (which too me seem like different things) seems to be bullshit.

I really like it when there are marketing campaigns that try to understand me and help me. Well designed product descriptions for example. Or research to understand customer needs, actually useful newsletters not only about the company itself(there is a really good startup tracker whose newsletters i read for a while)that stuff I get. I also get advertising as a separate or subfield of marketing, when it is in the case of "hey, we exist, we do this, you might be interested". Helping me find stuff which is useful basically. And usually, the good products don't need to do more(at least it seems like this?). Like rsync.net had an advertisement on resist once, that they now supported ZFS and that of you did not know why that was cool, you should not click the link. That spoke to me, conveyed information clearly and made me aware of rsync.net

What I don't like is stuff like YouTube ads trying to sell me beauty products. That will get them nowhere. Or the bullshit newsletters to build "engagement" by automatically subscribing you when yiu make an account, then listing "10 freaky ways people use $product. Number 5 will surprise you!". That stuff will turn me off products, even if it is good.


This is going to sound a little pat, but if that's what you like in marketing, you're probably not alone. You could probably do well to try that exact set of behaviors on other people, with the outcome in the back of your mind, "will this person pay me to solve the problem I am talking with them about?"

If yes, then that's it, you're done. Take the money, give 'em the thing, and do it again. :)

For books, for getting a start in marketing, I like "Guerrilla marketing in 30 days".

Biggest shift, though, is just mindset; going out and talking to people again and again until you learn what matters to them. It takes a lot of time, and when you're not used to it, it feels like it takes way more time than you're actually putting into it. Eventually you do learn, this is what these people have in common (they're members of some industry, field, hobby, affinity group), this is where they go (online, offline, in-town, conferences), this is how they like to be marketed to (online ads, postcards, in-person events, etc). Just takes time and effort, more than anything. Pretend you're learning a language, and assume it'll take that long to get conversational. :)


Marketingland is a good industry resource if you want to stay abreast of the latest and greatest. Usually has a fairly decent signal/noise ratio. Beyond that, find companies that are successful in their marketing and study them. Learn from them.

Go to marketing industry tradeshows and see what people are focusing on. Read Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report and other research to understand macro trends. Pick up a recent college textbook on the matter to brush up on the basics. Talk to people in the space and learn what works and what doesn't. Find blogs and read enough where you can separate the truth from the bullshit.

Oh yes, there's a lot of bullshit. Any marketer worth their salt will be the first to tell you there is a lot of snake oil out there and there is unfortunate overlap with the "get rich quick" community in many cases when researching this stuff online.

Like any industry, there is a spectrum of good and bad actors, and quality/crap products and services. Sometimes that is difficult to determine because your own situation may be the barrier to success.

More to your point, my personal motto is "the right message to the right person at the right time." This seems to align with your view. It all comes down to understanding your audience and earning trust--not tricking them into your message with a clickbait headline.


Hi @shostack. We (https://flair.co) are a team of engineers and looking for feedback on the marketing side. We have some nice preorders and shipped our first few units a few days ago. We will have brick and morter presence in the next few months but our online strategy has largely been focused on reddit. Looking to do more FB ads etc but curious about tactics for identifying copy/images/audience most effectively. Also curious where to look for a marketing hire and how to best structure compensation (main advice I have seen is emphasis on commission). Any thoughts? Also happy to chat offline if you need more detail.


I love companies that get their start on Reddit. While I'm not familiar with yours specifically, generally speaking you are having a dialogue with your target audience. This is critical for validating product-market fit and learning about who your target audience is and what they care about. I mean, people will literally tell you if you ask them.

Beyond that, if you are able to harness the goodwill of the hive mind, you can reach that critical front page trajectory pretty quickly. If you are one of the few brands that lucks out in dominating in a given subreddit for a period of time (not through advertising), that's a huge validator. Further, pleasing that audience can result in lots of earned social activity which is great for a nascent brand.

For FB specifically, Lookalike targeting is very powerful, and banner blindness is a very real thing that requires constantly refreshed creative depending on your reach (excluded audiences can be important here to avoid wasting impressions). Unless you are using a FB PMD (basically a tool to manage FB that offers loads more than the basic Power Editor), splitting stuff out for granular targeting can be a PITA. Break out your audiences in meaningful chunks where you can gain insight and better improve your creative. More importantly, make sure the rest of your analytics are in order so you can understand what people exposed to you through FB are doing on your site. For a brand that may not be well-known yet, you might avoid a lot of bigger attribution issues with conversion tracking, but make sure you think carefully about whether you want view-through attribution settings enabled for conversion tracking. They are by default, and that can skew things and they may not be worth as much as you think they are based on the stats.

In terms of hiring for marketing, most strong marketers know there's a lot outside their control. There's definitely a difference between marketing a sales. As such, I would actually avoid focusing too heavily on commission as that can be a turnoff that says you aren't putting your money where your product is so to speak. That said, if the person has significant control over the full funnel and relevant touch-points (a requirement to be successful when it comes to online marketing), they might be willing.

The other side of that is the affiliate world. These are essentially 100% commission marketers. You can get mixed results, but it manages your direct financial risk a bit better than hiring someone internally in some cases. There are real benefits to having an internal hire though that you simply won't get with affiliates as they are by definition mercenaries.

Like many professions, comp can be relatively simple. A competitive base plus a well-detailed bonus structure, solid benefits, potentially equity if appropriate, and a great culture coupled with a product with lots growth potential are all things that can land a solid marketing hire.


This is great and I really appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

Another question - looking to pick your marketing brain. We built a bit of a swiss army knife into our products. I'll try to break it down as simply as possible:

- a user can use one Puck as a remote sensor for their Nest

- a user can use one Puck + Multiple Vents for an Ecobee (like Nest but with remote sensors)

- a user can use Multiple Pucks and Multiple Vents with a Nest

- a user can use a Puck with a Window AC or Minisplit (standard AC outside of North America where they don't have central heating/cooling)

Without having you get too deep into our specific products my main question is more around how to market in a scenario like this. I am toying with the idea of effectively building different landing pages for different people (one person controlling a minisplit likely doesn't care about smart vents for instance and might even be confused). Was thinking specific adds that target different use cases that then direct to those landing pages. A bit of a PITA in terms of lots of different flows/content etc but need to make sure we effectively communicate without confusing.


Glad you found the info valuable.

Multiple landing pages may be the way to go, and can have value from an SEO standpoint as long as they are not too repetitive.

Beyond that though, consider entry into those pages. Odds are you want to give a different message to different people, so think about how you might incorporate some sort of self-selection mechanism when people arrive at your site. Maybe asking them in a little configurator widget what setup they have or what they are trying to do. You can use those signals to direct them to the appropriate page, but also to segment them into various audience buckets for purposes of advertising, remarketing, etc. It is amazing how valuable a couple clicks can be in terms of clarifying what audience someone falls under. For example, if you get a lot of searches on your brand term in AdWords, giving different site links to different sections lets you better understand the intent of your audience. Better intent signals give you better data for targeting and messaging which in turn should lead to better conversion rates from the more relevant experience.


Thanks shostack - very much appreciated. Will be making these changes over the next couple weeks, should be fascinating once its all wired up (I'm an engineer dabbling in all this for the first time).

Thanks Again!


Good stuff--feel free to post back here with the results, I'd love to hear how it goes.


I'm a solo founder and I've been working on an e-learning platform for the past few months: https://www.tutora.org. It's a work in progress, and the most interesting part of the platform is still being developed; but it can definitely be used as is, while I continue to make progress.

I'm currently going through the pain of trying to figure out all the marketing stuff... it's hard. Really hard. I don't have traction right now, but I want to start building a small user base so I can begin collecting some feedback. I've put together a survey (http://survey.tutora.org), I'm handing out flyers and talking to people, I've also set up a small Google AdWords campaign. Am I on the right track? What do you guys think is the best strategy to acquire the first 100-1,000 users?

Thanks!


lol - yes, me too. Used to really dislike the marketing guys. Once you're running a company though, you discover marketing is what counts, more than code quality in most cases. Though I'll say keeping technical debt low has allowed this product to grow for many years.


Keeping technical debt low... does that mean you are regularly refactoring or changing your technology stack? Just less debt due to a simple desktop design? Good unit tests from the beginning for easy refactoring? Any pointers on how you kept tech debt low and what that means to you?


Your question deserves a whole thread for itself, but I hope I can clear some fog around it.

Low technical debt mostly revolves around:

(1) Keeping your code maintainable. Example: the framework you're using (like one for making a website, or JSON API, or accepting emails and triggering actions, etc.) gets a new version. You stop what you're doing and you go and upgrade. Why? Because the older version of a framework/library you use, the less chances you have to get a bugfix from the maintainers when you inevitably stubmle upon a blocker bug one day. Being able to [almost] always switch to the newest version means:

(1.1) Keep a good collection of unit / integration tests. They don't have to cover 100% of the project. If you have a good integration test suite covering most of the customer scenarios, you're already in a much better shape than most projects on the planet.

(1.2) Keep an eye out of the changelogs and version releases of all frameworks and important libraries your project depends on. You must have a good idea what's changing in there. It might help you remove WTF code pieces that were working around a defect in the framework/library which suddenly is fixed in the newer version as well.

(2) Keeping your code evolvable -- if at certain point of development you conclude Ruby on Rails isn't cutting it, you must be brave and decisively and quickly replace it with something else. There's a huge price to pay when you're hesitant. Don't be hesitant!

If your code has separation of concerns, the various pieces have single responsibilities, if it minimizes state sharing and is regularly tested -- that's a project you won't be scared to migrate to a much newer version of your framework, or switch the framework (or even the language) entirely.

(3) Keep a huge internal documentation of what you want improved. When you're in a hurry to deliver a working product customers can use easily, you inevitably make compromises. Document them. Be ruthless and never make exceptions. No "I am too tired to write this down right now". NO! Scribble it on a napkin if you have to. Dictate it to your smartphone. Do whatever it takes. Eventually you'll return to your computer and write it down. I use a private Trello board for that, works very well for me. It has ~60 points in there but you know what? 3 months ago it had 150. ;)

So keep your code tested and documented. Be real with yourself and document (internally, for your eyes only) all of its warts. Realize its limitations. Find the value it brings to the paying customers. Maintain that. Get ideas on how it can attract more paying customers. Implement them.

Bottom line: BE ON TOP OF YOUR CODE, always. Realize that the code itself doesn't change if you don't change it (not like GitHub will maliciously modify your source files) but if you don't change it, then the business value of your code rots over time. It's really not any different compared to any other revenue-bringing asset. It needs maintenance and support (and evolution/expansion when you want to grow).


Thank you for this detailed and informative reply. I have bookmarked it and next time I see a discussion about technical debt on HN I will link to it. If my question needed its own thread, your answer needs its own stackoverflow page. Cheers.


You are very welcome. ^_^

Let me just point out that what I commented is a generalization and simply an excerpt of all the good practices I found during my [almost] 15 years of commercial experience.

Understanding your place in the world (namely what business value does your code bring) and worshipping communication -- even between your current self and your future self -- are what I found to be the gods I worship during my work, and it made me much more productive and valuable for my customers/employers.


Oh yes, I sold the prototype version of my platform for a year before I had a chance to replace it.

The prototype was custom pages on a Wordpress site (pretty slow to load, especially on phones, not easily scalable, etc), the new one's a .NET-based site, loads instantly on any device, and when I watch the server load, I can see that this thing will live happily on even a low-end VPS for a long, long time to come (lot of traffic growth so far, no increase in load!).

Keeping technical debt low is good, money's a higher priority. It's a business. That never really hit me before. :)


Yes 1000x. Marketing & sales are way harder than coding and I feel it is not focused on enough in discussions about starting a business.


I don't usually toot my own horn, but I'm really good at marketing and wish I could just find a good local designer/developer combo to do a startup with. I'm really tired of working with remote freelancers that don't do exceptional work, or they start off doing good work, then drift off into mediocre work. Admittedly, I'm not good at managing people, I just want to find people that work well on their own.


I wouldn't dare claiming to know why are you stumbling upon such people, but in my eyes most of the customers I had were just another invoice this month or week, so IMO for you that's a good vantage point from which to further analyze the situation with remote devs.

Keeping people motivated is key. And an absolutely mandatory entry filter must be for them to be at least somewhat excited about your project.

If I am very tired and annoyed (like I am most of the time sadly), I can still deliver everything you ask for, to the letter, with good quality and on time. But you might need more than that -- you want a person who gives you ideas about your product, who criticizes and challenges your ideas, somebody with whom you can have midnight enthuastic discussions (or yelling competitions -- these help as well).

Simply having a strong programmer isn't enough for a micro/small startup. Everybody has to be on the boat or it won't work. You can have the strong programmer as a lead once you have 2-3 others though -- in my experiences having an experienced dev is crucial once you're out of the phase of pure enthusiasm, and when you actually have something you can now work with.


I'd be interested in having a chat. Recently decided to pause / shut down my startup where I did a pretty good job with the developing/designing, but marketing was definitely a weakness. So we could be a good combo. Email me at hnusername[0:4] at uchicago dot edu, or let me know how to get in touch with you.


send me an email and please provide examples of your work, including your latest startup: sixquarks@forward.cat


If you're looking for a UX & UI designer to help develope a concept further shoot me an email: emails in my bio.


Example? Ways to reach you?


I don't want to give out URLs and names in a public forum, but I've started several 6-figure online businesses in different segments over the years. The one I'm focusing on now does about $400k/year in profit and I only have to put in about 5 hours per week, I'm basically retired at this point.

I'm brimming with ideas - really good ideas, but I don't want to pursue them without dedicated partners. I want to build great products foremost, the money follows naturally.

We can talk privately if you think there's an opportunity here.


It's too bad you don't give URLs though.

"Several 6-figure online businesses" / "$400k/year and 5h per week" --> this is the kind of posts that make it look so easy to build this kind of businesses. And honestly, it seems unrealistic and almost bullshit. Why commenting if you don't give out your URLs?


Why would he post the URL and invite a bunch of new competitors to clone his software?

I seriously don't understand this trend of people blabbing their revenue numbers and showing their exact website... there is no better way to create a competitor than that. And for what, an ego boost?


No one here is in some secret market that no one knows about. If you have no competitors, you're either a government sanctioned monopoly or in the wrong market.


That's definitely false.... there are thousands of niche markets with 1-5 competitors where each can make 5 figures per month. Why invite more competition?

Also, it's not like you email your competitors and exchange revenue numbers.


I agree you shouldn't share the URL, someone could easily copy the startup or model. What I don't agree with is that someone would be able to execute it properly.


Fair enough.


I find it crazy that you have the funds and those kinda revenues but can't find the talent. Don't take this wrong but could be people don't want to work with you. I don't know you but there's definitely something not right. It also could just be that most of the "WOW" Developers work on their own projects by themselves. If they really like you, your idea/concepts and you have the funds to support it, you shouldn't have a problem.


I don't know. The thing is I don't tell people my revenue, and it's not like I go to great lengths to try to find people. I've met up with a few in person, and it's just been a waste of time - none of them are willing to take the risk, and I can't blame them, there are too many biz guys with worthless ideas out there. And yes, it seems that great devs/designers are usually more interested in working on their own ideas, it's very hard to get them to work on someone else's vision.


I agree with all that. I've got a few ideas myself but as a designer with only frontend skills I can only go so far. Normally if I build something or design a prototype its easier to find someone who wants to join. They'll have a better understanding of the product and workflow. Right now I have a Saas startup in SF we are looking for a marketing/biz dev cofounder. Products in hand launching August. Also always looking for someone great at marketing like I said shoot me an email and we'll connect. If you have angellist follow me their too. Angel.co/brayson-ware


Sure, email me at spencer dot malone dot ca at gmail dot com.


I disagree. Even if you make the best software ever, getting your first 100-1000 paid customers is hard. But if your software is good, and you have 1000+ paid users, paste that point, your product will market itself. Or you could just continue to sell to the customers you already have. And even the most clueless entrepreneur will make money.


Do you actually have the experience to match this statement or is this something you're just imagining based on the stories you hear?

For what it's worth: I pal around with a group of entrepreneurs and the #1 factor to success is sustained marketing and advertising.


I wish this was true. Our existing customer base is very pleased with the product. But they don't influence others to purchase. We're a gnat in the loud circus of the market place. The product doesn't market itself because not enough people find out about it.


What are the advantages of your product compared to the others? What are the strengths of your company, and how can you use them? What is the immediate action needed for a step in the right direction?


I don't quite agree. With a small and somewhat trivial codebase sure I'd agree. Once you get into more complicated things, programming is the harder discipline.

Most importantly I don't know if you can even compare the two fairly. At scale marketing is basically a subset of programming (or I suppose statistics). B2B it's quite a different beast and mostly about understanding processes and being good with people.

I would say that there are no inherent "hard problems" in marketing (other than "people are complex"). In programming there are some problems that are extremely tough to solve.

I mean sure it's not that hard to hack together a webapp that scales to a reasonable number of daily users. Programming something more complex, keeping it secure and keeping it up and running...that's pretty tough overall.

Don't get me wrong, selling stuff and turning code into money is not trivial and also a very valuable skill, arguably a more valuable skill than raw programming power for a startup. I do however think programming is ultimately harder. If you start a company you need both. "Marketing" is more important I'd say (as you can live with acceptable programming for most web-based startups for example) but eventually the lack of programming power will haunt you.


Judging by the downvotes you're getting, I'm not alone in getting a "my job it totally harder than their job!" vibe from your post. (If you spend more of your professional time doing marketing than coding, saying so might have helped.)

Why do you say that there are no inherently hard problems in marketing? Winning market share against a competitor with a bigger ad spend than you sounds like a hard problem. Achieving minimum customer acquisition cost and optimum market segmentation sound like hard problems. Getting customers to self-select early in the sales funnel so that your salespeople don't waste their time on looky-loos without cutting into actual sales sounds like a hard problem. (I don't know, because I'm not in marketing. Educate me!)

Also, saying that there are no hard problems in marketing other than "people are complex" sounds a bit like saying that there are no hard problems in computer science other than "math is complex".


FWIW I have worked in marketing (B2B) at a technology company. I left that out of the post because I thought it was irrelevant (because it's basically an appeal to authority). I'm also a programmer and have a dual CS/MBA-ish degree (more focused on the CS side) so I'm comfortable in both worlds and think I have a decent but by no means great understanding of both worlds.

Once you've ramped up to a certain skill level in marketing you're pretty much set. I never get that feeling on programming related work. Maybe I'm just not that great a programmer it's somewhat likely (but I'm also not great at marketing, I've seen some true sales-beasts in action and it's pretty beautiful to watch).

I merely meant to say that getting to a level where your marketing/sales are at the 80% level that will get you really far is easier than getting to that 80% in programming (imo). I'm fairly confident that if you'd take someone with 0 experience in either field you could teach the 80% marketing a lot faster.

The initial post I replied to contained the line "coding is easy, marketing is hard". I basically wanted to provide the counter perspective. I very much disagree with the "coding is easy" part of that statement but I guess I focused too much on the "marketing is hard" part. I fully admit to being somewhat snarky with the "no hard problems in marketing" comment but I thought the "other than people are complex" made that clear. Guess not, should have stuck with "marketing is easy, coding is hard" ;)


I would say that there are no inherent "hard problems" in marketing (other than "people are complex")

I would say that there are no inherent "hard problems" in AI (other than computability).


Is this really worth arguing?

The reality is that for some people, programming is easy; marketing is hard. For some other people marketing is easy; programming is hard. That's really all it is. Delving into the details doesn't get us any closer to a more useful answer.


Nice congrats!

I often hear the same thing, it doesn't matter what your product is, it's how you market it. I still want to make a nice product of course haha but marketing is new to me.

Any generic software marketing tips? I promised myself I wouldn't be one of those annoying startups that emails you ever day or two


We've tried everything, and the only two techniques that have paid off are: website SEO (including having a blog) and Adwords. Adwords is hard - we've thrown away many thousands of dollars on garbage traffic. And some keywords are in the $15-$30 per click range! (our competitors have deep pockets)


Interesting, I was pretty much ignoring SEO since it's such a saturated market (for my stuff at least), good to know!


Also in a very saturated market. Getting to the first page of Google is everything. It takes time work, editing each page, good content, and (though they seem to want to downplay it) good incoming links.


But TJ, you already have a platform, I would imagine that you'd get inundated with inbound request ;)


Do you do rich content marketing? Like publishing books, useful infogrpahics, etc?


No, but it would be great if I was that creative or could come up with stuff like that.


How long of a tail do you target for SEO? Especially with the blog.


TJ – I've found this book to be particularly useful for generating marketing ideas: https://www.amazon.com/Traction-Startup-Achieve-Explosive-Cu... Written by the founder of DuckDuckGo, and a great reminder of all the different channels for marketing.


> Using throwaway so customers don't find this comment.

Not sure about your customers, but if I was a customer of some product I'd be happy to know they're are doing well :)


Our competitors are 10 - 1000 times larger than us. Doesn't help us in any way for them to know our size.

And the couple of customers that know our size have indicated it's better to appear large. For example, you wouldn't switch a company from using Microsoft Exchange to something else if that something else was run by a couple of guys. Our company would be in very deep trouble if something happened to me. To balance that, customers get updates and fixes very fast because they work with such a small company.


> Doesn't help us in any way for them to know our size.

I'm curious as to what you tell a potential customer if they just ask you directly how big your company is? "It's mostly just me..."? Do you just hope that they don't ask that question?


I guess there are probably several issues involved, including the "no one got fired for buying IBM" problem.


I think it is more the fact that he is a single founder (and one man band by the sounds of it) that s/he wants to hide. Business customers are not happy to buy from a business with a single person risk.

Personally in this market having a business run by a single person is probably these risky than a small team since the chance of bankruptcy is less.


He is doing B2B sales.

It is wise to hide his small size from companies he sells to. I have seen countless stories that large companies act like bullies and take advantage of small companies on a routine basis.

That may not be what he was thinking. But it is in his own best interest.


Yea, I'd really like to know why too. Notice the majority of comments on this thread don't do this.


I'm not sure that anything you said would be bad for a customer to see. It is a good thing for vendors to have revenue and be stable. And believe me, everyone who pays a yearly contract knows they are the bread and butter of that vendor. As long as it is a win-win situation, it isn't a secret... just business.


Hello! I'd love to interview you, anonymously if that suits your fancy. Is there anyway I can contact you? You can also contact me at csallen at alum.mit.edu.


Hey, I'm glad you're business is doing great! Can you give me some tips about marketing when just starting out? From the first customer to the first thousand?


Curious what your average sale price is?


Somewhere around $500 - $600. Per year support contracts are around 20% so the life time value of a customer is probably around $1000.


Is the support contract opt in as part of the initial check out?


The customer gets year #1 for free. At the end of the year we approach them and ask if they want to renew. If they appreciate your software, they usually do.

And since my replies were being rate limited, I'll respond to your long-tail question above. We have tried a lot of long tail keywords, but they have such low frequency that Adwords penalizes you (low quality score) for using them, which means you pay more per click account-wide. That is why I say get to know Adwords - there are a lot of gotchas.


It sounds like they are selling to the enterprise customers, in which case you'd typically have first year of support included in the price (perhaps itemized separately to allow for creative tax accounting on customer's end) and the renewal will be in a year from the original sale. Again, typically, not automatic, but through persistent nagging.


"Using throwaway so customers don't find this comment."

Question - Why would you care if they did?


Check comments above, he answered it there!


I started https://officesnapshots.com as a side project 9 years ago and it has been my full-time work for the last ~4 years.

If you don't count the cost of me, it has always been profitable as the business costs itself are pretty low. I had zero business goals at the beginning and now it is probably the most popular site in its niche (office design).

The thing most people are interested in here is that I moved from using Adsense to selling and hosting 100% of my own advertising a couple years ago. People seem to like how on-topic and relevant the ads are and that they are static graphics.


Great idea and a nice site. I love it's simplicity, and the ads don't piss me off, which is a first. They load with the page rather than 2 seconds later, so I don't notice them in a negative way, and as you say they feel appropriate and relevant rather than trying to sell me cat toys or tents.


How was your overall experience for the swich to self-hosted ads in terms of time and money you had to invest given that the main sellingpoint for Adsense is its ease of use?


I had Adsense and self-hosted ads simultaneously for a while and had built a decent base of advertisers and contacts over the years so there wasn't much additional investment of time above what I was already doing.

Getting an advertiser on board with your program is the hard part, swapping graphics in and out is the easy part.


Very very interesting. How does revenue compare? Have you considered putting adsense ads on during traffic spikes or any similair strategies? Do you share any analytics besides impresssions/clicks/costs with advertisers?

The only time I've seen this is on my school's newspaper, and they are wildly unsuccessful.


At the time it was in my favor to switch, plus it looked weird and jarring to me to have several ads for office furniture and then one for that thing you bought on Amazon 3 months ago.

Re: traffic spikes, no. There are limited spots which can be purchased so adding more spots whenever I want wouldn't seem right to my current advertisers who bought based on the limit in place.

Edit: I also get contacted by ad networks from time to time saying I could boost my revenue, but I always ask which advertisers they have who are relevant to my audience. It is always none. So at this point, I'm relatively confident that I don't need an ad network to service my particular niche.


Are you selling by impressions or clicks or time? Did you build your own ad serving and tracking software?


Ads are priced $/month and are sold in blocks from one month all the way to 12 months.

The site is on Wordpress so I just use plugins to handle that stuff. I'm basically a publisher so Wordpress is perfect for almost anything I could need to do.


I wasn't expecting to see familiar names in this thread. I remember when you started OS! Fantastic to hear it's going so well.


Hey! Worth noting for people reading that you were responsible for some of the site's early success with your tweeting about it and it subsequently being of the front page of digg several times.

OS has changed a lot in its look and features and the audience I target, but it is essentially the same concept.


I like this, it's really really cool.

I have some questions. Who puts content in your site? Who placed content in the site at the beginning, just yourself?

How did you learn how to host your own ads?

Btw, which office design do you like the most?


The first advert was in 2007 and was probably just some html in the theme sidebar. Now I use an ad plugin for WordPress to handle the mechanics of it.

My favorite office is mine because it is well-suited to my needs :)


Is your content all provided by the design firms responsible? How did you solicit your first submissions?


The first few posts were found on Flickr browsing for Creative Commons licensed imagery, but after getting onto the first few sites like digg submissions started rolling in.

I think a year after I started the site was when my first major office design of Google's office in Stockholm was sent in by the architect. Before then the site was mostly candid tours from random people and random companies.

Edit: I think I have ~60 projects on the calendar to be published right now.


I do, I run a small video games company, making games that one person can make, like this one: http://store.steampowered.com/app/386900. I've posted about it here once before, but my 'thing' (if I have a thing) is that I do both the programming, but also the art side. Computer Science is my training, so I can do the software development, what is less common is that I also have some skill in painting, design, animation, so unlike many games developers it is actually quite sensible to be a one-man unit. The actual number of copies that I need to sell is very low even compared to the numbers of friends of mine who have a team or two or three. Even <10,000 copies can be successful for me. I do contract with a couple of audio people, who are just better at that side than I am.


That's a cute little game, very nice work on the design! It feels super polished (both gameplay and aesthetically). If only I could be half that skilled with the art side...

Have you considered translating it to other languages?


Thanks! I certainly have considered translating it, but at this stage I believe it's too late to be worth it. Not only is there the cost of translators, but in this instance there is an engineering cost as I made the classic mistake of baking the text all over the place, in binary level files, in json files, and hardcoded. Slicing it up and moving all the text into one place would take a while, especially as I'd want to guarantee not reducing stability.

If I could make a bet that adding, let's say, French, German and Chinese would cause... 700 more sales, I would probably bother, but I don't think this sort of feature 10 months after release would generate that.

I'm treating this more as a 'lesson learned', and approaching my next project with localisation in mind. Translating to a bunch of languages is one of my main goals.

A final thought; I love that in 2016 a lone developer can make a silly puzzle game about cats and sell it in 80+ countries. The internet!


Thanks for taking the time to answer me and giving back way more than I asked for.

I have another question: how much of a hassle was setting up a company in order to submit something to Steam?

Good luck with your next project!


TODO: follow-up for brainpicking session

EDIT: in the spirit of proper forum etiquette, I will add to the conversation.

Currently spent 4 months 'funemployed' and aggressively pursued my side project full time, a side-scrolling action platformer. I became rather quick to pick up the necessary art skillset and have demo-ed my alpha at local venues. It's received solid praise regarding fundamentals and playability - peoiple just want 'more polish' to give them a reason to buy it and play.

Subsequently networked and found an audio engineer who I've found to fit my needs. I cannot stress how hard it was to find one i liked, which kinda justified my decision to pay him a dec. amount.

Total nominal expenses thus far: 12k

considering I own vice renting, a good portion of that is tax deductible so really it's a net expense of 10K, plus the added benefit of flexibility and pursuing passion.

If I were to sell > 2k units, I would seriously consider a campaign of 1 game a year on the side, as I feel I have a grasp on the process. I still aim to be a moonlight dev vice full-time, for risk-mitigation and life reasons.


I like side-scrolling action platformers. Programmer, game designer, producer, recently left EA. Email me if you still want feedback or just want to chat - aaron (at) nemo10.net


How do you make a game that can work on Mac and Win and Linux at the same time? What is the easiest way?


The easy way is to write it at a higher level, and let the abstraction handle the meat of it for you. The easiest way is just to use an engine, an existing array of tools and frameworks that manages the abstraction in such a manner that (for the most part) you just have to select the build target.

In this specific case, I used the Unity engine. I write in C#, and with Mono/OpenGL, Unity can build executables to various platforms, on (mostly) the same code.


Thank you.


If you want to work in HTML5, Electron or Cordova can both take you pretty far.

http://electron.atom.io https://cordova.apache.org

This won't work for all apps, but (for example) a lot of simple mobile apps use Cordova with faux-native UI frameworks, and there are a lot of graphics-lite games out there using NW.js or Electron on desktop.


I hear xamarin's toolset compiles to multiple platforms, if you know csharp. kinda the route im going for my game.


I started Apex a few months ago, first product is a little uptime monitor built on AWS Lambda: http://apex.sh/ping/.

Almost 2000 users already, not quite paying for itself since I have a free plan but it's almost breaking even at least haha. That said legal bills alone were ~6k, so it'll take a while to recoup that.

Long-term plan is to have a bunch of products like this which are low maintenance, as long as they're producing some form of positive income then great!


Three quick thoughts for you which should hopefully help:

1) Double your prices! They're so cheap! The service is so useful, saves dev and support time, etc. Worth more. ($12, $24, $49 is still crazy cheap.)

2) Yearly plans, especially for businesses. A lot of people will want to expense an entire year and get reimbursed (which is annoying monthly).

3) Add at least one more plan that's something like $199 or $349 or something that feels very high for you. Not sure what features it should have, but there is definitely something you can provide businesses that would be worth that amount. And they'll be fantastic, low-fuss customers.

Good luck!


I would generally agree about raising prices, but not in this case. At least not until you get better traction and reputation. Pingdom is probably the market leader in this space(?), and you will probably need to beat them on pricing initially (even though there's so many things to do better than they do...).

Agree about yearly plans though. Makes more sense for businesses.

I know it's usually not about features, but I'll definitely look at adding SMS or more specific alert integrations (PagerDuty). Building for developers with webhooks and slack is great, but I would imagine not enough.

Love the design and everything else (also Apex the OS tool is great, even though I only looked at the code but didn't actually use it). I can imagine getting traction is tough in such a busy space. Best of luck!


Agreed, PagerDuty and SMS are on the list.

SMS is the only annoying one really since it's freakishly expensive for what you get (~6$ / 1000 SMS or so), most people seem to have SMS credits that you purchase which just seems annoying to me. I'm thinking about adding SMS to the larger plans though without any weird credits.

Thanks!


Yes, pricing with SMS is tricky.

Just my 2 cents, but with Apex being dev-friendly and all, maybe you can just ask for a twilio API key and just fire the message across?


True true!

I've actually been using IFTTT for my PagerDuty replacement since I can't afford it hahaha, unless I'm missing something they don't seem to charge for phone calls etc


Thanks!

They're definitely a bit on the low side, it still seems hard since most programmers despite making crazy sums of money often complain about spending even $10/m on something haha.

I'll think about raising the prices a bit once I have some exclusive features. I thought having a free plan would be good on the marketing front, and maybe it will be, but I definitely need some features to differentiate the plans


Haha yeah, sounds familiar. That's actually one of the primary reasons to raise them! Unfortunately, your biggest support costs will be from unreasonable people on the cheapest plans. So by raising prices you often weed out the people who complain, but make up for it in the extra dollars from all the silent people who love the product.

The "exclusive features" thing is awesome in theory, but unlikely to matter to most customers. Having a simple, well-designed, straight-forward product can be worth a few extra bucks. Extra features will be gravy in the future (or more stuff for the higher plans).

Free plans are tough, because adding one without a good strategy usually ends up being a distraction and more server/support/etc cost than good for upgrades. Most people will just sign up for a paid plan or a free plan and stay there, unless you have a really great strategy for getting them to upgrade. With that said, I worked at Twilio and we made sure to give a bunch of free credit because we knew getting devs to try it for fun or personal projects would often translate to them convincing their employer to use us for something that made us a lot of money. The difference here is that the true customer was businesses that paid a lot of money.

(If you can't tell, I really enjoy this stuff haha. Hope it's not annoying.)


Hahaha nope not annoying at all, I've always been on the backend sort of missing out on details regarding sales and marketing so it's interesting to get a better feel for this stuff.

I'll have to keep an eye on the analytics for free plans. I'm not tracking conversions very well right now, most seem to choose a paid plan right away (if ever).


I know you are a very talented developer so I'm curious :

Why another uptime monitoring service ? There are about 20-30 existing services [1] with a wide variety of features. I agree you've got a great interface and you'll get there feature-wise too. But are there any significant technically sound reasons to switch to your service ?

P.S. My question sounds blunt but I don't mean to belittle your effort.

P.P.S. Here's a list of services that do performance / uptime monitoring in various forms. Some might be incorrect / irrelevant, but just to convey an idea of the crowded space :

[1] pingdom , site24x7, statuscake, statuspage.io, status.io , runscope, opsgenie , newrelic , datadog, Librato, Scout , Skylight , Server Density , Stackify, OpsDash , Boundary, Netuitive, Keymetrics, Appsignal, Appdynamics, copperegg , stackdriver, xmatters, uptimerobot, AWS route53 health check , nagios, t1mr.com, Visualping, diff.io, Obvious.io, Stashboard, Cachet, updown.io, Pingometer , stillalive, alertbot, vigil, AWS Cloudwatch, Cloudability, StatusGator, CloudCheckr,


I wanted something small that I could get off the ground without spending a year or two on development. It's also a fantastic fit for Lambda, and I had already built the apex(1) tool so it seemed like a decent place to start.

As far as why use my tool? When you have so many to choose from, I'd say choose the one you enjoy. That's my goal really, to create things that I, and hopefully other people enjoy using. I'm trying to surface more information as well, so I think it's definitely a bit on the dev-centric side of things.

I also take it as a challenge when the space is already saturated, if you can enter the market late and still have a "hit" then that's pretty cool, and gives you a better idea of you can (or cannot) do the same with larger products.

I think almost every space is pretty crowded now to be honest. If you can name some that aren't crowded let me know :p. I would say the same of so many tools: oh another PaaS, another analytics tool, another email marketing tool.. blah blah haha. Doing something truly unique, AND by yourself is unlikely these days. I'm new to this stuff, I could be totally wrong, but I think picking a big market is key, and lots of people have sites/apps/apis.


(Very!) naive question: what were those 6k in legal bills for?


For me a few things:

- Incorporating the company

- Terms of Service

- Some weird stuff to transfer the existing product "into" the company

That's about it, but at ~400/hr it adds up quick haha.


Ouch! That is really high for just that. Must have been some really one-off stuff for the transfer.

Edit to add: I guess it really isn't that high at that rate. It made me curious as to what we paid for similar services at the same rate so I had to go check. Ours came in at just about $4000. The TOS/EULA/privacy policy are what ate into ours.


I thought it was high too, I was expecting ~3k. Apparently the terms alone took them 6 hours haha.. pretty boilerplate stuff I'm sure, oh well, next time I'll try and push for faster results if they want the business


You could try asking for a fixed price for the terms of service too. That sort of work is pretty easy for the lawyers to estimate so they might be willing to go flat rate.


Yeah, our bill without the terms was just about $1500. The terms, privacy, and eula killed us.


I just wrote the TOS myself and run my site as a sole proprietor. $0 in legal bills.


On top of that, there's lots of free templates and even real TOS's that can pretty much be copied verbatim. Will possibly have been made by better lawyers, too, if it's a big company TOS.


I really recommend http://snapterms.com/


What did it cost you?


The prices start at $300. http://snapterms.com/order/

I have never used it, but many friends have, and the owner is my buddy Aaron, who is an all-around great guy.


> The TOS/EULA/privacy policy

I wonder if there are existing freely available legal policies that would work for any SaaS startup? Sort of like how I can just slap a standard GPL license on my software, and then come back later and offer commercial licenses?


Our attorney, at least, had fairly decent templates for all. For the privacy policy it was a matter of seconds to finish that up. As for the TOS/EULA that was the time consumer. These tend to be more specific, or at least contain specific clauses, that apply only to the SaaS they are intended for. While many of the clauses are cut/paste, there are sections that are more specific. Our attorney time wasn't spent necessarily on the writing, as much as it was ensuring that all the bases were covered. He asked us a lot of questions and this was the time consuming part. I am sure some of those questions could be streamlined into a template. On the other hand, he knows that if a question does come up, we are going to come to him, and wants to ensure his butt is covered if something were to happen.


:) I feel for you. I had similar shock when I wanted simple TOS and Privacy for software service.


I'm working on something right now and legal is kicking me in the balls too. I've tried to delay the expense as long as possible but it is inevitable.


1) I use Pingdom and hadn't seen Apex. Looks really good. Will definitely switch over.

2) Hey you're TJ Holowaychuk. I know you've since (mostly) moved on from doing a ton of Node contributing, but as someone who uses projects you've started and maintained for a long time, just wanted to say a big thank you for all your work in the open source community.

I'm also going to link your photography site (a) for those who haven't seen it. I know this it's slightly off topic, but everyone should see it.

(a) http://tjholowaychuk.com


Thanks man :D


I clicked the link, thought the design looked a lot like TJ Holowaychuk's stuff, went back to HN and noticed the username :)


Also using lambda for monitoring/restarting/redeployment of microservices here... Are you using any framework like Serverless?


Yep, I built the framework before working on any products and its where I got the name actually haha.. apex(1): https://github.com/apex/apex


D'oh! this was out of my radar... it looks pretty cool! I'll have to give it a go.


If you're using Python, you might also want to check out Kappa [0]

[0] http://github.com/garnaat/kappa


I'm a single founder. We do ~$150K / year in revenue right now.

We did $15,000 in 2011 (our first year in business). $55,000 in 2012. $96,000 in 2013. $157,000 in 2014. Dropped to $133,000 in 2015, our first year of negative growth.

From 2011 to mid-2014, I worked constantly to improve our basic product. But in 2014 I realized we'd never compete with the big guys in our industry, who do $10MM to $30MM / year. So I started attending summits with those guys to pick their brains, and hired a marketing coach. And I stopped working on improving our core product, just maintaining it.

Spent ~$35,000 on marketing training since late 2014, and I've spent $20,000 (and about 8 hours a day, 7 days a week) on new product development this year. But in about 2 months we should have a product that can put us up there with the big guys and get us out of the middle-of-the-pack revenues we've been stuck in for a few years.

The hardest part of being a single founder, at least in my business, is the need to maintain your current business to keep the income flowing and the customers around while you build the product that the business needs to leap forward. At that point, you're basically running two companies, the old one and the new one. And you can't just throw money at it because you're bootstrapped and only have revenues + credit to play with (assuming you haven't taken funding).


Thanks for sharing! Would you mind if I pick your brain a little bit? You can email me (csallen at alum.mit.edu), or I'm happy to chat here anonymously if that's better for you!


Some numbers on my single-person company:

Market: Add-on tools/plugins/components for enterprise software platforms. Customers: ~30 Growth rate: Adding about 1 new customer per month Revenue: $550K ($300K product / $250K consulting) Gross profit margin: 80%

Costs are basically hosting, occasional marketing campaigns, some offshore development, and various SaaS subscriptions to operate the business.

The product often requires consulting services to customize, which can be lucrative. I bootstrapped the product development via consulting and am transitioning to a full-time focus on product dev/support... recruiting SI partners to do customizations.

Note: This is purely a lifestyle business. My true goals are digital nomad in nature.... traveling, writing code from a hammock in the Philippines, spending Winters in Mexico, work 6-9 months per year, etc...

The income is nice, but freedom and mobility are far more valuable.

My wife increasingly spends more time on front/back-office tasks, so technically this is a 1.5 person company :-)


> My wife increasingly spends more time on front/back-office tasks, so technically this is a 1.5 person company :-)

It was nice to hear about this, as my wife also helps me out in running my business. Its ultra important to have the buy-in of your significant other for these kind of operations.

In my case I have other developers as well. That's why can't claim to be a single person company. Although, there have been phases in its journey, where it has been just a 1.5 person company.

I am not as mobile (got some dependents) but cheers to the digital-nomad/lifestyle-biz kind of company. Work hard, but at your own pace. See movies in week day afternoons. Or spend entire days on HN/Reddit/twitter. Then feel guilty about it, and spend some days coding, and making some progress, has been my modus operandi.

Edit: Just to add one random but key point in single-person companies, is that you end up doing automation, automation and then some more automation. Cron jobs, alerts, actions, automated test scripts, backup scripts, data refresh scripts and so on. So then even if you grow, its a positive to have in your culture.


Cannot underestimate SO support. My wife fortunately shares my entrepreneurial spirit.

Automation is certainly crucial for one-person shops. Leave nothing to chance or human error.

TDD for both front and back-end code, lint checks, version control, server-less DevOps.... embrace as much as possible.


That's my goal as well, as long as I can make a comfortable living, hack on a bunch of stuff from nice places all over the world I'll be more than happy!


I'd love to interview you, anonymously if you prefer, about your company! You can reach me at csallen at alum.mit.edu.


I'm curious, how did you break into ? Wherever I look, the enterprise add-on space seems to be already captured.


Enterprise cloud platforms are captured. Niche apps, like "Forecasting for Media Revenue models" or "Foreign Exchange Risk Management for Discrete Manufacturers" are in strong demand.

Really any forecasting, CPQ, quote-to-order, or month end close app that saves users a few hours and clicks per month will demonstrate immediate value and sell itself.

There's always a risk that the platform vendor will fill the niche, so I keep iterating and addressing more edge cases to become the "premium" product with high touch support.

Also.... basically just be happy with 42 customers and let the whales have the other 98% of the market :-)


Awesome, thank you for replying.

I want to know more.

Would you mind if we chat on a non-public channel (email/twitter DM/skype chat) where I can pick your brain ?

If you want, in return I could help you out with coding or marketing or even some mundane task that takes time. I'm a software developer.

You can reach out to me on my alias email that is in my profile or let me know the method of communication you prefer.


I created www.3D-Avatar-Store.com, a neural net driven, single photo to realistic lip syncing 3D avatar web service. It's a WebApp and WebAPI aimed at digital artists and game developers so they can put themselves, friends and customers into games, VR/AR, educational sims, advertising or whatever. I'm shutting down, as the revenues do not cover the extensive support requirements of indie and pro game developers, plus the hardware requirements force me to run a collocated server cluster that is moderately expensive to maintain - about $700 a month. Game developers, operating in their eternal crunch time panic, need a lot of support and they expect it to some with the API contract. I tried for years to raise financing, but investors need a lot of education to grasp 3D animation production, they have unrealistic expectations (always comparing our output to VFX from major release films), and often predatory terms that such investment never went through. If anybody wants to try taking over, they can contact me.


I have been running https://scribie.com for over 8 years now. We have more than 11,000 freelancers and are closing in on 1.5 Million minutes of transcription. Growth has been fluctuating from 25% to 100% depending on the year. We never did much marketing except regularly updating the blog and some AdWords.


Hey Rajiv, I just ran a 4 hour set of interviews through Scribie and have nothing but great things to say about the platform, the staff and most importantly the results. Great job and continued success.


Pretty much the most important pieces of marketing - organic search and paid traffic.


I’ve been working on http://focuster.com for about 2 years now as a side project. It’s a productivity tool for entrepreneurs and freelancers that turns your todo list into a schedule in your calendar, and then gives you smart notifications to keep you focused on the highest priorities. Basically solves the problem of getting distracted and not knowing what to work on next.

Launched on Product Hunt in January 2016 and we were #2 for the day. It’s generating revenue now, though not enough to give up my other gig yet. But I have customers that are giving me some great feedback.

Initially I did everything myself (including UI/UX) but last year I hired a designer to help with a redesign. Also even though I am a developer I hired another developer to help when I had some other things to look after in my consulting business.

LOOKING FOR COFOUNDER: Do you have the marketing and business development chops that will complement my technical and product experience? Drop me a PM or email to jordan @ my domain.


My side project StatusGator, which monitors service status pages, has been running profitably for the last year. It took about 3 months to become profitable and it's only so because my time is "free". (But isn't that always the case?)

I don't do anything to promote it so growth has been entirely organic. I get a few free sign ups every day. Although they very infrequently convert to paid, I keep expenses low so it doesn't take many paid users to be profitable. If I had more knowledge of how to market such a thing, I believe it could be a reliable revenue source. But I'm otherwise happy that its relative profitability motivates me to maintain it, as I find it supremely useful for my own personal use.


Use your platform to make customers come to you.

1. Identify leads (comapnies + the email of the person who would be in charge of server status)

2. Create alerts for their services

3. Your system sends an alert when their service goes down. They instantly recognize the value of your service.


I don't know if statuspage.io is similar to what you're doing, but their blog documents much of how they got profitable. Makes for interesting reading.


A little different: Services like statuspage.io, Runstatus, Cachet, Status.io, etc. all offer status pages. StatusGator aggregates all the status pages you care about into one status page for your own reference and also sends you alerts to email, Slack, etc, when those pages change.

I love the idea of blogging about growth and profitability. Seems like that could be a good marketing channel, in addition to being very educational.


You can find out a lot of information about your customers by calling them. How did they find SG? Why do they need a meta status page? How much value does does SG provide over using disparate status pages? Why did they stop using SG after several days?

Once you've talked to all your customers you should have a lot more info you can use to market to new customers.


What's the use case? Why would one want to monitor a few status pages? Maybe a single status page, but multiple ones -- why?


I run a single person company https://www.fantasysp.com

It is a fantasy sports company that helps you manage your team(s) by offering player projections, waiver suggestions, optimal lineups, trade suggestions, etc. We also help with fanduel/draft kings lineups.

Revenue has increased steadily over the past 4 years in the range of 20%-30% year over year.

User base growth is different as I focus more on active users rather than total new users. Active users increase around 15% year over year.


Interesting, what metric do you use to consider "active"?


Signed in the past day or two.


I'm single-running an Atlassian add-on, $4000 the first year, $40k the second year, $55k the 3rd. APIs are young and change often (=maintenance costs), market is not saturated yet, but the competition is competent. It's a real benefit (=3 month savings) to your startup if you don't have to build the sales engine: I've sold to very, very famous names, that I could never have had if it wasn't through Atlassian's appstore. If you're thinking about coming in:

- Build a real, big product, after doing some customer interviews,

- (but get revenue from month #1, obviously, as any competent startup),

- If you go for a Cloud add-on, maybe think of doing software that can be used independently,

- and there is the Codegeist competition currently running on, until something like October! It's designed to get newcomers. Think about it, winning is a great way to launch! (And it's every year)


Thanks for the testimonial!

For others reading - we have hundreds of examples like this - single person companies that have grown inside the Atlassian ecosystem.

From people like Bob Swift, who grew his company and was then acquired, to companies like Gliffy and Balsamiq Mockups who built multi-dozen person companies on the back of the Atlassian ecosystem.

Get started here: https://developer.atlassian.com/index.html


They're not exactly relevant examples because they were introduced a dozen years ago when the landscape was completely different. Among those introduced in 2014, I haven't found people who live off their sales. I'd love to know whether there are such recent successes.


I'd like to contact you, too, if you see this comment! You can email me here: csallen at alum.mit.edu


@tajen, how can I contact you ?


I run Are You Watching This?!, a B-to-B sports excitement analytics company that identifies exciting games in real time by analyzing live game data. Sports, media, and cable companies license that data for use on sites, in apps, and on cable boxes.

A clone popped up in 2010 (Thuuz), run by a VC, with a dozen or so employees and 5M in funding.

We're profitable, growing, and customers continue to choose us over the clone. It'll be 10 years this Fall, and we've been profitable since 2013.


Seems so unfair and unprofitable to me that a VC will spin up a competitor in this niche. Good luck!


Watching a VC being interviewed pretending he invented something that will be the second sentence in the first paragraph of your obituary, is stronger than 5 cups of coffee. It's a blessing.


Beautiful.


I always thought RUWT was strictly a consumer product; the b2b model is genius. Well done!


Thanks! I get to watch sports all day--I try not to ever complain.


I've started http://www.piosolver.com and I run it with a friend. It's a very small niche and getting less popular but we are still doing very well.

It was my hobby project for more than a year before any commercial plans appeared. It took very little money to start (basic Shopify plan, github, Dropbox, a few hundred $ for sponsored thread on a popular forum) but it took a lot of time. I am not a millionaire yet but well on the path to become one. I've learnt a lot about product development, handling customers and had many choices along the way I was completely confused about. I hope to put it all in text one day but for now I am too busy adding features, developing new products and optimizing the code :)


Looks like a very interesting tool, but I would reallllly recommend hiring someone else to narrate your videos. That woman has a very "unique" voice that made it hard for me to sit through.


That's a bit harsh. In case it wasn't clear from my posts or the website I am not a native English speaker nor is my friend or the woman in question. She is my sister and just wanted to help when we were starting. I didn't hire anyone to do anything in the website :)


Do you have bounce rate stats on the video? Those will tell you whether or not you should re-record narration with a professional. (And as far as costs go, that's not very expensive.)


I didn't mean to offend you, and it really shouldn't. I think very few people have voices that translate well to "radio". That's why voice-over artists have jobs ;)


I was having a browse of the website and think it would be really beneficial to have a comparison of all the products on a single page (e.g. a feature matrix). It's too much hard work clicking into each individual product to see why you'd want to spend more. Good luck with your project!


Yeah I agree it's a good idea. The thing is though that as we are selling to a very targeted market most people already know what they want when they come to the website. Other than that I don't know anything about html/javascript. I used free Shopify template for a winery, removed the bottles and that's how the website came to be. Adding a nice comparison table to that website would take a lot of hours which I prefer spending doing something more fun.

I just don't like doing marketing and I don't like convincing people what they should or shouldn't buy. I realize that maybe we are leaving some money on the table but on the other hand we get great reputation, a lot of word of mouth referrals and very small refund rate (below 1%) so that's good for mental health :)


Fair enough. I prefer coding to marketing myself. :)


Why did you chose to sell your software versus a subscription model? Was it just easier, or did you do research and find that selling was more profitable?


I tried to do research by asking more experienced people in the niche. I've got many conflicting suggestions and advice so I went with my gut feeling. I felt there was some reluctance in the gambling world against subscription model and I felt one time fee would maximize chances to get it going.

As to the cloud vs stand-alone dilemma, the reasons for choosing stand-alone were:

-everyone has a CPU at home and those could be utilized; building CPU heavy infrastructure so people could run it there would be very expensive and I have 0 clue how to go about it; it seems there are no CPU-heavy reasonably priced options on AWS for example (most instances are geared towards network/storage/RAM but there are none which are both decent when it comes to CPU performance and RAM, the ones which are the closest are very expensive)

-people who play for significant money don't trust cloud in general; especially for high stakes players it's important that no one could access their calculations

As to one time fee (and then maybe another for 2.0 version) vs subscription for updates, I feel maybe subscription for updates would be a better model but it was easier to start with something simpler. I had no idea if it's going to take off and I didn't like the idea of very few buyers demanding updates after 6 months or so when it's clear the product flopped (it didn't happen but it could).

It was a difficult decision though. I still don't know if I've got it right but I feel I did (some competition who went with cloud model didn't do as well from what I understand).


I had not considered the issue of trust in the cloud. I know that I trust privacy in the cloud, but I had not considered that customers might not.


I launched a suite of farm business software tools 3 weeks ago at http://harvestprofit.com. 8 customers and approx $8k ARR so far.

Price point is high enough where it's not likely a quick purchase but too low for an inside sales team. I'm working hard on content marketing to build trust in the market place to drive user growth while keeping my team small (just me so far)


How'd you go about getting those 8 initial customers?


I've been collecting emails for 9 months, primarily by spending $3k on Facebook ads to send traffic to blog posts. 1,500 emails so far.

My acquisition process right now is a "call me to sign up" after showing prospects a demo video. Not ideal. I'm working on making the app (filled with a model farm's data) live for users to test for a couple days (gated behind an email opt-in) and then allow them to sign up online. We'll see!


I've run http://www.hogbaysoftware.com as my full time job since late 2003. Except for a few years (2010 to 2013) I've been the only employee. Dates might be off by 1 or 2 years but here's an abbreviated history:

- 10k first two years.

- Growing somewhat steadily to 250k around 2010

- Revenue (this is period when I was working 3 others) grew to 350k) by 2013

- Crashed to 40k in 2014, 2015 after cutting bunch of apps and going back to being just me as only employee.

- With luck foundation is back in place (http://www.taskpaper.com), hope to reach around 100k in 2016.


Hey I really like your products. I was a big fan of WriteRoom, was always to come up with great ideas using it. Thanks, hope you will continue to make stuff.


Will try, thanks!


I wrote a utility script for Twitch streamers to show in text what music they're currently playing on Spotify or YouTube, and many other music players.

Has been a stable 1k per month for quite a while now. As a student, this is really nice extra income :) Especially because I don't have any other expenses besides my 5 eur/month webserver.

https://martijnbrekelmans.com/SMG/

Any tips?


How did you arrive at the 4.99 price ? Streamers buy $40-60 games regularly ..... why do you think they won't pay more ?

Could you sell a yearly license if users want updates ?


I don't want to increase the price because it's a tiny tool with a really simple goal. I honestly don't expect anyone to pay over at best 10€ for this tool. I certainly wouldn't.

Entitling people to one year of free updates wouldn't be a bad idea however. Might look into a subscription based approach for continued updates.


Is that price point based off of your assumption or streamer feedback ?

Are you a streamer ? I would love to have a quick chat with you over slack or skype or whatever to know more about the tool & your experience as a streamer.

You can reply here or to the alias email listed on my profile.


I'm not a streamer myself, though I do stream occasionally, a week per year kind of occasionally.

I'd love to talk to you, but am unable to do that right now. Is it ok to contact you in ~2 weeks?


Sure ... whenever ...

I love to interact with like minded HN users/developers/entrepreneurs... and these days have developed an interest in the Twitch eco-system and how it works.

Signature

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I use http://hnreplies.com to monitor for replies to my comments at HackerNews. How do you keep track ?


I have been working on https://testingbot.com for 4 years now. Providing browser testing through automation. It's a lot of work, learned a lot in those years. Profitable after 1 year. Still growing year after year, eventhough there's quite a lot of competition


I too was very inspired by the Pinboard numbers, and this story and others have inspired me to start my own business.

I'm running a booking system SaaS (https://zapla.co) which basically allows embeddings a booking widget in any website. It's currently generating $1100 MRR after ~18 months in business. It's a solo side-business as of now, but I'm hoping for it to become my primary business.


Looks cool, how did you go about marketing it ?


Thanks, I appreciate it!

I must admit that marketing is my absolute weak side, but I've had the most success using organic SEO backed by some SEM campaigns. Since my product requires customers to have a website, I've created landing pages targeted at major WYSIWYG/DIY website builders. If they search for e.g. "booking system for <platform>" they'll have a chance to find a Zapla landing page for that platform :)


oh oh ... MS just came out with a similar booking software integrated into Outlook.... don't think it will affect you much though ...


One other question for the the solo entrepreneurs: how do you keep momentum?

I have a bucketful of ideas, and I'm endlessly energetic in a team context, but trying to do solo projects wears me down quickly.

Maybe this is just a character difference, but if solo entrepreneurs have tricks or methods for keeping going and keeping focused, I'd love to hear them.


Spend time meeting with and talking to other entrepreneurs every week.

Internalize the idea that you don't have to be motivated to get stuff done. It's okay to admit, "I'm not motivated right now", and then get to work regardless!

Get into a routine for starting work, and try to never skip it, even when it feels unnecessary.

Find blog posts, videos, and articles that motivate you. Revisit them often, or work them into your routine. I like DHH's talk from Startup School '08 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY), for example.


Previous relevant discussion from a few weeks ago. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11937132


I've been bootstrapping my last project basically all by myself (UX/UI, microservices, devops, mobile apps, etc) for the last 15 months. I'm saying basically because one of my former (failed) startup cofounders is helping me every now and then with some development tasks.

It's a market data app with a custom technical indicator for a specific commodity. I've found an external commercial team specialised in this industry niche and they're going to start sales in the coming weeks (after the remaining regulatory hurdles are cleared). This is a top-notch sales team working for Fortune100 companies, so I'm doubling down on them for 15 to 50% of the revenue (depending on sales)....

We tested the tool internally for some customers and was an incredible success. People is literally waiting in line to get it... so I'm also arranging external accounting + support teams.

I hope (knocks on wood) it'll generate me x5 to x10 times the salary I was offered in management positions at 2 of the biggest spanish startups (tuenti and social point).

In the coming months I hope to automate everything for all the teams via Slack ChatOps so I can have more free time and start new projects before Christmas...


I'm running http://lickcreator.com which is a web based music notation software. Still in Beta, so no revenue.

Been at it for six months now, kinda slow, but I had some new stuff to learn like SVG and Web Audio API. Experimented a lot with AngularJS and React. Went back to Backbone.js and lost some time there. But good experience.

My hopes are high for this product.


Im curious why you switched from react to backbone. Ive been considering doing the opposite. Mostly because I want to be able to use redux for undo/redo functionality and also for user action replays I can use for debugging. Redux doesnt play well with the backbone.js paradigm.


I really liked React and the idea of components with two way data binding. Unfortunately I found it just doesn't work well with SVG. If you have some HTML divs to manipulate, great.

Also if you have good experience in JavaScript overall, Backbone.js is fantastic. Combine this with Underscore/Lodash and Babel for ES6 and you have a good build system.


Its a great app idea. Will you release it for iOS using CocoonJS or PhoneGap? I haven't found a good one yet.

I'm also with you on Backbone there. Good job and keep on going.


Looks really good (Looked at the video)

Have you done any testing with real users ?

What exactly are your hopes for it ?


Thanks. Its in Beta release and I've started advertising using Facebook and Google Adwords. So users can test and send feedback.

My aim is to first provide a complete web based music notation app. And ultimately a library of licks and phrases which users can utilize to aid in their compositions. Basically I've loads of ideas with this product. Build practice routines, i.e practice scales, maintain a practice schedule, etc. So yeah, lots of stuff I can build into this.


OK, one way of getting beta testers would be posting on Reddit ... though you would need to emphasize the beta part or there might be a backlash.

Other ways on the top of my head would be writing guest posts on other music related blogs or paying them to send it to their newsletters ....

You could also cheaply? target specific YouTube videos with your ad ...

Further, if you are new to copy writing for ads, cashvertising is a great book.


I run http://choosejarvis.com with a friend. It's not profitable yet but is getting there. We've just iterated on the product and feel that we're finally making a good enough value proposition to ramp up marketing.

I previously ran http://amzshark.com with a friend, which was very profitable within a year (~360k ARR) and ramen profitable within 3 months.


Good job on amzshark ..... I would be interested to understand how you scrape data from Amazon ... I assume crawling would be a significant portion of your operating cost.... and how you do it without violating their ToS....

choosejarvis, why did you think there was a market need for such a product ? How is it different from buffer.io ?

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