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Ask HN: What's a side project you built to make money that hasn't?
503 points by JayNeely on July 7, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 452 comments
A friend pointed out a bunch of the 'tell us about your successful side project' threads suffer from a survivorship bias. They're still great for inspiration, but I suspect we could learn a lot about challenges and wrong approaches from each others' failures.

So what's a side project you built hoping to generate revenue from it, that hasn't actually earned you much / any money?

Why do you think it hasn't been as successful as you thought it would be / what would you do differently if you did it again? How much time/money did you spend building it, and what kind of iterations / improvements did you make to try and salvage it?

Appreciate any and all answers!

Not sure if it qualifies, as I actually managed to make money for a few months, but: MyGuestmap (now long dead) - started it in 2007, put Google Ads and some donation button. It allowed people to create their own little maps and embed them on blogs, where people could place pins and say something.

Got to 40k maps in a few months (it somehow got viral in a forum, then went from there). I even made $1k in ads one month. Some of the users included indie artists, setting up maps for fans, and diverse groups of people (there was a map for "moms of kids with cancer", for instance, which is pretty cool)

Then Google banned me for serving ads in porn sites. Then Paypal banned me (and took my funds) for taking money from shady accounts. Then my hosting service asked me to leave because they found "adult pics" on my site. A quick audit on the profile pics revealed that there were quite a few maps with porn content (including all the illegal stuff). I took stuff down as fast as I could, but never managed to get Google to pay me again. Tried my luck with a few redesigns, setting up a new adsense account (got shutdown immediately), etc. In the end, I let the domain expire and that was that. At least I didn't spend a lot of time or money on it...


Edit: registrar > hosting service

I know it's a rule; if a user can add content, someone will add porn, but why add porn to maps?

Were people putting a pin in and commenting with a naughty pic? What does that mean?

There were entire groups of people using it for “dating”, uploading nude photos, etc (you could upload a single photo along with your pin). I also found at least one bestiality-oriented group, with “meetups”, so... there was that. :-|

If you had the stomach for it, it would be interesting to just make it a map service for adult content. There are ad networks and billing providers that specialize in this sort of thing, and AWS allows porn (legal, that is).

Yeah, I didn’t, really (specially with all the gray and flatout illegal areas). There are providers now too (although a friend that does it tells me hosting is still impossible) - not sure about back then

> (legal, that is)

Is any major platform more restrictive than the regional law?

When I checked cloud providers' terms to see if we could build a crawling infrastrucutre for my last company, I noticed Rackspace did not allow adult content of any kind, but thst may have changed since 2011.

> Then my registrar asked me to leave because they found "adult pics" on my site.

Your domain registrar? Would any of them do this?

Sorry, I meant hosting. In hindsight, the domain was actually my best asset (it’s a PR 4 domain), so I should’ve kept that :( )

what was the name?

A google search of "myguestmap" finds articles which match the story and suggests the domain was likely http://myguestmap.lorca.eti.br/index.jsp

That was the first test box, in a friend’s personal site :) actual domain was lame: mapservices.org

I got kicked out of dreamhosting, then kept it alive on railsplayground for years (but w/o the ads/donations)

Additional curiosity tidbit: I made that product to learn Ruby on Rails - the v0 was a Java Struts/JSP, so I rewrote it as an exercise and “launched” on mine & my friends personal blogs. The internet felt a lot more viral back then, at least to me (we ended up launching two other side projects that actually got some traction too, but could never focus on or monetize)

I've maxed out a couple credit cards and spent all my severance pay etc. trying to finish building this '3D abstract visual debugger,' which I'm calling Lucidity [video]: http://symbolflux.com/projects/avd

I started working on it in 2014 and it's been on my mind ever since. I applied to YC with it a long time ago (was not accepted, and I can see so much wrong with the application I sent now...) I was laid off in November so I jumped back into the project and have been working on it since.

The main thing I'm planning on changing up now is: it's too general purpose—closer to a platform than a specific product. So next I'll focus on building one particular product on top of it: something kind of like Chrome's object browser (which you get when using console.log)—but showing dynamic structural changes in time (steppable/reversible), and being multi-language.

The other main issue is that, even though I'm trying to get it into user's hands as soon as possible, it has been a giant task for me to get even an alpha of this thing together on my own,—though I am damn close now. And my sister has been helping a bit recently.

Edit: direct link to video: https://youtu.be/KwZmAgAuIkY (looks much better full size!)

You should consider integrating this visualization in a few third party applications with a significant database component.

I'm thinking web frameworks (like WordPress) and CRMs (like SalesForce). Easy to comprehend visualization of business data is a lot more valuable than visualization of internal program data structures. If you can populate structures from 3rd party sources then you could have a valuable product.

I can see how a business would be interested in visualization of contact growth or website structure.

> Easy to comprehend visualization of business data is a lot more valuable than visualization of internal program data structures

I agree that must be true in an absolute sense, but part of the reason I'm making this is that I find visualization of internal program data to be valuable. I have other things I want to use this to help me build. But it's definitely a gamble whether I'll be able to convince many other developers that it's valuable :)

Thanks for the suggestion though. I do think it's interesting, but if I understand correctly, the volumes of data involved would require different sorts of visualization approaches, whereas I've spent lots of time specializing mine for high-level program state. For instance, the visualizations are specialized for common data structure types, and can be stepped backwards and forwards through, like in a stepping debugger. So if nothing else, I'd be very reluctant to pivot without really giving this a shot.

Let me know if I've missed anything about the kind of data you're thinking of—maybe it's more suitable than I think.

Well, I'm not sure it would be as difficult as you think to get the capability.

There are plenty of ORM libraries. I am familiar with python, so sqlalchemy etc for me, but most languages have ORM libraries now.

It could be as simple as some glue to pipe data from the 3rd party into native objects (via ORM) and then use your visualization efforts directly.

Your visualization looks smooth. It may require limiting visualization to certain fields, rather than every attribute as you would want debugging.

In my opinion, though, you've done the hard part.

And volume wise it seems you already have the ability to handle relatively large complex tree structures (I think your examples showed 500+ nodes). If you can hide/show sections dynamically then that should be sufficient for some very large structures.

maybe try to see if your tool makes it easy to understand viruses, malwares, ransomwares, etc.. Usually there is a time-race to understand how they work in order to find protections quickly. Also the code path is usually convoluted to make them hard to understand. A visualisation could be helpful and have a lot of value for clients

Very interesting idea... I'll look into this. I know nothing about the domain, so if you had any additional resource(s) that might be useful, I'd be glad to see 'em :) Thanks for the suggestion!

Cool project, with beautiful presentation!

I'm working on something similar, with similar motivation. I often need application-specific diagnostics and I haven't had a framework for building them. So I decided to make one.

I'm approaching LuaJIT diagnostics in a really similar way to you. I instrument the VM to snapshot key data structures (e.g. JIT code) and log them to a file. Then I make a UI that visualizes them as a graph. My snapshots are raw C data structures straight out of memory with only a subset of references crawled. The UI decodes the objects the same way as GDB i.e. using DWARF debug information.

LuaJIT example: https://github.com/raptorjit/raptorjit/pull/63#issuecomment-...

My main project for the tooling (early days): https://github.com/studio/studio

Anyway. Maybe our paths will cross further down the line. Looks to me like your work is more targeted, more polished, and that you are likely to find an excellent niche e.g. Redis as another commenter suggested. I am more interested in breadth i.e. object graphs are just one of many problems I am interested in and so I'm always looking for 80/20 solutions so that I can move on to the next thing.

End braindump. Once again - great work, and great presentation! Open an issue on the Studio repo if you want to share your work there some time btw :)

Hey Luke, that's very cool—first thing I've come across that seems to value visualizing that same kinds of things I think are important.

You are correct that for the moment I am attempting to be more targeted and find a good niche. My first priority is to generate some passive income so I can relax a little and work on things at a reasonable pace. From there, I have some more grand ideas for this project, though I will probably remain focused on abstractions of program state. I'm curious to see what other useful things you find to visualize—I liked the execution time/trace trees. I could definitely use that.

Thanks for the comment—feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you ever feel inclined: westoncb[at Google's email service].

Get it in front of users now. You're probably wasting your time on a tonne of things that aren't relevant.

Haha yeah... You're probably right, but I feel like it's still not quite actually usable, and just around the corner it will be. Maybe that's just how the trap feels though ;)

not probably, they are right. I fall into this trap all the time, adding these complex amazing features, that, once launched nobody uses, nobody ever asks about. The 1-2 people who find out about them are amazed, the 99% don't give a damn.

Get something working and throw it out there. Then find out what actual paying customers want, then go from there.

Although that isn't cast iron advice as early take up customers tend to be less risk adverse (they are paying for an unknown software) and perhaps more technical than others, so you run the risk of making a very technical program based on their feedback, which then when you get popular alienates users because unless they were with you from the beginning, they have no idea what half the features do, because obviously you didn't document things well enough.

Or so has been my experience, but perhaps I am an odd case, still creating desktop applications and don't give trial versions. You pay the money you can have me contactable all day and get your features added. If you haven't paid any money, then I don't care. I'll take word of mouth sales every day of the week

I'm in love with this, I have nothing constructive to add but you should be really proud of this work. Reminded me of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pTEmbeENF4

Think you're on to something that this talk points out very well.

Thanks! That's funny, before starting at a programming job a few years ago my soon-to-be-employer (at a tiny YC startup) said to me, "you can be like our own little Bret Victor!" I should re-watch that one though since I only have a vague recollection of it. I enjoyed his "Inventing on Principle" talk quite a bit.

That video reminds me of a comic I sketched out years ago. It's about this rag tag armed group of hackers who specialize in intelligence espionage in the near future. There's a payload specialist, security specialist, data structure specialist, etc. Much of the drama unfolds in VR space where the hackers can be seen frantically querying/manipulating data structures directly by hand whilst evading detection. It's supposed to be educational as well, explaining CS topics through stories. Think the movie hackers plus GitS, but with attention to accurate portrayal of CS knowledge. It's basically my vision of what the future could be like.

As a developer, I would love to have something like this. If you can make the visualization easily traversable using simple text queries, that would make it even more useful. Heck, there is value in simply being able to query your runtime data structures anytime. So monitored data structure is in itself a very cool idea.

I highly recommend coming up with a small enough use case to ship sooner so that you can build something that users want and pay for. Also, if you can document the client/server API, other devs will write monitored data structures for you.

> If you can make the visualization easily traversable using simple text queries ...

That's a cool idea. I've been working on something similar, but that takes kind of a different angle which I like. What I have at the moment is a way of specifying filters for which properties should be displayed or not.

Yes, small enough use case... unfortunately the smallest one I can think of is MASSIVE :P

I will document the API and probably open source the client before long. Clients pretty much just send serialized Operation objects as JSON. Operations are like add/remove to/from whatever location, using a shared addressing systems for all data structures.

Redis provides data structures to be stored inside its key-value database. It also allows you to setup hooks to listen to whenever something changes. You can potentially use it to connect client/server. Wrappers around client objects will sync with Redis whenever anything changes, and your visualization tool will listen to changes in Redis to update. The advantage with this is that some aspects of your system will benefit from years of testing and thought that went into building Redis.

Oh dang, cool! I will definitely look into that. Want me to send you a message or something if I end up doing it? My email is in the contact section on my webpage.

Very interesting concept. Excellent job. As others mentioned, it can be extended in to other attractive domains than code visualization. Developer tools don't tend to be as financially rewarding.

Reminded me of a conversation with my friend over a year ago about using VR for data visualization. His son had sold a VR startup, another of his friend was working on DNA/RNA visualization with VR, and he was exploring dashboard data visualization with VR.

> it can be extended in to other attractive domains than code visualization

I'm glad people are pointing this out to me because I hadn't really given it any thought. My first instinct is that the data being visualized here is somewhat unique in how its structured—but if nothing else, once I get graph/state machine visuals in, I could see that probably being useful elsewhere.

With a lot of the dashboard kind of stuff though (which I admittedly haven't had so much exposure to), it seems like line graphs etc. are more appropriate from what I can tell.

Very slick. I see the value as a developer looking at my in memory data. Not sure on the best monetization route but nice work. A way to import JSON might be a nice feature where it could be used by non-developers to visualize data and navigating as well. Good luck with whatever path you take.

Thanks Attila! That's reassuring to hear—I've mostly gotten responses that it's unclear how it could be useful, though that may be largely due to my unclear communication. (That also relates to my older video, since I haven't shown this one to many people yet.)

As for monetizing, I'd like to sell it as a cheap utility for programmers or CS teachers (those would be two different products). If I can make enough to visit the dentist regularly and maybe just supplement with part-time grocery store work, I'll consider it a success. Of course I think it has the potential for more than that if properly executed on...

While I watched the videos I could not help but be impressed, it looks really great. Just letting you know!

Thanks! Much appreciated.

You could make some fun tutorial videos with this; I'm thinking visualizations of how basic data structures work, tree balancing, linked lists, hash tables internals, perhaps sorting algorithms, git commands...

I like your thing. It makes visualization easy for people making videos about programming. Rationalizing code can be very social. Livestreaming your programming is a thing, right? Jonathan Blow does it all the time: https://www.twitch.tv/naysayer88

Your visualizations empower the livestreaming coder.

Also all of the YouTube channels that put up tens of programming videos every month. I'd love to watch coding tutorials and courses that use that kind of visualization.

Thanks muthdra. That is definitely something I've been thinking more about with this. Initially I was just thinking university professors might want it—but what about open source project maintainers who want to introduce new programmers to their code? It would be easy for them to get visualizations of their core parts of their programs.

I haven't seen too much livestreaming, but I'll check out Jonathan Blow's now!

Nice! It would be interesting to visualize a React hierarchy this way. Is your display client using some sort of "open" protocol that you could hook other things?

That would cool!

> Is your display client using some sort of "open" protocol that you could hook other things?

Pretty much, except it's technically the server which does the rendering etc., and the clients send over information about data structures (as JSON 'operations' which say thing like add/remove to/from some position in a data structure). It probably would not be very hard to write a client which observes React programs and sends that info over.

You should re-record the entire intro video and leave out all the 'um' and 'uh's. It makes the product seem far less professional.

It's fine. What makes it seem unprofessional is the low sound quality.

Amazing job, man. You should be proud.

this looks awesome - beautiful work so far

I bet you could make money on this now, today, by creating a code consulting service, where people would come to you with "that one bug they could never fix". They would send you their code, you would go through the debugging with them, and provide them with a video of your application showing how the data moved around and explaining to them the bug. Like debugging as a service. This wouldn't scale, unless you brought on a team of consultants who were all able to use your buggy debugger, but it would be lucrative.

I made Word Nazi, which is essentially just a dirty version of Taboo (in the same way that Cards Against Humanity is a dirty version of Apples to Apples) in app form.

Lessons learned:

* I should've paid someone to do some decent graphics, turns out "minimalist aesthetic" is not the same as "no effort put in to design"

* Making it a free demo, with the full game available as an in-app-purchase, sounds like a good deal for the user but in actuality sets off peoples' "IAP == crapware" alarm

On the upside, I also made a fake corporate website (http://ineptech.com) to promote it and that was so much fun that I'd probably waste all that time again.

For those checking out the ineptech site, please don't miss the poetry compiler joke! It's the bit I'm the most proud of. It's in an unlinkable modal so actually I'll just paste it here:

    Upon a stack of bits, about so tall,           // Boolean[] isprime = new Boolean[n];
    just think, O traveller, what we could do      // Arrays.fill(isprime, true);
    if every other bit was set to false            // for (int i = 4; i < n; i+=2)
    beginning with (but not including) two?        //   isprime[i] = false;
    Now take two lowly numbers, A and B            // for (int a = 3; a < n; a += 2)
    that equal three and two. What would happen    // {
    if they, by twos and ones respectively,        //   for (int b = 2; a*b < n; b++)
    were incremented in a nested fashion,          //   {
    And if we falsified, at every turn,            //     isprime[a*b] = false;
    the value offset by A groups of Bs?            //   }
    Then to the aether let those bits return,      // }
    to fly back home to Eratosthenes!              // return isprime;
(You may have figured out that I put a lot more time in to the silly programmer jokes in the fake site than in to the app. Wonder why it never took off...)

Very creative, congrats.

The fact that you made it a poem, reminds me of some extempore poems that I made up as a kid - inspired by reading a book that my uncle bought me as a gift - The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense [2]. It had a lot of funny poems, limericks, etc. in it.

Here are two I made up at the time:

Poem 1:

Mr. Jolly had a brolly [1]

Its handle was made of silver, and its body was made of gold.

And Mr. Jolly used the brolly when it was very cold.

[1] Brolly is a Brit term for umbrella.

Poem 2:

I climbed up a mountain.

There I saw a fountain.

One, two, three, four, five!

In it I'd like to dive.

Go ahead, laugh. It's meant to be funny and silly.

I'll also mention a few good ones I read in that book:

Into the drinking well

Which the plumber built her.

Aunt Eliza fell.

We must buy a filter.

Old Father William:


[2] The book is suitable for kids of all ages:


This is very, very nicely done. You can rightly be proud of that.

> End-user computers typically include many gigs of porn and mp3s. Remember to make your test environment as realistic as possible!

That made me laugh so hard. Man. Great site.

+1 for jokes in code. I have a thesaurus plugin with an ASCII T-Rex in the source.

You'd probably appreciate the ascii pterodactyl in the source of http://theoatmeal.com

That's my inspiration ;)

Hahah ! I am looking to incorporate this in my code now with due credit :P

Code poetry is drastically underappreciated. I truly enjoyed this.

That's an awesome website. Some highlights:

>Here is a small sampling of our Services offerings:

>GUID duplication

>Lamp stacking

>Despondency injection

>We're hiring! If you're a best-in-breed, 10x, full-stack rock star, we want to talk to you about joining our "posse". Here's what we're looking for:

>Senior Java Developer - Develop 15-20 Senior Javas per day

Maybe you should try to monetize fake companies instead. You're good at it.

Thank you! I had a ton of fun with that, so there are a lot of cute details to find. (For example, check out where the social media "share" buttons on the blog posts go)

I'll second you've got a potential second career in comedy writing, my coworkers and I are currently nearly in tears reading this. Thanks for the Friday laughs.

Thank you so much! I guess I should've posted it somewhere sooner...

That website would be a great portfolio example if you wanted to write for a show like Silicon Valley...

I'm with you on that. The author is doing some great parodies. They should look into how people monetize such humor since it's the strong point. Only if author can keep it going, though.

Congratulations on making this awesome fake website. I had a shit ton of fun going through it. You'd be a rockstar copywriter, if you are not one already.

I'm a QA guy, which may come out in some of the jokes, e.g.:

Ineptech CEO Dick Hallerson wishes to apologize for describing the Quality Assurance group as a "necessary evil." Mr. Hallerson did not mean to imply that QA is necessary.

That is an amazing website. I particularly enjoyed your blog, especially the sharing buttons! :)

The Scrum Master job description totally cracked me up - Champion agile methodologies, hunt down and eliminate remaining waterfall advocates

That site is one of the funniest things I've read in a while. Thank you!

I really wanted to check out your website.

However, I think you just exceeded your hoster's bandwidth quota...(error message when I try to access it).

Whoops! Did not expect just being in the comments of a post to /. it that bad. It's hosted with a friend on a not-so-modern platform so the bandwidth limit is not that high.

Back up now, and I broke the path to the silly stock photos, should help keep it up.

Shit I missed it. It says bandwidth exceeded. Can you bring the site back up....

Cursing myself for not checking hackernews more often...

> spline reticulation

Classic. I miss simcopter

I built http://start9.io three years ago - the idea was to somehow manage to show video game publishers that a 'professional' vintage gaming platform was something that could attract users. I wanted it to be the Netflix of the retrogaming.

Unfortunately, I never managed to find cofounders that were as much motivated as I was - each one I worked with was working on it as a hobby more than anything else, and I usually had to tell them what to do, which was exhausting considering I was the only developer to develop such a big beast. Adding marketing on top of that was just too much. We still applied to Y Combinator with the last cofounder I worked with, but he wasn't really ready to move to another continent for the project and quickly started looking for excuses to drop it. He got one when we ended up not being selected :) We're still friends, but I learned that it's hard finding people to build things.

I'm still extremely proud of this project, tho. Both technically and humanly, I learnt so many things! And the project is still running without needing much maintenance, so I guess it's still a success in some way. Plus, it helped me to find jobs, since people are usually a bit impressed when you can explain to them in interview how gameboys work under the hood ... :)

FYI, PICO-8 [1] is a similar commercial project AFAICT. Maybe you're right that there is a market there.

[1] https://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php

I'm sure there is! Sega announced last month that it would be releasing its catalogue online[1], and let's not forget the success of the SNES Mini, released last year. I was just on the market too soon, and especially without any connection to the people that could make the dream come true (hence why we applied to Y Combinator - more than the money, the network would have helped us). Oh well. :(

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/21/15846752/sega-forever-net...

To clarify, NES Mini was last year, SNES Mini is this year's sequel.

PICO8 was my first thought too

This is beautiful. What exactly is preventing you from monetizing through ads? Also, did you post the site on r/gaming and /v/?

There was three issues that prevented monetization:

- The userbase cannot grow enough without publisher, because the requirement of asking people to upload their rom is too much complex for most people.

- With no publisher by my side, I fear advertisers will not invest in a platform that is on the grey side of the legality (Start9 is legal, since we clearly state everywhere that only people uploading their own roms can use the service, but some might see this differently). Especially for the low amount of user (cf issue #1).

Everything comes down to publishers ...

The bitter part of this is that some people put together shitty implementations of this concept, but without any vision, any regard for the legality of the project, or even the future of the platform. They just make an html page with a flash emulator, add a bunch of porn and/or blackjack ads on the thing, and call it a day. They certainly bring more money than Start9, and they'll never get shut down by Nintendo ... go figure.

This idea is awesome. What language(s) did you use? And it saves your games and can be played from anywhere with an internet connection?

Yup! Languages and frameworks: Angular (1.2.X) for the client-side code, Node with a custom framework for the server-side code, and C/C++ for the emulators (then compiled to asm.js).

The initial emulators were handmade in Javascript, but the asm.js-compiled ones ended up much faster in practice.

Makes sense. What kind of help you are looking for in a cofounder? Technical or business?

I was mainly looking for a business cofounder that could contact the older development studio owners to suggest them a deal so that we could start offering a kind of "All-Access" plan (à-la Google Music, Spotify, etc) to be able to play games without having to physically own them. Advertisement was also a track I was exploring, as you can see with the side menu that shows news from Polygon. I figured that with a big enough userbase, online magazines would be interested in being showcased in a proeminent place, while still adding value to our proposition (users of such a platform would probably be very interested by those articles).

To own a firearm in Canada you have to pass a certain test. I made a simple quiz app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ca2.testprojec...) that would help people prepare for that test. My main goal was to learn how to make apps. It did generate revenue in the beginning but it was enough to buy coffee a few times a week. Then the government updated the firearm regulations and now everyone has to take a mandatory course before they write the test.

This change effectively made my somewhat useful app almost completely useless, at least in my eyes, because now there's little incentive to self study.

I could have tried harder to market it but I'm glad I left it alone.

Lessons learned: - Politics suck. Any business related to firearms is going to be vulnerable to government regulations. - Money matters. Once you start charging for something, you automatically feel the need to deliver a product of higher caliber. You also get immediate validation on whether or not your idea is worth it and how much it could be worth.

For confused non-Canadians: To "write the test” is to take it.

Even knowing that tidbit I forgot on my first read and so thought YOU as the author of the application now needed to take a course.

I took an A+ Hardware at a state college and it didn't even tell us about the certificate test. I'm actually still not certified and am training myself for CompTIA idiosyncrasies using test preps like yours...

Even with the mandatory course, are failure rates too low to make it worth pursuing as a simple study aid? Assuming pass/fail stats are even available.

It's still useful to some people (works offline, quick/easy access to important info, less to cram in your head during the course) but it's a small part of an already small niche. Population of Canada is 10x smaller than the US and not as firearm friendly.

If the questions are anything like the theoretical test when you are getting a driving license, your app can still be useful.

Expand the app so it complies with the mandatory course requirements. Now you are selling the mandatory course as an app.

I built Thrail (https://thrail.io) 6 months ago wanting to solve my own difficulty to find and book quality outdoors activities in a certain area, especially when coming to a new place (tourism or recent relocation).

I think there are multiple reasons why it wasn't successful as I believed it might be, most importantly because I built something without first researching the market enough, and failure to do so got me building something which wasn't very helpful to people.

Another important issue was marketing. I'm developer myself, and even though I tried my best to get the word out there, the results weren't as good as I imagined they would be, on one side because I had no idea what I was doing, and on the other, because I didn't spend enough money on higher quality marketing.

I spent couple of months building it but I don't regret that time -- although this conclusion is probably specific to my personal situation at the time, where I had just closed the shop on my own development agency of 3+ years and wanted to get a break by working on something fun. Additionally, out of all the "weekend projects" I started over the years, this was the first one I actually "finished", and that means something to me, regardless of the outcome.

If I get into something similiar in the near future, I would definitely pay much more attention to the aspect of getting the feedback to build something people actually want to use. And marketing, definitely marketing.

My friend owns a local outdoor recreation equipment/rental/guide shop. He actually said he'd kill for an app like yours based primarily on location. He and his wife like to go on road trips and seeing which areas have more activities available would help them prioritize where to explore. He cited the maps in the MTB Project mobile app as a baseline interface--the shortcoming with that one being that it's too narrowly focused on biking.

He's also big in the local Chamber of Commerce and said that lots of Chambers are willing to spend money to position their town as outdoor-friendly.

Marketing is hard. Is there some kind of service out there where marketers will help you sell your app for a share of revenue?

I'm not trolling here, just in case I've missed a really obvious one

I haven't come across anything similiar to what you're suggesting, although I'd probably be very interested in opportunities like that.

The closest thing I found to something like that was Simbi (https://simbi.com) but I hesitated to make an actual step forward as I never heard or read of anyone going down that route and wasn't sure if that was the "right way" to do it.

Crowd Supply[0] is one service that I know of. Mainly focused on crowd-sourced projects.

[0] https://www.crowdsupply.com/

Affiliate marketing is the thing, I guess.

This project looks very interesting and monetizeable (by reaching out to venues for very targeted advertising).

One thing that doesn't seem quite right though.

Shouldn't location, not activity, be the first bit of information requested from the user?

>This project looks very interesting and monetizeable (by reaching out to venues for very targeted advertising).

Yeah, that was the idea -- provide a high quality database of outdoors activities to the end users and then charge the providers / venues a fee for some extended information etc. But in order to even approach the providers / venues I had to have some kind of traction from the end users, which I failed to achieve.

>One thing that doesn't seem quite right though. >Shouldn't location, not activity, be the first bit of information requested from the user?

At the beginning I wasn't sure how to pull off the location filter nicely (should I use HTML5 geolocation, Gmaps geolocation, simple dropdown etc.) and just went without it but I have received this same piece of feedback more than once so I might go and add that, just for kicks.

I would say, explicitly enter zip code as a first approximation. Easy and not something people generally have an issue with (they can enter work or nearby). The site put me in California, which I am not. I think you could get better traction with more accuracy, and zipcode will do it.

That and an easy way to add your favorite venue near you (since it looks like there is only one venue in the US outside of CA).

Visually and concept wise it looks interesting. I bet there are outdoor adventure meetups in most cities that would be interested.

Thimble for Mac ( https://thimblemac.com )

It's a plugin to bring gesture-shortcuts to graphic design tools (Sketch, Photoshop, etc.). I've worked on it in bursts of my spare time for a few years, and took a break from development the past several months. At some point I started calling it more of a 'passion project' because I just really wanted to see other forms of UI in the world outside of the sandboxes of gaming, and a hope that it'd maybe serve as some portfolio piece in trying to work as a software developer/designer.

At the moment I'm trying to motivate myself to work on it again, partly because even in a touch-bar age I still find myself using it. Yet at the same time need to figure out how to get it past a beta phase and to a point where I'm more comfortable marketing it.

The hardest thing is trying to find time/motivation, it's easy to endure isolation and keep the day job when you're excited with the product and haven't gotten feedback yet. It gets vastly harder once you start wanting more of a social life again and the numbers so far haven't made it seem like a product worth going full-time on.

The way your product is presented on your site is excellent!

Take heed people, this is how you explain a product.

This looks awesome. Have you done any head-to-head speed tests of trying to complete identical sets of tasks with Thimble vs. traditional mouse and keyboard?

I could see that being pretty successful if you finish it. good luck!

Thanks! It's technically available as a beta, right now I send invites by hand to whoever signs up.

this looks really good!

Spent about three calendar months (logged 120 hours IIRC) and few hundred EUR building a simple hardware product- small dongle to stream drone telemetry over WiFi (MAVLink to WiFi bridge).

Could sell just 5 of them, still have about 30 in stock, so commercial failure, but at least got two things out of it:

1) Bragging rights about having sold something to large aerospace organisation. 2) Finished something from start to finish.

> 2) Finished something from start to finish.


I wrote a javascript compiler. At the time (2000), it was twice as fast as Microsoft's and 20 times faster than Netscape's. I was correct in anticipating that js speed would become very important, but my implementation was ahead of its time and didn't get any traction.

It has since been rewritten in D and is Open Source:


Is it still compliant to the EcmaScript spec? Whats the latest spec it is compliant to? And how fast is it now compared to V8, etc...

ECMA 3. Haven't run any benchmarks lately.

How did you expect to make money off it? Acquihire by one of the browser vendors?

License it to one of the browser vendors. I did do a few licenses, but the trouble was I knew how to reach a mass market, but the market for js engines was small and only large companies. I struggled with that.

It's still quite a good scripting engine, if you want to, for example, have scripting in your IDE so users can extend it. JS is a good language for that.

I've build complex app for managing vineyards and wineries. It has tons of features: time tracking, input tracking, harvest and production features, mapping, tons of budget/cost analysis.

It turned out, it is hard to convince farmers to ditch their trusty excel sheets and notepads and start typing all those info into computer program. I managed to find few customers, but they haven't stick for longer than one year.

I spent about one year of fulltime work (spread over two years). I always tried to expand the product: I started with vineyard management software, then add the production part and then started coding all the CRM, POS and warehouse management. I hoped to attract more users with more complex solution, but I was wrong.

After three years I am still using it daily (I do own winery), but I am only active user right now and I did give up trying to sell it. I do some occasional development, from time to time when I need something in my farm, but thats it.

This is a common mistake: building a product based on assumptions, and not on the market's demand. I've learned not to add a feature before I have someone who paid an advance. Secondly: your product might be to overwhelming and doing to much; experience has thought me that complicated products are a though sell. Try to reduce it to it's most basic use-case, and sell that (a simple app that doesn't require any explanation at all). Once you have paying customers you'll be able to upsell by offering your more advanced features. People are reluctant to change, so you need to expose them gradually.

>This is a common mistake: building a product based on assumptions, and not on the market's demand. I've learned not to add a feature before I have someone who paid an advance.

I first came across this sort of advice here:

The Montana Mogul: RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte (Part 1)


Interesting story. RightNow was later sold to Oracle, IIRC, for a good amount.

Greg used a similar technique to what you advise.

The part of the interview series about Brightwork (Greg's first startup) and their telesales process and why McAfee acquired them, is also interesting.

Thanks for the tip!

You are right. I am currently building another product, which is lite version of what I have and which is applicable to broader market: not just wine farmers, but all farms and consttuction companies.

How does it handle payments, payable/receivable etc (if applicable)? I have found that in these cases often times the software handles the operations well, but the business logic is still tied up in legacy POS and things like this which makes the software more of a nice to have than a "I'll just do it the old way". I'd also be curious about the UX (am a designer)

Product integrated with 4 major accounting systems, so it was more like frontend for those legacy stuff. Major thing was warehouse/logistics system which was my own.

In wine business thats quite complex thing: you might want to sell bulk wine, you might blend different stock together or bottle one lot in multiple times. There is strict requirements by govt about declaration of those thing. Each country qlso have different requirements and reporting formats.

I've build a wine tasting event app a couple month ago. Replacing the tasting sheet for tasting events with a simple web app to make it easier for the organizer to collect and analyze feedback and market after the tasting.

Got a few hundred users but no real traction yet :-/

Can you share a link? Would like to check it out.


Still 'beta' but you can signup under /signup/ Please share feedback :)

Did you figure out why customers would leave? I've been thinking about doing something in the "most people use a spreadsheet" space and hearing that people went back to it after a year of using a dedicated product is a little worrying.

I have a similar story - one of our products at $DAYJOB is a kind of CRM/ERP SaaS for a specific niche.

It pays its way, but at a huge cost of time spent on support and maintenance. When non-trivial feature requests come in, we can't feasibly drop everything else for long enough to implement it. We signal this by asking the customer to pay a lot (compared to our SaaS subscription price). Usually this dissuades them.

Every so often, we lose a customer -> support dies down -> we can add some real direction and features to the product -> we gain more customers -> we get swamped under support and maintenance. The cycle continues. I don't know what the solution is.

With spreadsheets, the customer can always fall back to cobbling together a new report or visualization by themselves.

It was hard to get all the company to use it. If you use it just for small subset than it is not that valuable.

Say you are tracking work done in vineyard, but nothing else. Then your calculation of price of produce is off, because you havent add the price of input. There are multiple roles in the company and they are usualy using they own systems for reporting.

Also quite a lot of production tracking have to be done on paper using special notepad with marked pages (another funny story) and people dont want to do this bookkeeping twice.

Is this a web app or a desktop app?

web app and unfinished mobile app (native iOS)

I do some beer homebrewing and (fairly or not) my first thought was of the BeerBug digital hydrometer, which was a temperature/density meter that wirelessly synced to an online service. The problem was that the website was the only way to read the data. And then the website went down for months :-/ . I didn't buy it but the whole debacle made me suspicious of depending on online services for brewing.

I'd suggest you might have more luck with a desktop app. Could wrap your existing web app with Electron or Sciter to avoid needing to rewrite the GUI. Businesses need to know they can rely on the software they use, and that's an easier sell when they can run it on their own hardware. I'd suggest a better business model is a relatively low cost for the software but charge for an optional support subscription.

I spent a couple years building https://infiniquest.org in my spare time. This is a site where you can both create and play interactive fiction games, using an engine I built entirely from scratch. I mainly built it to prove to myself I could complete a large project start to finish. I also had the motivation that my son and I could make games for each other, but by the time I finished, he was big into Minecraft and had no interest in text adventure games. :D I had hoped to make some income with it thru ads and paid features, but I never tried too hard to build up a user base, and now it sits there largely unmaintained for the last several years. Last year I completed a proof-of-concept integrating it with the Amazon Echo - that was kinda neat, but there's a lot of work to be done to finish and polish it... and considering there were no users to begin with, I lacked the motivation to undertake that.

Whoah... That just gave me an idea... An Alexa app to run d&d games!

It sounds awesome though, as do most of the projects in this thread. I'll be bookmarking it.

omg That is an awesome idea. I feel like it would be really fun to write and super entertaining to shout at a robot DM when things go pear-shaped.

I have a project which may never generate revenue, despite the fact I spent 2 months after hours working on it. I did a dumb thing and dove directly into the project without first finding a fit or customer base for it.

More or less, it's a scheduling application that allows a user to set when they're open and allow anyone to book that time for however much the original scheduler valued that slot of their schedule. It's a good base application, but without customers, it's wasted potential and engineering time. Guess I'll add a link: https://kronikl.io

There is an added benefit that I built up a lot of custom Vue components and flask modules which can be added to later projects (braintree painments, address inputs, settings pages, &c.), so I'm not considering it a complete loss.

I've decided to pivot most of my time to a more marketing based approach for the time being and, once customers role in, tailor the solution to their needs.

Due to a bizarre series of accidents one of my hobbies is taking picture of escorts, for their websites. (Getting paid as a photographer is hard, and they're a consistent and reliable group of people who are willing & able to do so.)

If you're not averse to the niche scheduling appointments for such people could be an interesting thing to work on. That could cover both men/women working "at home", and those who are going on tours to various cities (something that is pretty common).

Depending on where you're based this might be an immediate non-starter, but I've talked to a lot of people who hate the established publishing platforms, and scheduling is a recurring source of pain I hear about.

Feedback: bad name, but VERY bad homepage. Nobody wants to ready paragraphs to understand what a product does. SHOW US the product.

The basic pitch you described here sounds good, but compare your homepage with others in a related space: https://youcanbook.me/ or calendly.com/ or https://clarity.fm/


The first thing I did is go to the page to see if what it does. I know what it claims to do, but the actual mechanics matter.

And then I want to know how much it costs.

Without those two, I might as well use a competitor that lets me see what it does and for how much.

It looks good, it's a great idea. I really think you have a bad name for it. It seems hard to spell, and the name seems more related to diary entries than billing time.

I think there's a lot of professional services that could use it, say photographers, psychologists, etc.

That said, I could see a service where experts (think node.js and others) could put a badge on their blog site and answer questions for an hour while getting paid for it. That would be something I might use if I can get an hour of an experts time (even if it cost me $50-$100) to get some information from an expert. So instead of me taking 8 hours to learn information, I can learn that info in 1 hour. It seems like a bargain.

This sounds like clarity.fm

Two months after hours doesn't seem like a waste of time if you actually finished it. I've spent FAR longer on projects that have never seen the light of day :)

Try 2 years ( not every month/ evening)

Pick a niche market: hairdressers, dentists,...

Setup a customised website/landing page directly targeted at these people from your home town and try to get their attention and feedback. Be polite but determined: send an email, call over the phone and meetup.

Selling a generic product nobody knows is hard, so try to become #1 in your vicinity for a certain niche, and make sure all your marketing material is focused on that niche. Once you're the reference in that niche expand vertically or horizontally. Repeat ad infinitum. Combine your outbound marketing with proper inbound marketing, and after a while you'll gain traction and leads will start dripping in slowly but consistent.

Don't offer free trails, but tell them they can get your product at a reduced rate forever. Free customers are hard to convert to paying customers, so charge them something (even if it's peanuts). You can always upsell later.

Gradually increase your prices for your new customers as you expand your market. Keep old customers at their old price; it will take them feel special and reduce churn. At the perfect price point people will complain it's too expensive, but buy anyway.

After you've done this (I'd assume it will take anywhere from 6 months to a year) you will probably already have a long term vision in how to proceed.

my inlaws would never be able to type in or remember "kronikl.io". They would go to "cranikal.com" and their browser would be infected by malware and their computer would die and I would get a call in the middle of the night.

This is all part of my master plan to have y'all trapped in a vicious cycle of using my product

I gotta tell ya, every X months I think it would be a good idea if there was a turnkey scheduling app for customers to subscribe to a person, with recurring payments, etc., as a way for people not to be beholden to maid-service type sites that take a cut. Of course, hosting and maintenance might balance out the cut that a service site would take, but I do wonder if there's value in the self-hosted independence angle.

I wanted to do something similar a while back, but stopped because I was still too new to coding.

I think it's an excellent idea, you just need to narrow down your market and update the design accordingly. Doctors, hairdressers, physios... lots of people are looking for something like this.

Make an embeddable plugin version for WordPress and physically go shop it around to potential customers. Show them and get feedback.

You have a solid start of an idea. You just need to flesh out the rest of the canvas: https://www.creatlr.com/template/UOLHsfqGrLzugzVVttoi1e/busi...

I'd have no idea what your product does from looking at the website.

I'd suggest putting the app right on the homepage, so that people can set it up immediately, like this popular group scheduling app: http://doodle.com/

You have a huge market for this. Doctors, accountants, barbers, hairstylers, every occupation that needs an appointment could use this. This replaces the person whom answers the phone so the business can keep rolling.

Consensus seems to be an awful name :)

you named it after something a developer would use (kool name, missing letters, ending in .io) instead of something a plumber or coach would use (catchy ending in .com)

Hmm, this is going to get depressing. Oh well. Here goes.

I think my main problem is that I create solutions that are great for my problems.

Flaming Notes[0] - iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Web game to learn music notation. Total revenue: 10 USD over 2 years.

MelloNote[1] - Android app to sync audio files with text (lyrics, guitar chords, etc). Think 4-track subtitles that can be used by a band. Earnings: 6 USD in 1 year.

Tasktopus[2] - Desktop kanban app (Windows, Mac and Linux). Earnings: 500 USD in 1 year.

See N Tell[3] - A web-based sentence construction game to help 5-10 year-olds to learn words via images from Google Image Search. Earnings: 0

[0]: http://www.adhyet.com/flamingnotes

[1]: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.adhyet.mel...

[2]: https://gumroad.com/l/ADWm/tasktopus

[3]: https://seentell.me

having my son play with seentell.me - he's 5 going into first grade.

Update: he loved it and wanted to keep playing - "I want to do more! I like the music!"

Hey, awesome. Let me know what he thinks of it.


Glad he liked it :-) Now I have 2 satisfied customers.

BTW, you can create your own custom lesson plan by clicking the Settings button. That will take you to https://seentell.me/settings.

seentell is fantastic, I will definitely start using it for my son. I like the custom cards too.

Thanks for the feedback.

Do let me know how your son likes it.

I created https://SauceNAO.com, a primarily anime focused reverse image search engine in 2008. While it's purpose has never really been to make money per se, it's been extremely expensive to operate.

It's been pretty successful usage wise, but paying users are another matter entirely. Donations and account upgrades keep the lights on, barely covering the hosting costs of the main collocated front-end server, but lack of funds is a constant struggle. I've spent tens of thousands over the years on hardware and hosting costs, and expenses keep going up as coverage expands. As for why, I guess there's just not enough of a reason to upgrade at the moment. Free is hard to beat, I'm my own best competitor.

The site's current design is basic to say the least, and the account creation page does not leave users feeling especially comfortable about the site. Everything about everything needs polish.

Related to that, I'm almost finished with a redesigned and much nicer looking front-end, but that probably won't magically solve all my problems. ;)

Kill the free site.

If making money ever became critical, of course severely limiting or stopping free access would be an option. I've really enjoyed seeing the site grow over the years though, and killing off free access would almost certainly hamper that growth. Not to mention the effect it would have on the internet at large: Even more source requests everywhere! No one wants that~

Just saw the website, wow so basic!

thumbs up

I built Dependabot (https://dependabot.com), a service that checks your dependencies are up-to-date every morning and creates pull requests for you if they're not. Intention was to make dependency management suck less, whilst also adding a bit of runway to a bigger startup I wanted to do.

* Spent 2 months building it - much longer than I'd thought. The work required to get from a prototype (2 days) to a SaaS product (2 months) was way bigger that I'd thought. So much polish, and so many edge cases to consider when the client goes from "you" to "anyone else". Lesson: building something for other people takes a lot longer than building something for yourself.

* Tried to launch on Hacker News but failed to get any attention. Our blog post on "10 years of Rubysec data analysed" never made it off the "newest" page, despite being pretty solid content (spent two days building a Jupyter Notebook so anyone could replicate our results, etc.). Was a big psychological hit at the time. Lesson: there's lots of randomness in launches - don't rely on them to much.

* Thought GitHub Marketplace would list us and help with distribution, but it's been extremely hard to persuade them to. The jury is still out on this one, but they (understandably) want us to have lots of users before they invest in even assessing the app. Lesson: don't rely on the goodwill of third parties - unless you've got something they want/need, you'll be stumped if they decide they're not interested.

I haven't given up yet, and I still really believe in the product, but it's been a much harder journey than expected! Marketing has been by far the toughest part, and I don't have a solution to it yet.

Regarding the blog post: it's simply a numbers game: the odds that one of a hundred articles picks up momentum is way larger then the odds of one blog post picking up momentum. Sometimes it's better to spend the time you'd invest in one great article on ten articles instead. Or write a hundred great articles, and you're very likely to have success.

Regarding the marketing part: if my own start-up learned me anything, it's that great marketing can launch a mediocre product, but if you have mediocre marketing, your product will need to be extremely good to gain any traction.

TL;DR: business requires hard work, and shortcuts usually don't work. Outliers and survivorship bias apply to the posts that claim otherwise.

That's pretty cool, I have been thinking of building something similar, but for Python. How hard is it to add new languages?

What is the tech stack?

Does it cost much to keep it running?


Adding new languages is as easy as the package manager makes it... which is normally still quite hard! The core logic for Dependabot is open-source here, including all the language-specific logic for Ruby, JS and PHP, and a starter (lots of work still required) for Python: https://github.com/gocardless/bump-core.

For the app itself, we used Ruby (because we'd built the original core gem, which was https://github.com/gocardless/bump, in Ruby at a work hackathon years ago).

Costs under £50 a month to keep running at the moment, creating about 2,000 PRs a month. We could really do with getting it into the GitHub marketplace so we can start charging people and cover those costs!

It already exists for Python: https://pyup.io/

As someone in this space, I think you're approach this wrong. You find early users by hand, reaching out to people you know have this problem and asking them to use the product (you would typically do this before even making it work properly as a SaaS product).

Jessica Livingston says it better than me: http://foundersatwork.posthaven.com/why-startups-need-to-foc...

Thanks Paul, big fan of CircleCI.

Great link, and I totally agree with that lesson. Side project feels like a good way to have learnt it!

You might try marketing this to security teams, I know dependencies are a big concern for them.

Thanks for the advice! Security is definitely a big angle here - not only do dependency updates often include patches for known vulnerabilities, they're also the least likely to be affected by future vulnerabilities.

We wrote a blog post about it here: https://dependabot.com/blog/the-latest-dependency-version-is...

Cat Game Aquarium - an iPad app for cats


I've had this iPad app up and running for about 4 and a half years - I don't think I've broken even yet on the amount I paid an artist for the graphics for the app. I did the coding for it myself.

RobotBridge PDF Conversion as a service (API)


This service is pretty straightforward, and has users, but doesn't really cover the server costs. On my list of things to do is to switch it from PhantomJS to headless Chrome, and then to migrate the server.

I built a large inventory, product management, CRM, channels management etc etc system. The idea is to integrate all the non-talking and buggy systems needed to run a small e-commerce business (most small e-commerce companies are using money-losing systems and "fixing" the issues with Macro-enabled Excel books). It was also open-source because there is zero way I'd ever take the whole market alone.

The idea, I think, is sound. I worked on the system for over a year, and there are many interesting ideas. The big problem is that it took way more resources to launch than I could ever do alone. I would need sales, support, sysadmin, developers, designers, etc. Everyone calls it my billion-dollar idea, but I truly couldn't and can't do it alone.

The lesson learned is, think big, but not so big you can't handle the work-load. If you are working every day and falling behind two days, the side project is far too large.


Find an entry into a market, and don't offer the world, but figure it their most painful integration point and fix that. Find multiple customers for that single integration point before you even start building anything. You need to learn to walk before you can start running: baby steps and validation after every step make sure that you only risk wasting your last step, as opposed to the whole journey.

Anywhere we can read about all the features and functionality?


I built it because of a need and it's worked fabulously. It's hands down doubled my monthly affiliate revenue (i.e. to be clear, that's in the 4 figures).

I think where it failed however is that it's really hard to explain and I sure haven't cracked it. I get a few signups a day, few use it at all.

It's not for everyone - but it definitely works for me and it would work for anyone in the same boat (someone who needs to affiliatize hundreds/thousands of outgoing links)

This is not a product that I'm interested in, but may I provide some feedback on your website?

It took me a little while to understand what Clickrouter does. The very first line, "Monetize Outbound Clicks", contributed a lot to my confusion. It made me think that maybe you were just a frontend to e.g. Amazon's affiliate program.

It was only when I read Step 4 of "How's it work" that I understood what it did: "Watch ClickRouter route each click to your best (i.e. most profitable) merchant network every time !"

I would've been much happier if the very first line was something like "Maximise your revenue by automatically using the best affiliate links."

Straight away I know _why_ I should be interested in your product, and how it works.

Love the idea of this. I've never done affiliate links or anything before but I'm getting ready to launch a site that has some affiliate links sprinkled in here and there.

Will for sure give this a shot.

I'd add something about before and after behavior. What does a prospective user already have that they're going to affiliatize, bare Amazon (or wherever) links? And then does it take bare Amazon links, affiliate them to Amazon or search for other sites that have the same product?

I suppose people in the affiliate game would already know this stuff, but there's a lot of dumb people like me who might see it as a way to get into affiliate stuff easily.

BTW http://clickrouter.com redirects to https://clickrouter.com. And this has a warning from chrome "This page is trying to load scripts from unauthenticated sources".

I think a lot of it could come down to trust, part of the great thing about multiple affiliate networks is your eggs aren't all in one basket. By using your product all of their income relies upon your service working. That's what'd put me off anyway.

FYI, you're listed as "malicious" and blocked by the lists used by the Barracuda Web Filter.

https://zonewatcher.com After having multiple clients change their DNS settings without warning and then email us when shit hits the fan I knew I needed some type of warning system. This checks every X minutes and saves each version so you can see the revision history for all your DNS zones across many providers.

I make ~$50 a month right now with it, which is enough to cover the hosting. I haven't really marketed it much beyond my twitter circle of friends but hopefully others will find it useful.

It took about 3 weekends worth of work to complete and is based on Laravel Spark.

Signed up to paid plan, thanks. This is something I had looked for previously.

Some suggestions (only because I really want you to succeed!):

- Please consider the use case where I want to protect against a domain having its nameservers changed at the registrar. I don't think you currently handle that case, as e.g. pulling the NS records from Route53 will always show Route53 as the authoritative NS, which may not match what the registrar says. This is actually the main feature I want.

- I couldn't find docs or advice regarding how alerting or notifications work. I don't even know if I will receive alerts.

- Please support "plain" DNS-based checks. As in, ability to add a zone and add a number of records (e.g. MX) that I want checked and it is done via DNS protocol query to the authoritative NS.

- Fix the "flash of not-yet-parsed-by-Angular content" that appears on the signup page, it's pretty jarring on a medium latency connection

- For the credit card form, I had some misgivings about putting my details in until I dove into the HTML of the page to check that you weren't sending the card details to your own server. Maybe add a "powered by Stripe" icon or something.

Thanks for the feedback. I’ll get those changes integrated :)

You don't charge enough.

You're probably right. What would you see as fair pricing for say the large plan which is currently $10/mo?

I would potentially consider per-domain pricing. $5 dollar/month/domain for under 100 domains, $2.5 dollar/month/domain for under 1000 domains, and if people want to use more than 1000 domains they should contact you and work out a deal specific to them.

Price tranches are good because they make expenses easily predictable while still providing some operational flexibility. That's especially good for enterprise customers with finance teams.

They can also make good money if you set the boundaries right. If a lot of your customers have ~30 domains, a boundary at 25 might make you more money than per-domain pricing.

I would also look to see if you can add failover as a feature. With the recent DDOS attacks against DNS providers, a lot of companies are considering failover planning for DNS who previously ignored that. To really hit big bucks with this, you will need to integrate with bigger DNS providers like Dyn, UltraDNS, etc.

I agree that you're not charging enough. Keep the free level but then I would charge at least a dollar per domain.

Back in 2007, I made neverplayalone.com to find activity partners. Within a few days of launch, someone pointed out three things - Meetup was gaining traction, URL sounded risqué, and never to use negative words like never in the URL.

In 2010-11, I worked on lug-it.com to let people carry stuff in their luggage for others. It leveraged FB's social graph to engender trust. I just wasn't ready to market and grow the user base because my cofounder decided that he was going to be the "vision" guy and I was going to do all the work.

I launched a couple of iOS apps one of which got thousands of downloads in a month but since it was very niche (BLE/iBeacon related), I stopped working on it.

>let people carry stuff in their luggage for others

There is no possible way that could go wrong. Especially when TSA or Customs asks: "Are you carrying anything for someone else?"

Then you go on to explain, "Oh yeah, I am, but I know them. They are paying me to do it."

Well, there's obviously that but since we built this on your FB graph, you'd be delivering stuff from either friends or friends of friends at worst. I feel Walmart is doing this and worse by asking neighbors to deliver your stuff.

In fact, I often carry stuff for my compatriot coworkers and friends to/from the home country. This was just a more regularized and systematized version of that.

All said and done, you're right - even my cofounder and I felt a little uncomfortable being mules for others even if the item being sent was totally innocent.

The one and only delivery we made successfully was from Toronto to London via New York for the then CIO of British Telecom. He loved the idea so much that he covered it here http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2009/12/02/hauling-bits-around... on his blog.


"because my cofounder decided that he was going to be the "vision" guy and I was going to do all the work."

:-) This happens more often than not. All the success and visibility, but none of the work.

Yes, it does happen, but I‘ve never heard of such a startup taking off. If one of the founders doesn‘t pull their weight, I can‘t imagine there will be a lot of success and visibility...

In the exception-that-proves-the-rule department: notonmywatch.com is much better than onlyonotherpeopleswatches.com.

Wouldn't this have many issues when going through customs or security checks?

TwoFactorAuth, a Rails gem for supporting the open U2F hardware two factor authentication standard. https://www.twofactorauth.io

When the standard was released 2.5 years ago I figured that exacting security code against an unevenly documented API was worth paying for, but nobody understood what 2FA was, why SMS is garbage for 2FA, that you could now get devices for a couple bucks that would work on dozens of sites while respecting your privacy, etc.

I spent about a month coding and tried to sell it for a couple months, but I simply didn't have the resources to try to do all the education needed. I put it on the shelf.

But this spring I've gotten a couple inquiries about updating it to Rails 5.0 and 5.1, so I guess the knowledge is getting out there. I did another survey and there are still no drop-in libraries for the languages I'm comfortable in (Ruby, Python, JavaScript, PHP) - either they require a lot of fiddly customization or they're half-finished hobby attempts.

I'm considering updating the gem, automating the license purchasing, taking steps to enforce the dual-license, and seeing how it does.

I have not built this project with the main goal to earn money from it but just to build something that I thought was missing in this world.

I am trying to visualise all of world's knowledge with interactive mind maps focused on learning anything in a linear way.

Here is the search engine that searches all of these interactive maps : https://learn-anything.xyz/

Both the search engine and the maps are open source so I am not so sure how and if I can ever make money from this aside from the Patreon page that we have set up for the project.

If anyone has any ideas on how one can monetise this in a good way, I would love to hear it. We don't want to put any sponsored content in there as that would defeat our vision of having most quality resources available for all subjects.

Both the search engine and the maps are open source so I am not so sure how and if I can ever make money from this aside from the Patreon page that we have set up for the project.

Sell subscriptions to companies? Companies generally like to pay for services, even if the underlying software is open source.

Hi, I noticed the initial load time is quite poor... Maybe I had a bad connection but you might want to do some testing on initial load times for your site.

Sorry about this. We only have one server and it is based in Amsterdam. We will try to expand to other continents soon so the load time is fast everywhere.

Getting a 502 Gateway error right now, so can't check the site. However, general advice: run the site through Google's Page Speed checker and see if a CDN + gzip compression etc can improve things to some extent before relocating primary servers.

this is really freaking cool

how do you generate the maps? maybe you can sell that to companies so they can index their internal documentation into mind maps

I built https://communiroo.com because I couldn't find a quick and simple single website to expose bug/feature tracking + SO type questions + forums + support requests for my other things I was building. It seemed (and still seems) like it fills a need for mine and everyone else's side projects.

I think the biggest issue is marketing. I tried a few Twitter/Facebook ad campaigns that didn't really pan out, and an HN submission that didn't make the front page. But really I haven't done much to market it, and it just sits there chugging along with few users other than myself while I work on other stuff.

This looks pretty great! I would have used it a few years ago, now I host my project on Github and use their built-in tools.

Thanks! Yeah, GitHub is definitely the way to go for OSS or projects with technical users. This is designed more for things like closed source apps or SaaS.

Not answering the question directly but one issue is that as a developer you can often make a product for almost free (and it might even be a really good product) but marketing is almost never free.

Sure you can market with sweat equity. Forums, Show HN, Product Hunt, etc but to get real money you often have to advertise. And advertising is not cheap.

I do actually have a product in this category but I don't want to post it with a throw away account.

I wish there was a better way to connect entrepreneurs of varying skills together. I am in a similar boat as you, but on the other end.

I am a marketer and at times I have ideas (for websites or apps) that I would like to get built, but since I have to pay for that and since not all ideas are going to be winners it can become an expensive proposition.

Although threads like this can be valuable since I can reach out to developers who have created a product that I see addressing a real need in the market and reach out to them to see if there is any scope to work together, but these are few and far between.

> reach out to them to see if there is any scope to work together

Hey, you don't have any contact info in your profile, but if you'd like to get in touch I'd be keen to have a chat, my email is eli@ux-app.com

Just out of curiosity, why wouldn't you want to post it here - why use a throwaway account?

It's really easy to get my real identity given a website that I own and I don't have a non throw away account.

I use a throw away account because it gives me the freedom to discuss things openly without being judged based on my real world reputation or which company I work for.

Then the account you're using is not a throwaway, but you could create an actual throwaway to post it :)

I've been told this before :)

My thought was to throw it away initially but I have so much karma on this account I can't bare to part with it.

So don't! If you create a second account for your business identity, nobody will know. Keep business and personal accounts separate. Neither is throwaway!

For one project, a picture-based IQ test for autism, I posted an overview a few weeks back. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14595379

Building the adaptive test system for use on the Internet was a great learning experience that felt a bit like a capstone project for a masters program. The two main challenges for monetizing it: 1. Finding a market beyond the small autism research field. 2. Contracts. Since the test was oriented to autism, many of the potential customers were hospitals and universities with the former requiring liability clauses that were perpetual (such as addressing problems from a drug trial 20 years down the road), and the latter requiring a free license to all background IP so that their research could build on any results without any possibility of infringement. Even with the help of a lawyer I was not able to reach agreements under these circumstances. I am still unsure if it is better to have a set terms of use or leave the door open for negotiation with potential customers.

I am still pleased having spent the time as the amount of personal and professional growth has been great. http://hrs-mat.com

Wow it's so sad that so much effort was put in just to get betrayed by everyone...

I built itrackmine.com (http://mashable.com/2008/12/26/itrackmine/). And its killer recommendation engine (books, movies, and music) -- we knew what you owned from all stores, not just what you //bought// at Amazon (or single store) so ours were extremely accurate. Along with a "user A is this similar to user B" system...and the whole tracking, sharing, mobile app, barcode-scan, manage-your-stuff-package.

Made $10 over the ~8 years it was up...from one donation. Yey.

I'm very passionate about the collection management aspect but haven't found one that does it right... Tech has changed quite a bit and graph databases (which IMO are key to this) are much more accessible now.

I agree with your assessment of the potential and hope to work on this idea. If you are interested in focusing on the collector, let me know.

Why do you feel it didn't really generate revenue?

What would you do differently if you were going to do it again?

Neither my business partner nor I are any good at marketing. And we didn't like how most sites put so much pressure on their users to buy things, click ads, share with friends, send out marketing emails, etc...so the things we DID put in were kind of halfhearted, and always out of the way.

We tried selling the data (amazing data if you think about it!!). Anonymous of course! And/or selling the recommendations (easy enough since everything was organized by UPC/ISBN). But that's something it seems like you need to know people -- CEO's/CTO's of bigger companies. We just didn't have the connections, nor the personalities to kiss that much ass. But we tried for several years. I think they're all of the mindset that they've got "good enough" data on their own...or two guys in their garage are too small peanuts to trust. It's funny that just this week Amazon had a post here about it's 20th year of recommendation engine, ~yey~ -- and they still can't get it right (sour grapes? yeah...).

If we were to do it again, we'd probably focus on core functions (the site did A LOT). And seriously work on marketing aspects. Not dark patterns (https://darkpatterns.org/) but more organized and focused efforts.

Honestly though, if we did it again, it would not be for the money - it would be for a cool product and for our own fun...maybe integrate with Kodi...

We'd be smarter on hosting. We were at Rackspace first for $30k/mo...then realized we were being hoodwinked and found PEER1 for $1200/mo...then realized we could get away with a $300/mo DO droplet by converting everything to open source and optimizing -- granted over the course of the 8-10 years, tech improved. But, no more MSSQL, no paid search engine (we ended up on Solr -- AMAZING!), no Windows and just all open-source. I ran our recommendation engine on my computers at home and uploaded results from there. As with hosting, I think the open source stack has improved a lot.

Smarter on who we hire for PR - I got all our serious PR (Mashable, LifeHacker, Makeuseof, etc). We spend about $30k on snake-oil PR companies. Our first PR company took $20k and literally did nothing (not even a press release blast or PDF) - but suing would cost us way too much time/money so we ate it and went to another referral - who did the job, but it ended up more or less a pointless exercise.

After all that time, going into personal debt -- with creditors calling at all hours, no income in sight, thousands of hours devoted to it, alienating friends and family borrowing from them to survive, we finally decided to call it quits.

I blogged about my first foray into the world of creating a web app that would generate recurring revenue for me here [0]. It was my first attempt.

I attempted two other web apps which also had dismal results, before my fourth (current) one, which is doing great and getting better.

Since writing that blog post, that particular web app (which is still running BTW) has had a handful of users sign up and is generating around $40-$50 per month. It covers the AWS cost, and lets me buy a beer every month, so I figure I will just let it tick along... :D

Feel free to ping me to reply to this thread if you want any more information, but the (somewhat long) blog post pretty much explains it all.

[0] - https://medium.com/@dsabar/the-zero-dollar-web-app-8886bf4ae...

Your experience corresponds to mine almost exactly, have you written anything about your subsequent attempts, and the one that finally succeeded? No contact info in your profile btw.

Apologies, I will have to fix up my bio on here. I killed the old one to put in the Keybase identifier and never went back to fix it...

My current SaaS app that is actually doing well and making money (and just hit profitability) is www.hrpartner.io

I blog about some aspects of it at http://devan.blaze.com.au amongst other things. One day I will sit down and construct a full post on that particular journey, but I am afraid that survivorship bias might take over and I will forget some of the hard stuff that happened...

I built https://callmom.pro/ this year in anticipation of a Mother's day rush. The idea is that we'll call you and your mom once a week at a set day/time in such a way that your phones both ring and when you pick up, you're talking to each other.

The site is janky AF because I'm still in the neophyte stages of front-end/css. I do still think it's a good a idea, so I'm planning a revamp of the sales site in time for a big push at the holidays.

What's the flower delivery app from an earlier YC batch, Bloom? They should partner with this and insert a small audio tag on the child's line before connecting, "Calling mom every week is great, but don't forget to occasionally send her flowers too, use this phone number at Bloom checkout for promotionaloffer. Don't just tell mom you care, show her!"

It is a great idea. I am not sure it can make money, but it is genius. Have you thought about making the ring time random rather than set?

I did think about selling it as "We'll force you to call your Mom /some time/ in the week. You may not know when!"

Then I thought I'd want to exclude the middle of the night (don't want to give people heart attacks thinking somebody died). Then I thought of excluding the work day (who wants to sign up for a service that will randomly call them in the middle of meeting?). Finally I decided it would be easier to set a specific time.

Maybe you're right though. Maybe the angle of "we'll keep trying until we find a good time for both of you" would sell better.

Even just making it random around a certain time (say +-15 minutes). Another idea might be to have time blocks that a user and their mother can choose and then pick a time out at random from the overlap. Neither will know when they are going to be called, but it will be at a time that suits both.

You could of course go the other way and just do this without the user choosing anytime at all. When they register to send their mother flowers record their number and their mother’s from the delivery details and then just set up the “blind date” without letting them know. Each will think the other called them first.

Mailprincess for iPhone and Android ( https://mailprincess.com )

Lets people send checks in the mail from their bank account. Also lets you send photos you take as documents in the mail or via fax.

Mostly it was built for fun, to play around with Ionic, and to occupy spare cycles in between client projects. But hoped it would make some money.

So far, just has a few random users.

The main problem is that it's a pain in the ass to get bank accounts verified. You have to wait to confirm test deposits into your bank account, and, by that point, most people churn. Considered adding Plaid to get around that and do instant bank verifications, but it was too expensive to make it worth it from a user perspective.

Recently started thinking it might be fun to make a web version that lets users pay with cryptocurrency.

I created a library that helped developers. It made a few hundred $ in revenue but nothing like I hoped.

Its an experience I've seen a lot. You think if you create a great product and advertise a little it will go viral - but in reality getting people to use it in the beginning is the hard part.

Next time I'll try to build the community before the product. Spend more time on marketing and less on coding.

Plus I think selling to developers sucks, esp now so much free and open source stuff around. Non-tech Users are probably better customers.

I built a cash forecasting app (http://www.money-stew.com) that I use religiously to verify that I won't have any trouble paying my bills.

I actually managed to get some traffic and ad revenue ($100< a month) when I first developed it and got it into the Google web app store and was featured for a little bit. I think there where quite a few bugs that I ignored and I stopped work on it for a long while.

I continue to try and improve on it, but it rarely gets the bulk of my free time.

Its been difficult for me to get _any_ feedback on it, so I bounce back and forth between feeling like its a worthwhile venture or its just a pet project that is useful to nobody but me.

I'd maybe look at the UI of your website, it looks too boilerplate or wordpress-y. Maybe remove the pink and just make the content fill the rest of the page for a start. I like the premise but the website has a gut "cheap"feeling.

Second this. PLEASE get rid of the pink and just have content fill. That pink is nauseatingly bright and screams "leave now!"

Not as bad on mobile because it's so thin, but on a desktop with wide screen it is not ok.

I don't usually bikeshed on layout (not a graphic designer), but I am begging you please.

Fair enough, I am not a graphic designer and I am using Angular Material colors in the app - I thought they looked interesting enough that it might get some attention so I used them there - and then carried that over into the landing/help site.

Sounds like I am doing it wrong though :) thanks for the feedback

After Google bought FeedBurner then killed Google Reader, I launched a FeedBurner replacement [0] complete with FeedBurner stats import and all.

I figured Google would kill FB soon enough, the writing was on the wall: killed Adsense integration, broken stats, halted development, disabled new cnames for a while, disbanded the team, etc.

I liked to think even one big client from FB (cough CNN cough) switching over after Google finally killed the plug would be worth it. They never did. It's been years now and FB still languishes neglected, but it seems that it is fated to die by attrition and nothing more.

[0]: http://feedsnap.com/

I'm building https://ewolo.fitness/ - it's a no-frills workout tracker that's built from the ground-up to be mobile friendly.

I decided to do it after seeing a total lack of decent workout trackers that work well on mobile and provide a web interface.

It's made using React, Redux and I don't expect it to make any money :)

Hey, I'm just getting into weightlifting. I think this might be a really cool tool! Going to use it for a bit and see if it's helpful.

Oh wow great to hear. It's really an alpha version. Some more things that are really required for beta are allowing editing workouts and lots more progress charts!!!

However, I think that for data entry it is good to go. There will be some improvements there as well like for e.g. better superset indication and allowing copying workouts.

I'm also very happy to get feedback so don't feel shy.


Might give this a go as well. One other app I tried only allowed you to use pre-defined exercises.

I liked the simple page. If you can articulate on that page what you saw lacking in the space, it will help convince users who are just starting to start using it.

Thanks I will try and improve the tag line then!

I tried to make an IMDb for politics a few years ago. I got to some interesting places - I was consuming the records of the California state government; elections and house/senate records, to see who was in office when and what they did (to a limited extent).

I got a mentor, and we pushed me to try to put out any kind of product for the... 2012? election, so I figured out a neat way to make word clouds of the legislation written by a person; I figured it'd be a decent bad way to find out what topics they're active about. I put it up as an IndieGoGo, and had some fun with friends and family exploring the database, seeing what interesting statistics we could pull out. Made maybe a grand from 3-10 donors.

Ultimately, as far as I could get as a one-man team, I couldn't actually take it anywhere solo. Theoretically, one can, with all the tools that are out and about - but I'd run into the motivation / momentum issue. Carrying an entire thing on just your own shoulders doesn't work out very well.

I spent a year-ish building it off-and-on, starting as a side project during the last couple months of regular employment; but I also skipped the country to hitch-hike for three months, and otherwise didn't dedicate myself to it like a real job while I was unemployed and "trying" to make it work.

However, I basically taught myself web-dev / RoR in order to do it, and now I'm a nearly-senior RoR dev, so that all worked out pretty well in the end!


About a year ago, I started making a little mindfulness widget. You'd sign up on the website, give it your phone number, and it'd text you mindfulness questions throughout the day.

Currently, I'm working on what's basically dependency management for cosmetic ingredients (cosmetics are made of stuff that's made of stuff and you need a breakdown at that 2nd level), specifically for a friend who's a chemical process engineer and needs more than spreadsheets can deliver. This one I'm doing properly as a side-project, rather than trying to do it "full-time".


The big take away from these for me is: Have a team before you try to make it more than a side-project. Doesn't have to be other programmers - it can be you and a "primary customer" - but you need other people to share the emotional burden of keeping momentum.

When Google Cardboard first came out and the Oculus Rift DK2 was first shipping, I had already been making AR apps and anaglyph stereo apps in the browser. I packed up a bunch of code I already had for Device Orientation API in mobile browsers, write a new side-by-side rendering effect for myself, and made it all into a simple framework to make stereo WebGL/Three.js demos easier to throw together quickly. It basically became the first "WebVR" framework, a few months before Mozilla and Google had announced anything about officially working on the API. I called it Pyschologist.js.

It got a little attention, but the biggest surge was when I created a text editor inside of it that rendered to a texture, rather than using CSS3D transforms of existing, content-editable text editor components like a few other demos had done. I called the text editor Primrose, but people seemed to respond to that branding better than Psychologists, and nobody seemed interested in a myriad of small components, just a single, integrated solution, so I sunk the text editor into the framework, rebranded everything as just Primrose, and spent a ton of time writing a website and basic documentation.

I've been trying to build a business around VR ever since. First, I tried to sell the framework. Made $10 on one license sale. I tried consulting services. Made about $2000 for a company I had joined that pledged to sponsor my development and do marketing and sales for me. I tried building a WebRTC teleconferencing app, but couldn't get enough focus from the company to push it well. After a year of no movement from the sales team, I'm back to being on my own now and back to trying to figure out my own path.

I think the teleconferencing app idea still has merit, and I have a few other idea that have some potential, but I don't really know anything about marketing and selling SaaS. So I guess that is my next project, to learn.


I thought probably Hands Free for Chrome would see some donations given how much it could help someone who was disabled, and given how many donations I've seen more ordinary & simple extensions receive, but I only got $10 the past 3 years, and that was a single donation from a friend who felt bad seeing it at $0.


Barely any users, just around 400 or so.

Awesome job with the extension! I think the idea has great potential.

Judging from my five minute test drive, you could probably increase adoption if you made it 'discoverable'. It's hard to determine what to do once it's installed. Turns out, you have to click the browser action to start listening for user input. After that, you have to refer to the website to find out what commands are available. It would be great if there were on-screen suggestions of commands to voice. Using it was really frustrating and unreliable until I read the instructions on the web store page to disable 'ambient noise reduction' on macs. Showing an 'instructions' page on installation would help a lot. An instructional video would be great too.

Other nitpicks: * I couldn't get dictation to work. * More tab manipulation commands would be nice * I'm not a huge fan of the link hints placement and styling

I'm actually developing my own keybinding extension like Vimium/cVim/VimFx/Surfing Keys


with the intent to use the codebase to later create a voice commands extension like yours.

After all the work I've put into my extension, I can see why only $10 in donations for your efforts is disheartening. Good luck!

Late response from me, but thank you very much for the feedback.

I think adding an instructions page + video would be great, I agree.

I'm surprised you couldn't get dictation to work. That distresses me. Much time went into that. The link placement is rather tricky, and I'm not sure what type of styling would be less obtrusive and equally readable.

I'm curious if other assistive software solves this need at the OS level, or if you other similar tools are already known to the community that it would be useful for.

Windows has built-in speech control that lets you scroll and click, doesn't it?

I built http://greetingbin.com as a platform for uploading images of greeting cards along with some metadata to the cloud. Then you could throw the card out and still have a digital copy of it. Needless to say, I have no users. Granted, I didn't do any marketing, but I realized that in actuality I never used the product myself, so why would anyone else use it?

This could actually be a viral hit.

1> After uploading all sides of a greeting card, use some animation/visualization that will allow you to interact with a single card by clicking/swiping.

2> Allow this to be embedded into FB/Twitter

3> Make the service free - the most likely monetisation will be advertising, so it's all about MAU

http://lookwork.com is a "visual RSS reader," subscribe to RSS feeds minus the words. Sort of a mood/inspiration feed for artists and graphic designers.

First launched free around 2012 I think. Then there was a relaunch where we tried to go subscriber-based. At the time, the only online payment options were Paypal (shudder) and Amazon (a mess to configure). The subscription model flopped, so we relaunched free again.

We have a very small set of very rabid fans, but have had difficulty explaining this thing to potential users. Fortunately the Digital Ocean hosting is cheap enough that we can just leave it running on autopilot. (the old AWS hosting was a money pit)

I get a "sorry you can't use this page on mobile" ...

While connecting from up-to-date chrome on win10 desktop!! You are probably weeding out a good chunk of users for no reason.

sigh… yeah I knew someone would chime in with that. Yes, this was built a few years earlier when browser compatibility was in a serious shithole. Sorry you encountered that.

Ok that sounds amazing. I'm finding all kinds of treasure in this thread

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