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SubmitHub: how a solo founder built a $46k/mo SaaS business in 10 months (indiehackers.com)
517 points by csallen on Oct 16, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 121 comments

1.) Build an audience (~6 years)

2.) Build your business (a few months...)

That's the winning formula. I wrote about this at length regarding Ryan Hoover & Product Hunt:


The title was "Product Hunt's Rise: An overnight success 1,834 days in the making"... Same exact story here except growing Indie shuffle took closer to 2,190 days!

Cannot allude to this more. Building an audience is the toughest part of any business. Not just SasS or PH. People get swayed by perceived overnight successes and attempt to replicate the same.

It's funny how this blog post probably explains quite well how the indiehackers (the site this article about indie shuffle is hosted on) guy builds his community.

Quite meta! Would be nice to hear csallen's thoughts on it.

Once big difference I think is that csallen is focused on writing specifically for the Hacker News audience as a way to bootstrap traffic from an existing large audience. Product Hunt didn't really use that strategy from what I can tell.

Similarly to Indie Hackers, I wrote my Product Hunt article with the aim to bootstrap off of Ryan Hoover's large existing audience (40K twitter followers at the time, compared to my paltry 100). He was the first to tweet about it after I brought it to his attention and it spread organically from there (26K views currently).

My next Internet Archaeology article is already in the works and I plan to use the exact same strategy as before (bootstrap off of my subject's existing audience).

Sounds good. I love your archeology work. Saves me a lot of time.It was a little too long for a coffee break read and now I'm behind my work schedule, though. Maybe you can split one article into smaller chunks, which may also increase your overall traffic. ;-)

SubmitHub founder weighing in here -- thanks for sharing, Courtland! If anyone has any questions about SubmitHub or Indie Shuffle (technical or business), feel free to ask :)

Edit: in case you're curious, here's what the dashboard looks like for bloggers - http://i.imgur.com/mJG1LP5.png

Just wanted to chime in and say Indie Shuffle is one of the best resources I've found for new music out there (for my taste).

While I have no need for SubmitHub's main purpose, the Popular tab looks like it can serve as another source of fresh stuff.

All in all, massive respect for your work promoting new music. As a sidenote, I'd happily donate some money through Patreon/whatever to support an ad-free version of the site (I know, I know, one in a million :).

Ditto, this popular chart is very cool: ranked by approval, http://www.submithub.com/popular

To me it seems like expanding on the playable features could make SubmitHub itself a very meta/cool place to submit through. A place to engage other artists. It's like HackerNews for music.

My first thought was that the list of places to submit to is overwhelming. How do you plan to curate that, or do you just assume people coming to you already know exactly who they want to reach out to?

Good question! Before submitting to blogs, users are required to filter the list by genre. They can then sort by the # of fans that outlet has, or -- even more handy -- there's a notes column in the far right that gives some vital statistics. You can see it here: http://i.imgur.com/pqMky6h.png

If you visit the "directory of blogs" page, you'll see a full selection of the filters: http://www.submithub.com/blogs

Have you considered charging by number of fans per outlet, instead of a flat $1/credit? Seems to me the value is in the blog's reach, similar to CPM in advertising. It goes against the simplicity of your platform, so you could make it very simple: $5 for high traffic, $3 for medium, $1 for low (or a variation of that).

I think there's a risk of this becoming a payola or pay-to-play sort of situation. I don't know that you're wrong, but it makes the model seem more predatory of musicians.

Here's what I like about the very small flat fee:

1. It is small enough for even modestly successful musicians to cover it. It isn't a monetary barrier to entry.

2. It is likely large enough to prevent the shotgun approach. This is one of the bigger problems of finding new talent for record labels and music writers, especially in the digital age when emailing or messaging someone a link to your song approaches zero cost...you can't realistically listen to every unsolicited track, so you have to filter somehow. This, at least, insures you don't get a bunch of stuff in genres you don't care about or know anything about. People have to choose a little more carefully.

3. It provides an incentive for writers and musicians to form a relationship so they'll work together again (with the blogger getting tipped again and the artist getting more coverage or useful feedback); it starts out as a monetary transaction, but once they've connected up and like each other, they could work toward building a scene (and the network that comes with that). In music, a scene is a force multiplier for everyone involved (e.g., Seattle grunge, Madchester, Atlanta dirty south).

Increasing the fee for big sites looks more like payola than merely a filtering tool to determine who has gone to the trouble to figure out the best handful of writers or labels to reach out to. If the profit of the site begins to come from the musicians they're reviewing, their incentives start to get lopsided in the wrong direction. I'm not saying all bloggers would do it, but there would be incentive to boost stats (with clickbaity stuff), and to get as many submissions as possible. Incentives should, IMHO, be directed toward increasing quality, maximizing the time a writer can spend on the artists they choose to cover, and providing the best feedback for the artists.

Anything that gives incentive to cheat the system will break it and reduce the quality of the network...likely even killing it. If there's even a slight notion that people are scamming musicians with this, it will (maybe deservedly) die.

This is so incredibly well put. I cannot agree more.

I've considered it for sure -- holding off on something like that for now, tho.

Great project. How do you make sure the other blogs give people who've paid $1 feedback?

Simple, really: they earn the majority of that $1 for providing feedback :)

To build on that, for most of these blogs this is the first time they're earning any mentionable revenue from running their websites. Not only is it making their lives easier -- it's actually rewarding them for their passion yada yada.

"To build on that, for most of these blogs this is the first time they're earning any mentionable revenue from running their websites."

So, you monetized websites that previously weren't with product their users will enjoy. Sounds like a nice design pattern for bootstrapping businesses on non-profit organizations or sites. One to remembet. I especially like you keep it win/win.

What do you pay in transaction fees to take that $1 user payment?

Payments are powered by Braintree (using their securely hosted iframes feature). Fee is 2.9% + $0.30. Same as Stripe and PayPal - they've all pretty much set this as a "standard" for the fee. Probably worth noting that the minimum transaction on SubmitHub is $5.


Excuse me for hijacking your comment, but Stripe is actually 1.4% in EU. I can not comment on others, but the cap is an EU directive.

>Probably worth noting that the minimum transaction on SubmitHub is $5.

Ahhh, thanks. I was wondering how you were doing a service with a $1 charge (I didn't see the $5 minimum mentioned in the portion of the article I read).

Congrats on your success so far!! What's next for SubmitHub? Scale and build out the business or keep it small and more of a lifestyle business?

Where do you run it? IaaS I'm assuming, but which one(s)?

Digital Ocean (had to Google iaaS)

Just wanted to say that I use indieshuffle a lot, and I love it. I have it open when I'm at work, and I have the app when I'm driving.

I wish the Chrome app was better, or if it had a standalone client wrapped in Electron or something.

I'm in the process of rebuilding the Android and iPhone apps from scratch using React Native. It's coming along really quickly :)

Stupid question: any particular reasons you picked Meteor and React? Also, can you give us details on the backend/infrastructure?


Because it seemed cool. I think I'd seen it pop up on HckrNews and Reddit a few times, so I wanted to give it a whirl.

The stack is something along the lines of: nginx + docker + Meteor (node/mongodb) + React.

+1 for Meteor.

I'm pretty sure Jason uses Mupx for deployment to DigitalOcean (https://github.com/arunoda/meteor-up/tree/mupx).

For anyone interested, this package makes it super easy to setup all the tools and deploy to the servers (almost as easy as pushing to Heroku!).

I've had good experience in scaling using Mupx and Cluster (another package from the same team - https://github.com/meteorhacks/cluster)

Thought it was meteor hanging (never seen it scale properly), but there are bugs on your FAQ page (duplicate IDs/anchors).

As an Indie Shuffle user, I feel happy for you!

How much does it cost you to run the service?

It's pretty minimal. The most expensive component is usually technical development, and given that I do all that myself... well, that's a big "cost saving" :)

As seems to be common on Indie Hackers, the title is extremely disingenuous:

1) It took him 6 years to build an audience before turning it into a business. The title makes it sound like the entire process only took 10 months.

2) $46k/mo of what? Revenue or profit? If the latter, at least half immediately goes to the music blogs.

3) Where exactly does the $46k/mo number come from? It's only mentioned in the title and explained nowhere. Is it a projection, an average, the best month, ...?

Courtland, you have a great site and I really enjoy your articles. Please don't spoil your awesome content with vagueness and clickbait.

Well said.

Kudos! I get really excited when I learn about people working hard at creative and useful things like this. I also think it's important to note that, while this is surely no small feat, it sounds like this is the fruition of the author's accumulated experiences, network, and reputation "[over] the course of my ~7 years running a blog", and probably even longer with a strong passion for music and the people in music.

This comment is not to downplay the author's accomplishments--I think keeping to something for even 5 years is ridiculously hard, and that should be commended, especially if it resulted in something that people find valuable. Rather, I hope that people reading this won't lose hope when, 10 months into their own businesses, they don't see the same levels of popularity or financial success. This project seems to be the tip of an iceberg. I think luck is also a strong component, but it definitely favors the prepared.

while this is surely no small feat, it sounds like this is the fruition of the author's accumulated experiences, network, and reputation

True for most success stories. Overnight success is so rare (and often fleeting - all of the rapid online successes I can think of are underwater now - all the best things were slow burns, including this very site). It's about accumulating bricks here and there and building the wall over years. People who never lose hope and who keep building those bricks will reap the rewards in the end.

I think another important lesson to draw from this is that you should build things for domains and problems in which you have a legitimate interest/curiosity. That was something I took away from this that's difficult to accept, because it means you're probably going to be limited if you want to work solo.

If you're going to spend 8+ hours a day on something, you'd best enjoy the subject matter :)

I used SubmitHub to share my music and it's a great experience. It fixes an exhausting cold-outreach process. (I used it to get some pretty major coverage— for me, at least— when a well-known blog sent 25,000 listens after covering my song).

The guy had a very successful music blog and used that to kick off the network effect needed to make SubmitHub work. There is zero chance SubmitHub would work without the music blog, so unless you have a very successful blog yourself this article will not help you in any practical manner.

Or maybe the lesson is to develop a following first before developing a product. The music blog didn't happen by random chance, and his overall approach seems better than developing a product and hoping for a following.

I did this with the intention of promoting the product.

The issue was that I built it on someone else's platform. Something I've known to be a cardinal sin and a disaster waiting to happen.

Alas, I built /r/lifeprotips and it quickly became a default on reddit. I started building the site (lifeprotips.com which is no longer up) around the same time.

Some moronic moderator named reddit.com/user/krispykrackers banned me because I was promoting the site on the subreddit. They still use artwork I paid an illustrator to design for my site that I re-used there.

tl;dr: don't build a following on someone else's platform. You will be penalized because in 2016 there is no loyalty to the game anymore (I've been building sites since the late 90s so I know how corporate this environment has gotten).

Also, big middle finger to reddit for trying to be a big boy corporation but failing to address issues like mine -- I spent so much time and energy getting that subreddit to where it is today and I get rewarded with a punch in the face.

I like that advice; don't build a following on someone else's platform. It could be extended to not building something that relies entirely on service X's API being open, because the moment they see the value in what you're doing, they'll want to shut it down and do it themselves.

Also - great work, congrats on the success!

  > Some moronic moderator named reddit.com/user/krispykracker
(krispykrackers is an admin, or rather, was until a few months ago)

Thank you for sharing.

Do you think you would be as successful in developing an audience outside Reddit as you were inside it? Where? In a blog?

Of course.

Honestly, probably not. Reddit was the perfect audience for that particular type of content, so it made perfect sense. There's only one other player in that space that I know who is really killing it and it's lifehack.org.

Life Pro Tips focused on digestible pieces of content, but in order to monetize, it seems like you need more long-form types of content (that of which lifehack.org provides).

I've moved on to other areas (like I've always done). I've had wins and I've had losses. The losses are necessary in order to keep the wins going.

Alternatively you can partner with a community and build a product for them on revenue share.

Interesting take on the concept. Do you have any experience with this? Know where I can read more about this sort of thing? :)

Facebook might qualify with their third-party apps leveraging the social netsork and FB targeting.

Are you serious? Facebook developer ecosystem is horrible, and it stinks more in this case.

I said "might." I know they have a developer ecosystem with some way of getting paid. I didn't know past that. Figured more knowledgeable people would chime in.

Both this and the parent's approach are good options.

I tried to do this, but since the "community" had no leader, I couldn't talk to no one except its single members, and individually they didn't seem to be too interested in the product I had already built.

Then the article should be mostly about how he built the music blog, rather than eliding over that in a sentence.

Building a following over 7 years doesn't seem to fit into the title's '10 months'...

I'd like to think that the part about launching and iterating -- getting your product out there rather than trying to make it perfect before launch -- is quite a useful tip for solo founders (and small teams). But, to each their own!

If you look at any marketing funnel, the first hurdle is awareness. Getting people aware of a saas product is very difficult. Getting them to try it is even harder.

Having the blog provided both a vehicle to get the target market aware, and the credibility that the product is worth trying. It's really smart to be an active member of a community, and then provide services to the community. It's also very difficult, and takes a lot of effort. I think the post you responded to is someone who understands the amount of work you had to put into your blog to make it successful.

I don't think this is a negative, but a really good take away for new entrepreneurs.

- How will you market and sell your product? The "If you build it, they will come" tactic doesn't work.

- How do you know it's a problem people want solved?

- How do you know your solution adequately solves the problem ?

Your approach answered all these questions and you got to work on something you're passionate about.

Congrats on the success!

He missed the advice of launch and iterate below the radar with a very narrow group of customers.

For example: on the app store you can launch your app/game in countries other than the US (australia, canada). Iterate, and once you're satisfied, than launch in the US.

Launching and iterate in the fully public eye of your customer base is a risky thing to do for your general brand value.

Sure, but it's not like someone just handed him a successful music blog. He worked hard on it, and parlayed it into something bigger. Isn't that practical?

> There is zero chance SubmitHub would work without the music blog

> Jason Grishkoff built a $46,000/mo SaaS business helping musicians promote their music, and he did it in under a year.

When do you start the clock? If the business success is based on the blog's success, then arguably the clock starts when he first made the blog.

I'll just weigh in here: the blog's success was very influential in accelerating the growth. But had I been a smaller blog, I likely would have had similar success in convincing the other blogs that this platform helped solve a problem they were all facing.

What I take away as important is that I was part of the problem I was solving, rather than an outsider observing. A blog with 5,000 followers is just as likely to understand that problem as a blog with 100,000 followers.

Because I was part of the problem, I was able to build a system that effectively solved it. Today, there are more than 200 blogs/channels using SubmitHub to receive their submissions -- and that happened in less than 10 months. The vast majority of them aren't there because Indie Shuffle did well; they're there because SubmitHub makes their lives better.

Putting on my devil's advocate hat here. I think you're greatly discrediting the value of the network effect.

Just because you build something that you need does not mean that you will be successful. People do that all the time, and then wonder why they don't make it. In reality, it's incredibly difficult to get your product in front of people who need it, even if it solves their problems perfectly.

Not saying you don't deserve credit for the hard work you put into this - you absolutely do. Just keep in mind that having a great product that solves a real problem for people is not enough. You either need luck or a network effect (and then you still need a little luck).

We're actually on the same page -- I'm totally crediting the network effect. Music bloggers have a tight-knit community, and even if I was a smaller music blog, I reckon I'd have had a pretty good chance of similar success.

Network effect is not what you think it is. It is not something about people knowing each other.


Imagine a young and inexperienced programmer, entrepreneur-wannabe comes up to you with 2 nice idea for SaaS companies.

One of those, despite being nice, will require overcoming a monstrous network effect to succeed (for example, a new Ebay or something like that).

The other is a much smaller and modest app that will not get as large as $46k/mo, but will not face any network effects.

What do you say to that person? Do you tell him to work hard on the second app, or to start a blog and work hard on that blog for 7 years, then take the first idea and build it?

Not sure that is true. It's cheap promotion for musicians who have zero contacts. 40 bucks to get featured on 40 blogs, its a decent deal just to get the back links. Look at the sites where people pay for likes or plays or comments. They can be popular without any kind of existing popular service feeding them. This site is in no way like buying likes, as the blogs can and do reject, but it's a service one can see catching on. Not everyone wants to schmooze blog owners.

True that, I find it that literally if you are famous or have some sort of following crowd you can easily do things others wouldn't.

I watch a bit of twitch and the famous streamers in there literally could be considered millionaires already.

Why don't you pitch one of them on a plan to do just that, and make yourself rich too?

You're exaggerating.

What a quickly way to dismiss his blog post, what if the time scheduling he writes about is practical advice? What if being part of the target audience is practical advice? He talks about lots of things, how much they help in a "practical manner" depends on many things; disregarding it all because he used a prior successful related blog it's just gratuitous negativity and what I dislike most about HN


You make it sound like the efforts to start a business and do well, be profitable, were not impressive.

That's not his point. From the article's headline: "did it in under a year"

The author is being very disingenuous with his headline.

SubmitHub as a product is 10 months old, and Jason's only been charging for the past 7 months. So saying that "under as year" is a "very disingenuous" timeline is... very disingenuous.

Yes, having a successful blog helped Jason identify and understand the problem, and it saved him from having to partner with someone else's blog. But learning to code was probably pivotal, too. Where do we draw the line?

Headline would be more precise had it claimed to have built an app in 10 months, not a business

Still impressive, but not the same thing

Edit: just to be extra clear, the reason why this is true is because, the customer base he generated was not in the 10 months he used to build his app, that was done over the years of blogging

The app itself is the business, and is separate from his blog. (Although it works together with his blog and with many other blogs, his particular blog is not a necessity.)

EDIT: To respond to your edit, I agree he was able to leverage his blog's popularity. But his blog is only one out of 231 listed on SubmitHub. Thus, his blog's readers account for what's likely a negligible fraction of SubmitHub's users. That's not to say his blog wasn't helpful. It's just a totally separate business. The reason SubmitHub is doing so well is because he added to his blog AND to those 230 other blogs, and he did that in 10 months.

Read the part about network effect. His blog is a small part of SubmitHub now, but it was crucial that he had his blog in there in the beggining.

Those network effects would've been the same if he'd launched SubmitHub on a different but equally popular blog.

Analogy: Let's say you invent a new and superior way to cook french fries. Is it crucial for you to own your own restaurant chain so you can demonstrate the fry machine in action before selling it to other chains? I would say it's not.

Sites like flippa can help with that.

I ran my first startup with Jason 15 years ago. Since then, he's gone on to do some amazing things and seeing him on HN today makes me realize:

1) how lucky I was to work with him for those 2 years. 2) how small our industry is.

Congrats Jason on the well deserved success.

Nice to from you Reagan! :)

Congratulations Jason

Why did you pick Digital Ocean over Meteor Galaxy hosting ? Would you point me to some resources that you looked into while setting up Digital Ocean for Meteor hosting ?

1) price; 2) they had a really good tutorial for setting up Meteor on Digital Ocean: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-depl...

Thanks man

I have a question for the guy running indie hackers. Do you periodically update those revenue figures?

Something that I think is worth pointing out: that site doesn't have a recurring revenue model and also charges very low fees, two things that go against the common wisdom of "just get people to pay you every month, and add an enterprise plan in there for good measure".

The truth is that the classic three-tiered SaaS business model is just one of many possible business models, yet many developers-turned-entrepreneur adopt it without stopping to think whether it's a good fit or not for their product.

So, why not democratize this a bit more given the application and the current audience. Why not charge (and deliver) 1000 user reviews of music for $1 as well?

Obviously, established music sites are a distribution channel that works right now. But it seems apparent to me the natural extension right now is direct to music lovers?

This could be used for other branches too, not just music blogs. For example Indie Games.

My thought as well: I could see this for novels/short stories, or even could revolutionize the academic publishing system.

I'm finding that when some resources hang -- I got it with images.unsplash and cloudfront on different pageloads -- it freezes Firefox completely such that it must be killed. Is this a side effect of React/Meteor?

Ruh roh. There are more than 100 people actively using the site right now, and I haven't heard this issue before. The whole website does hinge on one single .js file, which is hosted by Cloudfront. So if that doesn't load, it's going to crash. The unsplash image would only be coming up if you were getting a 501/404/whatever via nginx.

Where are you based?


Stumped. Not sure why that would be happening.

Hold fire, it just happened on an unrelated site. I had updated Debian Testing this morning and it turns out a couple other things are hinky, so it's likely not to be your fault.

Fire held :-D

Question to the moderators: Shouldn't IndieHackers posts be "Show HN"?

Curious why you think this. What makes it particularly different from any other curated source of articles, e.g. Medium or TechCrunch?

Good job!

Actual tl;dr: Founder built a webapp for streamlining music submissions made by artists to music blogs. One important element of success was having a popular music blog himself.

Which translates to "after years of work to establish a brand, this founder turned that brand into a successful business opportunity."

A great story and excellent business sense, to be sure. The "10 months" part is typical headline speak.

Right, and it doesn't hurt to say he worked for Google either.

On the contrary, I thought this was a strange and irrelevant fact to include in the article. There's no indication that his role at Google had any bearing on the success of the business.

Perhaps if he'd worked on Google Music (or other music related area of the business) or the referenced exposure to "top brass" opened some doors... but it seems unlikely this is the case.

There's certainly correlation between Google employees and successful initiatives... but not much beyond that.

After working at BigCo and saving steady pay while nurturing your startup at night for a few years. You have a visibility to traction. And a cushion against failure. So you can take the "risk". It's easy to take a "risk" when it's not really there.

It's not like this founder started with $100 and made an ongoing business employing a few others.

Started on second, scored on as RBI and media talks about your Grand Slam.

That's actually a really good point if it's what he did. The common approach to employment is placing it safe using one job's revenue to get to higher-paying one. Or even savings. Many startups or bootstrappers go all in with different incentives and cost structure. Plus time available.

So, it's worth learning things like that in these stories in tracing the bigger picture of how the success story played out with what ingredients that might work next time.

It's almost like creating a successful business is something that takes a few years of focused effort as opposed to something you can do on the side.

Almost. I built Indie Shuffle on the side, so it applies for business #1 :)

I think building a business is always going to take a lot of focused effort. That said, I also think that getting an early start -- doing it on the side -- is a much smarter idea than quitting everything you have and launching into it head on.

It reminds me of a story how Red Digital Cinema Camera Company was born.

Few years ago I've found a motivational article that everyone can make a successful business out of their garage even in the field of high end technology. I googled RED camera's founders name - multi-billionaire founder of Oakley. Probably his garage looked like a high tech version of Jay Leno's car garage and not like the Jobs' and Wozniak's garage.

Dude have been building his blog business/image/trademark for many years and successfully capitalised on that. Kudos to him.

We do not say that Apple successfully reached 1 million dollars in phone sales in 10 minutes. No - it took them 30 years to reach that point.

Tldr: "I was born in South Africa and moved to California just before the start of high school, graduating from the University of California, San Diego in 2007 before working a corporate job in DC that ultimately landed me a sweet gig at Google. My responsibility once there was to figure out how much to pay the company's executives, which meant I was lucky to enjoy face time with many of the top brass.,One of the biggest frustrations of running my music blog was that by the time I took it full-time, I was receiving upwards of 300 email pitches a day from artists, record labels, and publicists, all looking to have their music featured on Indie Shuffle.,Then, toward the end of last year, I decided that a good way to learn some new coding languages would be to try and solve this problem by developing a website to streamline the process."

> It's important for HN to keep its distance from tldr culture. Longer articles are ok, even if many of us won't read them. It's true of any post that most people won't read it.


Please see:



Continuing to post TLDR summaries will likely see you end up with ban.

Hello, it's the face behind the bot :). As some of you have guessed, I wrote an automatic summarizer to provide a little more context to hn articles because I often find myself wanting to know a little more before clicking the link.

It makes sense that the HN community would want to push for reading the full article and against tldr culture. This was just a fun little side project I built yesterday, and I’ll be thinking about that and any other feedback I receive before making improvements. Thanks for your comments!

Perhaps it should be a browser extension, called HN Executive Summary.

How does it summarise? Some kinda AI?

Good idea! And Yup-- right now I'm using a library that just picks out sentences that are likely meaningful.

Going forward I will upvote almost anything that you summarize that I see. Reading it and the responding comments will be a great time saver.

You could write a bot for that :-)

what does the google background and details about the job role there have anything to do with this?

It makes for an interesting story, isn't that enough?

yes that 1st paragraph was enough for me.. the rest was a downer

you human or bot ?

Casual observation suggests that the quoted part is a list of significant outtakes from the article, with the comma separator left intact between items.,It should be replaced by whitespace to make it more convincing.

If you can't tell he wins

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