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Ask HN: Best passive income method for a solo developer?
427 points by nullundefined on Aug 19, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 244 comments
I'd consider myself a pretty experienced developer with diverse skills. I want to create some passive income streams using my abilities.

What are the recommended methods for a solo developer? Which method of the following would you recommend?

    ebook in a niche technical topic
    SaaS product that solves a niche issue 
    mobile or web based game

There are a few common options available to most developers.

1. Create a course or ebook plus screencasts. Charge a lot (e.g., $199 for the highest tier that includes everything in a bundle). Typical income range: $2K - $100K.

2. Create an ebook. Charge a lot (e.g., $49). Typical income range: $2K - $50K.

3. Write a book for a high-royalty publisher (e.g., PragPub). Typical income range: $10K-100K.

4. Create a SaaS product that solves a consumer or business problem in a given niche. Typical income range: $0 - $1M per year (mostly the $0 end though).

5. Create a mobile game. Typical income range: $5 - $100K (the majority below $10K).

6. Create a blog and leverage affiliate commissions and ads. Typical income range: $5 - $1,000 per month.

7. Create a template or plugin for a popular platform (e.g., WordPress). Typical income range: $100 - $100K a year.

All require work. Some will be more passive than others after your initial outlay of work (3 being the most passive).

How good are you at marketing? Because for software we have Market > Marketing > Design > Code.

My suggestion is to go for 1, 2, 3, or 4. Four is the most challenging among these 4 options and the least likely to succeed. But if it does, there isn't much of a cap in terms of how much money it can make.

Plus you get to hone your development and business skills further. Not to mention that you get to pick your own stack so you can experiment with new languages, frameworks, and technologies of your choosing if that floats your boat.

In general, I would recommend spending your spare time doing what excites you the most. Does the idea of a web side project excite you more than writing a book? If so, go for that.

My other suggestion is to create many micro-launches. Create small projects. Many of them. Stuff that you can launch in 1-3 months. See what sticks. Kill what doesn't. You'll end up with multiple revenue streams. $500/mo quasi-passive income here and there adds up quickly.

I've released 3 tech courses in the past year and it's anything but passive.

You'll end up spending ~2-3 full time months creating each course. Then you need to market it (or use a platform but then you don't build up a customer list of your own that you can use later), and on top of that you need to support all of your students by answering questions (not as bad as you would think but it's something you need to do constantly).

Then in 6+ months when the tech you've created your course on gets updated you have to go back and re-record your course to keep it relevant. There are some tricks to minimize this burden depending on what tech you're creating content for, but I would say as a whole expect to re-record the entire course every year. By this point you'll end up re-planning the entire course, so it's not a simple thing.

This doesn't mean it's a bad idea, but don't get the idea that you just create the course in a few tough weeks and then sit back on a beach while you sell dozens of copies a day for years on end.

5. given 20k games ship per month on iOS alone while it's true that the majority make below $10k it's probably also true the majority make below $100.

On top of that, passive income suggests that you make it and then collect money with no work for ... 1+ years? Games generally make all their income in the first 1-4 weeks and so are unlikely to turn into passive income

Seriously, this. This post is so misleading, hah. All of this assumes traction.

The sad bit is that the party who can actually provide transparency in these matters (Apple) has an incentive to keep the numbers secret, so developers keep coming and taking a chance at launching an app.

I think a lot of people just build for themselves and publish as a final "I did it" effort.

Games are also such a flooded market and user expectations are high, but because the top 5 earn millions, small devs keep playing that lottery hoping to win.

It's a bit more accurate for non-game apps. Those are a lot more likely to have recurring revenue. Still "the majority below $10K" would probably still be true at $1k or even $100. And if you've got a 10k app it might take 10 years for that $ to trickle in. I'm an iOS dev by day, but I wouldn't do an indy iPhone app with any real hope of making money in it.

aren't there a bunch of sponsors and game-sites that buy non-exclusive game licences?

> 7. Create a template or plugin for a popular platform (e.g., WordPress). Typical income range: $100 - $100K a year.

I get the impression that the Atlassian products (like Jira) make a good platform for paid plugins, because the companies using them are already in the mindset where they pay for solutions. At least we at $work use Jira with several paid plugins.

Thanks for the reply mentioning us! There’s quite a few independent developers selling their add-ons in our Atlassian Marketplace with yearly bookings of anywhere from a few thousand $$ to over $1,000,000 in some cases. Some have even been acquired by larger partners who double down on investment and now what started as a solo thing is effectively a big startup. We think it really makes sense and is a great option for developers to consider.

Here’s a couple of examples we wrote up: Atlassian Marketplace developer Wittified, a successful solo dev business, acquired recently by AppFire https://www.atlassian.com/customers/wittified. Atlassian customer Twilio, who use several add-ons from such developers and they talk about how it really makes their Atlassian products more valuable https://www.atlassian.com/customers/twilio-case-study.

There’s Bob Swift Software, a long-standing solo independent developer who started with us years ago and who has tens of thousands of customers, also acquired by AppFire. Theres’s our Marketplace developer eazyBI, a reporting tool started as a side-project by one person and now a profitable company with 7 employees. There’s even agile planning features now part of JIRA Software itself, which started as an add-on known as Greenhopper from an independent developer that we ourselves acquired some years ago. And these are just some of the smaller, solo and indie devs. The larger business that emerged on our platform are something to behold (one recently just took a $31M VC round!).

As the person at Atlassian who helped manage and grow this developer platform, I’m really proud of what the developers around us in our ecosystem have built - both their products and their businesses. The successful growth of sales and customers they’ve made in a few short years is extraordinary to watch and to be a small part of. If anything this post I wrote in 2013 is more true now than ever http://blogs.atlassian.com/2013/04/the-future-is-bright-for-.... If you’re interested in talking with some of these developers in our ecosystem, let me know and I’ll get you introduced.

Something I totally forgot to mention, which was remiss of me, is that the platform I'm talking about is also where developers who have their own product - SaaS or otherwise - can also distribute free integrations to our products. Loads of them do that and successfully bolster their own value within any joint customers we share a bit more too.

I remember last year I was going to start playing around with Atlassian JIRA API because of the massive installation my employer has (hosted internally, today's version: JIRA v6.3.11) and the experience was like an uphill battle.

If I want to get started again, where would you suggest me to look? I believe one should start with basic JIRA knowledge to understand the fundamental of the software/system/service before they continue to tackle the API (I believe most people, except Managers, use JIRA as told without knowing some fundamental idea behind it).

So you're going to develop something for JIRA Server (internally hosted software). You'll be using Plugins2*

1. Start here https://developer.atlassian.com/jiradev/getting-started/gett...

2. Install the SDK (it has some pre-reqs) and build Hello World https://developer.atlassian.com/docs/getting-started/set-up-...

3. Bone up on Plugins2 a bit more https://developer.atlassian.com/jiradev/jira-platform/buildi...

4. API Reference https://developer.atlassian.com/jiradev/jira-apis (I recommend the REST APIs + Webhooks wherever possible).

I'm really keen to talk with you about your experience going through that - there's a lot of history and we're aware we need to clean up the journey.

_* If you were developing for JIRA Cloud you'd be using Atlassian Connect.

Also note you're on an old version of JIRA so check that you're reading the related version of the API references.

So Plugins2 and Connect are different?

Like there's no one JIRA API via REST or something?

Thanks for the reply and the links. Really appreciate it!

Sorry I'm late here. Yes those are different, given the differences between the software running in the cloud and running on customers' own servers.

This developer is asking about developing for JIRA Server though, so I pointed them straight at that content. Connect is great for JIRA Cloud.

Great observation. The trade off is that the market is pretty small, and Atlassian controls the walled garden.

I built a WordPress plugin, and definitely struggle with people expecting everything for free.

I guess it's relative. Our market isn't the number of users of a consumer market like the Apple App Store or Google Play. But then again there's millions of apps in each and getting yours noticed is extremely hard.

Part of what we're trying to do for our devs is grow it steadily year by year, and small developers are able to grow along with us (often faster as they first gain new customers). You may not know this but there's more than 60,000 organizations with anywhere from 10 to thousands of users in our customer base. There's a whole lot more startups with 1 to 9 folks too. They've collectively bought a few hundred thousand licenses of our ecosystem developers products so far since we launched.

I'd also counter that we're fairly open about what you can build. We work hard to have supported, public, documented APIs and patterns, but within that you can pretty much build anything you want. Candidly you probably don't want to build something directly in competition with Atlassian but there's lot of value to add around what we do. Last thing we released publicly on this was a while ago - I'm working on another release because our devs are much further along at this point but here you go https://techcrunch.com/2015/12/15/atlassians-marketplace-for...

I've been generating income from http://aminosoftware.com going on 11 years now. There have been updates with every release of SQL Server and a handful of bug fixes over the years but it's amounted to about 10 hours of work per year.

Niche was key for this to work.

As someone who has a (very) niche product, I'm just wondering: what channels worked the best to get knowledge of your product to the right people?

I put up a test page for a niche C++ library I had developed, but haven't actually gotten around to selling it. I do keep getting a lot of e-mails from people who are interested in it though. But making sure the thing compiles on a lot of target platforms (especially Linux) is a hassle. So, what I've found, is that people need to be able to find you (duh). Try and figure out what the most likely search terms are for the problem they are solving and make sure you rank well there on Google. That'll get you 90% of the way there.

Which product are you selling?

If you wait until it's perfect you'll never sell a single copy. My advice is to launch it, get the money going, and use that to refocus your efforts on the edge platforms on which it won't compile.

People find us 100% through Google

Have you thought about allowing payment through the website? Making someone email you (a VA?) seems like an unnecessary hurdle.

We used to have that but it only accounted for a small fraction of sales. Our customers are large enterprises that have a quotation/PO invoicing cycle that pay by check or wire.

good ole mainframes still run half the computing world... we'll leave javascript to hipsters and stick to copybooks insteads :)

They run a hell of a lot more than half.

I am into #4 and #6. Launched a job listing site based on WordPress, hired a person to post jobs and approve jobs posted by employers / recruiters. I don't have to lift a finger so this could count as passive income.

Launched a few niche blogs which are monetized through Adsense, Amazon affiliate and a bunch of other networks. Had spent time in keyword research, content production and some SEO / marketing. Now I revisit the sites every few months for updates.

#1 and #2 always fancy me and I may write ebook or create course on Python, something that I am taking up these days.

How do you earn money through the job site? Charging for listing?

3rd party ads like Google Adsense. Job listing is free.

Do you mind giving a ballpark of how much you make? I was under the impression adsense basically made you close to nothing, perhaps unless you had millions of monthly unique visitors.

Earning from Adsense depends on number of factors including the Cost-per-Click (CPC) and Click-through-Rate (CTR). If you have content based on high CPC keywords and get traffic from western countries, you can make a decent earning.

For example, if you serve 10,000 page impressions per month with average CPC of $0.50 and a CTR of 3%, your monthly earning could be $150.

In a lot of countries (ex. Belgium, where I'm from) that is not a decent income. Not even close. So you'd have to have a lot of those niche sites to earn a (self-employed) living.

I run two blogs that i kept updating over the years. I don't post frequently, maybe once a month. I earn around 100-150 euro a month from them. It's not much but think of it as pocket money - its a zero effort income - especially if the topics you write about genuinely interest you.

It is supposed to be passive income, so yeah, you have to build a lot of such sites (or a few with high payouts) to replace your regular /salary earnings.

Yeah, that falls into the "just work a few extra hours in the day job and save yourself the hassle" category... Good to know that's how the numbers stack up.

Any chance we could get links to your niche blogs?

> 5. Create a mobile game. Typical income range: $5 - $100K (the majority below $10K).

That's a very dangerous advice. Games are cultural products, not technical. You need to understand programming, game design, UI design, art direction, and marketing at once. Plus it's a hit-driven industry.

I'd say the majority is below $10 (ten) in revenue. $5-100k is nowhere near "typical income range" for independent game development.

I think that was "$5 - $100,000", not "$5,000 - $100,000". Although "the majority below $10k" is an understatement.

It is not an understatement, mobile game development often ends up with negative income. If you're not featured by Apple or Google - it's over.

As a full time software developer I would find number 4 the easiest of the suggested choices, as its the only one I have done before. (Finding the niche is the tricky part I guess).

But it's definitely a paradox of choice. There are seemingly infinite problem and infinite solutions...so which do you invest your time in pursuing.

actually 5 is a good bet as well for a full time developer. e.g. make a WordPress plugin, give a demo but functional version out for free on WordPress.org, then sell the full featured version on a marketplace like Envato. If your plugin is genuinely useful to someone they will buy it. it won't be enough money to quit your job but it will be something on the side.

7 is arguably easier than 4 from a business and marketing standpoint.

true, the app stores take care of those parts for you. in both cases though it's just a very small minority that explodes into popularity.

Its the marketing thats the hard part - finding that niche and selling.

I read the side project/passive income posts and have built projects that have failed because there is no market

For a professional developer, coding would indeed be the easiest part.

Its is and it isnt - the problem for a professional dev/engineer is that you want the best technical solution instead of releasing some cobbled together rubbish as quickly as possible

"the problem for a professional dev/engineer is that you want the best technical solution instead of releasing some cobbled together rubbish as quickly as possible"

Yes, but have you tried to optimize for code size, clarity and speed of creating features rather than just technical completeness. As a single dev there is an incredible amount of corner cutting you can do which you can polish away once the product gains traction. You can hack stuff together just as long you know how it's supposed to be properly built and how you get there from the rapid prototype.

It's actually easier to do this as a single dev because you typically have a near-complete mental model of the software, including the rough bits and areas for improvement.

With a team of 4 people it's very easy for no one dev to have a complete mental model, which leads to nobody truly understanding the weak points underneath.

When you say "you want", generally that's because you have a full time job, and don't want to spend your free time doing the same as work.

Either you do quick hack because you want to play. Or you design nice stuff because you have to do something exceptional.

If you want passive income, you need to get out of that mentality. After work is still work, except you are the employer.

since you already tried this out. Were your projects similar to other services or they were completely new ideas?

I am wondering if it is easier to launch in a proven market and get a small portion of the pie rather than create a new idea that might end up not working out.

Generally sport related - but pushing technology. The problem was there was no market - in a few instances markets were established later but I had left by then. The upside is i can still trade on tech skills

Its a paradox of I can build anything, so why cant I build something that makes money

option 3: go after a niche in a proven market and rule that (i.e.: a beachhead market). After that expand.

Obviously that's the best option but finding that niche might still mean you have to create an mvp and jump through all the hoops multiple times to validate it.

Just one comment about point 4. I think 0 is only likely if you expect to create it and that customers will come on their own. If you create an SaaS that solves a real problem then you are definitely going to earn money it just won't be passive. Operations, support and marketing might become your new full time job but like acangiano said, depending on what your SaaS is targetting there's no limit on how much you can earn.

I clarified that I meant closer to $0 than $1M, not actually $0. :) If you do proper niche research and customer development, you'll make some money.

The bottom is -10k, you have to outlay for lawyer, marketing, hosting and possibly travel or industry specific capital. No matter what your research you can have zero paid uptake in the market. I.e. Google can solve your chosen task for your chosen niche for free and by accident or your domain experts can be confused about what technology will solve their problem until it really exists and is in front of them.

The majority of SaaS applications do not require their founder to travel or purchase capital. You have a good chance of not needing a lawyer[0], especially if you already have an LLC like a large number of developers do. Marketing is a likely expense but can be done for free if you're smart about it.

Hosting is really the biggest up-front expense, especially if you expect to have large spikes in traffic (SaaS around events or seasonal things) that you need to try to plan for.

[0] Meaning a large cash outlay to a person. You can get away with generic privacy, TOS, etc.

You can suceed on $0, but are you willing to fail to keep that limit? I've never seen someone not sink $5-10k post release into a production stage flop. A success may never need paid marketing, but a flop is a "what if" until you tried everything that seems reasonable.

The LLC is also not a total firewall. You can always raise your top by having the wrong/no insurance, but that is just making the worst outcome further negative.

I'm not saying its bad to try your own buisiness, I'm saying its silly to think your only downside is lost time. Unless you are a social pariah that no one will assist, you will have a way to risk losses and you should think about that and try to set limits that are realistic enough to stick to.

I'm working on my second million.

I gave up on my first.

question: is there still money in blogging/affiliate marketing ? does anyone here still makes anything worth the trouble by amazon affiliates etc?

Yes, there are tons of mommy blogger sites making a lot of money. The niche is important though. It also takes months/years to build up reputation.

Usually these high reputation content sites are used to drive traffic to a paid product that you own rather than selling somebody else's product. A weak example... you spend a year building a content site around React.js which you really love. You can throw ads on the site and push other people's product...but after you build up a large following of trusted users, you can release a a paid ebook/course and start advertising your React.js consulting company which will be much more lucrative.

Then you pivot to teaching people how to make money online like almost everybody does after they have one success.

As they say, the money in the list. If you can build a mailing list of buyers, you can strike gold every time a newsletter is shot out.

Not the easiest route for reputable niches, but there is money to be made. Especially if you grow your newsletter.

Points 1-3, are those figures per month, per year...? Are your estimates from personal experience or from people you know?

1-3 are total numbers. Obviously you can make more money and for longer if you constantly update your course or book.

I wanted to provide ballpark figures to give a general idea. Some are from personal experience, othes from friends and people I have helped, and others from general industry knowledge.

Thanks for that! I had a quick look at your website linked from your profile, you've got quite an interesting, varied career.

I'm thinking of self-publishing a book on a somewhat technical topic that's trending upwards at the moment, so this advice is most helpful and timely.

Thanks. Have you looked at solutions to actually produce the book? Unless you're already setup, three nice options are:

1. https://www.softcover.io/

2. https://www.gitbook.com/

3. https://leanpub.com/

Wow this is great, thanks so much again! I'll definitely look into these.

Making a decent course is a extremely hard task. And it requires a real (not based on inflated self-esteem) expertise.

Courses by Brian Harvey, Dan Grossman or Gregor Kiczales are real ones, while the crap could see on youtube, like Google's Python Course, is a disappointing waste of time.

Courses by Peter Norvig on Udacity are the gold standard.

Do not over-estimate your abilities. Good tutoring is hard. Just narrating copy-pasted stuff from the internet does not count as a course.

Same goes for books. On ought to grow up and become an expert first.

I thought you meant http://www.dangrossman.info/ had a course. Instead, I think you mean https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~djg/ The former is active on hn, and the later is a CS professor. Would be interested in a course from either :)

As a solo developer who builds products for a living, I'd caution you to think more about what it is that you actually like to do, rather than what will earn you a quick dollar.

You don't want to be put in a position where you have to support something that requires you to perform tasks that you don't enjoy (eg. a particular niche, writing blog content) just to make sure it brings in that extra $nK a month.

You might also face the anti-scale issue - what if you do end up getting your first 30 users, but it never really grows more than that?

You are now in a position to either believe in your product and push on it without knowing that this is as big as it will get, or, have to face the process of killing off something that 30 people now depend on in their workflow.

If you're interested in more of this stuff, I give a talk on my story of going from full time to solo product dev and have a video of available below. Quality isn't great, but the audio and content is worthwhile.


Good luck!

The issues you point out are completely unrelated to passive income. If I'm in a position where I have to support something just to make sure it brings in the money I require it's not passive. Scale also isn't an issue. If I have 30 users and that makes the money I require it doesn't need to grow more than that.

The point of passive income is that it makes you what you want with little to no work. So for example a SaaS product that doesn't require too much maintenance (a couple hours per week) netting you a few thousand $ per month. Or outside of software a physical product that you source and then sell using drop shipping so that people purchase products from you without you ever getting involved.

"The point of passive income is that it makes you what you want with little to no work. So for example a SaaS product that doesn't require too much maintenance (a couple hours per week) netting you a few thousand $ per month."

So the point is to get something for nothing? Money without work? Everybody wants that.

So what SaaS product requires little maintenance but nets a few thousand dollars a month? Maybe something like that exists. But creating it would have required considerable investment of time or money, which eliminates the "little to no work" part.

Likewise for selling some physical product. Tons of people are doing this on Amazon. It's not taking them much work. It's also not making them much money.

I think the OP's question just doesn't make much sense. The only reason someone asks about "passive income" is because they want money without working for it. I can think of only two ways to do that. One is to inherit it. One has no control over that. The other is to build up political influence so one can seek rents (in the economic sense.) Even this method requires some work because it requires investment in capital or influence (neither of which is easy.)

Some investors are said to get "passive income" but that's because they got some money in the first place. Plus, they use resources to get more resources. Buffett's income really can't be said to be "passive" when he spends time and talent doing research and analysis.

Yeah one can get "passive income" by putting money in a bank or in stocks or something. Good luck getting decent returns with that...which is why investors are seeking out higher rates of return...which takes work...which, guess what, is not "passive".

In short, "passive income" does not really exist. Unless someone is going to give OP money through inheritance or dumb luck or Powerball, she's going to have to get out and work for it like everyone else.

As jasonlotito points out I mean that after the initial investment, i.e the creation of the product or system, you will generate money with little to no involvement. You're likely going to have a few hours work a month with most passive income streams but the point is, after development, you generate money without focusing on it. For example: I created a simple iOS app that netted ~50k users. It generated about £1k per month and the only work I needed to do on it was answer a few emails a month. You pointed out in your comment the example of people selling physical products on Amazon. I know several people making the majority of their income, passively, from that. So your 'it's also not making them much money' comment, which you failed to back up, is wrong. It's possible. For most people passive income doesn't need to be very much, just a nice little supplement to their salary. For others it can be their entire income and more than enough to live on.

> So the point is to get something for nothing? Money without work? Everybody wants that.

No, that's not what they're saying, and you should be generous enough to assume that,

What they're saying is that after the initial investment is done, they don't need to do lots of work. They put in the initial effort up front. After that, the income is more or less passive.

"Passive income" refers to business ideas that aren't good enough to pursue full-time, but can be implemented during low-value time since revenue is made via hands-off transactions (ad clicks, ECommerce digital downloads, etc.) The maintenance work required is a small variable cost of sustaining the revenue.

If you have 1 user you still have to support them, let alone 30.

Google has millions of users and provides zero support for a lot of its products. I've had products generating passive income with ~50000 users and has to answer no more than a couple of support emails a month that required no more than a simple answer.

care to share how you were able to scale your support? Do you have a thorough self-help / faq site that pre-empts most support questions?

Unfortunately the product isn't around anymore so I can't show you anything. However it was an iOS sports app around 4 years ago. It was relatively simple ,mostly just displaying data pulled from various locations online, and displaying data from a local db too. There really wasn't much users needed help with. Any emails I received were usually resolved with a 'check your network/reboot your device' or they were minor bugs which I could fix with a few minutes work and push an update.

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your presentation. Definitely inspired me to think hard about what I actually like doing instead of just trying to build something that I think I can sell for a few bucks.

I've created multiple web apps/plugins that I wasn't really passionate about, and after the initial rush of launching something wore off my interest in the project waned. I found that when a new bug or feature request popped up, I became less and less motivated to actually fix the issue or implement that new feature.

"passive income" means regular income that does not require your activity. Common examples are bank interest, stock dividends, real estate rent, copyright or patent royalities.

In the big picture, some activity is eventually required, it's just a matter of time - books fall from favour, patents are superceded, even banks can go, well, bankrupt. So it's a question of degree, and of how much return.

Of your suggestions, SaaS requires a lot of ongoing work. Most books and games have hit or fad-like popularity - so a low chance of on-going income after you are done.

Your "niche" idea is the best of the three - but it's completely dependent on finding a niche that is under-served, and will continue to be under-serves. That way, the income can continue for as long as the technical niche exists (it eventually will be superceded, and perhaps the surrounding ecosystem also swept away). The downside is you generally can't make much money this way - but you didn't ask for that, so it's fine. Remember the saying "you won't get rich writing books".

So the tricky bit is choosing the niche with these market characteristics AND that is personally easy/interesting/attractive to you and not to others.

BTW: I wrote a couple of chapters for a book, got a decent advance on royalties, and IIRC about $4 royalities after that (most books don't "eat out their advance"). This was on a technical topic, but not really niche.

A word on passive income: I succeeded in this with a software product... but discovered that my life became about invoices, negotiating license terms and international taxation law. I was so much happier actively developing!

Since you'll end up doing something, I now think active income has a lot going for it! [Of course, you're only requesting some passive income, so this may not occur.]

Ebook is the most recommended, I know a lot of people that wrote books and got something out of it. Even if it didn't sell well, they learned a lot while writing said technical topic.

The other two requires a lot of marketing and business development more than programming. The HN posts about side projects make it look like it's as easy as `git push heroku master` and 'post on HN', but it's not. The successful ones are outliers rather than the norm. Don't get me wrong, you'll also learn a lot while writing your own game/SaaS. Finishing a game/SaaS on its own is a big achievement no matter how small, but you did ask for a "Best passive income method".

I'm a generalist, and while I enjoy working with new technologies I no longer get a kick out of knowing every itty bitty detail inside out. I've worked in several industries in engineering roles (compiler design, geographic information systems, fabless semiconductor device production and testing).

I think writing a technical book could be very enjoyable for me. I'm good at explaining technical stuff, or so I'm told.

But I have absolutely no idea with the profile above what I could possibly write a book about that adds to the state of the art. "Wafer Database Schema Design For Dummies"?

I am also good at explaining stuff, wrote a book on Go, made it open source because I haven't contributed anything to the FOSS community :)

0 income. Not the best business plan eh?

You could probably keep it open-source but charge for the print copy and pay-what-you-want for the PDF.

That is a good idea, how do I the pay-what-you-want thing?

currently the book is on github and gitbooks, so I doubt if anyone would pay for the pdf :-)

There's a free version of Gumroad and you can sell things with a pay what you want scheme: https://help.gumroad.com/11164-Payments/pay-what-you-want-pr...

The premium version of Gumroad is $10 per month, and reduces the cut they take.

There's leanpub too, though I don't know if you can upload an already made pdf. Worth checking out though.

leanpub allows you to get the data from github, my book is already on github, 950+ stars

Oh that's great to know, thanks.

I've bought PDFs where I already had all the information just to support the author. The hard part is letting the people who know about your book already know that they can buy a hard copy/support your work.

Well, all I can do is put upthe leanpub link to the book on the github page

I think learnpub does this. Minimum price and suggested price.

Thanks :)

Started making a book on leanpub.


This is awesome!

Do you mean my book? Or the fact that one can self publish books? :)

The tech books written by authors who know nothing but English and "learning a lot while writing" is exactly what ruined the book business. No one needs this kind of crap.

Books ought to be written by experts and talents. Just think of the likes of SICP, OnLisp, AIMA or PAIP compared to some Java for Dummies crap.

I wouldn't even start about fiction and guys like Nabokov, Wilde or Orwell.

I'm intrigued now. What does Nabokov have to do with this discussion?


Is there an actual request for new books? I feel like most of the topics are already covered so the only thing would be jumping on new technologies and the risk is that the writing would be sub-optimal. I am extremely ignorant in matter of books to be honest. What is the average knowledge level of someone that can write a decent book? Would it be better to have more knowledge or be a better writer?

My experience is that all/most of the programming books are based on trivial examples and solving dull problems, which is perfectly fine when you know nothing and you are just starting the programming adventure, but when you are getting your second or third language and you want something more serious, then all the 50-150 loc examples are just... not enough. So I'd love to see more books when you are given something in the range of 10k< loc and the examples and tasks being more complicated. Traditional publishing did not allow that, because you could not provide long code base. But today there are no such limits.

Especially GUI guides are ratcher simplistic, you don't want to draw just triangles and squares on the screen. There are no really good resources for Direct3D or OpenGL, WGL, SDL etc. It's like learning architecture by looking at bricks and not at finished buildings. This is also the reason why people recommend working on open-source projects, because this is where the real thing happens. But I would say it's an intimidating experience. There should be something in the middle.

(And it would be nice if there was a mentoring site where you could pick a language, pick your level, and be mached either with a person/team to work on something together or with a mentor who could just guide you twice a month. Say, you pay 100 bucks for registration, the website owner gets $10, and the mentor $90. Even if you get just a couple of "students" it's still a safier bet than much more risky SaaS/e-book business. And how to start it - make a web site about one language that is your stronges and focus on that. If you get others interested in mentoring, check their stack and then expand the offering. If you have 10 deals a month, there will be 100 passive bucks more to your name. Has anyone tried that? And to get the initial traction combine it with some publishing, blog, some language-specific, industry-informed (not necessary programing related, but project-management, team integration, tasks division, feedback, code reviewing) problems that would prove your expertise.

PS: One difficult project you could explore is business process modelling - there are a couple of different notation standards, such as BPMN. The project would be to create one program (like Bizagi) in which you can design processes but in different notations, smoothly (that's the most difficult) convert between them, and then integrate with industry class software such as Appian, IBM BPM, Amodit, SharePoint, Alfresco etc. It's a million dollar project, but f* hard to solve.

In 2001 (before e-books were a viable business) I wrote a C++ book that throughout the book we wrote a full usable library (games) and 2-3 full games. It isn't hard, thing is, most tech authors I've talked with shouldn't really be writing books. They get the deals not on technical merits of writing full scale applications, but by a few blog posts on how to use X to do Y but little understanding on how to teach/write.

An exception (maybe not all books, but the few I've read) are the In Action series from manning. They tend to write a full fledged application slowly throughout the book with clear and simple writing.

Also, if you want/can, shoot me an email at brunomtsousa (at) that_google_email_domain.com I've worked with some BPM solutions and thinking/designing a solution I think could be cool for SMEs. Not easy to find folks that know much about the topic and would love to exchange thoughts!

> I know a lot of people that wrote books and got something out of it.

did they self-publish or went with some known publisher? what kind of money can you make on ebooks?

> did they self-publish or went with some known publisher?

My former boss self-published a book on Leanpub. For the "known publisher", I'm a little acquainted with the author of "Docker High Performance" (Packt).

For the leanpub one, it was organically easy to get the word out through local meetups and clients. Packt reached out to the "Docker High Performance" guy, he reviewed a few books for them then they emailed him.

> What kind money can you make on ebooks?

For the people I mentioned, I can't say. But if you do get a good book out with a good following you can hit Nathan Barry's numbers:

- http://nathanbarry.com/app-design-stats/

- http://nathanbarry.com/designing-web-applications-2nd-editio...

Self-pub, through Leanpub and eventually Kindle, Createspace, and iBooks, I'm up to around 100-200 sales/month (ASP ~$10, net ~$7), mostly by keeping my book updated with the latest version of the software I write about (so my book is the only one that's constantly relevant, unlike the ones from the major publishers). I spend maybe 2-4 hours/month updating the book, running tests and fixing things.

I have a 4 iOS apps on the App Store, however only one of them makes significant income, approx. $500 a month. It's a road traffic app for the UK which I originally built to satisfy my own need - I searched the App Store and all the apps I could find were either very clunky to use and not very reliable.

So if you can find a niche, and improve the UI/UX on existing apps, then there is definitely scope to make some "passive" income on the App Store. I put passive in quotes as anything you do will require upfront time and effort and also some ongoing support/updates.

In my case I spent a few months (evenings/weekends) building the app and now spend a few hours each month either responding to support emails or fixing bugs/releasing small updates.

Don't underestimate time for sales and marketing; whatever you decide to do will require some form of promotion/marketing and getting the message out there that you have built something. I regularly update a Twitter account for the app as well as maintain a website showcasing the product.

Good luck in whatever you do.

[edit to mention sales/marketing].

People always target the wrong aspects when it comes to promotion of apps. Websites and twitter accounts won't do much of anything to grow your app.

+60% of all app downloads are through app store search. You need to be extremely diligent in optimising your keywords for both App Store and Google Play. Products like sensor tower give you great tools to research high traffic/low difficulty keywords. Then it's a matter of trial and error.

Better search results equals more downloads, more downloads equals high ranking, high ranking equals more visibility. People are not going out of their way to view app 'landing pages' I can tell you that.

Sales/marketing are the killer, and they're an entire subject in themselves - like learning a whole new coding language.

There's nothing passive about them, and you have to do them.

(If someone builds a passive income project and no one hears about it, does it even exist?)

> ..originally built to satisfy my own need

Key point right here. I have a couple of "apps" that I built purely for my own need and want, they are also being sold but I don't have any issues with keeping them updated because I use them myself probably more than anyone else.

Because of this, I feel they are passive, even though I've spent many many hours on them.

You would be surprised how far a few hundred dollars spent on Adsense can take you. It might take a little bit of practice before you figure out businesses that are worth advertising but when you do -- you can get leads that pay 1000 - 100,000+ times what you're spending on Adsense (and even repeat customers.)

This is probably quite ordinary advice but as someone who hasn't done that much marketing before -- I am still blown away by how effective search engine advertising is. I feel like with just Adsense I could make virtually any website profitable as long as it was cleanly designed and the margins were high enough. After that, its really just rinse and repeat. Maybe throw in some promotion on a few other channels and you've got yourself a solid business.

Advertising is practically modern day alchemy.

This sounds great, I would live to pick your brain in a couple of emails, is there anyway to connect with you? I couldn't find your email in your profile. Thanks

The problem I have is how to promote my sites? Do I have an advantage if I build sites in languages different from english?

Usually, non-english sites have lower payouts but there is also less competition generally.

Use your dev skills to get a high paying full time job, and dump your savings into an index fund. Not very glamorous, but over time...

i'd say diversified portfolio of stocks index, bonds index and, say, gold.

Bonds returns are highly correlated with stock returns and gold gets eaten away by inflation. For money you don't need to spend in the next 7 years (so you can wait out a recession) it's hard to beat a stock index.

"For example, a “simpleton’s portfolio” consisting of one quarter each U.S. large stocks, U.S. small stocks, foreign stocks, and U.S. high-quality bonds had a higher return, with much lower risk, than large U.S. stocks alone (represented by the S&P 500 index). The S&P 500, in turn, performed better than 75% of professional money managers over the same period." (c) W.J. Bernstein, The Intelligent Asset Allocator, based on a study by T. Rowe Price, from 1973 to 1992.

The gold was used as a replacement, because I'm not from US, and it worked well for Russia, giving average yearly 48,9% compared to 24,4%, 31,5%, 28,1% for stocks, bonds and gold for 1997-2009 period.

I've thought about this as well but haven't come to a conclusion.

Some ideas I've had are:

* Website templates (i.e WordPress). Downside: Will require constant maintenance to stay up to date with latest versions, bug free, and, secure

* Apps. Downside: Very competitive field

* Very NICHE apps.

This last point, is what I think would be really useful. For example, there's a sync for Fitbit / Apple Health. The guy who made it, has made two different apps, one for each direction, and they both cost $7 each. If you want to sync FROM Fitbit to Apple Health, that's $7. The other direction? Another $7. This app does it well and because it's such a niche thing - only for Fitbit and Android users who want their data into Apple Health or from Apple Health, it seems to work.

The problem here is finding these niche areas where there's a void to fill - these apps are so simple because it's basically just 2 UI controls (to/from date, and a button) and then two API calls.

I'm now trying to think of these things whenever I end up in a situation where I felt "damn, other people must want this too, why is there no simple app that does this?"

I would pay for an app that let me take a picture of the ground and circled anything that looked like a 4-leafed clover.



> Very NICHE apps

You will have like 3 installs per month. I made niche website that used 7 people in it's peak, now only 1~2.

Was/is it worth it?


If you build a portfolio of niche apps you can probably sell them all to somebody spammy?

I'd think some good ideas would be use API's/WebScraping and build fresh content stuff like Wallpaper sites, or Movie Reviews/Ticket Ordering Sites -- sure there's tons of showtime/movie sites -- but if you can get even a small marketshare in google searches - you can earn a couple hundred a month.

You also could aggregate content from reddit subs into a site, or clone ThisIsWhyImBroke.com -- but automate it via scraper/etc... and focus your effort more on marketing using social media. In that case make money off affiliate commissions.

You also could write a course for everything to do with Wordpress --from setting up a domain to finding a host, etc---and promote your own hosting service in the book -- signup as a reseller for hosting services and start a small hosting business. Too many clients is obviously a drain on time/resources to provide support but 100-1000 clients could bring in 3k per month and take roughly 9-10 hours per week to support, and you can even hire someone to help with that on a part-time basis. If you only do support via ticket you'll save time as well. -- This was actually my plan, but I've been working too hard at my day-job to focus much energy on this.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but half of these suggestions seem to say: Steal other people's content and become a search engine spammer.

If it's open data from api's what's the issue? There's tons of movie databases for example, and some wallpaper sites have API's as well.

But if it's making you money, do you really care?

If you have no morals, no.

I think you are correct, and that GP is also right. No product will sell without good SEO.

Web Scraping is a good idea, especially when you scrap open data / APIs. I have considered several ideas so far but haven't been able to launch as yet. Analysis paralysis, I guess.

I was into web hosting business for sometime but had to wind up due to increasing demands by the customers.

> 4. Create a SaaS product that solves a consumer or business problem in a given niche...

Like it. Let me share my story.

Six months ago i read articles how Buffer, Drip and ConvertKit started and got an inspiration to do a SaaS project.

I love reading and trying to hack the process using different tools and projects. Some of them worked, some not, but no one gave me back.

The question was: to make a reading habit? And i found an answer: bite-sized reading — 5-10 minutes a day.

Next steps:

— i bought a domain (https://bookcelerator.com/summary) for $12;

— hire a freelancer to craft summaries of books a want to read ($35/summary, $70 total): «Zero to one» and «Hooked»;

— created accounts on Mailchimp and Paddle (payment provider);

— and launched an automation.

It took me 10 days to read summaries by myself, broken down into 5-minute daily emails. Then i realized i really like the process and it helps me with my reading habit. I posted a link and my story to Facebook and Twitter and got first 4 clients from my network. Now Bookcelerator is $200 MRR in two months, has 5 summaries to read (i will post 3 more on every weekend).

The problem is i don't know how to grow to $1k to quit my job and make it the full-time project.

Your competition is something like getabstract.com & summary.com (you can find a bunch by typing in “cliffnotes for business books” in google).

I think you can learn a lot from seeing their sites (none are gorgeous). I’d also consider PPC to acquire customers, but perhaps you could have an alternative pricing model (per book, per month, per year, audio versions of the summaries.)

You could always offer a handful of “life-time accounts” to try and bump the short-term revenue enough that you can flesh out your library more (I feel like that might be a limiting factor for customer acquisition).

Feel free to reach out to me on twitter if you’d like to continue the conversation @ckluis.

Thank you, Chris. Very helpful reply. Will follow you and write a little bit later.

Is the market even large enough?

Have you thought about trying to up sell the entire book at the end of each summary? (Might get a few amazon.com clicks with each summary.)

Do you know your churn rate and the lifetime value of each customer? I imagine it's too early, but once you have a good estimate you will know exactly what you can spend on adsense to drive more PPC traffic.

It's large enough for a founder who run a project by himself, i guess. I don't know churn rate and lifetime value can be $20 or $40.

Do you have to get permission from the book authors? Are there copyright problems with this sort of service?

I have a legal support, i don't break rules.

Oh no, I didn't mean you are breaking rules, sorry if it sounded that way. I was (am) just curious how this works, thats all.

No worries, it's ok. Summary isn't a book, it's like an article where we are describing what's inside using our own words.

Check https://www.blinkist.com/en/ as well - I use these guys. Particularly pay attention to their 'pricing for teams' option...

Look at their promotional video too [1], it’s very concise and goes straight to the point, showing good examples of why using the application is worth.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWO-Hedsr8E

Thanks! I know them. As i see i need to focus on Individual plans only. Will set up an experiment.

When you have a 'wouldnt it be cool if there was an app' idea, write it down. I use something like trello to collect ideas. Then i'll see if an idea is feasible and discard or move forward with it, for e.g. Can I develop something useful on my own, what are the competitor options like, what data do I need to make this work.

If you feel like you can make something useful start working on it, day, night, whenever, wherever. You only have so much time outside of work hours so make them count. I have a few apps, most just 'exist' but one of them is now earning $12K/month.

I work extremely hard on ASO and invest my own money into marketing through normal channels (facebook/adwords).

I quit my job so I can just focus on my apps now. Im my own boss, I can push out updates fast and I manage my own support. Finally moving out of the city now to the coast, to a place much quieter with great views. People might say i'm lucky but I don't. I had an idea and I built it well, i'll never say its luck.

Free suggestion for an ebook/screencast: building an Android app that is not a tutorial todo list using stock Android libraries. The book must cover connecting to a web API (with Retrofit/Moshi/OkHttp), caching data locally (Sqlite, correct lifecycle), correct usage of RxJava and/or message bus, unit and functional testing, creating custom views (in lieu of fragments). These are the tools and techniques that professional Android developers are using but there are no good resources for them -- you have to piece things together from one-off blog posts and sift through massive amounts of crap to find the good stuff (Jake Wharton, Dan Lew, etc).

Do you know https://www.indiehackers.com/ ? They have interviews with coders on their stories. Maybe it's a good inspiration for you.

These new media is awesome.

Buy a house/condo in a college town or near a military base and rent it out.

If you want mostly passive, you can move the entire application, document, and payment flow online (no paper, no mail, no deposits at the bank). You just need to find a couple good contractors/handypersons. This is my approach.

If you want purely passive, hire a property manager. But they will take 5-10% of your rent and sometimes a fee for new listings/leases. This is also best if you aren't in proximity to your rental.

Obviously, paying cash is best but if you can put enough down, you can make it work as long as mortgage+taxes+expenses < rent (I'm simplifying, I know). Also depends on how long interest rates stay this low.

I'm making about $200 a month on Udemy for the last couple of years.


If you know any topics in this list , you could easily make much more with a well defined course

Just for laughs I opened that link, figuring I'm really behind on emerging tech since I'm basically a Fortune 500 lifer at this point (and not for a tech firm). And there I see SAS on the list. That ancient dinosaur that I still use and love.

I might need to give this a go. If my past 15 years are any indicator, a SAS course wouldn't need much updating :)

I wonder if there are any kind of restrictions on courses we cannot create/monetise on. Say a closed technology platform where platform owner reserve the rights.

I used to buy and sell domain names on Sedo.com - I'd hunt down good names on SnapNames and NameJet. List them and just wait. Pulled in about $3000/year for the last 4 years.

I appreciate that you showed the whole process on how you are making money in 2 lines. Excellent. Thank you.

My actual experience with making commercial design plugins for Photoshop and Sketch (http://designplugins.com/):

1. Exporting image assets from Photoshop, <$100 in 6 months, >1 year of work on and off

2. Optical adjustments in Sketch, <$1000 in 2 months, ~1 week of work

3. Exporting ICNS/ICO from Sketch, <$50 in 1 month, ~1 week of work

So, I would consider 1 and 3 a failure. But have you considered raising the price for Optically? $1000 in 2 months equals ~110 units sold at $9. If people go through the trouble to buy/install a plugin, my guess is it's a large enough problem they'd be willing to pay $29 or $49 as well.

I once increased the price of an iPhone app I had built from $2,99 to $4,99 and I lost exactly 0 sales due to that. Revenue just doubled (an extra few thousand dollars per month). I bet you $10 your revenue will increase significantly!

It could have helped probably. There are plugins still charging $20-30+. But the recent trend is free and quality plugins around services and other tools. So that price felt right.

Agree with @acesubido on the ebooks. In fact, I would abstract this to any intellectual property that you can put into a marketplace. (books, apps, designs, etc).

I have an old account at Zazzle.com where I throw up funny sayings and designs from time to time (I'm not a designer).

It nets about $100/year from royalties and is completely passive.

I've met other people who make 10x that (they are designers).

do you advertise it in any way? or is it just organic traffic?

purely organic. no advertising or social media promotion.

My stuff lives in the Zazzle store. Just like in all the other marketplaces.

For certain items to do optimize the keywords and headlines to make them a little "click-baitish" :-)

All said, I've been thinking of making a script to auto-tweet and post to certain places, but that takes real work.

currently working on an auto-tweet script. Takes some time, but worth it

Games are a super competitive field. I wouldn't expect commercial success unless you can clearly identify an undeserved market niche that you can fill.

Though of course market demand is also key in creating a successful ebook or SaaS product. Of the ideas that you have for ebooks, SaaS products, and games, which has the biggest unmet market demand?

My recommendation is to find a small niche and run with it. I generate a very small amount, just enough to cover hosting and internet bills with my niche meta movie torrent search engine https://moviemagnet.net

Couple questions. How do you deal with DMCA take-down notices? Where do you host the site that they don't immediately take down your site when the DMCA notices start riling in? I haven't had much luck finding such a web host.


Why is Donald Trump in the cast of home alone?

This is for you: https://youtu.be/YXE3Ku-mGrk

Ooh thank you, I thought it was somehow added to the database by a troll.

Home Alone 2 is about a boy abandoned by liberal parents who meets an American hero!


Not to get into a political argument, but watching that makes me sad in a way. Donald Trump could have been remembered as a harmless, cartoonish celebrity rather than a hatemongering demagogue.

I can just talk from my own experience. I have a mobile app in a very specific niche, that is used when people tune in their tv antennas. Typically gross about 100$/month took 5hours to build and I have not made an update in 3years. Maybe those types of incomes are to small for you but you gotta start somewhere. So my tip is mobile utility apps, they don't go out of style as quick. You wont get rich but its a nice additional income!

Sounds interesting. What is it?

It's an app that shows you the direction to the nearest radio tower. You basically turn it on and it points to the nearest one, with a compass so you know the direction to point your antenna in. I have only done it in Sweden so far, so feel free to develop a similar app in your country ;)

Do you know much about how/why people find your app? When playing with a TV antenna, I wouldn't think to search for an app that could help. Seems like you are getting plenty of people finding it, though.

This isn't "passive income", this is a side-gig. Yes, it may in time generate recurring revenue that you could consider passive, but probably it wont be ("I only have to answer a few mails a day and develop stuff every weekend!")

A long time ago I created a free website/service to play with scenarios and forecasts for variable-rate mortgages - it was specifically for the Italian and Spanish markets (where those kinds of mortgages are very common). Monetization was only adsense and one affiliation program. I made around $100/month for at least 3 years, with almost 0 maintenance and just some SEO work - until the server broke down, and I was too busy with other projects to set it up again.

Don't know if the same approach would work today with falling ads revenue, but having something that is completely free to use has the advantage that there is no customer support and no stress.

I'm surprised no one here has mentioned Amazon or eBay arbitrage. Completely legal and you can create a script to do the work for you.

any examples?

Thanks for sharing. I don't have Amazon or eBay in my country. Not sure if I can start a business like this.

Then you should start a local amazon or ebay for your country!

I've often thought about writing some website templates which could then be sold through a marketplace such as wrapbootstrap or themeforest. I've been too busy to invest any time into this, but would be interested to hear if anyone else has had success doing this.

I've done some. https://wrapbootstrap.com/user/acesubido. In it's lifetime across 3 years I got around 5000USD~. Back then when bootstrap was still new it was lucrative to write website templates, since it was easy and there were few templates going around (circa 2012-2013). The process was:

- Look for a famous template

- Rewrite it in bootstrap

- Get it approved

As of 2016, the front-end ecosystem has grown big. Material Design and other UI/UX innovations (fancy modals, fancy sidebars, scrolling animations, etc.). This causes the market/buyers to look for themes that will allow them to look like the next AirBNB or Google. Theme marketplaces are looking for bootstrap/foundation templates jacked full with these javascript libraries and fancy stuff, increasing the barrier to entry for stuff to get approved.

Here was my experience writing a template last year:

I spent 2 months of weekends and weeknights to scout out the competition and worked on an admin theme. Made it with fancy charts, animations and a few javascript libraries embedded in that the market would probably want. I proceed to try and get it approved. Then, I found out I'll have to fight through other big agencies that crank out these themes like pancakes for a living while they price it 20-30% lower than mine. These agencies also sell these themes in other marketplaces that make them very popular choices over others since they can support customizations and what not.

Do you have link to the template?

> ebook in a niche technical topic

It won't get you much passive income, if the topic is very niche. If it is more popular, there's bigger competition, so you have to be lucky.

I wrote a technical book (ebook + paperback) in veeery niche technical topic (and it's the only book on this topic on the market), got one-time moderate paycheck from the publisher and that was it. If the book gets me any passive income it will be just a few buck a month, not earlier than in 2-3 years (when the book will be obsolete anyway...)

What I earned was invaluable experience and some insight into how I work and how I can improve it, but that's it.

Passive income is hard, becoming an AirBnB host is easy. In July I made $5700 on my 3 bd house in a tourist town.

If you're a solo developer you likely have the flexibility to get kicked out of your house when you have a guest.

There's lots of good advice in here. Don't underestimate what it takes to build a successful, sustainable SaaS business.

My #1 advice: Learn more about the stock market. Read blogs about ETFs and how to invest passive.

I haven't seen many (good) blogs about ETFs, any suggestions?

Two tickers are all you need. Put 90% in VOO (S&P 500 index fund) and 10% in BND. Rebalance once a year and keep adding every dollar you can spare. This is what Warren Buffet advises should be done with his money after he dies.

Here is a good blog: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

He actually puts his money in betterment.com which is another strategy that works.

I've only read german blogs so far, e.g. https://translate.google.de/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://z...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Guide-Exchange-Traded-Funds-Index/d... is thorough and good (with a UK focus if that's good for you)

I get $100 per year with http://sudokuisland.com

Throw me a bone, brogrammers, and add my sudoku widget to your site so it counts as a link to Google.

Same here - looking for some advice to generate a modest passive income source. I am a freelance web developer and have delivered some awesome SaaS products (both solo and as a team) in the last few years. And have been around for 12 years.

But when it comes to starting my own thing, I just get stuck - unsure what to start at. I used to blog based on unique problems, and have pretty much given up on it as its not that passively-rewarding unless one likes doing keyword based blogs. It does help getting more work which I don't want as of now.

$5-$10/mo from http://favoriteof.com - It has been passive for almost 2 years now.

I have an idea for a blog that could also easily be an ebook or video series of tutorials. So, which comes first? Wouldn't it be easier and smarter to release free content on a blog and build up a following while capturing emails for a newsletter before creating a marketing/landing page for ebook/video tutorial sales?

Are there any good resources or plans available I can follow from people who have already done this?

Work your ass of building and promoting something useful and charge money for it.

None of them are really passive. E.G. an ebook is a lot of work and you need much time to write a good book, especially on a niche.

And when you have it, how long could it be sold, until the technical thing is outdated?

A SaaS must be updated from time to time, bugs must be fixed ....

A mobile web based game is much work too.

A 100% passive income is really hard to find. Do something you like and try to sell parts of it (ebook, blog, saas, game, whatever).

Focus on getting better at your regular job. Raises and bonuses will outweigh any "easy" money over time.

In regards to games, you may also want to look at alternative stores than just Google/Apple.


There also seems to be a healthy market for game assets (3D models, textures, etc.) and multiple stores you can sell them in.

http://www.turbosquid.com/ https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/en/

In regards to tutorials I have noticed many people using Patreon. Some seem to be making a decent passive income.


It really depends on what skills you're equipped with. I think building a product or course is only 50% of the work.

How comfortable are you with marketing? I truly believe being able to market a product effectively is where the game is. Evident in the Rdio and Spotify case study.

I think a subscription based SaaS or community powered product would work best with your skills. However this requires a lot of work, however it would definitely pay off in the long run.

In the end, think about problems that are evident in your life and just try solve those. You'll go along way with passion.

Alternatively you can work on freelancer.com There are many rivals but surely you can take a small job in 1-2 weeks. After that it will be much more easy to have a steady income whenever you wish.

That's not a passive income, though.

Online freelancing service is usually race to the bottom as you have to compete with people from all other the world. For many of them, 100$ is a lot of money. I've done few projects this way then gave up, it's simply not worth the time. If you are willing to invest so much time, getting a part time job might be a better idea.

I've been living for a year in Thailand and made contact with a Russian who plans to live here. He is a PHP / web dev.

When he started on Upwork, he earned maybe less than $5 an hour for his work. Last time I talked with him, he completed lots of projects and he managed to increase his rate to $25 an hour. I think in the future he'll be able to ask even more from his clients, since his customers are generally happy with his work and keep giving him more work.

Of course, in many places in the work $25 an hour is still very little money and it takes a lot of effort to get there. But if one can manage to move to another country, it could be worthwhile. Certainly in Thailand one can easily live from $25 an hour, even when only working a few hours a day.

Maybe he should try learning a new language/tech, though; I got $50/hr gigs without much trouble for projects using a Python-based stack. It probably doesn't keep the pipeline full, but it sure moves up the average income.

Where are you picking up the projects?

Elance (no longer available) and Upwork.

It's worth it if you can find the right niche and stick to very small projects. I do a few hours writing code for people all over the world (my most frequent client is in Dubai) each week that works out to around $40-$60/hour and it's fun. Larger projects come in closer to $100/hour.

It's the kind of thing I'd be doing as a hobby anyway, but I get paid for it.

Hint: avoid the freelancer sites and instead hang out on developer/hobby code sites. You'll soon see that there are a fair number of people asking for help and are willing to pay, but most of the experienced developers just make fun of them. That's your opportunity! It's amazing how much money you can make by just being nice.

Care to elaborate on the hobby sites? I can't imagine these kinds of deals happening on Stackoverflow to just name an example.

Any examples of the developer/hobby sites?

My issue with those sites is that most clients seem to expect people doing it fulltime, ie, available for video conference meetings at their chosen time, available during the day for chat, etc. It wasn't something I could do without interfering with my day job.

Online freelancing, where you're competing with a global marketplace, for sure. If you want to get any sort of decent money from it, find and work for local clients in your actual area for short-term projects.

Probably not the sexy answer you are looking for (i.e. "using my abilities"), but if you have enough free capital (for the mortgage deposit) buying a house and renting it out is a pretty good option.

Depending on where you are you can get 5% - 15% ROI/year, and if you pay someone else to manage it, it'll be very little work.

Compared to creating something from scratch and selling it, this is much more likely to pay off, and most likely requires less work up front.

Why is this possible? Shouldn't the market automatically eliminate such easy income? Can an economist explain this?

"Why is this possible?"

It's not.

Managing real property takes considerable time, expense, and expertise. Things break and need to be fixed. Marketing must be done for vacancies. Most significantly, tenants are risky. Some will destroy your property. Some will be late with the rent. Some will not pay rent at all, requiring eviction--a time-consuming judicial process.

Someone here suggested hiring someone to manage it, so it doesn't take much time. The only problem is that the manager will also soak up most of your returns.

There is nothing easy about making money in real property. Some do it, but it's because they invest significant time and expertise. After that, guess what...the income isn't so "passive" anymore!

A few off the top of my head:

- Not everyone wants to lock themselves into long term mortgages, renting keeps their future options open

- Getting a deposit together for some is tricky

- Risk-adverse attitudes to getting mortgages after 2008

- Outside the US and the English speaking world, renting is quite popular, perhaps the default option, e.g. continental Europe. Therefore the demand is quite high for renting and lower for buying

The real question is, why aren't banks and hedge funds moving into this area, using their clout to access cheap financing and then buying attractive properties en mass and renting them out. This would take advantage of the current low interest rate environment.

Banks are involved. In the UK most buy to let landlords use mortgages to buy properties.

- The banks earn interest on these mortgages.

- The landlords foot the first $deposit of losses on a bad choice.

- The banks don't have to pay legal fees or stamp duty during the transaction.

- The banks don't have to hire scouts to find suitable properties, or management fees to run them.

I'd say they're probably doing quite well out of it.

Indeed. If you require a mortgage for BTL, you're effectively just an agent for the bank. You take all the risk and pay the up-front costs, and the bank gets a good return for signing off a few forms.

BTL has been a good deal for the last few years, but it's getting squeezed now by tax changes. It looks like a sure thing but it really isn't, because profitability is very dependent on:

1. Tenant quality. One bad tenant can wipe out a few months of income.

2. Tax changes. The trend in the UK is clearly not in favour of landlords.

3. Interest rate changes. A good chunk of BTL property is overleveraged, and a change of a couple of percent will make it unprofitable. This seems unlikely now, but I think it's quite possible after Brexit a few years from now.

4. Legal changes, including rent controls and tenancy terms. We haven't had much of this in the UK, but it could happen with a different government.

5. Expenses. Insurance and replacement can take a gross rate of 5% down to a net rate of much less.

Some of these are UK-specific. But it seems likely that AirBnB is a better bet for property in a good location.

> The real question is, why aren't banks and hedge funds moving into this area

Yes, that was implicitly part of my question :)

BlackRock - one the largest investment managers in the world does exactly that. After the crash they have started buying real estate at auctions in bulk, and renting it out. It helps that they pay less than 1% in interest because they have super cheap financing arranged.

The higher the yield, the greater the risk. In a traditionally safe real estate market like London yields are very low - 3-5%, where interest rates (on buy-to-let mortgages) are about 3-4% - you're not making much money assuming you'll also be paying at least 1% in management fees. Most landlords just about cover their mortgage interest with rental income, hoping for price appreciation.

If you look at places just outside London, you can get higher yields of 8-10%. North of England or south of Spain or some less popular areas of US you can get 15-20%, but that comes with substantially higher risk of a crash in real estate prices. When in 2007 some areas of US dropped 50%, imagine how many years it would take to earn back 100% in rental income?

You can buy a number of REITs that do this already, and have much cheaper financing than you have access to, and pay 15% dividends: https://www.valueforum.com/reits/high-yielding.mpl

Or you can just sell PUT options. In all cases you're getting yield for taking on risk (exposure to volatility in asset prices).

In fact, if it were such a good return, passive, and risk-free, instead of handing over the capital for it, banks would do it themselves.

A lot of that must depend where you would be buying property, as many places (SF, Vancouver, London) seem to have maxed out their prices already. Though I may be wrong about that.

The return on investment comes from rental income, not increases in the price of the property.

Learn how to systematize - even if it just means a checklist + calendar - marketing tasks. You can have a great product, but without eyeballs, you can't have sales. Then, create something with a clear value proposition. That is, if they buy / use your product, the $99 the invest will easily save them $1,000 in lost time or lost opportunity.

Creating a 100% passive income is much harder than a <100% reasonably-passive income.

Of the option you listed, creating a SaaS that is in responsive web design for a niche B2B business need is a great bet for the first business. As long as you can have the discipline to shut up and listen to the paying customers needs first instead of taking stabs in the dark.

Google Apps Referral pays the referrer $1 per month per account AFAIK ... needs only to be refreshed every 12 months.

I've never done this but I always hear that wordpress plugin/theme developers do well with passive income.

great thanx! for very interesting topic and valuable input. I got a few "niche" ideas and I have found out that doing a Saas is a real pain especially in the terms of attracting some users/traffic. Doing a Saas is good due to gaining knowledge and experience but marketing and promoting is very painful.E.g. I am working on anonymous messaging & password generation web & mobile app http://anolog.net unfortunately it is too niche product and almost nobody ( except my son, his girlfriend and me ) gets the idea.

Some honest feedback. I can see you put a fair bit of effort into making this. However, I don't fully understand the idea and this is a big problem.

From what I do understand is I can create passwords using this, and write anonymous messages. 1, why wouldn't I use a simpler password generator in a password storing app. 2, why wouldnt I just post on a forum with an anonymous account.

In addition to this, the gui is not obvious and does not flow well.

I'd suggest personally investigating these points further, for learning purposes. Then each time you come up with a new idea, Google the crap out of it and see if anyone else has made anything similar, or if you could do it better. Both of these points could have essays around them! This will drastically help you assess your market before putting in a lot of time to build something.

I've been in your position a number of times.

Great thanx for honest feedback! IMHO both features have some useful use cases and I have put an effort to convince myself that this is good idea. Let me explain and present some use cases. 1. password - you forgot everything and you do not have your mobile with your pass manager, but you remember your favourite rockband, actor etc. You do not have to remember your critical password just start typing your favorite band name and you will see the wikipedia article , so your favourite rockband will be converted to your password. Also you can write down on the paper sheet just a first words of the lyrics of your favourite rockband you will get the idea how to reproduce your password. 2. anonymous messages - let's imagine your are driving and you are receiving a phone call from your new customer. You cannot write down his email and contact details - you are driving! So you ask him plz drop me a message under my favourite rockband, composer, actor... ( choose the most convenient scenario ) with your contact details. anolog.net uses easy to remember associations ( instead of hard to remember URL's and unique identifiers ) which are easy to transfer during conversation without typos. Thank you for honest feedback!

So not only do developers want to make money doing things they enjoy, they now also want to do it without putting in much effort? I wonder how long this bubble will last.

...like any other capitalist. Factory owners rarely build any widgets.

Factory owners often start with the financial resources to do so

Passive income != little effort

If you want truly passive income, throw your money into a Betterment account and watch while your money grows.

I think you'd be better off taking an occasional contract gig.

Real estate. Landlording can be a sweet, sweet revenue stream, and with the right tenants, almost no work can be involved, other than cashing the checks.

^^^ this. But this requires capital to even begin. I've considered buying an apartment in a country way cheaper than where I live, and AirBnB'ing it, and paying someone to manage cleaning and key exchange.

In some countries you can get a central apartment for $35k, and a normal wage is $600 per month. If you manage to rent it out on AirBnB for $6-700 per weekend or so (what I paid for an AirBnB in one such country last week with 5 people in a large central apartment), you could make nice profits.

Even renting it out to someone over long term would be profitable; lower profit (potentially) but less risk (definitely)

Renting is negative cash flow for years, in most markets. Its an investment, but you have to start with significant cash.

Other than the fact you need a hefty amount of starting capital.

Saas - the service bit doesnt sound passive

Technical book - sounds like it might get out of date quickly so perhaps also not passive

This gets asked a lot on hn you might benefit going through the search.

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