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Ask HN: What are some examples of successful single-person businesses?
685 points by 1ba9115454 on May 29, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 308 comments
I've heard success stories of people making millions from adsense or from creating software products. It's made me think who has been the most successful at building a company as a sole proprietor.

I guess we should discount companies that have single ownership but outsource all the work.

Careful with your terminology. "Successful" has different meanings for different people.

By my definition, for example, I run the most successful single-person business that I'm aware of. But it doesn't make millions, so it might not meet your definition at all.

My goal was to replace my day job with a software business that required as close to zero attention as possible, so that I could have time to spend on the things that actually matter to me.

The business brings in the equivalent of a nice Senior Developer salary, which is not what most people think of when they imagine a successful Startup. But it lets me work with a bunch of cool tech when I want to, and, more importantly, is automated to the point where Customer Service involves a quick 30 second - 10 minute email sweep over morning coffee. For me, that's a lot more valuable than a few more million dollars in the bank.

The cool thing about running your own business is that you get to decide on your own definition of success.

EDIT: I wrote a bit about how I got into this position, in case anybody is interested. It's not actually all that hard to do:


You're a solid writer. I really liked the blog post.

Your definition of success happens to align with mine. I have "enough" right now, and I'd be really happy to work less and maintain my current income level - I just haven't yet been able to pull away from the corporate life. Eventually.

Anyway, had to ask, the one gap seems to be health insurance. I know you mentioned a cheap major medical policy, but what are folks doing to cover their families a little more comprehensively? At least in the US, this is the one big thing that makes it really hard to leave corporate life. I'm fortunate enough to have dual citizenship with a european country, so we could "just" relocate there, but ideally we'd do this while staying resident in the US. I still haven't solved the insurance issue.

An individual policy isn't that crazy expensive. A single 20 year old guy can get a good plan for $200 a month. A family of 4 with parents in the 40s can get a good plan for $1500-$2000 per month.

Both are well within the realm of profits for a one man startup.

This must be the harsh side of the US. In Europe, the differences are almost neglectable.

Depends on where in Europe. Insurance isn't cheap in Switzerland, for instance, it's just that wages largely support the rates and individual subsidies will make up the rest. However, the Swiss system is probably the most portable to the United States, at least in the short/mid-term.



I'd encourage you to price out plans on your state's health insurance marketplace (every state has one thanks to the ACA).

You may find that the coverage you want is less expensive than you'd expect. For example, when I put in information for a family of 4 in California, "Gold" plans were between $850 and $1050 per month (and less if you qualify for a subsidy).

I did, it's about $1350/mo here for a family of 3. Deductible is still $2k on a gold plan. While that's not as bad as I thought, that sort of thing has to be a barrier to people with families considering taking a risk and doing a startup. Imagine if we had universal healthcare in this country...

We have universal healthcare in France and France isn't exactly buzzing with innovation. There is innovation, but there is more innovation happening at the Palo Alto Starbucks than in practically the entirety of France.

I'm not suggesting universal health care drives innovation. I'm suggesting that introducing it to an already innovative culture would serve as a multiplier of some kind.

I think you're romanticizing Silicon Valley. There's plenty of startups all across the world and there will likely be even more since we have such an anti-innovation administration now.

Here in GA I pay 1800 a month for a Bronze plan with 5k deductible. But we are older, so that might be part of it. Basically its catastrophic care, but since we are all healthy I serious wonder if it worth it.

I recently did this exercise, and the prices were much higher than they were 5 years ago when I was last self-employed. Searching for family-level marketplace plans.

Marketplace plans are very expensive and they are the only plans that carry the features of the ACA, e.g., coverage for pre-existing conditions. You can buy non-marketplace plans for much cheaper (about $600/mo for a family plan, in my case, which is more aligned with what I used to pay), but they will not have the features Obamacare mandates. This is a good option if you don't already have pre-existing conditions.

You can also check into freelance co-ops, which sort of function like a union, in that they negotiate group insurance plans, etc., on behalf of their members, providing more of the benefits of a traditional employment situation. I just started looking into these again too, so I don't know who is good for this right now.

To be honest it's worth pricing out whether expatriating to not-America is more cost effective than buying health insurance here.

> To be honest it's worth pricing out whether expatriating to not-America is more cost effective than buying health insurance here.

If I were to do a startup, it would be a no-brainer from a cost perspective to move, particularly because I already possess the requisite passports. It's just that I _want_ to be in the US, so any serious startup decision is going to presume that for me and my family.

In what world is $850-$1050 a month not expensive? That's a mortgage in most of the country, for which if you are healthy you get nothing at all in return (except perhaps peace of mind if you get in a car accident)

I've never shopped the ACA marketplaces since I have insurance through work. I'd hope they have an option like what I have from my employer: a high deductible plan with an HSA.

Insurance should be for unexpected large expenses. Not routine, predictable health care. Treat that like your your rent, groceries, etc. i.e. something you budget for.

What happens when you get diagnosed with a chronic health issue? The unexpected large expense of initial diagnosis and treatment might be covered but then your budgeted healthcare costs will barely make a dent in long term treatment. How do you cover a $15k monthly infusion? Or a $4k monthly pharmacy bill?

With the high deductible plan setting a ceiling on their health care costs, presumably. I'm not a fan personally but some people do a savings account to cover incidentals / the deductible portion.

Yeah, but that only works for a chronic issue that doesn't put you out of work. HDHPs are still on an annual deductible after all. I know I have a bit of a bias since it's my industry, but make sure to carry long term disability insurance if at all possible. Getting sick in this country is complicated when you really dig into it.

> Insurance should be for unexpected large expenses. Not routine, predictable health care. Treat that like your your rent, groceries, etc. i.e. something you budget for.

That's fine, budget for an annual physical and maybe a couple of sick visits. But that's not what's making people broke, and is not the risk people are concerned with. Unless you're young and healthy, there's very little that is predictable about health care. Also, HDHPs aren't available through the ACA market in every state - they're not in mine, for instance.

We need everyone in the risk pool, and we need to get costs under control. It is ridiculous that in the richest country in the world, someone could lose everything due to a medical condition. That's the wrong kind of lottery ticket out of the middle class.

individual and family plans aren't that expensive. have you actually priced it out? it's just a bill you get every month, like a car payment.

just be sure to buy the new health insurance before the old one expires. this is absolutely critical.

> "Successful" has different meanings for different people.


It's said that most at home traders fail, but this is incorrect: they fail at making money, but they are successful at feeling like a trader. That is the goal; the money is secondary, which is why they fail at making it.

— The Last Psychiatrist, http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2014/03/who_can_know_how_much...

I cannot recommend this blog enough, it has a lot of provocative and challenging content, very insightful. It's been three years since an update and I still check it occasionally.

Love the content at that link, but holy hell, can't stand the overwhelming advertising (even on mobile!). Geezus, it makes it unreadable.

That's amazing, and I think we would all love to be in the same position one day.

I would have to disagree with "that's a lot more valuable than a few more million dollars in the bank". Having a few million dollars in index funds (with some hedging) would also give you a Senior Developer salary, but would carry a lot less risk than running a software company. But I do understand what you're saying, and I certainly wouldn't complain if I had some passive income like that!

Your math is right, but getting to those millions can be chance or working really hard for years.

And we can also take in consideration that most of us won't leave those millions there. Getting fancy can be as risky as running a software company.

Comparing that with him working 6 months a year for the first part of his career and now living from two modest saas products seems pretty nice.

..and all the sitting-at-the-laptop photos are hilarious xD

Assuming a withdrawal rate of 4% per year, even a few million in index funds would only yield about $120k annually. And that's not factoring in the risk of a market correction or downturn.

The income you earn from owning your own business is worth at least twice as much as the equivalent income from dividends, interest, and capital gains.

I guess it's always nice when your hard work pays off, so you would attach more sentimental value to your income when you feel like you earned it.

However, in financial terms, these businesses are typically valued at 2x-4x annual revenue. So a business that gives you an income of $120k per year is worth far less than a safe $4M investment that gives you an average return of $120k per year.

If you could somehow prove that your business is extremely likely to produce at least $120k per year for the next 30 years, and with very little maintenance, then it would be worth closer to $4M.

$2m at a conservative return of 6% would get you $120k but before taking capital gains tax. Let's say you're taxes at 15%... Now you're down to $102K. Not bad, but I'm sure you could make more as a senior developer.

Assuming you've come up with a different strategy that's netting better returns, would you care to share? And what is your strategy for hedging?

6% would be extremely aggressive, so I was thinking more like $4M at 3%. And you're right, I suppose a senior developer would be making ~$150k, so you'd need around $5-$6 million.

3-4% is the typical withdrawal rate that people use on the /r/financialindependence subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence/wiki/faq#wiki...

My strategy would be to just put everything in a Vanguard Target Retirement Fund: https://investor.vanguard.com/mutual-funds/target-retirement... It's cheaper and safer than a financial advisor, and you don't need to worry about rebalancing. I'd also throw a little bit of money into angel investing, but no more than 3%, and I'd expect to lose it all.

For hedging, I think once a year I would just buy some OTM puts for the S&P 500. A sane number might be something like 0.2% of your assets. If you're absolutely convinced that we're on the verge of a stock market crash, then you should still use 0.2%, because you're probably wrong.

This is one of these scenarios where you work with an advisor and accountant, and make investment adjustments over time as rates change.

I helped my dad with a scenario like this when he retired. You approach the problem so that you draw as much income as possible from tax exempt sources and use other vehicles for growth -- which preserves your cash generating capability later.

When opportunity strikes, you overload. For example, buying NY tax exempt (and other municipal bonds) when they were depressed during the recession has yielded a decade of enhanced, safe, tax free income.

Sounds like a nice US salary. Good luck netting half that in most of Europe.

your 100k+ for a Senior developer are US only though. In Europe or Canada only very very few developers without management responsibility make that kind of money.

Typical senior salaries are between 60-80k.

In Europe or Canada, they don't have the insanely-high healthcare insurance costs that Americans have.

You'd pay taxes on the dev salary as well so you'd need less drawing "salary" as capital gains taxes than you would income + payroll taxes.

Thank you.

You are an inspiration, and I do agree, quality of life doesn't come with millions of $.

As we speak am in a 6 months transition, while leaving London and a good salary, to go back to my home-country and reside by the beach. Will be a tough one but certainly worth it! Glad to see that some people like you have achieved it!

I just want to point out that for all intents and purposes, having millions of dollars is equivalent to owning a software company that brings in 6 figures of passive income. If you invested $4 million in index funds, you could safely withdraw $120k per year (3%, accounting for inflation).

In reality it takes more than $4m to live off the returns, but that is a common dream.

You can't pay your bills with a 10 year average. There are down years.

A 3% withdrawal rate is extremely safe, and a 2% withdrawal rate is almost guaranteed to last forever (that would give you $80k per year). These rates account for both inflation and down years.

More information: https://www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence/wiki/faq#wiki...

The average dividend rate on the total market index is currently around 2%. If you want to be extra safe, you could just live on the dividends and never touch the principal. 80k would be enough for most people to "live off the returns".

The down years are why you only withdraw 3 to 4% max.

Anyone down voting actually have $4m in an index fund? Or are you just keeping the dream alive?

Seriously, though. I would love to hear from someone who does this.

This is very false. Run some simulations. 4% is safe to withdrawl.

just got to this point. it almost feels wrong how i can get done with "work" in 30 min on a good day and a couple of hours on a bad day, and then have all this time to myself while everyone i know is working in an office till evening. this has also given me the luxury of being up till morning and then waking up by lunch time

If you're willing to share more, I (and I suspect others) would be interested in hearing about the job you've created for yourself.

Same boat here, I only have to work about 2 hours per week to maintain $500K annual profit. I'm the biggest procrastinator in the world and don't know how to program (although I'm now learning just for fun).

Could you share a little more about how you're achieving this?

Knowing something about how you managed that might be interesting.

Basically content marketing. Researched an industry very, very deeply and summarized the important concepts, tactics, and strategies one should follow to save money or save time within that category.

Make the content free - attracting a large audience, and recommend the best online services that help with that particular vertical (affiliate marketing/lead generation).

The 2 hours per week is just summarizing anything new that happened that week.

This is not a get-rich-quick thing, took almost 10 years to get to this point, and huge amount of focus on this one thing - and I've truly become one of the leading experts in this vertical.

I am more interested in the process of finding and selecting a niche in general, how did you do that? How did you stay committed all those years unsure about whether working in your niche would even be viable?

Most important thing is to go into a category that already has lots of competition. It's counter-intuitive, but this is important. The thing you want to do is slice out a niche within that category that you fully own. It could be information on getting the best price, or info related to your own city/region. Once you get a small foothold in that niche within the category, you can expand and grow within that category.

that's a really good point, and advice I very much needed to hear today. the wheels are turning. thank you!

What area are you thinking about? And what kind of skills do you have? (coding, design, marketing, etc)

well I don't have any ideas for affiliate marketing sites, I'm just applying your mantra about niches to my career (professional services). I do have experience coding, building sites, marketing etc, but at this time I don't know of any niches to do what you did with affiliate marketing. would love to though.

what does "professional services" mean?

I am a lawyer. I've practiced on my own, but my area is pretty saturated and it's discouraging. But I need to get into the mindset of slicing a niche and sticking with it for a while and try to become the top expert within it.

Would much rather run a content site that earned revenue, but cannot find a niche there ... I used to do this a decade ago and it was quite fun but the internet was so much quieter.

would you start an affiliate marketing site from scratch today? I would even hire you as a coach to help me find an opportunity.

now that I think about it, I've had the mindset of a content based lead generation site builder for a while, but just haven't had the balls to execute on it because I didn't think it could actually make money. I have a few domains in my pocket which would be great, I just have to select which niche to dedicate myself to. could definitely use help with that.

Is traffic to your site mostly from Google searches, and if so, could you say what you found to be the most effective method of improving your ranking in the search results?

It's always good content

You're the S3stat guy! Thanks so much for that service! We used it years ago, and it did exactly what we needed. Hope you're enjoying the beach!

Thanks for that. I certainly enjoyed (and appreciate) all the beers you bought me while I was on that beach!

Bam, that's it! We've got the same definition of success. Thank you for sharing your story!

A reference to The Regular Show? haha

>I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast

Also I like/strive for the minimal attention online business too however I wonder how that is running a business when you travel regarding environment/tech... like that photo of the beach/shack looking place I don't know... I guess I always picture "skyscrapers" and fancy things as "success" (I watch too much tv)

>> a nice Senior Developer salary

This has a lot of meanings for different people.

That ranges from $500 to $20000 per month depending on the location.

I've found that it really doesn't vary much at all if you're actually senior and know how to negotiate. I've certainly never taken a pay cut when living in a more sensible and sunny part of the world.

But that's a whole other discussion. Tack on "on the US West Coast but not at Facebook or Google" if it matters. (But of course the entire point of the original comment is that it doesn't :)

Thousands of developers in developing countries beg to disagree.

If anyone has specialized skills, great English, and a great reputation, I think they should be able to earn $100+ per hour as a software developer. It shouldn't matter where they are from, where they are currently living, or what their name sounds like.

Unfortunately, there are still racial, cultural, and gender barriers. The sad truth is that someone from Russia, India, or Thailand would find it a lot easier to get high-paying work if they pretended to be a "digital nomad", and used a fake name and a fake profile picture. They would be doing the exactly the same work under a pseudonym.

I don't reduce my rates while living in countries like Thailand. I don't see why someone who is born in Thailand should charge so much less, if they can do the same work.

so you earn 800$/day? Or is this freelance kind of thing where you only get to charge 3 hrs/day? Still 100/hr for remote work is a lot of money.

$100/hr for remote work is not a lot of money. Developers need to take this on board.

I realize that lots of people don't know this. And that lots of people do in fact make less than that. But that's often because they are leaving a lot of money on the table.

Sadly, the standard reaction upon learning how much this profession actually pays if you ask is to call whoever filled you in a liar. If you can get over the initial defensiveness and unwillingness to take on new information, you can get to the important next step where you actually go out and ask for that rate for your next gig.

You'll find that it's less than half what good clients will pay. Long term, not just one day a year, no foolin'.

> Sadly, the standard reaction upon learning how much this profession actually pays if you ask is to call whoever filled you in a liar.

I suspect those people get frustrated because what you're describing isn't something they experience in the real world. I know it kind of ticks me off when somebody says 'just ask for more money!' when I know damned well there's a lot more to it than that. Experiences vary greatly depending on the industry you're working for and the skills you have available to you.

> you can get to the important next step where you actually go out and ask for that rate for your next gig.

I did that once, based on reading what you and patio11 wrote. Long story short, not all companies can afford the rate you're describing and I'd rather take $50/h and pay the bills than hold out for the mythical client willing to pay more than $200/hr.

> I know it kind of ticks me off when somebody says 'just ask for more money!' when I know damned well there's a lot more to it than that.

What else is there to it? The company can afford it, or it can't. If you ask for more, they probably won't cease negotiations just because they can't afford it. If you're in the pipeline with them for a proposal/SOW submission, you can make several attempts at the sale. If you're finding that most clients refuse your higher rate, there are two possibilities: 1) you have actually hit the ceiling you can achieve for this industry and niche, or 2) you're dealing with suboptimal clients.

I'm just okay at sales (or at least, I don't really like it but I do it), but I am particularly good at a lot of billable information security services and software development. Every time I increased my rates, I did it because I decided to on a whim, during the kickoff call, just to see what would happen. I too thought that the mythical five figure weekly rate was preposterous, until I got it.

I know this probably sounds horribly insensitive to you based on what you just said, but when patio11 et al talk about raising rates and people push back against the feasibility of doing it, there's an element of talking past each other going on. There are a set of premises involved in successfully raising rates to the "mythical" scale you're talking about:

1. You are in an industry where you know established players are billing these rates.

2. You have the market outreach, salesmanship or network to capture a percentage (even if its small) or the existing market share from these incumbents.

3. You have comparable skills (both technical and logistical) to the consultants or shops your clients could be going to.

4. You are able to differentiate yourself (this is not even strictly necessary, just helpful).

If you don't tick all or more of those premises, then yes, of course simply asking for higher rates is unlikely to consistently work. But if you re-read much of the advice that is put out by folks like Patrick, you see that the unspoken subtext of, "You need to be good at this" is there, where "this" means technical and sales skills. This is why he wrote Don't Call Yourself a Programmer in the first place - the technical skills are important but insufficient. The "willing to ask" part comes after the fact, and just boils down to reticence.

It's a straightforward formula. If you know other people are doing it, and you know you're as good as them at doing it, you can do it too. In my experience, most of the people who push back against this are either 1) not as skilled as they think they are (to be blunt, but I'm not saying this necessarily describes you) or 2) not very good at sales, generally due to a natural aversion. The point people like myself try to make is that if you have the technical skills, just getting over the sales difficulty will significantly improve your income.

I largely agree with this comment. Can I highlight a particularly important bit:

> you're dealing with suboptimal clients.

It is entirely possible that a hypothetical freelancer charging restaurants $50 an hour for Ruby on Rails websites has maxed out on restaurants' willingness and ability to pay. I assert that the same technical skills command $200 an hour with better packaging for more sophisticated businesses, for example, pitching software companies on how to increase their sales (which can be done by writing fairly pedestrian Rails apps; "ActiveMailer and a for loop paid for my daughter's college education" is a sticker that more than one company owner could affix to their laptop).

You do not owe the economy your services vis a particular niche, particular technology, or particular customer profile. The economy is sending you an engraved invitation, delivered via letters as high as the hollywood sign, that people are willing to pay far, far more than $50 for services which are substantially similar in character to those sold by $50/hr technologists. One should rejigger one's business (prospecting strategies, client mix, etc) to expose oneself to those better opportunities.

> I assert that the same technical skills command $200 an hour

> pitching software companies on how to increase their sales

That's not software consulting, that's sales consulting. If you have the skills to be a sales consultant, then you can make a whole hell of a lot more than $200/hr. Saying that sales consulting (a non-technical skill) applies evenly across the entirety of the tech industry is blatantly wrong.

Let me try to boil down patio11's argument even further.

Premise 1: Technical skills like programming are broadly generalizable to solving many problems applicable to many businesses.

Premise 2: Programming skills are too abstract to be easily marketable, and "programming" devoid of business framing or value-add is a poor pitch for billable hours.

Premise 3: "Programming", as a solution, is equally applicable to problems that are very lucrative to solve and problems that are not very lucrative (swap out "problems" for "clients" too).

Conclusion: If you are good at programming to the skills approximation of a mid-level engineer at a reputable company, you can charge five or six figures per month to solve problems for people.

There is no secret club. If you are good at JavaScript and React, you can earn $250/hour, or $10,000 per week by targeting the right clients and asking for it in return for solving their problems. They don't have to know you're using React, in fact it might be better if they don't. You can also charge $50/hour, or $2,000 per week by targeting the wrong businesses and solving their problems with the same programming skills.

If you want to argue about the semantics of this and call it "sales consulting" - sure, fine. I wouldn't, because that means that all software-enabled consulting becomes "sales consulting." The simple, empowering truth is that you can do the same job with the same skillset and earn more money by literally asking for it and choosing companies that can pay it. You do not need to be a sales wunderkind or rip people off.

If you use Rails to solve a local business' problem that was costing them $1 million/year, and you use Rails to solve another business' problem that was costing them $20,000/year, and you complete both in the same timeframe of a few weeks, target the first business and charge $20,000 per week. They are almost certainly not going to say no, and you will find that there is no race to the bottom for consultants solving six or seven figure problems.

No, it's not. There really is such a thing as a sales consultant, and that person is nothing even a little bit like Patrick. Patrick is a software developer who has taken the time to understand what businesses actually do with software. That's not the same thing as being a salesperson. That's good news, because it's hard to learn to be a good salesperson, but not hard for someone good (or even passable) at writing software to learn how to use it to help businesses make money.

> The point people like myself try to make is that if you have the technical skills, just getting over the sales difficulty will significantly improve your income.

Go read jasonkester's comment again. If this is what he meant, then he has failed at communicating it. He's saying most developers are leaving money on the table because they won't ask for it, then he suggests an hourly rate that maybe the top 1% of our industry can command. He's suggesting that most people can hit that rate and it's just not true. The top 1-10% can hit that, but by definition, that means 90-99% of developers will never be able to command that kind of money.

That's circular. The reason only 1% achieve that rate is not because there is an efficient market that evenly distributes earnings according to skills. It's because most developers are not even cognizant of the fact that they can charge far more than they do. They don't even arrive at the point where they debate doing that with themselves, because the concept is foreign to them.

This is the essence of the problem: the true 1% of the industry in terms of skill (technical and business savvy) earn millions per year. But they are out of sight, and the 1% is artificially dropped down to $200/hour, because the market is not competing primarily on skills, it's competing on business savvy. Many of the most technically proficient people handicap themselves in negotiations, meanwhile many people less technically skilled but still very capable of delivering value earn more than them. There's no sales-y secret sauce here.

90% of developers won't command that rate. "Can" has nothing to do with it.

"$100/hr for remote work is not a lot of money."

Yes it is. The average minimum wage in the US is $7.25. 8 hours work is less than $60, or about 40 minutes of what you call not a lot of money.

People will often charge a daily or weekly rate, and may offer a lower rate if the project will take a long time. But $100 per hour is nothing crazy, and I think it's actually on the low end for a good software developer. It's not uncommon for a remote software developer to charge between $100 and $200 per hour, depending on their experience. If you have some very specialized knowledge and a strong reputation, you might have a weekly rate of $10,000. (But these are typically very short term engagements.)

patio11 has a lot of good posts that talk about consulting rates: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2015/05/01/talking-about-money/

Eh. I hire developers overseas on the regular. Senior devs, or people who can pass for one, are making ~$30/USD/hour regardless of location if they have conversational level english skills. Yes, having skills I want as an employer is important. There's no free lunch.

Let's assume their fill rate is only 50% of their total time. That's still ~$32k USD / year. This is great money even in a developed country like Russia where the median income is ~$5k/USD/year.

Just because you're hiring allegedly [1] senior devs for $30/hr doesn't mean they couldn't charge a lot more, or that you just aren't exposed to the ones charging $150 because they avoid lowballers.

1. Yes, I'm skeptical, having worked with (or worse, after) a lot of overseas devs who charge in that range, or more. None were truly "senior".

Agree about conversational English.

Disagree about the rate. Depends on specialization, reputation, portfolio, experience, negotiation skills, and many other things.

One thing that rarely is discussed - how do people handle visas and work permits in this situation? It seems like there's a general attitude of not taking SE Asia immigration control seriously if you're wealthy and western but that seems like it would backfire.

Really enjoyed the site. I've been on my own automation path over the last 15 years. It has allowed me to not manage income streams while working full time. Different goals same belief in automation.

> brings in the equivalent of a nice Senior Developer salary

Can you give ballpark? I hate it when people do this as senior dev has different range depending on location. 80-100K or 100-150k/year?

Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading that link. I have a question. How do you market your SaaS offerings so you grow the revenue from those?

You're a good writer, that was a fun read.

Builtwith.com (one employee/founder and a part-time blogger) does an estimated $12M a year [1] assuming a 'few thousand' = 2000 paying customers.

"the Basic at $299 per month for customers that want lists of sites mainly for the purpose of lead generation; Pro at $495 per month, suited more for users that work in an industry using a lot of A/B testing and comparison-type data; and Enterprise at $995 per month, which covers all bases and allows sales teams with multiple people to all use the platform at once. Brewer says that in terms of paying users on the platform there is a ‘few thousand’ and the split is about 40 percent Basic, 40 percent Pro and 20 percent Enterprise."

Similar thread a while ago [2]

1: http://www.startupdaily.net/2015/09/builtwith-is-perhaps-one...

2: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12065355

Edit: specificity and formatting

It's incredulous that a person can single-handedly run a product as complex as that. Builtwith isn't a low-maintenance CRUD app, it's a beast. It crawls >100M websites, searches for thousands of signals, monitors their usage, finds lead information, and serves them to thousands of customers. The signals need to be constantly updated; crawler needs to handle tons of edge cases; and not to forget, you need to deal with people's issues. I am in utter disbelief one person can do everything, even if I account for being an automation freak.

I used to work at a very small company (3 people, including myself) that brought in about $4 million per year. The entire software and infrastructure, including a custom web scraping stack and data analysis pipeline, was written and maintained by one developer. The other person was sort of a business development type - no technical input.

It probably wasn't quite as advanced as BuiltWith (scale-wise), but it was similarly impressive how much output was crunched by one developer. I learned a lot from him.

Could you elaborate on some of the things you learned from him? I'm interested in people that seem to be almost ruthlessly effective and competent.

What if the actual development was outsourced?

My company does the same, it doesn't have a single employee, I outsource everything to different teams I have close relation. It just works, I do the business development and technical specifications, rest is handled by external teams.

Well if its outsourced is it really a single person company?

Is 100% of the equity owned by one person? Then I would say yes.

Just because I hire somebody to clean my office, doesn't mean it's not a one-person company.

100% ownership does not imply no employees.

Also, there's a difference between hiring software engineers, who will be engaging in activities related to your core business, and hiring someone to clean.

If the owner does not, or is not able to build and maintain their software, some will consider this to not be a single person business (regardless of how the extra help is contracted).

I personally disagree with that analogy (I'd consider the hiring of any additional labor to deviate from a company's "one person" state, custodial personnel included). I also disagree that equity is the only consideration for similar reasons (if I own 100% of the equity, but run an office with a receptionist and service desk and programmers, that's very obviously not "single person").

I work at a company that has 50 employees and 100% of the equity is still owned by 1 person. Is that a 1 person company?

Where do/did you find these teams?

I've marvelled at builtwith since I found out it existed.

csallen, if you're reading this, get Gary Brewer to do an interview for IndieHackers.

I actually emailed Gary the week before I launched IH to try and get him on the site, but didn't get a response. I'll try reaching out again!

awesome, looking forward to it!

Had no clue that was done by one person. Would definitely check that IH profile out if ever done.

FWIW, it appears that at least some of the ancillary functions get done by other people. According to [1], social media marketing and accounting are two that he doesn't handle personally.

> I am in utter disbelief one person can do everything, even if I account for being an automation freak. As someone who works in data acquisition, and someone who has evaluated BuiltWith along with other providers of tech install data, I can get a rough idea of how it stays as a one-man shop.

Whether deliberate or not, the more hairy type of signal analysis tends to be missing from BuiltWith's dataset. Unless it's exposed via DNS or direct webpage code, BuiltWith doesn't detect it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it keeps it maintainable. Especially because you can use your historical data to identify changes in signals and be able to reactively update them as they change instead of use resources to proactively monitor all of them manually. But it limits it to a "public web facing" tech install base. You can greatly expand this by including secondary signals like parsing SEC files and job postings and whatnot, which will capture a lot of non web facing technologies. But those are a lot more complicated signals that require a lot of filtering/processing to reliably leverage, and would likely grow beyond a one-man shop like BuiltWith.

Salesforce is a classic example of this. It's generally an internally focused software, but if you use Partner Portals or Web2Lead forms, it'll be exposed publicly. Builtwith[2] identifies 12.1k live sites using it and 30k historical sites using it. HGData[3], which provides similar data but uses a wider range of signals, can identify 92k sites/companies currently using it.

> crawler needs to handle tons of edge cases Not particularly. If rendering the page, sure. But when doing pattern recognition within the source code itself, edge cases that'd bork rendering are mostly moot.

I'm not at all disparaging BuiltWith - it's a solid product for what it is and a bargain for the price charged. But it's also a very limited product which, when destructured, hints at a lot of decisions made with the intention of being maintainable as a one-man shop. In the space it occupies, it also has a really solid pricing model if you can get by with using the limited dataset it provides. But if you need visibility into any internal software or tools or hardware, it has much more limited use.

[1] http://www.hostingadvice.com/blog/builtwith-more-than-how-we...

I don't know much about marketing but could someone ELI5 what BuiltWith.com does?

My understanding is that it scans websites to determine what kind of technologies are being used (which hosting service, email providers, javascript libraries, analytics, etc)

This can be useful for market research, to see what technologies are being used and by whom. It could also be used as a lead generation tool.

Example: If I am creating a new email list tool, I could find websites (via builtwith) that are using a competitor and send cold email with specific comparisons between my new service and their current one, or asking what they like/dislike about their current tool.

At some point scale will require you to hire, at least a few people, if you're really successful. But two examples that I can think of are Markus Frind (Plenty of Fish) and Markus Persson (Minecraft).


Markus Frind is probably the biggest. He spent 5 years (2003-2008) working on Plenty of Fish, and at that point it was bringing in about $5M/yr and had 3 employees.

When the site sold in 2015 for $575 million it was 70 employees, but he still owned 100% of the company.


Markus Persson would be another possible option, for the first $10-20M that Minecraft brought in he was the only person (aside from a contracted musician). And then for a while after that, it was him and his friend who was hired to manage the business side so he could focus on the programming work.

Hmm, so if I apply some deep learning training techniques it seems like the takeaway from this is: Change your first name to Markus.

Correct. Because as we know correlation = causation.

Highly relevant chart, and subsequent proof, for this: http://i.imgur.com/3B0pt3M.png

You may also like this huge collection of spurious correlations http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

I like the top comment for that on imgur.

>This could be telling the story of IE users being murdered out of existence.

How did Plenty of Fish grow at first?

I have deep respect for Markus Frind being able to scale so well.

Still I feel there is some missing ingredient in the early growth of PoF.

What really happened before the big monthly 500k Adsense checks started coming in?

Cue eBay(it was not Pez dispensers, it was to large extent newsgroups spam), cue AirbnB, cue Facebook in Harvard years, cue every "growth hacking" story.

There is always some missing piece in the success story(ala Balzac).

Minecraft on the other hand seems the purest single person success story.

One of the ingredients to its success was a lot of free advertising from Microsoft. They loved talking about the dating site that ran ASP.NET

Out of curiosity, what's the Balzac reference?

Oh that, right. I thought it might be something else.

I built and run StoreSlider[1]. It made ~$700,000 in 2016, mainly in affiliate revenue from eBay. Costs are essentially hosting (between two and five $10 Linodes, depending on load).

Took me some effort to built, but it's on autopilot now.

[1] https://www.storeslider.com

Sorry for questioning the legitimacy of your revenue claim, but according to Similarweb your site gets less than 5000 visitors a month. [1] Alexa's estimates seem similar, putting the global rank at 6.5 mio. [2] Wouldn't you need millions of yearly visitors for that kind of revenue? I know those traffic estimations aren't perfect, but this seems off by a lot. Am i missing something?

[1] https://www.similarweb.com/website/storeslider.com [2] http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/storeslider.com

I block all bots and crawlers except Googlebot and Bingbot (the others bring no users but can hit the servers hard), so I'd treat Alexa etc with a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, the figures I gave are for 2016. Since then, there has indeed been a fall in all numbers, largely because a site like this will always be overly reliant on Google and, for whatever reason, Google favours the site less this year than it did the year before.

At its peak, the site had approximately 53,000 daily visitors.

What tech do you use for the site?

Lumen (from Laravel) with Nginx on Linode.

PHP 7.1 has given a huge boost in terms of the performance you can get from a cheap VPS.

I listen to the Mixergy podcast and Andrew always quotes Similarweb to the interviewees. It always goes "According to Similarweb you get 90% of your traffic from X site?" And the interviewee is usually like "I've never heard of that site." I don't really trust the data coming out of similarweb.

This looks great and nicely built. Once you've created something like this how do you start getting traffic? My assumption is you also need to market it somehow but the specifics of how to do that always eluded me.

Any suggestions or strategies you could share?

not making any claims whatsoever, but do keep in mind a very typical strategy of sites and businesses like that is to go on forums like this and brag about their apparent success when it's not true, because perceived success sometimes begets true success. i know because i've done it myself successfully - for my last 2 startups i went to reddit and told long form stories which are ultimately nothing more than hyperbolic origins of my startup intended to drum up interest, and both instances brought a sizeable wave of initial traffic.

So... "fake it till you make it"

In my case it was word of mouth, social sharing, and the good graces of Google. Each individual user is simply worth too little to make a paid marketing strategy viable.

With the traffic I had, I did a lot of A/B testing to maximise conversions.

How do you handle scraping the products, do you just fetch all new products once per day? Or do you fetch them all in real time as the user searches

Everything is done with real time calls to the eBay API. eBay's catalogue is too large to make it realistic to fetch it as a whole and, anyway, as far as I remember they don't offer a data dump (it's been a long time since I checked).

Luckily, eBay's API is very fast, but I also worked hard to keep the total response time of my code within a reasonable range.

Ah interesting, that makes sense. Thanks

Your problem will be definitional. The Rock earned ~ $65mm last year. Is he a 'one man company'? I guarantee he's billing through a services entity...

1: https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2016/08/25/the-...

Celebrities will almost never work alone. They will have PAs, body guards, drivers, etc who all work full time for them. Even the minor celebrities will have agents who work for them - albeit not exclusively. But someone on the scale of the Rock definitely wouldn't be operating his business alone.

> work alone

He (alone?) does the actual "work" that brings in the bread. The other people could be considered contractors. I mean, a single SaaS app developer still doens't "work alone" when you consider that she might be buying services like hosting and/or payment processing.

It's hard to really find the line between alone and not.

I don't really agree with that logic because you could then argue that anyone working for a company who isn't a developer (eg the finance department, sales team, customer support team and even upper management) aren't part of the company either.

To further blur things, in my examples for a celebrity, agents still contribute to bringing in the actual work yet (as you defined) yet they literally are an external service one would pay for. And what about the script writing? Directors, studio editors, cameramen and sound technicians? They are all creating the product too - without which The Rock wouldn't be in business.

I think if there is one thing we can agree on, it's that even the most fiercely independent of people still depend on the work of others. Nobody can work entirely in isolation. Or at least without themselves living in isolation. But that's really more a philosophical tangent rather than an answer to the question originally posted to HN :)

the metric I'd use is whether one party is fungible. I argue that you can't replace the rock and still get the same product/show. but you can replace the agents and finance team etc.

I like philosophical arguments! ^_^

TV shows and movie franchises often replace cast. Sometimes with the new actor / actress playing an existing character.

* Sometimes it's done out of necessity so the changes are glossed over (Dumbledore changed characters due to Richard Harris sadly passing away, or when actors/actresses get fired from soap operas),

* sometimes it's made a feature (eg Doctor Who regenerations)

* and sometimes they'll just introduce a new leading character to replace the old one (eg the crime comedy "Death in Paradise" which has had 3 different leading inspectors as the previous actors have left the show).

Few people, if indeed anyone, are irreplaceable in their careers.

Yes, the problem is defining what constitutes a one person company.

To give another example, Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have been the highest paid sports star last year, with estimated earnings of $88 million.


As laumars pointed out there's the question of whether you include assistants.

His primary job is an employment, not his own business. He reports to his coach etc. His side businesses like marketing the CR7 brand is most likely outsourced to a large degree with little to none daily activity by him.

A singer writing his own songs or an actor always looking for roles to play might be a business, while typically they are controlled by a record company or movie studio, which again isn't really like running a business on your own.

Furthermore he plays in a team. Golf or tennis players would be more appropriate examples.

I don't think we should consider celebrities in this context. I feel the author of the question wanted to know about freelancers.

Isn't Tarsnap[1], by Colin Percival a great example of this? I'm surprised it wasn't the first thing mentioned since he's reasonably active on HN.

1: https://www.tarsnap.com/about.html

Is that the same guy who did that famous burn on HN? If so it's nice to see he's made it.

Yeah, assuming you mean this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=35076 (ctrl + f: putnam)

I've always loved this.

A little known fact about it is one of his replies is this:

we're in a similar space -- http://www.getdropbox.com (and part of the yc summer 07 program) basically, sync and backup done right (but for windows and os x). i had the same frustrations as you with existing solutions.

let me know if it's something you're interested in, or if you want to chat about it sometime.

drew (at getdropbox.com)


Exact link: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=35079

I guess no one managed to top that comeback in the last decade (thread is 3600 days old!).

This is amazing.

I'd be surprised if he made millions from this service.

You shouldn't. Tarsnap is a decade old; a million dollars over ten years is not a lot of money by the standards of tech salaries.

I assumed that OP's "making millions" referred to a yearly-ish timeframe, not the entire existence of a business.

Ah, got it. Right, Tarsnap is under a million dollars per year.

Never mind that, your company is still awesome, and with Tarsnap now running on Windows (10) thanks to the 'Windows Subsystem for Linux' I'm sure it will do a lot better in the coming years.

Oh, I'm not worried about that... I don't think $1M/year is a sharp line dividing "success" from "failure". I decided a decade ago that my criteria for success were:

1. Staying in Canada,

2. Doing work which I found interesting and meaningful, and

3. Earning more money than Google offered me,

and I'm hitting all three.

Damn man, don't be petty, you're replying to the creator of tarsnap

Yeah, but did he win the Putnam?

Just once.

Sentences like this really make me want to move to America

Is that really required to be considered successful?


> people making millions

> It's made me think who has been the most successful at building a company as a sole proprietor.

are there any public numbers on tarsnap?

Yes, but they are all in unreadable picounits.

How do you define successful single-person? I've been running a one person consultancy for 12 years now, had to retrain quite a bit over the years, sometimes it was so busy that I outsourced pieces of work. It's been good enough that I have a house and no mortgage attached to it, all while spending almost enough time with my family - much more recently. This is what I wanted and I consider that a success in maintaining a work/life balance, working from home and having a good life in general. It's not quite 'fu' money yet, as I still ahve to work for a living, but I working towards that goal. I know a few good people that agree with this point of view - Basecamp/37 signals folks etc.

That's a very relevant question. I guess inherent in the question is 'FU money' as the only criterion?

I started Airwindows about ten years ago specifically because friends of mine were getting jerked around by a large-ish audio DSP plugin company, and intentionally targeted a then absurdly cheap pricepoint. Ran it for ten years, and transitioned to a Patreon model when my payment processor went out of business, always DRM-free, always scorning concerns of 'piracy', the purpose always being democratization of tools. It's still working, I've got a decent amount of influence in my industry sector, and I'm seeing hardware-based startups taking a similar approach.

My current plans are to extend outwards into an additional website/identity dedicated to being interdisciplinary, and be the primary resource for this new model: the idea is that as we move beyond money as a primary metric, interconnectivity and significance become central to what 'wealth' is in the future. So long as subsistence is assured and the flow of money/gifting is enough to keep developing creatively, the important thing becomes 'how authoritative' you can be, and though this has traditionally expressed itself through money directly it could also be expressed in terms of 'FU relevance' or the ability to steer the zeitgeist.

If I manage that (not saying I'm fully there, but I'm probably at least halfway), does that count as successful if my choices intentionally ignore the accumulating of money? I'm convinced money is increasingly irrelevant to real significance, especially as we move towards general AI. If we haven't better optimized purposefulness by the time we reach AI escape velocity, we'll have a serious problem.

Money can be relevant if, say, having some reserves at the right time makes the difference between gaining access to the technology or being left out. It's all utterly hypothetical of course.

Money is only abstracted influence. What if you managed to get enough direct influence that you could get access to the technology without ever having to work through a money stage?

Happens every day on YouTube, in a sense. Think 'unboxing videos' or perhaps 'endorsement deals' is a better analogy. If you can get enough social influence, you can work with technology/capabilities far outside your normal 'money' conditions, because your importance is being weighted directly. You pay taxes on such gifts because the government rightly sees this as compensation, but it didn't go through a money/abstraction stage. If you were collaborating on some creative work using but not owning tools of extraordinary value, you probably wouldn't even be taxed on it, but both sides still benefit: you don't retain the tools but you produce work on them in which you have an ownership stake.

Consultancy is a special case, I doubt it's what OP had in mind.

I built and run Instapainting.com by myself. As of the date of this comment it is still only one employee (me). https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/instapainting

Things like customer support is outsourced to other startups, and of course the artists on the platform don't work for me, but could be if the company was structured differently (it's structured as a marketplace).

Nice site, and a great idea.

How did you outsource customer support to other startups? And can I ask which startup?

Thoroughly enjoyed your IH profile. Learned a lot too. Thanks for sharing and continue to prosper.

Now that I am no longer a single employee business (again) I can admit that I ran Mark II of my company on my own doing everything without outsourcing (sales, customer support, development, sysops, UI/UX, website design, copywriting, manuals, SEO, advertising, accounting, etc) making much more than seven figures in profit for quite a few years.

It probably wasn’t the wisest idea to stay solo for so long, but the freedom of not having employees made me very reluctant to hire anyone again. The only reason I chose to hire is that the business' growth forced me make the decision to either turn away customers or hire staff. The people I have are great, but I do miss the days of doing everything myself without having to explain why something is important.

>much more than seven figures

Is it the same as saying eight figures or nine figures?

It is the same as me not wanting to post exactly what I have earned in a public forum :)

For the purpose of this thread it really is not that important how much money I have made.


Bootstrapped social networking site doing multiple 5-figures/month.

What's the business model? Job postings on https://remoteok.io?

You can click the link :)

It's a paid membership community - https://join.nomadlist.com/

I had clicked, in fact I knew the site already, but I thought it was only a directory of cities ranked by several metrics. Nice!

Like your blog, i remember some posts about travelling and that your from the Netherlands. So greetings from Belgium :)

I'm not Peter :)

While Pieter does most of the work himself, he does have a few people helping out here and there.

Sidekiq by Mike Perham http://sidekiq.org/

Over 1MM annual revenue https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/sidekiq

hmmm... It is OSS though. Not sure we can consider it as a single person company.

If you were to define it that narrowly any company that doesn't do its own accounting is not longer a "single person company". At that point I don't think you'd be left with many companies that make much revenue, so even though the code is open source that still counts as a single person company imo.

It's still a single person company (as in, the company with only one employee). The fact that more people contribute to the company's product doesn't change that.

As long as other open source contributors are not payed for their contributions, I would still qualify it as a single person company. It's just that the company's approach is a little bit different than the traditional one.

Not completely. However is commits or line changes mean anything, you can see at https://github.com/mperham/sidekiq/graphs/contributors that 1 person did approx 90%+ of the work on the code itself.

And why was I down voted? Really, I did not even express a strong opinion. I kind of expressed a doubt. This is really strange. I may not know something and I may have doubt. I believe a community like HN is a good place to express them and get corrected. I am shocked to see that this is not really welcomed here.

There's pinboard, maciej still runs it solo, I think.

Yes I do. It makes about $200K a year.

My measure of success isn't the money (though I love money), but the independence and freedom it gives me.

Just want to say, keep up with the activism, but please post more on your blog! I miss the dry wit.

Pro tip: he has a Twitter account in the same vein.

Stardew Valley: http://stardewvalley.net/

The creator did an AMA on reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/StardewValley/comments/4b8s7v/im_co...

I thought it was pretty inspirational that he managed to keep at it for 4 years solo even when his grandma and himself started to doubt that he would ever ship.

Problem is, "big for one person" is not big enough to be news, relative to all the companies. Once they get big enough for many to hear about them, they have to grown, to handle it. e.g. Notch (Minecraft)

Secondly, the best way to make solid, reliable money is to have a niche, without competition. So, you keep your mouth shut.

You'll probably most likely notice them in small, industry-oriented niches. Or... after they grow larter than one-person.

To give an answer: https://balsamiq.com/products/mockups/

Somewhere there is an awesome Video about balsamiq where the founder Talks about how he tried everything he could to remain a single-person operation but failed to do that due to support requests

The Flappy Bird creator said he made $50k per day from in app ads. But he pulled the game after a short while. Said because he felt guilty for making people play all day. Would love to know the whole story behind this.

> Would love to know the whole story behind this.

He actually did an interview with Rolling Stone [0] where he told his "story".

[0] http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-flight-of-the-b...

I remembered that he was threatened with a legal action by Nintendo for using Super Mario pipe sprites, but it may be only a rumor.

That's not unlikely considering how aggressive Nintendo can be when it comes to protecting their IP.

He was found to not have infringed on their IP.

Rumor, AFAIK Nintendo didn't care.

He put it back up once a lot of clones started appearing though, didn't he? The reason being that since people would play the exact same kind of game either way he might as well be the one to get the revenue?

$50K Per day hahha

There was some podcast or something I remember listening to guy said he was worth $15K/hr or something haha man, I am a grub

According to porn industry insiders, xvideos is run by a married couple. They are very secretive, but they definitely do millions in revenue annually.

I think they have other sites as well (not that I would personally know haha) the source of the embeds are from xvideos as well props to them. Also their technology is good regarding hover-plays-clips versus cycling through screenshots... I wonder if they employ ML in auto-tagging content, that was a job I did once on AMT.

Do you have a source for this? Is all their revenue from ads?

Sublime Text was for a long time a single-person business.

We can find few of them here https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses

We (two python developers) have started a SaaS SEO checker service [1] in February 2017 (took 4 month to develop from 0) and already have paying customers on our business plan. I completely agree with the definition of successful business when you have ability to do what you want when you want. I already have a couple of other websites generating revenue from advertising and all this allowed me to quit daily job 2 years ago. So definitely there are a lot of examples of successful single- (two-) person businesses out there.

[1] https://seocharger.com

This looks like a really good product. Most SEO products I've used are one off checks.

Looks great! How did you find your first customers? Cold contacting?

Thank you :) Actually the only source of traffic to our website is organic search and our first clients came from google. We do not consider cold messaging as this is the same as spam. Frankly speaking we expected more traffic and clients but it turned out that SEO niche is very crowded though our solution is quite different from all others. We are developers and are not very good at marketing. Tried adwords but with no luck. So the website is now left on autopilot and with the hope to organic growth.

Don't underestimate the value of this type of promotions. I'm sure quite a few people have used your service because of this post.

Like it!

If Satoshi Nakamoto is still alive and still has access to the coins he mined but never sold, they're already worth billions and the work has changed the world.

But if he moved even a single millibitcoin out of his wallet I think the market might react with panic in fear that he would sell a lot of coins at once, and so the fear of the value plummeting might cause it to do just that.

So even if he is alive, could he ever reap the benefits of those coins?

Hopefully he mined with different wallets so that he's been able to sell smaller amounts of coins without anyone knowing that it was him.

Not entirely single person, but I run Musi [1] with one partner. We have monthly revenues in the mid six figures with 2-3k a month in expenses.

[1] https://feelthemusi.com

How did you get your app to take off? I built a music app and it was just insufferable trying to get users that didn't uninstall the app 1 hour later. It was disappointing to because personally I thought the UI was really nice.

Got in the game super early (nearly 5 years ago) when the space wasn't nearly as saturated. That and getting really lucky with ASO

Where did you learn ASO? Is there a noob 101 guide somewhere online?

Trial and error. I didn't really read anything but instead just tried to put myself in the shoes of a customer. It came down to me realizing that the features and info that I felt were important as developer were possibly not so important for a user.

Amazing! All revenue is from ads? Do you use networks or do you have direct ad partners?

Yeah! Entirely ads mediated through MoPub and some other partners. Since the user base is strongly recurring users, ads perform very well

I'm surprised no one has mentioned improvely.com by Dan Grossman.

I think it makes around $40K to $50K per month. Over the last few years, I've seen it grow from around $10K to $50K. That slow steady SaaS growth is pretty inspiring.

Daring Fireball by Jon Gruber (https://daringfireball.net).

The most successful one-man business is not in software. I know of a successful mediator. He charges $18000 to $20000 per day and has always been booked for the last 20 years.


Wow.. I just want to seat in a mediation done by him to see WTF he does that cost so much.

He helps resolved complex litigation issues out of court. Litigation can take 1 to 2 years in the court and cost millions of dollars. In a 1-day session, he can resolve 95% of these cases and help both parties come to an amicable agreement. People's lives and time are no longer wasted in long drawn out court battles.

Just a side note, most mediators are former lawyers. After many years of practice, they seek a better way to resolve conflicts. The pay isn't bad either.

One more thing. Randy is actually one of the best mediators in the world. After the 9/11 attacks in New York, Randy was called in to mediate and arbitrate the case with the insurance companies and tenants. After 2 years, they were able to come to an agreement and the resulting funds allowed for the area to be rebuilt.

I know some affiliate marketers who make $2M+ without any employees.

Apparently, ranking well for certain keywords (mostly web hosting and website builders) can be very, very lucrative.

Why you're not putting the list here (people you know)?

Mostly because some of them are (or have been) clients and friends, and they like to keep their income and tactics secret.

But they're easy enough to find. Just Google lucrative keywords like "best hosting" and you'll see them


Guy quit his job a year or two ago to develop this full-time and seems to be doing pretty well for himself. I use the client all the time as a developer.

Last I heard (a month or two ago) he was making a pittance (like ~1-2k/month or so).

Sad considering how sweet the app is.

If I recall correctly, IMDB used to be a one-man show for a long time, up to and even after getting acquired by Amazon.

Here are a couple of awesome examples: Affiliate Marketer https://www.smartpassiveincome.com/ Patt is awesome, he actually shares his monthly income and expense statements. Started solo and now he hired a bunch of people.

Nathan Barry (http://nathanbarry.com/) the guy who started convertKit https://convertkit.com/

https://ipinfo.io - single person business that does over 250 million API requests a day, and generates good revenue.

is this yours? I use it regularly to do ASN lookups.

How did you get your first few customers?

Google > quora > 10 year old article > https://www.inc.com/magazine/20080901/the-other-number-ones....

But they have staff.

Large single-person startups? https://smallbiztrends.com/2014/07/successful-one-person-sta...

I know a guy who does arbitrage of porn traffic and he makes $2M a month, already saved up $20M.

How does that work? Never heard of traffic arbitrage before.

Essentially it is, build doorways that attract targeted traffic in some categories, and sell that traffic to porn sites... sounds simple, very hard to do profitably and requires both decades of experience, being extremely smart, and some luck.

("don't try to repeat this trick at home" disclaimer goes here)

Working by example may work. And analysing many successful examples may also yield some insight. But make sure to get the full picture: look also at those who fail. They might have tried the very same methods to most degrees. Don't fall for the survivorship bias :) It might be other factors which are truely important than those which seem the obvious ones.

Please first define success. You should think about your own values in order to know what is success for you.

I personally know people that made millions from creating software products and companies. But I do know nobody that did(or does it) it alone.

In fact, I "made millions" myself whatever that means starting with software(a million dollars is way less than 10 years ago because of inflation so it is not that much, specially if you life in a expensive place), but I made a hell lot of work and found colleagues along the way.

IMHO you should never focus on money. Money is just a tool for exchanging value. You should focus on creating value, even if at first it gives you little money. Because of innovation dilemma most things that create real value give you very little money first( Do you know how much money the Apple Store did the first year?)

In my opinion your priority should be finding a social circle that will help and understand you. If you have a business that means entrepreneurs. They will understand and support you like no one else. HN is virtual, you need real people around.

For me success is the ability to be free in my life, made my own decisions in my business, I could write on HN, or go climb a mountain when people is working, or travel a new country, or the ability to only invest on business that are ethical for me.

If earning more money means not being free, I will decline the offer, in fact I decline offers every single day. Why should I do it? To become a 80 years old billionaire? To have everybody know me so I have to live isolated against paparazzis or criminals wanting to kidnap my children because they know I am rich?

But your values could be different. Your priorities could be to show off, exert power over other people, of go meet interesting people, or have extreme experiences or send your children to elite schools, whatever is success for you.

Inflation over the past 10 years has not been significant. $1,000,000 of purchasing power in the US today is roughly equivalent to $1,179,000 in 2007.

Isn't "purchasing power" by definition after taking inflation into account?

Only if you're not buying a home, healthcare, or college.

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