Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Tricks to Monetize Your Side Projects (jeremyaboyd.com)
651 points by kornish on Sept 1, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 174 comments

Along with all the others here, I also immediately unsubscribe and get rid of products that feel like they're a bit too close for comfort. My side project is now making a lot of money, and people value tremendously not getting newsletters, or messages from John, the customer superhero. There is value in email, tremendous value, but I strongly believe that it's timing, wording and situation that will get you the most mileage here. I send one single email after about a week of no user pulse, all it says is: we still have your data, looks like you may haven't had a chance to try this yet, here's a coupon that expires today and it'll get you some extra credits (or whatever your product offers). If not interested, simply remove your account by clicking here.

No point in storing dead accounts. I don't care about a falsely inflated user base. People love that.

Also, I end the email by saying, "click reply to talk to our CEO directly and ask any questions you may have."

The last one gets a lot of conversions, and helps tremendously in figuring out what their concerns are.

This system is doing the magic for me.

I agree with this being a good way to do it. As a user a barrage of emails is a turn-off, especially the "I see you haven't used X yet" emails. I get why they need to be sent, but I still find them a bit too intrusive.

I once received an email from a customer asking me if they maybe gave me the wrong email. I asked why, and they said, "I haven't gotten any newsletters, updates, nothing!" — it's become such a pattern now, every thing you sign up for will cause an immediate welcome mail, a regular newsletter, a "major changes", a "we're shutting down" or "exciting news!"—everyone is following the pattern (for a reason, sure, but it's just annoying, all that talk and no benefits to the user, typically).

In the spirit of forthrightness, wouldn't it be consistent to call yourself the owner or proprietor rather than "our Chief Executive Officer"?

This all depends on the audience. Our tests have shown if you are a B2E company or you have a higher priced good, CEO/President/Some Official Sounding Title makes more sense. But if you are aiming toward the consumer market or small businesses, Owner typically sells better.

We tested this out on the "Agency" vs "Basic" and "Pro" plans for Linklicious.

Very good point as I personally hate, hate, hate the term CEO in business smaller than 20 employees. Founder is also a bit pretentious, owner sounds like "I own this, you can use it, but I own it!" In the U.K. we use Managing Director, which is very uptight. I don't know. It's almost never beneficial (above a certain package price) to be overly open about something being a side-project, or small operation (one man especially)—but I also believe it's very wrong (and usually very telling) to act like there's six offices around the world.

Tough line, I have a proper company, and under this entity, all side projects are run, so that keeps it mostly okay to say CEO. I happily open up a bit if people get curious though, usually in the many emails people send over the months.

Hey Elon Musk still sleeps in his sleeping bag at Tesla's production lines so... Chief Cook and Bottle Washer is never out of style.

I have had trouble with this as well. I have quite a few side projects. "CEO", "Founder", "President", "Owner", "Managing Director", "Director of Operations", etc all sound a bit too pretentious for the caliber of projects I tend to build on the side. I've put "Head of Customer Support", and "Head of Customer Success" in the past. Does anyone have any other recommendations? Something that doesn't make it look like I'm Will Ferrell and John C Reilly pushing "Prestige Worldwide".

If there is a business entity behind the project, they could certainly be the CEO of a one-person company.

Can you share what your side project is?

Too afraid of people dissecting every bit of it again, but if you are curious, search for my name and Instagram.

> First and foremost, always, always, always, split test EVERYTHING.

That's a lot of work and as a developer I couldn't care less, since it's just a side project. Just ask people about your core message and if it doesn't resonate, change things.

> On-boarding

This is the hardest thing to get right. Too much instruction will be counter productive, too little will be unpredictable. Black magic.

> 1 Hour later

I'd instantly unsubsribe. Leave me the alone please with your followup mails. I can instantly tell if your personal touch email is sent 60 min later that it's a bot. Product hunt follow up mails on my submissions are bots. I find it lame.

It also probably converts more :)

> Price Anchoring

Do, test, ask. This is the most crucial part of any business. I'd personally push a lot of focus here.

> QA the SHIT out of your product

Well said, any product start should have this as #1 priority.

> While I know this is probably only a side project, there is no reason you couldn't turn this into a viable small startup with an additional 1-2 developers

What you listed above already takes a fulltime job of 1-2 people.

Thanks for you comments.

I agree with you on unsubscribing from the emails, but it works. 86% of the users open, 54% click, 23% replied to the email and only 2% unsubscribed.

At my job with HKSEO/Humankind, this is what I spent my days doing, but I would do 4-5 prototypes at a time, pitch them to the owner, build the 1-2, launch and repeat constantly. Once the product was making a decent amount of money, we would spend more time doing the split testing and on-boarding (which was also split tested).

So I know a single developer can do this on 20% time if they aren't expecting a 1 week turnaround.

> 86% of the users open

How did you measure this if there's literally no email clients left out there that load remote content by default?

Probably wrong numbers because of gmail. Gmail will cache the image automatically, regardless of wether or not you open the mail. This is done specifically to prevent people to know that you open their mail. So you must have a shitload of false positives in there.

As far as I'm aware, google doesn't load the image unless you open the email. That said, these numbers are from 3 years ago prior to that change.

It is the last information I have from my job with Humankind before I left for a corporate gig.

Inaccurate metrics on a fancy slide deck has never stopped anyone before.

GMail does. It bounces the images via a server to strip out IP info but it opens them.

AFAIK all webmail providers do too, otherwise there wouldn't be so much of a market regarding email marketing with open rates and remote updating content (eg https://movableink.com/gallery/autotrader)

I'm honestly confused that Gmail would proxy their images to anonymize them, but wouldn't just make that proxy a caching proxy, such that a given image URL would only ever get one retrieval from Gmail's servers. It'd be a huge win for them bandwidth-wise.

> I'm honestly confused that Gmail would proxy their images to anonymize them, but wouldn't just make that proxy a caching proxy,

They do that, but images in mail have unique URIs per recipient to enable this sort of tracking. Before Google enabled caching, it was possible for sender to figure out the exact number of times an email was read, now you can only know the first time it is read.

I would assume that a unique pixel is generated by Mailchimp for every recipient to prevent this form of caching.

Similar, every URL in the email is completely unique to that 1 user's email. That is how you track opens and clicks back to a single user.

Most of the big providers will open images by default (sometimes via a proxy) if your message passes DKIM and SPF.

I'm suspecting both 86 and 56% numbers as well, but 23% reply and 2% unsubscribe is likely correct, which is way better than I would expect.

Though far more probably file as junk thank take the time to unsubscribe. Unsubscription process is notoriously annoying.

We tracked our junk/spam reports (which is reported back by all popular email services and software) and it was never terrible, but I don't have the numbers on a per email or campaign metric. As a whole we saw a 0.5% spam report rate. At its highest it hit 25% but that happened due to a glitch in the marketing platform that spammed every signup on one of our campaigns one night with around 100 "thank you" emails.

> Unsubscription process is notoriously annoying.

Really? Clicking a link? And Gmail often even adds their own "Unsubscribe" button.

Not the parent but sometimes, you have to check all the different mailing lists and/or they require you to retype in your email. Some might find this a bit more annoying than simply marking the email sender as spam.

Gmail loads pictures by default these days.

Yes, but not when email is actually opened.

This my be true now, but when I was working and doing the marketing for my products, it reported accurately. I'm pretty sure it still does honestly.

According to Customer.io, the change was to make images load by default, not requiring the end user to click Show Images. Thus making the open rates more accurate.


I don't understand that - if Gmail opens images ahead of time and caches them, then how will you know when a customer has actually opened the email?

AFAIK, it doesn't. It will proxy all images through its own servers (and thus hide your IP), but it happens as your browser requests it and is not cached.

I would love to know this too ...

Question about on-boarding email: does the strategy lose its effectiveness as more products do it?

Software developers are among the most cynical when it comes to marketing, so I expect us to say that these suck.

What I wonder though is if every company starts to take the same approach, does a public collective fatigue set in?

I imagine that the conversion rate on direct mailers that look like novelty checks started off quite high, but the public eventually became immune as the "trick" is absorbed.

There is a free Markdown-based collaborative editing website I use. Wonderful stuff. Free (did I mention that?).

Signing up enrolls your user email into a drip marketing thread, from "Joe", the founder. He asks "how's it going? can I help?" I reply with thanks and a couple of questions. No reply.

A few days later, a canned follow-up email from "Joe", etc.

As I try to figure out the service and sharing, I sign up with another email address. Bam, the same number of hours later, a "personal" query from "Joe", as above.

Research suggests that "Joe" has abandoned this side project (his right, of course).

I'd suggest though that "drip marketing" + abandoned site is an anti-pattern. I'd be happier with "Joe" and his free service if I'd never gotten the transactional email (especially the second or third in the sequence, when he's never replied.)

The oddly good news: the lack of replies plus the Googling it instigated made me realize I was relying on an abandoned project, so of course I backed up my stuff.

An actual user typed follow up email does wonders.

Recently, Postach.io did a comeback with the service where they started out by mass-emailing inactive users what problems they are facing about the service. I emailed them expecting an automated "Thank you for your time" response.

Instead, a while later I got a custom email talking about the very specific issue I had emailed about and how they had been getting complains about the same from other users and how they are working to resolve this issue.

That made me feel they actually cared about my problems. Needless to say, I am on board!

Also agreeing with the follow up emails. Good god, please don't do this. The personal crap is icky. But the worst thing is the "if they haven't used it, send them an email asking if they have had a chance to try it" part.

Screw that. If I haven't flagged you as spam already, I will now. You're either incompetent because you actually don't know if I've logged in or not, or you are intentionally misrepresenting what you know. Either way, you've lost me.

As far as the "it works--percentages" stuff, I hate to break it to you, man, but I think you've got a serious case of correlation/causation confusion.

There are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself when you send an email:

1. Is your business spam? 2. Are you literally engaging in fraud?

If the answer to both of those is no, email is probably not the droid you are looking for. There are some exceptions, but not many--and fewer by the day as people figure this out.

>I'd instantly unsubsribe. Leave me the alone please with your followup mails. I can instantly tell if your personal touch email is sent 60 min later that it's a bot. Product hunt follow up mails on my submissions are bots. I find it lame.

A while back I signed up for a pingdom alternative. I was pretty happy with the interface and probably would've considered paying for some of the extra features.

However, I very soon after received an 'informal' message from the CEO or whatnot asking if I'm happy with the product and about upgrading the paid version. And whenever I logged in, a chat box would open with some first-name-basis employee asking me if I'm happy with the product and whether I'd be interested in upgrading. On top of that a number of the screens would have similar types of messages.

I've rarely experienced such aggressive on-boarding, and I implore every business owner to avoid doing so. Because as a result, I am less likely to upgrade to a paid version.

> I logged in, a chat box would open with some first-name-basis employee asking me if I'm happy with the product and whether I'd be interested in upgrading.

Oh my god, those damn chat boxes! I work for a company that uses one of those chat box providers. They seem to be actively used and i haven't gotten many complaints.

With that said, our chat icon just sits in the bottom. However, often when i login to the icon provider (to check messages, reply to customers, etc) they have a 6th of my screen taken up by some fake non-replyable chat announcing some faq item, new feature, etc.

I've downvoted every one, and they just keep coming. The activity of it is quite annoying. Especially since we're already a paying customer for them. I hope to god my company doesn't decide to push any of these fake messages out.

> Oh my god, those damn chat boxes! I work for a company that uses one of those chat box providers. They seem to be actively used and i haven't gotten many complaints.

My hosting provider has a support chat box that occasionally pops up, but generally isn't very intrusive. I've used it a bunch of times for support and it's been very helpful. I think chatboxes are great when they're used in this way.

Anything else is just annoying.

I'll second the comment about On-boarding, follow up templated emails just serve to annoy me. I'll try out the product when I get a chance to. Maybe a simple 24 hour later email introducing support and asking if I've got questions and another follow up 2 weeks later. Nothing more.

Oh and please please please, put some effort into multi-account detection (if not a side project). It's really annoying / unprofessional to trigger off a new series of On-boarding emails just because I added a new org.

Also, price appropriately, just because your unlimited plan is stupidly priced wont make people thing the solo plan is reasonable if it's not. Ask your early customers what they're using and what features they'd use/pay for if individually offered to them.

If you're a startup wasting your time working on some way to detect multiple accounts for people who really hate on boarding emails AND have multiples accounts, you're doomed. Just put a checkbox on the sign up form somewhere allowing the user to opt out of the on board flow and be done with it (if you even care that much - in general you should have much higher priorities or you've run out of things to work on).

I agree with pricing appropriately. The pricing structure was defined for Duet (duetapp.com)

Cool, interesting app, Duet, that is. The 1, 2 or unlimited and the pricing seems pretty reasonable indeed.

>That's a lot of work and as a developer I couldn't care less, since it's just a side project. Just ask people about your core message and if it doesn't resonate, change things.

I agree split testing is a lot of work, but you can use something like a bandit algorithm to automate the testing to reduce the amount of work needed.

>I'd instantly unsubsribe. Leave me the alone please with your followup mails. I can instantly tell if your personal touch email is sent 60 min later that it's a bot. Product hunt follow up mails on my submissions are bots. I find it lame.

you might, but I do not mind the emails as long as they have not hit the 1 per day threshold. I usually get annoyed at that point and look for the unsubscribe. Sending out a set of emails as he describes works very well in most cases.

Speaking as someone who turned their 5 year side project into a full time startup, I whole heartedly disagree with point 1 - split testing is likely to be a waste of your time.

Unless you have a tonne of traffic, and let's face it, side projects tend not to, A/B testing simply doesn't work. I've tried it a few times with BugMuncher, but the results take 3 - 4months, and are usually inconclusive. I've spoken to other people in similar situations and they've found the same thing. For reference, BugMuncher is lucky to see 3,000 uniques a month :)

I believe A/B testing is a good idea when you have the traffic for it, and I'd love to be able to make use of it, but unless your side project is getting 10s of thousands of unique views each month, there's much better things to spend your limited time on.

Wholeheartedly agree here. As a one-man-band on most of my side projects, I simply don't have the time or resources to create multiple A/B cycles, with iteration after iteration until I think I've got the best conversion rate. In any case, as it is a side project and not my day job or primary skills, I could be A/B testing until the cows come home, and still not hit upon a magic landing page that improves my conversions.

A/B testing is best left to larger scale projects where you can dedicate a proper resource to it.

I came to the same conclusion after running small-changes A/B test.

But I think it still makes sense for smaller projects to make "big" A/B test, like testing a completely different homepage/landing page with different copy and marketing approach.

Another example of useful A/B test on small scale: for registered users, testing if an automated "support" email is helping moving customers to the next step of your funnel (A: send email B: don't send email. Measure the conversion of that specific funnel step)

Yes, agreed. Ab testing is great, but without sufficient traffic it's really counterproductive.

I'd also add that being casual about test statistics in the way this post describes is only going to mislead you. If you can't take the time to understand the math and run proper experiments, you're better off not testing at all since you'll just end up cherrypicking statistical outliers over and over while thinking you're doing something useful.

I agree with this, you need traffic to measure it, 3000 unique visits a month is right there at the cusp of what is needed to see results. It took an average of 1000 uniques per split to see meaningful results. Also unlike scientific journals a negative result IS a result. If your conversions didn't change, that means you change didn't affect your audience's decision to buy (not great but also could have been MUCH worse ;) ).

Agreed. The problem with split testing on low traffic is that you can't be sure what's causing the difference. It could be the time, location, device, etc. You need to split into cohorts of very similar users and compare their response, and you just can't do that unless you have high traffic.

What is your startup?

BugMuncher - https://www.bugmuncher.com I've been transparently blogging about my experiences going full time and trying to get profitable without outside funding - it's been a pretty crazy year but I'm still on target :)

I read you blog post tilte "My Timeline of Failed Business Ideas" [0] It was a interesting reading, I can relate to that. I think everyone here have a similar timeline after a few years in the business.


In response to the email spam thing (5 emails after the first week of a signup. Wow):

I have some projects that fit the use case very well, but I personally hate receiving them. I know that I am not the target audience of my app and that familiarity with a product and just having the name show up over and over makes the product easier to recognize. Of course, the data shows it converts better.

It just seems like one of those dark patterns.

Is it really about choosing ethics or money? Is there a third option?

I don't like them either, but when I implemented them with our latest SaaS app, it really proved to be extremely useful to engage with users, and bring them back to the fold if they were thinking of letting their trial lapse.

The beauty is that we run it all using Intercom.io, and if someone really doesn't want to hear from us, they can unsubscribe and never hear from us again. If they stay on, we can really tailor the drip onboarding emails and tailor it to suit their situation (e.g. logged on less that 'x' times, only entered < 5 transactions, never visited a particular page etc.)

Speaking of 'dark patterns', I absolutely abhor, and insist on never using pop up email request dialogs on the main landing page of our site. My philosophy is never badger a potential customer before they sign up, but rather entice them to engage with me and my product after they have expressed an interest and signed up for a trial. We don't want to 'punish' people for just looking but we don't want them to feel alone if they are looking to become a user.

Even then, if they choose to walk away, we stop pestering them after one last attempt to entice them back.

So I quit doing all of this right as intercom.io big (3 years ago now), so I'm jealous you are getting to work with them because I have only heard amazing things from the few industry people I still speak with. Maybe one day I will make my way back into the product world, and I will look to implement them instead of having to roll my own!

> Is it really about choosing ethics or money? Is there a third option?

Something that's worth trying is to tell the reader in that first email how many emails you're going to send and give them the option to unsubscribe now.

I'd also consider moving any guides or assistance on getting started emails into a drip feed course that they can opt into. That should reduce the amount of emails they receive while keeping the quality up.

For most of us receiving mails, the quality is important. If it's an email we're interested that links to things that are interesting we'll open it and click links (even if there's 5 in a week). If it doesn't, it's just noise.

I do an online email course on career hacking using ConvertKit[1]. I'm not really selling anything (I was but had to pull the product) but splitting the onboarding off not only lets you easily gauge interest but reduces the spam. For people who are interested in looking at how this works, you might want to take a look at the course, and of course I'd welcome any feedback by email.

[1] - https://www.rawhex.com/hack-your-career/

> Something that's worth trying is to tell the reader in that first email how many emails you're going to send

Somehow I just picture the scene from A Christmas Carol where Jacob Marley is telling Scrooge that he will be visited by 3 ghosts over the course of the night.

> "Over the course of the next week, you will be visited by FIVE marketing emails"

As long as the company has an unsubscribe option and/or respects your response of "not interested", it is up to the company to nudge you to use the product and make the explicit decision to pay or not pay for the product. I don't personally see it as unethical as you have already demonstrated interest and have not opted out yet.

I struggled with this for years. I then realized, it isn't spam. The user can opt out at any moment and they are pulled off the marketing list.

You legally always need to make that an option.

Also it was over 10 days, so kind of longer than a week ;)

But a transnational email is expected on signup, that is how you activate your account and verify your email address. Then the personal welcome was always a VERY highly opened and responded to email. I would do my best to keep up with the questions.

The third email wasn't always sent, only if they hadn't used the product, and it was assumed they needed help.

And the last email was a coupon, and who doesn't like coupons!?

It's 5 emails, in a total of 10 days. It's borderline noticeable, and lasts for only a short time. Also, one of them is expected and would be annoying not receiving it.

If you don't send anything after those few emails, it's very hard to call them spam. Most people will even like receiving them.

By the way, personally, I've got very wary of those personal emails from CEO on sign-up. They are blatant lies, it does not feel right and does steer me away from companies that send them. Does a "Note from the CEO" with a "reply to talk to me" at the end convert any worse?

Author here. I'm happy to answer any questions or comments. A little about this post:

I was recently commenting on an excellent Show HN for a product called Duet and it was the most karma I have ever received on HN (17 votes in 4 hours), and another respondent said I should write it up as a blog post. So here it is.

Actually, I have another project (in progress), which is a collection of curated blogposts. The name is http://www.bestprogrammingbooks.com

It's mostly books I like, and books I've read, but it's current revenue comes from Amazon affiliates. I know affiliates are often frowned upon, but I do my best to not recommend anything crap ;)

In the payment processing section, you mention billing the customer back for the processing fees. I was under the impression that credit card companies do not allow you to pass surcharges onto the customer. Is that not the case when using Stripe, or is it considered a "convenience fee?"

You aren't passing the fee on to the END customer, you are just acting as the payment processor for YOUR customer. You can charge them what ever you want. Apple, Amazon, Google all charge you 30% to use THEIR credit card processors.

So the end customer buying a $20 product still only pays $20, but you charge the store/company they bought from $1. The company ends up with earning only $19, and you end up earning something like $0.50 after you pay the portion of the fee you were charged by stripe or paypal or whoever.

I think this is likely a really bad idea for 'side projects' ... by acting as the middle man here you are taking on a huge amount more liability than you would be if you are using the (non-managed) Stripe connect model where the your customer has their own processing account.

Sure, there is money to be made here, but it isn't free and you need to manage the extra risk and liability that comes with it. What if someone discovers your platform hasn't got the same anti-fraud/verification processes that the larger players can afford by virtue of being a larger player, and decides to take advantage of it?

This, this, this, this. Commented about this issue above but then found this comment here later. I've read about side-project startups that have gone under because they tried to do their own payment stack and lost at the fraud detection game.

See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10234287


Since pro accounts initially cost £6 for month, it turns out that this is low enough that it won't send red flags to stolen cards. ... If there's a dispute on Stripe, there's transaction fees for reversing charges. £15.34 in fact. Since I know I'll lose the dispute, it's cost me, £21.54 to allow some shithead to use JS Bin as a stolen card testing facility.


Another good story about reducing test fraud: https://www.candyjapan.com/how-i-got-credit-card-fraud-somew...

> "..Sure, there is money to be made here, but it isn't free and you need to manage the extra risk and liability that comes with it."

What's behind the EXRTRA risk? Couldn't he just simply pass over the liability to Stripe who's the actually payment processor?

You can, and we did.

We had an accounting software that was used in some pretty big Martial Arts schools, we handled their payments through Authorize.Net (stripe didn't exist yet), but in the contract, we told them a reversal will cost (making the numbers up because it has been so long) $25 + the transaction and a bounced eCheck was $30 + transaction. These fees were directly pass through, we didn't try to profit on them.

That said, the number of fraudulent card/check or bounces was 0.

We were the payment processor for a business, not working with skeezy customers directly (like Duet is).

If there is fraud, you bill that back to YOUR customer. Just like Stripe bills you for a bounced check or a reversal, you bill your SaaS customer.

The fraud I'm worried about isn't from a bona-fida customer, it's from a fraudulent customer.

BadGuy uses your service to sign up for BadGuyDojo, and attaches a stolen bank account. 10 "customers" sign up with stolen credit cards, process payment, and the money is gone along with them. A month or two later the credit card companies come looking to you for the money.

The experience you are talking about wouldn't really jive with the real world scenario which this would be deployed in.

I'm a small business owner and you are my client. You and I have a relationship. You aren't a random BadGuy. The likelihood of you purposefully bouncing a check or committing fraud is next to nil. In this scenario, similar to what Duet is doing (facilitating communications and payments between known vendor-client relationships) the SaaS that processes the payments is pretty safe from fraud.

Now, I would never roll this out on any of our SEO services. When we had credit card payments on the earliest version of Linklicious, we fought over $1200/mo in charge backs from fraud or "fraud." After nearly 3 months of our mailbox filled with chargebacks and complaints, we switched to PayPal and only once did we have an obscene amount of fraud (hundreds of signups from stolen French PayPal accounts) at which point we blocked the country of origin for a week and the problem disappeared.

You have to be intelligent no mater what payment method you chose. There are negatives on both fronts.

He's billing the SaaS customer more, not the customer of th SaaS customer.

Very interesting article. We are also working on a small side project, called https://www.MetaGrader.com

We are aware of the aesthetics of the site, and working on that, but we have some discussions on how to monetise it; should we go for a credit system (with weekly reports about your site, historic information, automated improvement tips), should we go for selling expert advice, or should we focus on other things, like advertising, reselling services like pingdom/gtmetrix, etc?

We would value your opinion in this!

This would be a lead in to a back end product.

Your back end product could be something like "managed customized cloud hosting" (a.k.a. 3 $5 digitocean droplets) $85/mo. I did something like this with a wordpress hosting product we launched. $50+/mo. We just used a specialized hardened image on digitalocean. The lowest product was a single $5 droplet for the wordpress install and a $10 droplet for the MySQL box.

Or hold back some of your recommendations, generate a report with contact information so they can get in touch with you and set up a service agreement giving them EXACT things to change. Try and set up a retainer for 5hrs/month @ $200/mo then tack on specialized hosting!

Much appreciated for your feedback. I think we'll go for option 2, especially for the recommendations. Also, one of our services will be continuous monitoring of your ranking and performance, so that any changes done to your site are reflected in a timely fashion. This could match with a subscription service.

At the moment, I think we don't want to recommend specialised hosting when we cannot prove it will benefit their site, but we might add a host comparison to get better data on this.

Thanks again for the help, your feedback is much appreciated!

I wish I could mod you up.

As I do lots of hobby projects, I like your advice and will definitely try some of the pricing approaches.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks! If you have any questions you can post them here or if you want to talk directly, you can twitter at me (is that the saying?) @jeremyboyd

Hey, thanks for writing this.

What do you think of MNMN.io? That's one of my side projects.

I'd like to see some examples of the summaries. If you've performed a few already, it's literally no additional work to post them.

You might want the units you charge by the word summarized. A possible issue might be highly technical texts that require specialized knowledge. You could charge more for those.

Your business model is basically what I call 1:1 - One person pays for a summary and you perform one summary.

It might be more profitable to do a N:1 - A bunch of people pay for the same summary and you perform one summary.

This is how SparkNotes and CliffNotes work. Imagine selling "The top ten daily Hacker News posts/comment threads summarized daily."

Even better would be to offer summaries of things many people want that are relevant for longer periods of time (so you can sell to more people). A site that summarizes famous speeches would be one such example.

Sure, you can see some summary examples here: https://github.com/simonebrunozzi/MNMN

Those are great suggestions, especially the speeches.

From what I can gather on you page, you are offering a service that reads an article for a person then gives them a brief summary.

This landing page is too busy with the animated backgrounds as you scroll.

From my short look, I think you will have a hard time finding that person who has no time to read an article and instead wants to outsource that to you. You would do better if instead of having a human summarize the articles, utilize one of the many NLP Summarizers out there (they aren't great but they scale). More about that here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_summarization

You can charge users for credits, then base how much an article costs on its length.

For a product like this it is always best to hide the true cost behind credits, then charge tiered prices for the credits.

Buy 100 credits for $7 or 1000 for $25, etc.

You will then want to explain WHY the person NEEDS this, and probably in autoplaying animated video with a professional voice over actor reading a script that is also close captioned in the video (test the autoplay though. some audiences convert like crazy on it, others bounce).

Then have 3 product offerings, NLP, Human Written and a Voice Mail type MP3 recording of the summary.

Most people will go for the NLP, but some will pay for written, and you can out source that to various crowd sourcing platforms for about $1. For the voice mail you will probably have to pay $1 for the summary then $3 for a person to read it.

Credits should be purchased on a subscription plan for a discount over the one-time purchases, and you should offer a few sample outputs and get testimonials from people.

That should get you started! If you have any other questions, let me know.

>For a product like this it is always best to hide the true cost behind credits, then charge tiered prices for the credits.

With due respect to jermaustin1, please, people, do not take this bit of advice. Using credits or other pseudo-currency is a standard dark pattern used by casinos and free-to-play games to extract more revenue from customers by obscuring the amount of cash that a user is paying for a given action. See, for example, http://evilbydesign.info/greed/money-to-tokens/.

It signals that a business is willing to take advantage of human cognitive blind-spots to get additional revenue rather than being purely focused on delivering good value for money.

For people who disagree with RandomOpinion, care to share why? I'm struggling to think of any valid reason for using credits.

It's currency independent. Instead of having to provide a different price for each country/currency, you can just say it's a certain number of credits and simplify the look of your store for it. That's one reason why it's common in virtual stores in games (it is still a dark pattern and can be used to take advantage of people, I agree, but it also has its benefits).

Everyone around the world can discuss an item and be like 'it costs 50 tokens for blah' and do comparisons between items in the store based on simple token amounts, but actually be paying different costs (and see different amounts) for it with their own currency.

To use programmer terms, it adds a layer of abstraction on top of the service, with all the associated pros and cons that goes along with that.

It does allow you more flexibility with pricing. As an example, iStock sell photos that cost 1 credit or 3 credits depending on how fancy they are. But the credits cost a variable amount depending on whether you bought a few credits or hundreds. So they can offer a tiered a la carte pricing structure that also has bulk discounts. Hard to tick all those boxes without credits.

Multiple companies I've used simply offered me a bonus in $/€ when I made a larger deposit, say, paying 20€ gets you 20€ in your account, but 40€ gets you 44€ (bonus of 10%).

Thanks for the suggestions. I want to try a human-powered summary first, and see results.

I agree that credits might work better, but I love transparency and therefore I'll also stick with money :)

For sure, and always do what works both for you and your customers. I know that credits have worked for me in the past when the pricing doesn't make much since in US$.

To add some bikeshedding... One more opinion: get rid of that swooping stuff from the sides. You are trying to sell "easy to read" -- don't make the summary of your services annoying to read.

Edit: also, you mention transparency to prefer money to credits, but I don't see prices.

Good point... Thanks!

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up!

Could you tell me what tools or services you use to automate the emails, and detect which ones to send based on if users are using the service?


We used InfusionSoft and a inhouse email marketing tool when that one became too cumbersome. This can all be done now with ConvertKit and Intercom.io, but those tools were either in their infancy or not available at the time.

Bookmarked this, for later reference - I've got a few small webshops that are under performing - the email follow up plan seems like a really good tactic. Cheers!

Déjà vu! I wish more people would communicate via blog posts ...

>always, always, always, split test EVERYTHING

Side projects tend to not have the traffic for this. If in doubt, use a calculator to calculate how long it would take to statistically detect a given uplift.

Instead, user-test everything. User-tests give feedback that's rich, nuanced, instant, qualitative and granular. And each one needn't take more than five minutes.

Annual Licensing - Don't give updates away unless it is a bug fix.

I strongly disagree with this point. Patching in bug/security fixes to different versions of a product is several orders of magnitude more work than just having everyone on the latest, most secure and most patched version. For a side project to be successful you want to spend as as little energy on admin as possible and much energy on the project as you can.

Have one version. Differentiate between tiers by using feature flags so everyone is on the same codebase. Make development easy and design things so there's as little admin work as you possibly can.

Immediately: email

1 Hour: email

Day 2: email

Day 6: email

Day 10: email

Maybe it works but that kind of crap is super annoying and for me is going to turn me off your product. IF I ask you a question, quick and helpful followup is often the key between my staying with your product or moving on. Annoying unsolicited spam is not.

If I downloaded the software I have no problem with that frequency. But you can take it too far. A week ago I downloaded a white paper. Now the guy is sending me six emails a day to get me to subscribe to his for pay course.

I liked the white paper. I'd gladly let him check back with me 4-5 times a year and I might even buy one of his courses. But the guy has lost me forever with this rabid emailing. You'd think a marketing expert would know that wouldn't you?

Being extremely annoying to lots of people most likely converts for them.

This sort of marketing is pretty sociopathic.

I never actually read the emails. But often they are a good reminder that I was interested in that product. If you ask me, I would probably add an email a year later to invite for a new trial or when a major version is released.

I get that, which is why the content is always geared toward being helpful, none of it tries to hard-sell the upgrade from free, except for the 50% off coupon.

It works because none of the emails are spammy like typical marketing emails.

If you were to just badger the users with hard sale after hard sale you would quickly have no users.

For me that was the smartest part of this system. I think anyone with a bit of humility wants a few tips to speed up their software adoption, login emails and coupons are always good. I personally hate those "personal" emails, but people are opening them so perhaps you are attracting users interested in your core philosophy if they know you are a startup, etc.

Beyond split testing, it's a good idea to collect usage metrics for everything your users do on the site. At a bare minimum, you can send event data to something like Google Analytics and sift through it by hand to look for patterns.

Ideally though, you should be associating that data back to userids and bucketing it by whether or not that particular user converted to paid or let his trial expire. That way you can collect statistics on what things make your users happy so that you can know what sort of features to add in the future, and so that you can gently steer wayward users toward doing things that you know will tend to bump their chances of converting.

I've been writing a bit about this lately. Here's a better thought out explanation of the above:


In Google Analtyics we use the user id attribute and custom variables to track back their email address in reporting.

I always wanted to use kissmetrics, but the owner would never pay for it so we made due with our GA and custom rolled everything (which honestly cost more to maintain than the 200/mo kissmetrics).

My side projects are arcane libraries and infrastructure for developers so......not gonna happen.

Developers don't usually pay, but you don't have to make money off of that project directly.

In internet/affiliate marketing this is what we called a "lead in" to the back-end offer (typically training or a consulting gig).

We would typically write an ebook and give it away for an email address, then over the coming weeks send tips and tricks leading into a soft sale of a product or training that would completely automate everything they just learned in the ebook.

That's true. And I'm sort of going into that line of work. Good trick!

Yea my side projects tend to be mobile games. You and I are the same boat... somewhat.

Mobile games are hard, especially since one will make a billion dollars, but a billion of them wont make even a single dollar. And the app store ecosystem makes gathering personal information to attempt to sell them something in the future even harder.

For monetization, I would probably stick with the shitty micro payments. Or use them as resume fodder to pitch consulting gigs.

That said, I only recently got into mobile development and have been doing only enterprise distribution, so I don't have to worry about what Apple/Google allows or not.

I don't understand the down voting. I guess it is shooting the messenger for his recommendation to use "shitty micro payments". But what is the problem with this recommendation? It is just the truth, anything else doesn't work, apart of some statistical irrelevant corner cases.

I didn't downvote, but it might have been the mention of using Enterprise Distribution to get around "what Apple & Google allows". Enterprise distribution isn't meant to be used that way and has the potential to get your developer account closed & blacklisted by Apple if they find out. Even worse, Apple may revoke your developer certificate so that even the software installed on user devices stops working:


I don't use it to get around anything, we have in-house iphone and ipad apps that Apple would never allow in the store because they are used to collect leads at our various physical properties. We are well within our terms of our Enterprise account.

Ahh, then that's fine! Sorry to cast aspersions incorrectly, I misread the intent of what you'd written :(

Same. My most recent is a programming language. I need to stop with these CS type projects.

So the irony isn't lost on me that I should have probably had my blog monetized! I am writing a book on how to properly hire for, build out and project manage your development team. Would have been nice to have that on the blog BEFORE I got 5000 visitors!

I was thinking about that as I read through these comments and you kept saying how you should get back into the industry. Monetize your knowledge of it in other words. Your idea about the how was better, though. No surprise. :)

I definitely didn't expect this response. No way to collect email addresses or anything! My personal blog got 100 visits per month on average, it is now getting that every 5 minutes.

Oh well. I'm just glad I can help a lot of people with this post.

Add a note to the end of the post to say you're available for consulting.

Done and done! Thanks for that suggestion. I'm not a big fan of self promotion, so it takes a lot for me to "sell" myself.

Wow, If I get spammed an hour after trying something, and then again after a day or two that would be it. No chance I'd EVER use their product even if it was free.

Agreed. Whenever a service does this to me I immediately turn off any further messages and seriously re-evaluate using it. I strongly dislike this kind of messaging, which is exacerbated as a lot of services follow the exact same pattern!

> "Day 2 (if they haven't used the product): Have you had a chance to use {ProductName}? - Body of the email went over a few benefits left out of the second email..."

When I get this email, I unsubscribe/ignore/tell them I'm not interested. If it's too high-pressure, I'm out.

Regarding onboarding I think one thing you can do is be smarter about the trial period. I will often signup for things and not get around to properly trailing before the trial period runs out.

No doubt if I email you you will give extra trial period, this could be done automatically though with an accompanying follow up email to reengage. As you would be tracking usage metrics anyway there would be plenty of data to decide if I have properly trialed the full capability of the software or not.

> First and foremost, always, always, always, split test EVERYTHING. Well most side projects I think have very little traffic / customers, due to most side projects being done by developers (not marketers) and these developers having little time to work on them. It's a bit of a waste of time to AB test a project when you don't have enough traffic / user activity to generate meaningful results.

Any suggestions for http://www.pincalendar.com ? my side project written with django

Write an https://eager.io/ plugin that basically creates an account and a calendar automatically, then embeds it in the target page.

Hire a graphic designer.

> Include your own payment processor by default (I would use Stripe, personally)

In my opinion this decision (not only which payment provider to use, but whether to do it yourself at all!) depends highly on the kind of project. Fraud detection, international tax compliance, etc. can quickly become very expensive. Choose carefully.

The good news with Stripe is it handles all of the fraud and tax compliance. All you need to do is on the off chance your client does more than 200 transactions AND $20k in billing to send them a form 1099-k

Is that new? See my other comment on this page for a story about some poor fellow who used Stripe and was getting charged £22 for every reversed £6 charge...

Would love some feedback on monetizing my side project..


Paywall isn't implemented yet so feel free to sign up and try it out.

A lot of feedback I've gotten so far has been on the pricing and finding it hard to get the right mix.

If I'd ever feel the need to sit down and manage my contacts/relationships, the 100 contacts from the cheapest plan would be nothing. Maybe unlimited contacts but fewer features (which someone could discover and want as they go along)?

Thanks for the feedback. I'm thinking a freemium model might be useful for exactly this sort of thing.

In social apps, your users are your marketing channel. Allow users a simple clear way to refer their contacts to simplerm.

Good idea -- thanks a lot.

As a scenario if you were referring your contacts, what would you want out of it?

To be honest, I (personally) am not your target audience. Nothing will get me to spam my contacts. I'm sure the audience exists for this, but it is not me and I don't know them.

> from $0 to $80 CLTV on a $15 product.

What is CLTV?

Customer Life Time Value. It's the average amount of revenue he can expect from a particular type of customer (trial users) over some time window (X months from signup, typically 12-36)

You need help? University Grades Changing Bank Account Hacks Twitter Hacks Email Account Hacks Grade Changes Hacks Whatsapp Hacks URL removal Database Access. Contact at :HACKERSLITE8822@gmail.com. or forward a text to +16473894170. You are guaranteed to get an immediate response and Job done in the shortest of time frame.

> you could always know the date and time you pushed a new version of the page and track visits/conversions from then until you replaced it with the next test.

While this is true, it's worth acknowledging that this comes with some risk. If the current version is doing reasonably well, you could potentially miss out on a lot of conversions by replacing it with an untested version.

I'd also say get community involved early in your project. Use something like Baqqer to put it up, embed newsletters, open up a shop, get feedback/help and give it some distribution.

Nice blog post. I can attest to the fact that I have tried most of the suggestions on there with fairly good results.

Thank you!

Yeah, these aren't a secret if you live and work in products. For most people creating a side project, though, marketing and product management is some sort of dark voodoo magic.

I like lifting the veil on that.


Sounds more like a job than a side project.

Monetizing your 20% project can turn it into a job!

How about Yout.com?

The shitty German translations are a big turn off for me, to be honest. Looks like a bot translated phishing mail...

It might be tolerable for a free as in beer service, but if anybody wanted me to pay for it, do the translation properly (e.g. hire somebody for a few bucks), or focus on languages you mastered first. I am more likely to pay for a "proper" English-language service than a crappy "German"-language one, but that does not necessarily translate well to other Germans.

Yeah, badly done translations are a big turnoff.

In Czech version they call their "Premium" plan button as "Insurance".

This is good point for monetising side projects: if you are going to create international version, spent 20 USD on people who actually speak that language or keep it in English.

First things first: Probably some copyright concerns you need to look at. The second you start charging to download the MP4 for them, you will be much more legally liable.

Now that that is out of the way, the only way to make something like this more legit looking and be able to monetize is to wrap it into a product.

The domain name is actually a very big asset. An almost English-sounding 4 letter word is very rare. Hold that as long as you can! If you have to go without food for a month to renew it, do that!

To wrap this into a product, you will want to add additional features.

1) Sign up for an account 2) Create a project 3) Import a video from youtube or your computer (also a checkbox saying they are allowed to) 4) Edit the video, drag other imported videos around, etc. 5) Download or Send to YouTube (with a watermark unless you are premium)

The clicking and dragging can be pretty simplistic, just use the thumbnail and have a start and end time for clipping the video shorter.

Its a lot of work, and it has been done before, but if you make it simple to use and cheap enough, you could probably make $15/mo or $150/year.

Just be sure to find a good admin theme from wrapbootstrap.com or themeforest.net

In terms of legal, check tivo.com for a publicly traded example, transcoding is legal due to the betamax ruling. The site is already pretty large (5+ million visitors a month), but I do like the video mashup option. Thank you

No problem, and that is a lot of visits, and that domain is awesome! As for legal things, I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know the law, but if its legal, then go for it, if it isn't, still go for it, then ask for forgiveness ;).

* https://changelog.yout.com/ -> Connection not secure

* 650 KB of JavaScript. Why should this be a client-side app? (This being the landing page)

* The gif is great, because it directly shows me what this is. I would invest the saved KB here.

* The "featured on"-part looks a bit cheap and unorganized.

* {{ lang.premium }} {{ lang.upgrade_why }}

Thanks for the 2 bugs. I'm trying to actually make the gif smaller size, going to update that once I finish the gif making integration.

Mind explaining what you mean why this should be a client side app?

The landing page took quite some time to load for me and I was wondering why it loads so much JavaScript. I think Angular is only needed for the actual application, not the static content pages, isn't it? Would load faster that way.

Btw: Your German translation is so bad, I would rather keep it English. "Premium" is translated as the German word for "bonus" or "bounty", while "Premium" itself is a perfectly fine German word. This probably hurts the conversion rate more than it helps.

Maybe use a looped embedded video instead of GIF? You can get much higher quality with a smaller file size. If you have a lot of users on IE8, you could fallback to GIF.

These "tricks" are so awful I can't comment. This guy just tells you to do everything you already wanted to, but don't have time to it (it's an article about side projects, so this is totally unexpected), and it doesn't tell you what to prioritize or anything like that.

Also, many of the "tricks" are bullshit, or, if they're not, at least they're not proved in any way.

So the core idea is: When doing a job for a customer, use that time to resell other people's stuff with an increased price and don't tell the customer about you taking a cut. Sounds shady!

Why not make money on the side by providing additional values? E.g. if you write a plugin that enables the customer to deliver his service, don't charge a fixed price but a yearly license fee, including updates to the software and the ability to write you an email if a question occurs.

In the end being honest is always paying off more in the long run. If you do shady stuff like that it will work in the short run, but will cost you customers who just find other developers.

> When doing a job for a customer, use that time to resell other people's stuff with an increased price and don't tell the customer about you taking a cut. Sounds shady!

What is this in regard to? I was always a product builder (I haven't done client work in nearly a decade) and if I could utilize someone else's product inside mine to not only save me development time but provide a better experience and charge more, I will do that ever time. There is nothing dishonest about that.

When you get a cab from point a to point b, you are paying more than just the gas/depreciation, you are paying for the fact that someone is doing something for you. Same with every product.

Yes, but if you write an app that helps me get a cab, you get a share from that one business with the cab and me. You don't get a share of the next 100 cabs I use or the next 100 customers the cab gets without your app.

The service you provide should be paid well. But recurring income without telling any side of the business may even be illegal.

>But recurring income without telling any side of the business may even be illegal.

I am still very confused by your meaning. If you could expand it further, that would help me possibly better get my point across. I think there may be a miscommunication.

Look, you have a payment processor A and implement it in website of business B. You take a share of all the trades, have I understood that correctly? And you didn't tell either company A or B about it? I think that is probably stealing money. Don't wonder if one side figures that out that they sue you.

Oh, I understand now.

If your small business goes to Stripe/Square/etc you will be quoted a 3% + 30cents transaction fee. By pushing volume through them, they lower your transaction fee. As far down as 2% + 0cents. This would allow you to add value while profiting from the spread.

And to your stealing money comment, all business is stealing money. You take a service that is less than you sell it for. If you were doing it any other way, you wouldn't be in business for long.

A "side project" is something you build on the side. If someone is paying for your labor then that is a job, not a side project.

> When doing a job for a customer, use that time to resell other people's stuff with an increased price and don't tell the customer about you taking a cut.

You mean, the customer is hiring a service from you but does not expect you to take a cut?

One month of phone support... for a side-project? Ouch.

You can make that high-tier throwaway suggestion when the app is an invoicing app for freelancers who will never buy that tier, but it's bad general advice. For the general product, you better hope you don't get a few enterprise customers who don't see a difference between $100 and $500 when it comes to pricing, and who can drain your phone with demand...

this seems less like side-projects and more like major projects?

Not really. I used all of this on my 20% projects. Granted my entire job was 20% projects, just 5 of them at a time.

For once a top voted HN article is up there to be 100% criticized and fix the bad advice. Quite different from the usual norm of supportive discussion.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact