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Ask HN: How long did it take you to go from side project idea to launch?
96 points by igammarays 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments
I've been working on a SaaS product side project for about 4 months now. Progress feels painfully slow, but I wonder what typical one-man consumer SaaS projects look like. Years of development? 6 months average? Specific examples would be helpful so that I can compare the scope/size of the idea to mine.

The problem is not the actual dev time of a serious side project like a SaaS. Even if it just takes you three months to get to some sellable product with payment integration, etc.--the much bigger problem is that you need multiple shots to get it right (find the right market niche, the right product, the right angle, the right Marketing, the right growth channels, etc.). Then, after more than just three months and many attempts + pivots you just don't have the energy/time/money to keep up. Of course you can clone some proven model but then you face lots of competition which doesn't make success more probable.

People who are succesful did 99 mediocre side projects before they hit the jackpot. But it still took them tons of time and energy. Very often a overlooked by-product which was developed over night and benefitted from all prior experiences will be the cash cow while the main project which took 12 months still hasn't won any users.

Most stop at some point because it's just tough, especially the mental part.

> People who are succesful did 99 mediocre side projects before they hit the jackpot

This. Nobody tells you this part. I've read the blogs of several successful side-projectors and independently came to this conclusion a couple of years ago. Even Tom Preston-Werner had a bunch of side-projects that went nowhere (he wrote about it a while back) before GitHub. So also Dennis Crowley (FourSquare) wrote about his side-projects, incl. Dodgeball (college project?), which was a pre-cursor to FourSquare.

EDIT: Found an AMA that Tom did here on HN in 2010. Some interesting questions about doing side-projects while being employed full-time.

=> Ask Tom Preston-Werner, cofounder of GitHub, anything Today, Mon 18 Oct 2010. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1804443

Good highlights there. Just one correction: Dodgeball was bought by Google and was pretty actively used in SF tech scene before the acquisition. So doesn't really fall into a category of a sideproject that went nowhere.

> People who are succesful did 99 mediocre side projects before they hit the jackpot.

This x100000. This is fundamentally it; just like how we love to talk about 10,000 hours and targeted practice, so too can we extend this concept to startups. You just have to throw (and attempt) a bunch of ideas at the wall until one of them sticks, and learn along the way.

I used to get so bent out of shape that my side project wasn't a massive success or that I'm not a young prototypical YC founder straight out of college on the fast track to entrepreneurship. When I took a step back, realized that most founders (even outside of the tech bubble) are older than 35, and have tried (and failed) at a lot of different startups...you then embrace that it's just all about executing and learning from as many projects as possible. It takes out a lot of the stress and anxiety about succeeding, and instead using your side projects as practice to get you to that great idea in your future.

Hooray, now I only have 44 more failures to go!

Hope you won't wait so long. haha

For me, there's about 4 months between idea and first public launch. But another 4 years between that first launch to deciding to build a company around it. The time between 4 months and 4 years involves building a community, helping users, and improving the core product...

My personal examples:

Launched Selenium as an open source project in 2004. Founded Sauce Labs Inc ("Selenium in the cloud") in 2008. (Sauce makes roughly ~$25MM a year now. https://www.inc.com/profile/sauce-labs)

Launched Tapster (then called "Bitbeambot") as an open source project in 2011. Founded Tapster Robotics, Inc. in 2015. (Not disclosing revenue at the moment, but still going strong!)

To echo some other comments, I also have many other side-projects (some posted to GitHub, but even more unpublished) that never went anywhere. Success is a combination of luck, timing, ABC (Always Be Creating), stubbornness/persistence, and getting feedback from as many people as possible.

I run a service called Tesults for test results reporting. It's fairly new, I went from idea to first release in two months, releasing last October. I wanted it to be fast because I've spent 8-9 years launching a bunch of stuff and each one took far too long for an initial release. With Tesults I discovered users expected far more features than that first pithy release and so work has never really stopped and I think that's part of the 'improving the core product' you are referring to.

I find it fascinating how little love this part of software dev can get with respect to both developer time allocation and department budgeting (hence making free to use important for most users) so Sauce Labs revenue is all the more impressive. Tapster is very cool - working on something with a cool factor like that makes it easier to get attention as I'm discovering now with a new project I'm working on (unrelated to testing).

I launched the first version of https://ipinfo.io a few hours after having the idea - but it was just a super simple webpage at the time. I added the API within a few weeks I think, and that's when it started to take off. It was probably around a year before I added paid plans though, and another year before it started bringing in decent revenue, and then another year before I started working full time on it. See https://getputpost.co/from-side-project-to-250-million-daily... for some of the story.

I've worked on tons of side projects before this (most unsuccessful, some with some success - busmapper.co.uk, donothingfor2minutes.com). My advice would definitely be to launch early and improve things over time.

Thanks for this! I use an ipinfo bash function on my Mac probably every day.

  ipinfo() {
    curl ipinfo.io/$1

I'm sure there were already IP APIs available before you launched, what do you think helped you fight through the crowd to become as big as you are now?

Simplicity. You had to signup and register for an API token for the others, and then read the docs to figure out how to parse the response or work out what field you wanted. Can't get much easier than:

    $ curl ipinfo.io
      "ip": "",
      "hostname": "c-73-222-35-113.hsd1.ca.comcast.net",
      "city": "Mountain View",
      "region": "California",
      "country": "US",
      "loc": "37.3885,-122.0741",
      "org": "AS7922 Comcast Cable Communications, LLC",
      "postal": "94041"
Of course it's now evolved past that point. You can signup for an access token, we offer additional data sets (carrier detection, hosted domain details, ip type etc), and we've done a ton of work on infrastructure to handle over 300 million API req/day at very low latencies and without any stability issues, but simplicity and really focusing on developers is what I think helped with the initial growth.

> what do you think helped you fight through the crowd to become as big as you are now?

I call it the "Stackoverflow Effect" :) See => How to get client's IP address using JavaScript only https://stackoverflow.com/q/391979/325521

That question has over 1/2 MILLION views over an 8 year period, and is still very active almost every day.

Creator of ipinfo.io has posted his solution with link back somewhere in the middle / bottom, and still manages to get a lot of referrals from there. He wrote about it here at HN few weeks ago. Here's that thread : "How I Took an API Side Project to 250M Daily Requests (ipinfo.io)" => https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14678473

I quit my job in May 2016 (15 months ago) to work on an idea (a painting web app). Unfortunately I was also trying to earn money with any sort of side-kick jobs (teaching) and the idea never got the attention it deserved. It got a few turns and twists after an initial demo to some designer friends in December 2016.

I have since then managed to get some funding and have been working on it more seriously for the past 4 months (since may 2017). In two weeks I will have another closed alpha-demo that is then going to be used to produce a video for the landing page, and opened to the public if there is no big bashing from my zen target audience friends.

It does seem like a huge desert to cross. Motivation comes and goes. In the meantime I managed to kill my desire to feature creep it to death and learned a lot about the fine art of listening/ignoring the target audience requests. I know for sure that my approach for my next project is going to be completely different than my current one. But in the meantime the rent is due :)

The landing page: https://www.pixnit.com

My blog with some thoughts on the bootstrapping experience: http://www.hugodaniel.pt

Cool! It looks like you're doing most of your canvas-drawing with canvas draw commands? You might consider looking into WebGL rendering with regl: http://regl.party/ I've found it to be really powerful.

Thank you!

Unfortunately my macbook is old and does not support WebGL.

I am using a lot of WebWorkers for the rendering. The code is using a mix of SVG and Canvas.

I don't know if I can explain it here in a comment. Roughly in the final passes I am preprocessing SVG paths into Path2D's[0] that then get rendered into an offscreen canvas. (they get cached)

The rendering code keeps 4 offscreen canvases, one for the layers bellow the current layer, one for the current layer, one for the layers above the current layer, and finally one for the HUD (the grid lines and zoom info).

These offscreen canvases are then rendered into many final canvases on the DOM in different ways (to do splitting animations, like row splitting or column splitting that happen to allow the UI to react to some specific user interactions like editing a grid element).

This way the rendering is smooth with simultaneous users on the same project on my old hardware.

I am planning to package this specific rendering part into npm and release it soon.

[0] https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/Path2D

Interesting project.

Illustrator has a similar feature called shape builder. You can create new objects from intersections and such.


Thank you :)

Illustrator is an amazing tool, I have seen a few use cases of that feature in logo drawing tutorials. My main differentiation points with Illustrator (and sketch) are:

* Web based

* Grid based (there is always a grid bellow that you can use to create patterns)

* Free (right now the export to svg is the only planned payed feature, I hope to make it enough to cover my cost of living, maybe I will add pro accounts to those that need to produce non CC0 stuff if there is audience for it, but I will need to pay a lawyer to help me with that feature if it comes to it)

Not a SaaS, but I'm working on a blogging platform for developers : https://www.ploghub.com/ . To use an analogy : Medium for developers without the dickbar. It took me around one month to build the initial version. The front page uses a dumbed down version of the HN algorithm. Code here (need to add test cases) : https://github.com/ploggingdev/ploghub

For my next project, I plan to build an alternative to Disqus which respects users' privacy. I removed Disqus from my blog a while due to the 2 MB junk it loads and sends tracking data to 10+ sites. I used to receive a few comments, so I thought I would build myself an alternative to Disqus and maybe turn it into a SaaS if there's demand for such a product. Any interest for a $10/month privacy respecting Disqus alternative + an open source code base?

I expect it to take me 2 to 3 weeks to build it. As you build more projects, you end up with a lot of reusable components, so it gets easier to build out the MVP. The real challenge for developers is to get users. This is something I don't have much experience with, so let's see how it goes.

Depends on what you're building, of course, but seriously consider if what you're building is an MVP or not.

My most successful side-project has been the one where I didn't start out by using design patterns or TDD or fancy fun new languages as we do at my full-time job.

Instead, I spewed code vomit on the virtual floor of a tiny VPS, wrote most of it via SSH, and felt shame when users started using it because holy hell if they only knew what was underneath all that.

But ... that MVP generates income. Not quit-my-job income. But it's steady, and doesn't require a lot of changes. I plan on rebuilding it soon, as I need a better code base to handle upcoming plans. However, that embarrassingly messy hodgepodge has been running for a year, making money.

Good luck!

What's the product?

Around 1 month total time since the idea, 2-3 days net dev time.


I wanted to learn Django and wanted to start with something fairly easy. I don't really have any idea how and where to promote it, didn't get much attention in my `Show HN` thread and most subreddits remove it because of the affiliate links to amazon.

Other than that it was a fun experience and at least I can say that Django is a great framework to work with!

We have built a better website (more data and good algorithm), maybe you should consider join us, haha

It took about a month to built the initial prototype for the Search Engine we are building.


We had the interactive mind maps as JSON already however we needed to display them on the web in a nice interface so we made a react component to render the JSON to the screen.


Overall it took about a month to do the whole thing and get a working prototype, the search engine improved a lot since then though.

Hey great work thanks! I used it a few times with good results.

Would it make sense for your app to also link topics to distance learning universities ?

I mean you could contact them first then talk about a commission fee, if someone joins their course they should pay you

The same thing could be done with coursera and edX.

Hi, really nice project. I had stumbled across it few days back. Good job !

Thank you. There is lot more to come soon.

I recommend "Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup," if you have not heard of it. He has some simple formulas for measuring how much you're trying to do and how long it will take, given that you have a full time job.

Thanks for the recommendation, I have just started it.

There seems to be a prevailing idea among startup people that if you can't get an MVP up and running in ~3 months or less, it isn't worth doing. I have heard this exact statement made on a few of the well known podcasts.

The reality is that not every concept is going to get the low hanging fruit, and for many people real life gets in the way. Plus, for some people the journey of learning is just as important as launching the product.

It might be worth considering that you shouldn't stress out if it takes longer than the conventional advice might dictate.

Two weekends for the MVP of https://newsapi.org. About 3 months so far for v2 - I'm building it out into a more featureful service that I'm hoping I can build a business around.

Thanks for building it!

It only took me a day or two to get https://www.dailylore.com up and running because of it.

What's the delay between article publication and it appearing on your api?

Between 0-15 minutes.

1 week (mostly nights and weekend) - http://toptalkedbooks.com

Building a website is not the most painful part, promotion and getting traffic are the hardest, you have to be very determined. keep up the good work, don't give up.

anyone has any good advice on marketing?

Lots of good books

3 Months. It highly depends on the project though.

For me, it was an e-book [0] that I wanted to write to teach others about React. The idea was to learn React while building an application that is more complex than a Todo Application.

So I took the first 3 months to write the initial draft - only 90 pages. I released it on Leanpub as an unfinished book, because it was painfully hard to keep going. Yet the community seemed to like it. It confirmed me being on the right track and my motivation went up again.

Since then I iterated 4 times to improve and enrich the learning experience and "released" it multiple times. I keep it updated to the recent library versions, best practices and new techniques with the help of the open source community. Now it has over 170 pages and over 11.000 downloads.

What helped in my case: Release early and improve/iterate based on the feedback.

- [0] https://www.robinwieruch.de/the-road-to-learn-react/

Good job

6 months. I sat on the domain and an index.html file for months even though the idea was super simple. Partnering with a friend and holding each other accountable was the best thing to launch.

Compare career levels across companies - http://www.levels.fyi

Concept was May 2011, I wrote up the spec in Aug 2011 and we launched in May 2015. So about 4 years.

So what was it?

Oh, sorry. Mobile Markerless AR for engineering, design and Architecture. It was a SaaS in that an engineer or Architect could export their 3D CAD models to our service on a monthly plan and the UI was a mobile app for viewing the CAD models in real space. We started focusing more on the consumer market after about 5 months and then re-focused totally on the consumer retail segment at the beginning of 2016.

Biggest lesson I learned from building a SaaS side project that actually had revenue is this...

You cannot develop your way out of a marketing problem.

There will ALWAYS be technical problems to solve but it's all irrelevant if no one is using your product. Long development time also tends to create a familiarity with your product that users likely will not have, possibly ever.

I am a huge fan of Steve Blank's How to build a startup (which is free on udacity) https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup--ep245

I have built multiple SaaS products. I spend about a month building the first version. I get that out in front of users and continue to build upon it if I see traction and based on feedback. If traction isn't there or it becomes obvious user won't pay, I generally move onto something else.

After the initial prototype, it generally takes another 3 to 4 months to build out a full fledged app that I can offer to the masses. It doesn't stop after that though. There is always more to develop and improve including a lot of re-factoring.

I currently have 4 SaaS products on the market and another one in the works.

All your SaaS products are generating revenues? How did you come up with the ideas/pain points for your products?

3 of the 4 are making money.

Honestly, I don't really understand it when people say they have a hard time coming up with ideas. Ideas are all around you if you are willing to pay attention and look around. IMO ideas are easy, taking action is the hard part.

I tend to look outside of the tech sector and try to even stay away from things I am interested in. I have learned the hard and costly way that my interests don't make me money. I pay attention to un-sexy, niche markets or subsets of larger markets/products. A few markets I am currently tapped into are:

- Niche learning platform mainly advertised to homeschoolers

- Math tutoring

- Niche real estate product

- Roofers

I also run 2 ecommerce sites selling niche products. Products that are really not on anyone's radar because the volume isn't there and it isn't a huge market. I get 30 to 50 orders per month and net on average $200 per order, so it is a nice passive revenue stream.

I literally have pages of ideas jotted down that as time permits I will dig into more. Lots of ideas end up getting removed from the list after I do more research and see the market isn't right or that it will take too much time or money getting it going.

> Lots of ideas end up getting removed from the list after I do more research and see the market isn't right or that it will take too much time or money getting it going.

That's the rub right there. "Ideas" are easy. Viable ideas you can't shoot down in 5 minutes of thinking about the problem are very, very difficult to find. Then again, it can be hard to tell if an idea is unviable or if you're just rationalizing your way into binge watching netflix for the umpteenth night in a row.

Yes to all your points :)

I launched 2 SaaS. one that failed to sell took me only a long weekend. One that does well currently (https://forwardmx.io) took about 1 month of work scattered over 4 months. Plus at least a few weeks I invested in updates so far.

As one man show I try to scope small and grow slow within my capacity.

Also i have tons of prior experience in software development. Not want to make it sound like I just did that and whoosh

4 months for ForwardMX sounds really impressive. And that's a great landing page, did you design that yourself as well? What about payment integration?

Yes it is my own design and my own payment integration. However i just build it around stripe subscriptions. Adding PayPal and Bitcoin is a huge update I am currently working on.

I spent around 6 months for version 1 of my food project https://bestfoodnearme.com and another 3 months for an entire re-write of version 2. It is still a work in progress with small iterations. I would say launch with the bare features, not even password reset. Get feedback and keep iterating.

Make sure you have some form of analytics from the start so you can see what pages people are going to

2 weeks -- http://www.backereta.com

Nobody uses it but it was a good learning experience.

Looks very useful, maybe you can promote it on reddit.

6 weeks of after work/weekends for the first iteration in website form, and another 6 weeks for iOS App second iteration https://www.theroseleague.com

Shameless plug, if you or anyone you know enjoys The Bachelor series then this product is for them.

Fantasy Bachelor season? That actually sounds hilariously awesome!

It's surprisingly on par with a FanDuel/Draftkings fantasy experience. The score distributions and lineup permutations are great

I spend a good 3 months on getting an initial version out of my latest side project called Postways [1] and launched it just before xmas last year. Since then I have been focusing on on-boarding users and just improving the service overall. Marketing it and connecting with an audience and potential customers is the real challenge.

I did everything myself. I have a number of great features in the works but for now I purposely want to keep the scope very focused around a core set of functionality so I don't mentally overload myself.

At some point I hope to afford to engage with a visual designer because I really think that having a great visual brand can make a real difference in whether or not potential customers landing on your home decide the signup or not.

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

Looks very interesting, but I had a lot of trouble trying to understand your value proposition. How many active users do you have so far?

That's a good question and so far it has been the most challenging thing to communicate this well, or, in a concise way. So, any feedback is welcome.

When an application sends transactional messages, software teams often integrate with some transactional email service (SendGrid, Mailgun, etc). However, these services primarily solve an infrastructure problem, i.e. the problem of not having to setup and look after your own SMTP server. These services typically don't solve a content problem. Many applications these days send both email and SMS (and if there is mobile app, also mobile push). Somehow we're totally OK with using any of the MailChimps of this world for promotional messages (email templates) but when it comes to our transactional messaging we're fine to just stick message text in our source code.

When a team grows, product people will want to have easy access to the message text, not just for marketing/promotional email, because they will want to tweak it constantly. In a way you can think of Postways as a message management system.

Onboarding users has been slow. One of the main problems I have run into is that when software guys look at this they say something like "Uh, I can build this is a weekend" (typical developer under-estimation) and business owners find it to technical and refer judgement to their lead dev.

From the users I do have it actually took a while for them to "get it", I had to spend quite a bit of time helping them to onboard but once they were in, the feedback was mostly along the lines of; of course, this makes total sense..

One last thing, I'm not competing with any of the existing transactional services. To use Postways you need to BYO your own infrastructure. Reasons, It wasn't a problem I wanted to solve and I figured most people already use some service for their transactional messaging, making it easier to onboard them. E.g. Postways fully supports SMTP integration, so if you're already using Mandrill, or what ever, you can just keep using that.

I spent ~6 months building the initial version, then ran a 3 month beta (should have just launched here as beta didn't have a lot of usage), and finally launched about 3 months ago. All in all, I've been working on it for over a year. GitHub says first commit was May 22, 2016.

Over 15 months, and we didn't get our blogging and social media going until approx 3-4 months left until launch. And I regret not starting it sooner.

Start your blogging and social media ASAP, because it takes some time for SEO to kick in. Get collecting emails so you can launch to an audience. Don't leave it until after launch, you will regret it.

Our SaaS is at http://blogenhancement.com and the blog is at http://blogenhancement.com/blog/ if you want to take a look at what we've been up to.

Cheers, and good luck in your journey!

So the game that my friend and I are funding and working on the side on (dunno if this fits your definition of side project, but a proper saas app is as complex) is entering it's third year and is about to hit mvp.

It is (unsurprising if you know us) a unreal front end with the back end hosting on Google cloud, we're using gke, datastore and cloudsql , with gae web front ends. We're coding in js, c++, Python and Java.

plug: http://fracturedveil.com/?m=hn

And yes, sometimes it feels glacial and I wish I could clone myself and move things forward much faster. But I actually like my day job, so...yeah.

I made the initial version of https://seekbeak.com after about 3 or 4 months. It's been updates and additions for the past year now.

I'll echo the rest of the folks in here: Launch early, and add features as you go. I'd rather launch at 85% than never launch at 100%

Also, there is a fine line between an initial launch which is missing a few fancy features, and an embarrassing clusterfuck. So make sure that the site/app is totally functional, and as bug free as you can be. Then you can get to work on adding all the bells and whistles which are buzzing around your head!

Looking at my domain whois... 6 months. As others have said, at this point it probably isn't an MVP any more (bad creator!), but it is very close to a release in the next few weeks. Honestly looking forward to getting it out there and seeing what people think.


I'd argue it wouldn't have taken the full 6 months if this had been my sole effort, but with a full-time job, a young family to support, and finishing another site-project for a friend, I think 6 months isn't bad.

took me approx 2.5 years from the idea (of beating the stock market, trough losing money left and right, stopping and developing an edge) to building the system to algo trade constantly...

Can you explain more? Maybe strategy and what kind of market...

US stock market.

Does it work? I'd like to use it!

Works for me and it's not for sale unless the offer has more than 8 digits before the decimal point...

My first major project, https://www.kindmind.com: about 6 months of nights-and-weekends work before public launch. It's a private online therapy journal for getting things off your chest.

Now going on two years of development (just me) and loving every minute of it. Yes, it's painfully slow at times. Finding users is really freakin' hard. But the satisfaction of people using something I made makes it all worth it.

Totally understand the satisfaction of seeing people use your product. So how many users do you have?

A little over 500 sign ups. Not a lot, but enough to validate that people like what I'm doing.

Marketing is like pulling teeth for me. I need to get better at it.

I've just launched latency.at and I've started working on it about a year ago but in the beginning worked only a few hours per week in my spare time on it. In the past months I put more time in it while freelancing the other days. And yes, I felt exactly the same. The core piece was literally done in a day, but everything around it took forever. Happy it's "done enough" to finally launch it. But now the next hard part: Find (paying) users.

Why would a guy living in Germany register an Austrian Domain?

For the TLD? It wouldn't be the first time someone used a country TLD for the letters rather than the country it represents.

I guess that word play didn't work out as I hoped. :)

Latency at. You know, as latency at this location. And of course latency wasn't available on more prominent domains.

Oh ! got it now.

Hey HN,

As someone who is thinking about attempting to monetize some side projects, should I incorporate a company before I begin? Or is it ok to just publish things on my own?

Just publish. If you're in the US and don't have a co-founder, the second you start selling, you're a sole proprietorship. You'll probably need to file some paperwork if you hire employees (to get a tax ID) or if you want to use a "fictitious business name" (aka a "Doing Business As" filing.) But for a sole proprietorship, no legal entity paperwork is required to get started. Your biggest issue is finding a customer! (I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, yadda, yadda....)

I only incorporated my last project (Tapster) when a major European car company ordered 10 of my robots. Until that point, for two years, it was just a hobby/side-project and revenue was included in my taxes as a sole proprietorship. But a real order from a big company made me take sales/support/development/liability issues more seriously, so that's when I incorporated. Incorporation will probably also be required if you take angel/pre-seed/seed/accelerator funding. But again, bigger issue is making a product and finding customers. Don't get bogged down in paperwork issues until you've found a customer willing to pay.

This took about 4 months from idea to first real user registrations: https://www.turbo360.co

That was back in June or so. Since then, have made many many changes based on user feedback so the current iteration is more like the cumulative work of 6 months.

It originally took me a weekend to get the basic site done. Then, after I saw it's potential, I've been working on it more extensively.

I built a site to teach people to code by building projects: https://enlight.ml

Look nice. Could you put a filter at the top to select the language. I've spent several minutes trying to figure out which languages you teach.

About 4 months to realize I should build https://oppslist.com/subscribe

Maybe about 1-2 weeks actual development time.

Where do you get your sources from?

About 5 months because I spent a lot of time playing around. I'm doing everything myself: dev, UI/UX, marketing, paperwork.


My last one's not a saas, it's a simple job board, but it took me 3 weeks working some evenings and weekends.


Not from idea to launch as I spend a lot of time daydreaming about projects before I begin work, but SendToMyCloud.com and PrivateForms.com both took less than a month to build, part-time.

"ideation" is a real word?

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