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Growing a company that sells miniature construction supplies to $17k a month (starterstory.com)
740 points by patwalls on Feb 21, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 275 comments



This sort of thing is just killer in the hobbyist market - think people out there making miniature train towns, very-high-setting-realism RPG campaigns, etc. It's not a billion dollar business, and it doesn't have to be.

There's endless potential for lifestyle businesses in the hobby world. There are people out there doing 6 figures selling artisanal mechanical keyboard keycaps.


I've been really wanting to get into the artisanal business world as an entrepreneur for a while now, it always seems so full of potential, and I've had good experience on the other side as well (having purchased a hand-made Atreus keyboard from @technomancy). And it fits inline with my philosophy of quality craftsmanship being very important, especially in this age of disposable low-quality goods and services. The hard part is finding something that is pretty low-risk to jump right into. That's part of what drew me to software, because there's almost no costs except what you'd already have at home (electricity bill, computer, rent). So it's just a matter of finding a software niche that's low-risk enough to bootstrap without VC if possible, and in a very small time limit. That's probably why I started making Mac apps 10 years ago and have kept doing so since. Mac apps used to be known for their fine craftsmanship and attention to detail as well as niche market.


Seems like the best entrypoint is being a target customer. Make something you'd want.

We're a bit spoiled in the software world. Startup cost is just non-existent. Most other businesses in history have at least a little bit of associated input capital. But if it's something you want anyway, it's worth a big of dough!


That's what I've always tried to do: make something I use. The most successful example of this is when I made an app that I use on a daily basis (https://github.com/sdegutis/AppGrid) and have for several years straight. But it's so niche and small that nobody was willing to spend money on it, so I open sourced it. But I still think of it as a success because of how dependent I've become on this tool whenever I use a computer.


People totally would have spent money for it. Lots of people struggle with tools for exactly this (I’m currently using Moom but just yesterday was wishing I had a keystroke to shrink a window but didn’t feel motivated enough to crack open my Hammerspoon configuration.)

You should consider selling it on the Mac App Store in addition to it being open source. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.


I tried to do that, but Apple's rules restrict it because it uses Accessibility API (other similar apps were grandfathered in as they were on the store the rule was made). I also talked with Apple asking for an exception and they said no. So I tried selling it outside the store, but it's hard to market it without spending tons of $$.


I/m not sure who downvoted you or why when you had the sentence about using Show HN, but I think that was a good idea. Of if not Show HN, Ask HN with the history and problems putting it in the appstore you outlined here, and asking people if they see a path to profitability.

I think the second would be more useful and interesting. More people likely to look at it if a good discussion ensues, so you still get exposure, and useful advice from people here.


Thanks for the advice. I think I'll just put it up for sale, make a website for it, hook it up to Stripe or something, and post it as a Show HN. If I post it as an Ask HN, the mods may not allow a Show HN about the same topic any time soon afterwards, and reasonably so.


Looks like a good utility. I've been using Spectacle to do this sort of thing. One small suggestion: add a .gif to your Github README showing off AppGrid in action.


Good idea, just added one. Thanks.


First off, thank you so much for the work you did on mjolnir and related projects. Mjolnir completely changed how I used my mac and I used it intensively every day for years until I recently switched to hammerspoon.

But, I didn't (and wouldn't) pay for it as a product. I did donate a coffee or two a while back, but I think in general window managers will always be a hard sell since all it takes is another bored programmer to open source a clone and you're kinda sunk. On top of that window managers have always been a free/FOSS thing, and changing that would probably require offering a feature that is so compelling people will overlook using closed source software/payware. Last, customization/scripting is a hard requirement for most window manager users, and without the source the vast majority of people will refuse to even invest the time to switch.

While I personally hate the trend, the only way to monetize would probably offer some sort of cloud based feature that requires a subscription. I think if you did it honestly, offered real value, and provided a self-hosted option for sticks in the mud (that won't give you money, but will evangelize for you if you keep things libre) you could probably carve out a decent living. Either that or offering support to enterprises who want to use your tool, but that comes with its own devils.

Anywho, just my two cents. Thanks again for all your hard work, I know it didn't pay off how you wanted financially but the tools you created have huge userbases that use your code every day hundreds of times a day. At the very least I'd hope having that on your resume has helped you find a good gig somewhere, and if not I'd suggest posting on here in a hiring thread or finding a good head hunter who can translate that experience into a well paying gig.


Thanks, I appreciate it. And my thinking lines up with yours, that nobody will realistically pay for this app, which is why my plan is to add a buy-me-a-beer (donate) button into the app, and keep it open sourced, and submit it here next Tuesday, since I hear that's the best day for a Show HN.


I would have totally used this as I had the same issue as well and tried multiple different apps before settling in to BetterTouchTool to basically cover all the shortcuts and much more. I got in back when it was in Beta and still paid for it afterwards, because of continued support/development.

The other thing to think about if you make this a paid app is the price point and utility. The one thing I dislike about a lot of Mac Apps like this, which provide some simple functionality, end up discontinuing development if there isn't much revenue or if the developer gets busy. So when the OS updates or something breaks or it doesn't work with a new model/hardware changes (Ex: Touchbar), there's no support or updates. (This is something that I factor in, looking at what other things the developer has done or supported in the past, based on the price point for the app ($1 vs $10 etc)


Exactly! The only exception is if you are building a disruptive idea like Uber or Airbnb that creates a market. It's not something anyone wants per se until they see that it can actually be a part of their lives. For ex, Travis Kalanick doesn't really drive an Uber right? But he created a market where people could actually start being their own taxis.

But for people in the hobby of making small apps and tools (like myself) then making something I want, then selling it for $0.99, then having 1 million people buying it is already a lot of dough. Not to mention 1 million people worldwide is a drop in the bucket.


I thought Travis really did want to use the limo(s) himself. Wasn't shared access to high-end limos the original idea? And didn't the Airbnb founders put the literal Ur-airbed in their own house?

I think you are right that there are exceptions to the rule, but those seem to follow the rule to some degree.


Circa 2008, I had a terrible commute, but a sometime-carpool that made it bearable. I dreamed of an app that would pair/triple up drivers and riders based on homes, destinations, and timing. Uber isn't quite that, but it's conceivable that someone could want such a thing.


There's a whole industry selling real $2 bills for more than face value

https://smile.amazon.com/Two-Dollar-Bill-Pack-Bills/dp/B01N2...


I once bought a sheet of uncut $2 bills from BEP [1]. They go for much more than a face value, but it was a nice souvenir from America.

[1] https://www.moneyfactorystore.gov/2currencysheetsbeptestshee...


I find that really strange because yesterday I literally walked out of my bank with 50 brand new $2 bills.


For some people, time is money. So the convenience of avoiding a bank branch visit is worth paying a little more for the bills.


What do people do with them? Store them in mint condition in hope of creating collectors items in the future?


My dad takes clients out to lunch a few times a week. He always tips the server with $2 bills. Every server on his side of town remembers him, and his favorite drinks, meals, etc. (and really impresses the clients!)


When I used to work as a valet it was a big deal every time we got a $2 bill in tip. When we were splitting the tip we would always ask if any of the new guys had never gotten one before and make sure they got one.


There was a factory in a town somewhere that paid all its workers' bonuses in $2 bills so that the town could see the effect that the factory had on the local economy.


Give them to friends and kids, see them smile.


Also good for tipping.


Back when $2 used to be a good tip, but now? Do you fork over 5 of them?


Yes, you would use more than one $2-bill to tip them $10.


My son is in kindergarten and one of his Vietnamese classmates gave everyone a red envelope with a $2 in it for Lunar New Year. I have also received a similar gift from a Chinese co-worker, so maybe that's where some are going?


I love Woz's trick of having uncut sheets perforated and tearing them off for tips.


My recollection of the story is that he would laminate them into "tablets" with rubber cement and then tear off the top sheet(s) to make a payment. I think I have that story bookmarked somewhere.

EDIT: I'm not sure where the "printing" part of this story comes into play but it looks like his tablets do indeed have multiple bills per sheet in addition to being laminated at the top. (https://hackaday.com/2012/08/03/woz-prints-and-spend-his-own...)


You can buy uncut sheets of bills directly from the US mint. I got a sheet of 12x $1 bills when I visited DC as a child.

See here: https://www.moneyfactorystore.gov/1currencysheets.aspx


Right ... but I suspect his local printer was involved in turning them into a tablet of a given size rather than actually printing the bills.


Yep, he got a print shop to apply rubber cement and perforate the sheets.


Does anyone know how is that not illegal?

Even if they meet the required standards I thought only the government was allowed to print bills.

Does anyone have any links or references to what Woz is saying?


He's pulling the host's leg; the "high quality print shop" he buys them from is the Bureau of Printing and Engraving [1].

Of course, when you're interviewing a prankster about pranks, you've got to expect that sort of thing :)

[1] http://archive.woz.org/letters/general/78.html


Aha!

That makes perfect sense. And of course I fell for it...

Thanks!


I live in a rural mountain town in North Central Washington and the local IGA always gives crisp 2 dollar bills as change when you pay cash. Not sure why they do but it's pretty neat.


What is a "local IGA"?


IGA is a grocery store chain. Well, actually it's a franchise where each store has the IGA brand but it is individually owned and operated. They tend to be popular in smaller towns where a local resident owns and runs the store.

There aren't any near where I live, but I've seen them a lot when traveling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IGA_(supermarkets)


Thanks!

I thought it was an accronym.


I believe Steve Wozniak was/is a $2 bill fan. As far as I can remember he just ordered them at the bank.


Actually it's better than that; he buys uncut sheets of bills and pulls various pranks with them. He ends up paying more than $2 per bill, so it's mainly just to weird people out.

He got sheets of 4 perforated and then bound with a gum binding (like a pad of paper). He then whips out the book and pulls a $2 off of the perforation.

He'll carry larger sheets folded up and then cut a bill out with scissors in front of the person he is paying it to. Apparently he got the secret service called on him once.

http://archive.woz.org/letters/general/78.html

[edit]

If you want to buy uncut bills you can yourself, but there's about a 50% markup on even the largest sheets:

https://www.moneyfactorystore.gov/2currencysheetsbeptestshee...


note to self: become rich enough to buy money


...to buy expensive money


sheets use to be at cost with free shipping, but the dang card churners killed everything related to this site.

They would buy monsterboxes of coins of various monies on credit cards and turn them back into the bank and pay the bill for perks.

They eventually changed the Merchant category codes to cash advance, and then raised the prices. :-(


At least the url is self descriptive.

Is the government allowed to make money (more than its value) by selling money?


I recall a story told to me many years back of him at a (U2?) concert where he was up in the upper deck. He would make a paper airplane out of the $2 bill and throw it. He would watch it with binoculars to see where it landed and the confusion on the person’s face when there is a bill stuck in their hair.


That looks like nothing but thinly-disguised money laundering. Hack an Amazon account, buy some cash, repeat. Why else would someone buy $20 for $32?


Yep hacking an account and giving your real mailing address and card information complete with a paper trail is definitely how you launder.


Not to mention it's somewhat de-laundering: you start with money in a bank or credit on a card and end up with hard to spend cash. Hard to spend as in, you can't really pay your mortgage or buy a car with $2 bills.


Why not? My auto and hoke loan is through my credit union. I can walk in any branch and make a cash payment on any of my loans. I don't even have to verify I own the accounts.


You will attract AML attention if this goes over the $10k threshold for any one transaction (or near it in some cases).


Who has a mortgage or car payment that is in excess of $10k per month?


(tangent) An old friend of mine claimed that he could get very low-ball offers accepted for used cars by showing up with his entire bid in hundred dollar bills in cash, he said that people were so mesmerized by the sight of literal stacks of currency that they would accept lower offers than they would for other "cash" offers that were otherwise some form of bank transfer.


Alternate explanation: payment in bills facilitates the salesman cheating his boss. The salesman writes up two bills of sale: one to you for the cash amount received, one to the dealership for the minimum price he can get away with. The difference goes in his pocket.


Hmmmm.

This is useful.


San Franciscans :-)


Anybody who bought a house for more than (napkin) $1.5MM? Lots of those out there.


Anybody who borrowed that much to buy a house, anyway.


People with a need to launder money?


There is a very real novelty factor of an uncut sheet. I have one and didn't mind paying the premium. Also, I'm pretty sure the U.S. Government doesn't need help laundering money. They sell them at a premium direct


I would say it's the other way around: you sell some ill-gotten cash, which is then sitting on a legal account.


Hacking an amazon count and buying cash isn't money laundering. You could just buy stuff on amazon and skip the cash middleman.


Because $2 dollar bills are rare to find and get in bulk; iirc if you buy rolls of change at a bank (for change, e.g. if you need it for your shop) you also pay a bit more than the face value of the currency.


I "buy" rolls of change at the bank constantly. I also turn in unrolled change, which they count for me. (I own machines that take quarters)

I've never paid a penny extra for the rolls, and my bank does the coin-counting for free as well.

I have never in my life heard of paying extra for rolled coins. In fact, there's a whole subreddit devoted to people who buy rolls of coins and then hunt through them looking for old (silver) coins. They turn the coins back in later, at a different bank/location. This would likely not be a viable hobby if there was any upcharge.


In my local bank (Germany) I get up to 2 rolls of any denomination for free, per day. I can also cash in loose coins (to my account) at an automatic counting machine (but not many branches have them). For people who don't have an account at this bank, iirc there's some kind of fee for getting rolled coins, might be in the ballpark of 50ct per roll or something.


Neither are true. I get fresh straps of $2 bills all the time. They are still printed.


This is absolutely untrue, I get cash of all denominations for my business at the bank all the time, including $2 bills. They usually have to pop into the vault to get some since there's not a lot of call for them, but they're by no means impossible or cost extra to get.


This boggles my mind. It's even worse than that psychology experiment where they auction off $20 bills. (Often for more than $20.)


That's called a "dollar auction" and it works because the rules are such that the 2nd highest bid still has to pay the money they bid, even though they won't get the prize. Given that incentive structure, it is cheaper for you to pay $21 for a $20 (and lose $1), rather than being the 2nd higher bid at $19, and lose the entire $19.

It is meant as an introduction to other occurrences in peoples lives, where they invest something that they will lose if they abandon the activity. Being on hold is one such example, where you lose the time you've invested in being on hold, if you give up and hang up the call before it's connected. Thus you end up in a situation where you are somewhat trapped.


Yes, and you can get them in tear-out books for a huge markup.[1] That idea is old; it was supposedly created by the marketing director of Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, mid 20th century.

[1] https://www.moneypads.com/products.html


> think people out there making miniature train towns, very-high-setting-realism RPG campaigns, etc.

It'd be a poor fit for miniature train towns, the scale is too large for them. The largest is G which is 1:22.5 (approx 8 inches high) and the most popular is HO (1:87.1). HO runs on a 16.5mm track so the blocks are about as wide as a train track on their shortest dimensions.

Overall it's kind of an awkward scale for any hobby miniatures.


Yeah, I only intended that as an example of the sorts of communities where realistic miniature-things are desirable. You could definitely produce different scales for these sorts of things to match.


The live steam hobby commonly works in 1:8 and 1:5, sometimes even 1:4... and that's just the folks on 7.5" gauge track. Tilden Park has a RR running on 15" gauge. It's a beast.


Oh yeah I've seen those. Never really seen them talked about in the same category as the rest of the model railway world though. Seems like it still kind of leaves these mini materials in an awkward position at 1:12 scale so they're too large for traditional model railways and too small for these live steam guys.

1:12 is a common action figure size though. Maybe it'd make interesting materials for that.


> very-high-setting-realism RPG campaigns,

RPG miniatures are typically 1/64 (25mm) to 1/58 (28mm); these items are 1/12 scale. There are display miniatures around that scale, but they are way too big for RPG or wargame minis.


I have to disagree. Having one mini cinder block = 5 properly scaled cinder blocks (approximately) is close enough. You just use 1-3 instead of 5-15 to build the appropriately sized walls.


Ah, I realize the “they” in the last sentence is potentially ambiguous; I was saying that the construction pieces aren't in scale with RPG miniatures but with display miniatures that are much larger. I actually agree that the cinder blocks and bricks could still be useful—though “high realism” would probably prefer alternate materials in-scale to out-of-scale but realistic materials; visual realism seems to usually be the priority for high realism.


I still remember one of the first HN stories that caught my eye was the developer who created bingo cards and was making a good living selling his cards online and to bingo parlors.

He did the same thing. Found a niche industry which needed this service and he was doing well all by himself with nearly zero overhead.

It really made me start looking at very small niches for opportunities since there's already a ton of people trying to disrupt large entrenched technologies.


In those days, SEO was fairly trivial. You could easily rank well for a keyphrase with a matching domain or get longtail hits with a script that dynamically built pages. It's much, much harder now.

At one point in that era, I ranked top two in Australia for "make money" with one page about AdSense on an otherwise unrelated site. I had another site that took half a day to build, and involved no upkeep, making similar money to Patrick's BCC. I stupidly let it (and other sites) languish and it was slowly overtaken by competitors and SEO changes.



I think you're referencing bingocardcreator.com, which made software for diy bingo cards. Also it never made a living, let alone a good living. It ended up selling for low 5 digits IIRC.


Well maybe that makes it all the more impressive because it got him notarity in a community which he parlayed into a great job with a unicorn startup company.


Nevertheless 25.000 to 40.000,- USD profits per year without spending a lot of time on it sounds nice.


Only in SV is $40,000 profit not making a living.


Yep - and a lot of this stuff is nicely high margin. I've bought tiny sandbags, 32mm circles that look like zen gardens, and a ton of other stuff for my hobby. There's tons of small shops out there making neat hobby materials.

I always thought the people who use "lifestyle business" as a pejorative were missing out.


>There are people out there doing 6 figures selling artisanal mechanical keyboard keycaps

Source?


The actual numbers would definitely be a guess out of thin air, but the mechanical keyboard community is pretty massive and spends a bunch of money on this stuff.

Here's a drop that is currently at 88k revenue for massdrop: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-redsuns-gmk-red-samu...

638 purchases @ 139.99/set

Somebody has dropped 1k on a single custom made key on the secondary market. https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/wiki/keyboard_t...

The gaming market has produced all sorts of hobbyist businesses, and that's a market actually big enough to see a few potentially billion dollar businesses. I'm not entirely sure whether something like DXRacer[0] would fall into line of a hobbyist/enthusiast business but it feels like it should to me (and I'm mentioning it because it feels like a larger sort of hobbyist business). It's definitely in that realm in terms of having a pretty specific target market and a relatively higher price point.

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


I'm one of those people who admittedly spend way too much money on keyboards :) I don't have any artesian keycaps, but I have bough aftermarket (?) keycaps that uses plastic of a higher quality. You can tell the difference.

There are also people in the DIY mechanical keyboard market selling circuit boards, plates, cases, etc... Again, it's a really niche market, but people are willing to spend a lot more money at a hobbyist/enthusiast level.


I'm there too, I have 4 $100+ keyboards now, and 1 of them is an "ortholinear" style (keys are in a perfect grid) that I built from a kit and had custom keycaps printed with names of programs on them. With some semi-custom software I use it like a physical "whole computer" shortcut pad.

I now have a button that can launch a terminal window, a button that launches HN, one that does a git pull on all my current projects, etc...

Like you said, it's a niche market, but it's one where most people are happy to pay the higher prices for something more tailored to their needs, and it's a rare "physical" area where a guy in his garage can compete with big companies.

I just recently got a new 3d printer, and I think after I get it more tuned I will be able to print fairly good quality keycaps. If they are good enough, I might try selling custom made-to-order keycaps if there is any interest.


Where can you get custom printing on keycaps? I have an Ergodox but what I really can't get used to (even after 2 years of full time use) is the lack of labeling for the special keys. I've looked for years for ways to do custom printing or labeling but all methods I found suck.


WASDkeyboards offers printed singles in multiple ways. They aren't the best quality (they are UV coated ABS, I used their keycaps on another keyboard and the coating started to wear through after about a year of daily use, the text is still fine though), but they are the king of custom printing right now in my opinion.

You can go to [0] to get just text on a keycap with a fairly easy web-ui to describe the text, position, and size you want it.

Or you can take it entirely into your own hands and go to [1] to give them a vector file that they will custom print on to the keys.

They also offer that service in a "full keyboard set" option [2], so you don't need to do a ton of keys individually if you want to do the whole keyboard (although the full sets most likely won't fit your profile, but they do fit a good number of more standard keyboard layouts)

Again, they aren't the best quality, but they do a good job, and they take care of their customers. Plus the amount of customization you can do is pretty fucking insane. [3] is always my go-to example for just how customizable they are. Not only full color printing, but also individual key plastic color selection.

[0] http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/products/printed-keyc...

[1] http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/products/printed-keyc...

[2] http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/products/keycap-set/1...

[3] https://www.flickr.com/photos/wasdkeyboards/28965975050/


roel_v just buy some right sized blanks in your profile and use a paint pen to label them, or get some relegendable caps in your profile and make little paper labels.

That or just dump the ergodox when you realize that it's just a pale sad imitation of a kinesis advantage.


I am not parent commenter but you can pry my ErgoDox EZ Shine from my cold dead hands.

The one you mentioned doesn’t even look pretty. ErgoDox EZ Shine is wonderful both in use and in how it looks!


>I don't have any artesian keycaps

Artisanal. Artesian means related to a special type of water wells :-)


`Bespoke` in the marketing community.


‘Artisan’ in the MK community.


That set is actually produced by GMK, a large-ish German company [0]. There is a designer who gets a cut (I'm not sure the percentage off the top of my head), but it's almost definitely not enough to live off of.

[0] https://www.gmk-electronic-design.de/en.html


I don't have a source, but I wouldn't be surprised. I used to make custom fighting sticks (I even designed the firmware, which for me was the most fun part) and sold them north of $300 each. They were gone really fast. I didn't continue because it was time consuming and we just had a son :)


Why did your fighting sticks have firmware?


Fighting sticks - like gamepads for fighting games, maybe?

https://www.frys.com/product/8805412


Oh... it's basically a joystick. Fight stick -> arcade like joystick that is usually used on fighting games.

The firmware was basically usb-hid to behave like either joystick or keyboard. It also had some fancy de-bouncing code for the buttons.


“Fightsticks” - joysticks for fighting games - often have the ability to program macros into their buttons, so as to make it easier to pull off the lengthy input sequences these games are built around.


Aren't all sticks made out of firmware?

But I, too, am very curious to hear the answer.


I mean it isn't like any of these makers are sharing their tax returns or anything, but for example eat_the_food is the designer and manufacturer behind "Nightcaps" [0]. He ran an event called "Poisoned summer" where he had 80 days of "micro batch" sales, where each sale was for somewhere between one and fifteen or so caps, priced between $60-80 each. Most days the sale was only open for about one minute, and in that minute he would have hundreds of entries to randomly draw "winners" from, and then the winners would get to buy the keycaps. I'm pretty sure he hit six figures in sales on those 80 days of sales alone, and those were not his only sales throughout the year. He isn't even making keycaps full-time yet, he still has a day job.

Several other members of the mechanical keyboard community (especially in the artisan keycap subsection of the community) have managed to turn their keyboard hobby into a full-time job and make a pretty decent living out of it.

[0] https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=79513.0


Most of these keycap sets are kinda pricey, and this company is apparently doing pretty well.

https://pimpmykeyboard.com/


This is the customer facing business for a plastics factory that specializes in keycaps called Signature Plastics. They've been one of two manufacturers of note in the custom keycap group buys of the last little while (GMK in germany being the other). Their production backlog right now is apparently pretty long.


This kind of thing seems perfect for group buys like massdrop, etc. Low production runs of these have got to be expensive. after all, they need to create the design, molds, form them, QA (hopefully), etc. Honestly that much money for some little plastic squares kinda makes me do a double-take, even though I realize why they cost what they do.


Most of the time there aren't that many custom molds (they are expensive!). There are generally only a few ways caps get made. Most expensive is "Double Shot", two separate colors of plastic is used, first the legend is molded in one color (kinda built on a grid of plastic) then it's placed in the full keycap mold and the "background" plastic is shot into the mold filling all the empty space. The legends on these keycaps obviously cannot fade or wear off. Other methods include "pad printing", the legends are painted on (with a coat of sealent) (if you look at your caps and kinda see a shimmer around your legends, it's probably pad printed). Pad printed legends can be worn off over time. Finally dye-sublimation, a printing method that penetrates the plastic a few nanometers. These legends generally don't wear off ( The popular Apple Extended II keyboard is dyesubbed, I have one that I used for several years on a quadra then converted for use with usb and the legends are still sharp, though the plastic has yellowed ), however dyesub can only create legends that are darker than the keycap plastic.

The companies that make keycaps have molds for the profiles they make. GMK has the original Cherry molds (medium height caps with cylindrical indentions, Signature Plastics has a few profiles including Retro looking SA (Tall caps with spherical indentations, each row a different sculpt that gives it a gentle dish when looked at from the side), DSA (flat profile, each row the same with a spherical indentation), DSS (A medium profile generally dished with spherical indentation, DCS (a medium profile with cylindrical indentation), and G20 (a flat profile with no indentation).

So generally when you put together a custom keycap set, you pick a profile, if you want double shot legends there might be some extra molds to make, but those are pretty pricy (I think I heard about 6k a pop). If you go with dyesub you have a lot of legend freedom, but you are limited to dark legends on lighter caps.


Most expensive is "Double Shot", two separate colors of plastic is used, first the legend is molded in one color (kinda built on a grid of plastic) then it's placed in the full keycap mold and the "background" plastic is shot into the mold filling all the empty space. The legends on these keycaps obviously cannot fade or wear off.

Yes. HP calculators had that.

There's another way for small volume. Laser engrave the legend with a CNC laser cutter. Then brush on laser marking powder, which is very similar to printer toner. Rerun the engraving pass at very low power, hitting the same spots just engraved. Power has to be low, just enough to melt and seal the toner, not vaporize it. Then brush off any remaining powder. This is good for cover plates with legends, signs, and such. The letters are slightly below surface level, so they tend not to wear off too fast.


How are they not getting replaced by chinese manufacturers? From a naive point of view those don't seem to hard to manufacture.


They are, but from the low end. Often the quality is not quite there: the colors are off, the legends and not properly aligned, the plastic is warped, the keys not quite aligned, and so on. It is probably because the production runs are so small that the only way to make a decent profit is to order a blind production run and ship it out no matter what it looks like. Higher-quality low-cost options are starting to appear as this new market matures.

In contrast, the group buys in the enthusiast community are works of love, with multiple rounds of checks and adjustments to get it right. Sometimes facilitators like Massdrop force projects out the door because of cost even though the creator of the design wants to do more rounds of tweaking are necessary, and it shows. (Example: the recent /dev/tty keycap set.)


They are, XDA keycap form factor is from a Chinese factory IIRC and is kinda derivative of DSA caps which comes out of Signature Plastics.

Seems to be quality issues with every XDA run so far though. Keyboard fanatics drop a good amount of money on these sets so quality is extremely important in such a small and passionate market.


Jelly Key makes artisan keycaps by hand. They are based in Vietnam.

https://www.jellykey.com/


Some are, some aren't (e.g. KeyCool). Lots of these have low production counts.


Maxkey, Tai Hao and others in the chinese market are making their presence felt, but generally the quality just isn't there for the enthusiast community.


Tai Hao is really coming into their own with the Cubic keycap profile. They're doing for keycaps what Kailh is doing for switches.


"I sent out an email to our first set of customers that had the low-quality cinder blocks, asking to replace them. I ended up having to completely revamp my process, and learn how cement creation really works."

That's how you do it, folks.

Awesome tips and sound business logic in the interview, that made my day already :-)


1. Just get something out there—without obsessing over getting it exactly right the first time

2. When something does go sideways: own up to it, make it right with customers, and learn how to fix your mistake for the future

Seems like a lot of founders get one of these right, but not both. Either they’re comfortable charging ahead into the unknown, but struggle to be reliable—or they get caught up on small details and launch far too late.


re: just get something out there

That depends entirely on your market and how big/serious your screw up is/can be.

There are many, many, many, many companies that take an enormous reputation hit or die completely, because their initial product offering was shit.


True, but that's all the more reason to "get something out there" without a lot of QA--just do it as a private beta, internal test, prototype, one-off for a single client, etc.

If you can't afford to have a bad product at launch, then don't let your launch be the first time your customers try your product, you know?


There’s a difference between early adopter types who you might already know and the wider market. “Launching” means making your thing available to the second group, not the first—but the first group is the group you should be trying to please first.

If you think like a customer, then the launch and the first-time-customers-use-the-product are the same thing. But if you’ve got your PM hat on, the launch is the END of a long process of learning, building, shipping, validating with a smaller group that’s representative of the wider market.


#1 is OK if and only if your customers are made aware of what they are getting into. They should know that what they are buying is a "beta" product. Otherwise you are being disingenuous.


Either that or do the Minecraft model and sell the alpha for less than the final product.


I almost forgot that they did this. Unfortunately this doesn't work with these kinds of "artisan" projects because the material/startup costs tend to be high, and actually come down as the product gets more popular due to economies of scale. That's why you have group buys, and companies like Kickstarter. You need the money up-front, and you need some early adopters who are willing to go in deep on it.

AFAICT it tends to be the opposite for software as long as you can ship an MVP really early: there's no need to chase bugs and run tech support if you're writing code that only 10 people will depend on. It's a big time sink, but these kinds of things tend to be labors of love in the first place.


You have to have an idea if you have the ability to make it right with your customers. For some products if you ship a bunch of faulty ones it will be very expensive to replace them.


If you've got a high growth rate and you're improving process quickly enough, this is essentially an ethical Ponzi scheme.

Previous_gen_users << current_gen_users

Ergo, take a one-time charge to upgrade your previous gen users to current, with the revenue from your current gen growth.

Key points here are probably: (1) that it's unexpected & doesn't create an expectation (unsustainable), & (2) that it's unannounced & properly timed (manage the Osborne effect & avoid screwing customers who choose to pay to upgrade themselves ASAP)

It won't fit all business models / products but seems practical in most cases.


Why is it ethical to ship a low quality product to generation one customers? I think you're breaching ethics anytime you aren't providing a decent quality of product.

Some products are a great fit for releasing something quick and fixing it later, like a free website. Other products, especially physical goods (car parts, medical equipment, etc) this is obviously a terrible strategy.


Because, from the article, you never know you're shipping a low quality product at the time you ship it.

Failure modes are complicated. It's not as simple as "Ah, this thing will obviously fall apart in a few months."


I think in that case it falls under mandatory warranty rules - if he didn't replace or reimburse them, he'd be liable. I don't know if warranty rules in the US are as strict as in Europe though. But in Europe, if your product is malfunctional within a year or three years (it's three for electronics, which is why warranty extensions from 1 to 3 years like AppleCare are dodgy), you as manufacturer are responsible for a replacement or compensation.


If you get ripped off in America, the market has spoken! "It's your fault."

We live by the AppleCare and die by the AppleCare.


In Brazil it's 3 months for everything produced/sold here, electronics and complex stuff usually have a 1 year warranty provided by the manufacturer (but by no means they are legally required to do that AFAIK/IANAL). Decent cars often have a 5 year warranty. I can't imagine trying to bootstrap a small business selling something in Europe and having to be extra super sure it is indestructible for at least 3 years or else I can be seen as some sort of criminal entrepreneur, it sounds scary... do you have any link or source on that for me to read?


EU Directive 1999/44/EC sets minimum of 2 years for consumer products, and requires that for at least the first 6 months the seller has to prove that the defect did not exist when they sold the product, afterwards it switches to the consumer. National law is allowed to specify longer periods, and does in some countries.

Note that it is the seller, not the manufacturer, on the hook for this.

I don't know a good english summary, but here you can at least find the full text of the directive: http://www.kapitalmarktrecht-im-internet.eu/en/Areas%20of%20...


I wish the author would have expanded on that. I'm interested to know what the response was from the early customers. Did they accept? Did they offer to buy the next batch? Did they think it was weird and reject the offer?!


Out of all of them that I emailed, only maybe 25% replied - but those that did were very nice. There was no negative reactions at all.


I would like to know more too, but from my own experience with my clients they usually get very satisfied when you are as honest as you can be if you screw something up, and make it up for them as a gratitude token. People still value humility in doing business, they just don't want to feel "cheated" even if you it wasn't your fault really. I was really surprised at that, I thought I was done when I made my first serious mistake but my clients were pure understanding and support.


"I didn't think I'd ever want to buy a pallet of mini cinder blocks, but now that I see it, I really need it."

The weird thing about this is that I now suddenly want a miniature palette of miniature cinder blocks, but have no idea why. I'm almost afraid to watch the videos that were referenced in the article.


Grew up a huge lego fan. I sent this link around my office, wondering if anybody else would think it was as interesting as I did. Everybody is now buzzing with cinder block mania, with no prior cinder block / brick laying experience :)


The skeptic in me struggles to believe an office full of adults is excited about mini cinderblocks...


That's one advantage of having small kids. I definitely enjoy playing with some of the toys more than they do :)


A few years ago, a week before Christmas, one of the guys disappeared over lunch time and came buck with the full Lego pirate ship. All work in the office ceased for a couple of hours as we fought over who got to build bits of it.

It isn't a huge surprise that engineers enjoy building things.


Eh, thats a terrible example. Most people would rather get paid to build a lego ship than do actual work. Has nothing to do with being an engineer.


Do you not know any actual adults? They're not all 'lord business' you know ;)


I do, none of them were amused by this. Their kids on the other hand were. Seems like a great marketing campaign, nothing more.


alright :) enjoy


yeah, you too ;)


Miniature things in general are pretty irresistible. Send the company's instagram account around. It's direly cute.


Miniature things are definitely attractive, I will give you that. But no one i have showed this to over the age of 13 was even slightly interested in actually purchasing them. They thought it was CUTE sure, but that doesnt mean theyre gonna dump money on a cute novelty. Maybe I just surround myself with dull people? Everyone here is making it seem like im some sort of robot for not seeing why the average adult would consider purchasing this as anything but a gift for a child....


As a kid (~25years ago) I remember getting a miniature construction kit with cinder blocks, bricks and mortar mix. It might have been Teifoc [0]. I haven't played with it since then, but I still remember the smell of that mortar mix. How weird is that?

Was that popular in the US as well?

[0] https://www.crafts4kids.co.uk/brands/teifoc-brick-kits


I really love how they've expanded on the idea as well. Obviously once you have cinder blocks you need mini pallets and mini traffic cones...


it is a rabbit hole built by r/c diggers and r/c automated commercial trucks

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds334IrIRL8


It still blows me away that people put their email address in forms, and that email marketing affects sales. I guess while they keep working, people will keep creating popups.


Founder of Mini Materials here. I'm a designer myself, and I absolutely hate e-mail popups. BUT - it just works. The wheel captures a huge percentage of emails and that leads directly to sales.


I have a hypothesis that a lot of less-than-savvy internet users think filling out those pop-ups is just akin to a login form. "Oh, I have to fill out my email to see this, sure!" That doesn't explain the efficacy of increased sales though :)

The experience _can_ be ok, if it's easy enough to dismiss. The pattern that drives me a little nuts is the "intent to close tab" event trigger. I just wanted to switch tabs, calm down, I'm not leaving your site.


I've been a professional coder for 14 years if you consider that savvy...

I am constantly finding products that interest me, and have no hesitation of putting my unaliased gmail address into random product sites.

You may be surprised to learn that my inbox is not a cesspool, there is nothing in there which I didn't ask for.

I believe the aversion to spreading email addresses online is actually a holdover emotion from a time when spam was an unaddressed real problem and where obfuscation was possible.

Today, your and my email address are already in hundreds of purchasable lists... and the battle is fought by gmail instead of by me.


Awesome. Not overly surprised that someone with years of experience can manage what they're subscribed to AND identify those sites that won't abuse the implied trust in handling that email address :)

Agreed, spam prevention has come a long way on both the client-side (gmail) and regulations (CAN-SPAM), forcing clear unsubscribe paths. Yes, the damage of past behaviour is hard to reverse.

Next generation of users don't allot much attention to email, so liking/following is the way to "subscribe to product info". Otherwise, those exclusively email-based popovers are just a nuisance to that audience; good ones include other channels.


I think those of us who frequent Hacker News have issues with pop-up email subscription forms that the general population does not.

My guess is that they see it as "oh I like this a lot, I'll sign up for more so I don't have to remember to come back and check this site."


ctrl+tab switches tabs, most sites use mouse movement to show you the popups. Switch to keyboard shortcuts :)


Thanks. I use multiple ways to change tabs. CMD+<number> (most often used), CMD+OPT+<left|right arrow>, mouse, or trackpad; depends where my hands are at the time.

ctrl+tab actually feels a bit awkward on my MBP and only shows 5 tabs on FF Nightly; seems to be sourced from the most recently used ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


I'd be a happy camper if there was a sane add-on for FF that let me quickly navigate links on a page. With sites being as interactive as they are, "tab" just doesn't cut it (not more efficiently than the mouse, anyway).


Why? You might come across his site, think it is interesting but need to move on to something else. Email is a really easy way to get reminders, learn more, etc.

Email converts well because the people on the email list have already shown active interest in whatever you're doing. It's a high quality base to market to.


> email marketing affects sales

I get emails from board game web shops all the time informing me of their sales. If I see something I'm interested in the email I'll click through and possibly purchase something. I just did it with Funagain Games a few days ago, when they announced a 'Lonely Hearts' sale, of games that play well solo. They had some good deals on there, so I grabbed bought a game at 25% of the price I've seen it at elsewhere.

If it's for a product you're really interested in, I think email marketing works.


Same here, but I get emails from funko instead. Hard to admit just how much it's affected me buying things...


I don't. Most of them get marked as spam and I unsubscribe.

But on the other hand, my bras cost $60-$120. Each. I wear a specialty size. In the US, no physical store near me sold it. Victoria's secret didn't have it. Its the only time I wish I was still overweight.

The store that sells my bras here emails me when they are on sale. At those prices, I usually buy not long after the email. The email marketing that works for me are similar things. Simple advertisement, though, gets blocked.


I don't normally but I went to the site, saw the little spin the wheel deal, and went ahead and signed up. The difference is - his site/company doesn't look like some scammy crap just syphoning up emails to spam them.


What makes it fundamentally different from clicking a link?

"Click this link to read more about cinder blocks" "Enter your email here to read more about cinder blocks"

In both cases, there is the promise of more information. Presumably, you would agree that the information in the link might persuade you to buy from the site, assuming you're interested in cinder blocks.

What then would be your reason for being unswayed by similar information in email form?

I'm guessing you just have an opposition in principle to marketing via email, but not an opposition in principle to marketing on a webpage.

The reason email works, by the way, is that you get the user's attention. The first time someone hits your site, they may have 2000" tabs open, they may get a notification on their phone, etc. Email lets you confirm their interest and reach them later. It solves the distraction issue.


What makes it fundamentally different from clicking a link is that now they will be the ones initiating the contact.

Call me cynic, but I don't think the majority of people have my best interests in mind when they send me advertising emails.

Note the plural in "emails". If you're not interested in what they offer you can't just choose to ignore them, that will only result in more emails.


Well, you can choose not to enter the email and just explore the site. In a non scammy site, you'll find useful information.

The email is an option for those who choose to use it.

Going off your last sentence, you're assuming everyone who sends email is a spammer. Indeed, given your habits, if you have received emails from companies, you've probably mostly received spam.

For instance, you sign to an account or buy something --> company proceeds to send dozens of emails, unsolicited, and ignores the unsubscribe.

This is terrible, but it's not what happens when you enter your email on a non-spammy site. There, they usually send reasonable emails with a working unsubscribe link. Conversions in this case depend upon not annoying the prospect.

If you never enter your email in popup boxes you likely only receive the spammiest of email marketing.

Edit: oops, I thought you were OP, and so assumed you never enter your email. If you do enter your email and get spam - well, I guess we have different experiences. My spam almost exclusively comes from product orders, not from info boxes I chose.


If I intend to make a non-Amazon purchase I always sign up for the newsletter and then use the coupon that inevitably arrives a few days later. I have a separate email account set up just for this.


I actually started doing this again, for companies that I already know and like. Sometimes I do actually want to subscribe, and having a big reminder in my face helps, well, remind me.


I got really disappointed that he recommended things that I really dislike and think is both annoying and a bit scummy (I'm not suggesting that he is scummy though), like popups, newsletters, upselling, editorial ads, and so on. But apparently it works, so it will be around for a long time. Things like that makes me uncomfortable, but then again you have to grow your business somehow, and he seems to be a good guy.


It blows me away that some HN posters don't have a junk address for this kind of thing.

Edit: I first wrote throwaway address, but that's not what I mean because it implies that you never check it. I skim through the subject lines of my junk subscriptions address occasionally. If there's something that sounds interesting enough I'll read it and maybe buy something.


Depends what it is. I don't normally respond to marketing email, but appreciate email from Steam that a game on my wish list is on sale.


That brings back some memory. As a kid i had a bunch of these Anker stones: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchor_Stone_Blocks Those where awesome. Kind of like Legos but made of some stone like material Somewhat of a different use case i suppose.


I had a similar toy back in the 1960s in the UK. It was a bunch of little bricks and some special water soluble glue that acted as mortar. I used to build fire places and chimneys, and then light little small fires and watch the smoke come out. When you want to build a different model, you just submerged the old model in water and (after a time) it would just fall apart.

My google-fu isn't working well today otherwise I could find a reference to this toy (I can't recall what it was called).


Brickplayer[1] is the closest product that matches your description that I can find. If anyone is interested in a similar product, I also stumbled upon Teifoc[2] which seems to be a more modern analogue produced in Germany.

[1]https://www.brickplayer.co.uk/Photos/The-Kits/1

[2]http://www.eitechtoys.com/teifoc/


When visiting our grandparents as kids, my siblings and I got to play with our dad's and uncle's sets. They lived in Germany at just the right age to have them.

Well love stones acquire an awesome, soft, rounded off shape.


Same here! Sadly they don't seem to be made any more...


The linked Wikipedia article seems to indicate otherwise... And, indeed, it looks like the company both exists and has an online store.

http://www.ankerstein.de/

http://www.ankerstein-onlineshop.de/


According to the wiki page they're still manufactured and are widely available in Germany.



From the description in Wikipedia (quartz sand, chalk dust, and linseed oil) it doesn't sound like they'd be too hard to make.


Mat from Mini Materials here - I'd love to answer any questions yall have!


Pressing "Show more" on the front page doesn't work, maybe it's under heavy load due to HN?

When looking at all products, dumpsty [0] sticks out not only because of its price but also because it looks much more involved than the other stuff. How are you making that, and how come you added it?

Have you thought about adding things like concrete slabs for flooring, glass bricks, steel beams, maybe something looking like asphalt?

Did you ever have any problems delivering on time during peak season?

[0] https://www.minimaterials.com/collections/frontpage/products...


Dumpsty is actually handmade by another company, we just thought it was cool so we asked if we could sell it for them. We looked into steel beams but it was too expensive to sell. Cold weather is the bane of cement, so Q4 is the only time where we get close to running out of product. The great thing is that we make everything ourself, so we just make more.


Just noticed the "spin a sale" email for prize link in the footer, how is that working out?

https://www.spinasale.com/


It is working wonders. It 10x'd my email captures.


I can see it working great for captures, but these people have given you their addresses on the chance they might win something, and not necessarily because they want to receive emails from you.

I imagine this results in significant subsequent unsubscribes and getting reported as spam.


Can you share ballpark percentages on the customer type? Railroad hobbyists, wargamers, etc.


50% is people who just want a desk toy. The rest is broken up between fairy garden, dollhouse, RC, train, and construction promotional materials.


I see you sell the mold for the cinder blocks... is your cement recipe a trade secret, or something you'd be willing to share?


Have you experienced copycats, and if so, what do you believe is the number one barrier to them competing against you?


There are a couple of people copying it. The main barrier to entry is that you need to do volume to make money, and to get to that point you need to do everything yourself or you'll be spending too much out of pocket. My partner and I can create products, design, build sites, market and advertise, run warehouses, do our own accounting, etc... We haven't hired outside help for any of it.


Plaster bricks for modelling in a variety of scales have been around for a long time.


Having just read Greg Egan’s The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine (also posted to Hacker News today, a short story about how Silicon Valley would keep supplying people with enough income to continue selling them services once they had obsoleted them all), I must admit this sent a chill down my spine.


My friend's mother did custom upholstery for the mega yacht industry. She had some metal button covers left over so she sold them on ebay. They went so fast she decided to go into the button cover business. They were selling $700 - $1000 a day worth of cover buttons out of their house. I did the orders for a couple weeks while they were on vacation. It took me 2 hours a day to get all the orders out. The manufacturer died and the family was going to close the business since nobody wanted to buy it. My friend's mom and the whole family decided they would either have to give up their business or buy all the equipment and do it themselves which is what they did.


What are metal button covers? I can't picture it


>What are metal button covers? I can't picture it

Basically once upon a time "luxury" buttons were either of precious materials (like solid, real gold) or sporting a precious stone or an enameled surface/design and those owning dresses with these buttons could afford to have them removed (and later re-sawn) when washing the dress was needed, as there was the possibility that they became damaged.

Using more common metals (like brass or similar) poses another possible risks during washing, the fabric could result stained by some reaction of the soap/chemicals involved with the metal.

Metal button covers are thin covers that you can put over a normal (usually plastic) button to give them a particular "look", and they can simply be removed when washing is needed.

An example:

https://img.etsystatic.com/il/94fdb4/756126385/il_570xN.7561...


https://coverbuttons.com/

Yes, they debated updating the website but their core clientele have been using it effectively for the past 10 years so they didn't want to change it.


google it and you will know


I wonder if the author is worried that now that they have had success getting their story on Hacker News and Reddit they will face much steeper competition. The product is cool but expensive, I suspect there is a lot of room to undercut their prices.


There seems to be a goldilocks zone in smaller markets like this - where you can make a product at a decent profit that looks easy to undercut, and the market is big enough to support a very healthy business ... but the market isn't so big that a competitor can come in on razor-thin margins and "make it up in volume" and displace the genuine article.

Add in the fact that hobby purchases are very discretionary and a lot of people are willing to pay a little more for quality/genuine articles and this business is probably safer from simple undercutting than one would initially think.


You've hit the nail on the head. There's a LOT that goes into something like this. It's hard to replicate, and even if you did, the margins aren't there to undercut much.


Not everyone is up to the challenge of working on this for 3 years to reach the same sweet place he is in now.


Which is exactly why copycats come in - they see the results of three years of innovation, get some insights in the production process and the challenges overcome (also via interviews like this), and just copy it at scale; larger manufacturing companies can probably get to churning these sets out by the thousands within a month.

For a recent example, see the fidget spinner / cube situation, so many copies from so many manufacturers, it was unreal.


>larger manufacturing companies can probably get to churning these sets out by the thousands within a month.

No way. The combination of materials and small size are too novel.

Toy manufacturers have the equipment and experience to make small items out of plastic. Cinder block and brick manufacturers have the equipment and experience to make large blocks out of concrete.

No one has the machinery necessary to make tiny concrete blocks like this at scale within a month.

Even if a company took the time to build the setup required to make this product at scale, these things are much denser then the average toy and shipping costs from a cheap overseas factory will eat into the already thin margins.


After reading the article and going to the site and then to the DIY category and seeing the sample kit [0], my first though was “these would be cool for a fingerboard video”.

I go back to the main site and what do I see further down on the page as I scroll down? “LIKE TO FINGERBOARD? Our real concrete jersey barriers are heavy duty and the perfect obstacle for fingerboarding! Combine with some cinder blocks to create cool ramps and ledges!”

These people have got it figured out! No wonder they are doing well :)

[0]: https://www.minimaterials.com/collections/kits


These look like they are of exceptional quality and I can see these being _incredibly_ popular. I'd certainly love a desk full of different bits to help me think along in the day.


Same, neat little desk toys. Shipping would probably make them prohibitively expensive for me though.

Also I'm afraid that now this success story is out, copycats will pop up left and right.


This is exactly why I keep a rotating supply of lego's on my desk at work. These bricks would certainly be a welcome addition to that rotation.


If I had lego on my desk I'm fairly sure my daughter was assimilate it into her pile, which I'd have no problem with!

I really wanted this mini-quadro style kit[0] when I was a kid, more than the larger actual climbing frames they sold.

I'm now making a mental note to re-assess Knnex or whatever it's called. I have thought of getting a big lego kit for us to build together, like one of the Technics cranes.

[0] https://quadroplay.co.uk/product/duo-mobil-mini-quadro/


I really enjoyed this article. It shows that you can innovate in almost any market if you're creative enough, find the right nice, and/or create demand. I love the bootstrapped mindset and iteration for improving the product and process.


I found the email pop-up he mentions in the story as being important extremely annoying and exited the page when it popped up. I guess it is different strokes for different folks.


Also found it annoying you couldn't click the rest of the screen to dismiss it on desktop


Stories like this are inspirational on one hand and on the other completely irrational. Making $17K a month isn't as easy as finding a niche and working an email list.

Anyone who has built a business that has achieved a modicum of success could write a book about all of the challenges they faced, how they addressed them, and how they would have addressed them if only they had the benefit of better experience in the beginning.

There's no secret to success. The key is understanding what success actually means to you, and working smarter or harder (or both) than the next guy to achieve it.

Selling 800+ pallettes of cinderblocks to a niche market once is an achievement. Selling that many every month? That takes knowing more than just how to make them.


And there's a difference between making $17k/month and clearing $17k/month. mathofma (who makes a lot of cinderblocks) notes elsewhere in the discussion that there's not really that much margin to make it an attractive target.

It's a good small business that covers its manufacturing, labor, etc. costs with likely a bit of profit beyond that, and it could grow a bit (as it has with bricks and other materials), but it's still the kind of thing with a relatively small total world market. There may be additional markets he could spread into particularly by going international, but that's still a limited set of potential customers.


In an internet full of advice that's provided by people with no experience, I find it very difficult to trust a source of information.

Since you seem to know about this, perhaps you can suggest where to learn about building and utilizing email lists to build niche businesses. TIA.


Search for Start Small, Stay Small. This book is full of truth and wisdom, and has excellent insight on building and using a mailing list.


@patwalls: Curious, how're you finding founders to interview? Anything you've learned building out StarterStory.com that you didn't expect, and if so, what did you learn?

(patwalls is Pat Walls, the founder of StarterStory.com)


Hey, thanks for inquiring.

> Curious, how're you finding founders to interview?

Pretty much just scouring the internet and emailing people cold. Reddit has been a great source of finding interviews (it's how I found this one).

> Anything you've learned building out StarterStory.com that you didn't expect, and if so, what did you learn?

Man, it's really hard to drive traffic to websites these days. Facebook organic reach is pretty much dead. SEO is really hard to build up, especially if you have a site based around interviews. I've had some luck with posting on Reddit. This HN post is definitely my first big break! Super excited to hit the front page.

I've also been doing monthly blog posts about my progress so far if you want to check it out - https://www.starterstory.com/blog


I would like to see either a Show HN or a Tell HN about that!


I think I'll do a Show HN soon!


How many sites like indyhacker and this are there?


There's a bunch. This site (which is mine) interviews e-commerce businesses and businesses that sell physical goods. There's also https://www.failory.com (interviews failed businesses) and https://www.blogprofits.co (interviews blogs).


Thanks, I always love reading stuff like this, and like it when I find new ones to read :)


indiehackers.com is quite big. Was acquired by Stripe recently.


Is there any site for freelancers?


May as well send Matt some love :-)

Freelancetransformation.com



Not that I know of, you should start it!


Slightly similar, when I was younger I had one of these Teifoc building sets which were cool - http://www.eitechtoys.com/teifoc/


Depending on how you feel about such things, a "build a wall" campaign could be pretty ingenious with your product. :)


if the owner is reading here, you should throw in the phrase "k rail" for your jersey barriers for SEO purposes. I've never heard them called a jersey barrier until now


Like you, I had always heard "k rail". I'm a California native. Apparently, "k rail" is more common in the west because it is the name of spec for concrete barriers used by the CA Dept of Transportation. You learn something new everyday!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_barrier


I wonder if those molds are food safe. So many possibilities. Blocks and buildings made of frozen beer and low-proof liquor for construction conferences. :)


Youre talking about an entirely different product and potential market. The manufacturing process, distribution, materials, along with red tape (food safety containers and preparation) are going to have a much higher investment and time to market than OP's niche. This is what makes serving a small niche, and the process involved with executing a business plan around such a niche, not as easy as it initially appears. I love your idea, but it has nothing to do with 'bricks', and has everything to do with 'fun custom confectionaries'.


Agreed. I was definitely rifting on the mini-block molded shape and its appeal, rather than on the existing business. While there might be a small market for a food-safe block mold, it would lack the competitive barrier of the concrete mix, and of the community context. Though... if it turned out to be easy to make the existing mold product food-safe, I imagine that community might find it fun? Though perhaps a distraction from a "focused excellence" vibe.


The term you want is "riffing". :)


More realistic gingerbread houses.


I just love this huge bluish background with the text "You need to enable JavaScript to run this app.". I guess in 2018 I need scripting even to display some text and images.


Why is it that people disable JavaScript and then act surprised that random sites break? Whether or not this site should need JavaScript, the presence of JavaScript support in modern browsers is almost universally assumed at this point.

If you want to browse with Netscape Navigator 1.0, go for it. But stop feigning surprise that random things don’t work.


Random things like displaying text you mean? I don't think this has changed that much since the Netscape days. It would be OK if the site needs scripting for some legitimate task to compute a nicer layout, play some animation, interact with social networks, process payments etc. Detect NoScript, dump the text of the article, show "You are viewing a reduced version, because of your script blocker", done.


You're not wrong but I think this exchange might have gone differently if the tone wasn't so incredulous from the start. Perhaps something like this:

"I know JavaScript is assumed to be universal these days but since this is really just text it would be great if it just displayed the raw text as a fallback for when JavaScript wasn't available."

I know it's kind of silly but how we present something can dramatically change the response. But in fairness sometimes a direct and plain explanation for why something is bullshit is the only way to get things noticed or done too.


I have no other option, but to agree with you fully. Thanks for giving me a perspective :) Have a nice day!!!


As I am one of these people at least for me it is not surprise as much as disappointment as it is often so unnecessary as it is really not that difficult to build a page that can be displayed without Javascript in browser EVEN if it is built with Javascript (reference: I am a web developer).

And the reason why I have JS turned off by default is not some kind of misplaced nostalgia. It is to prevent random shit running in my browser.


It's not necessarily surprise, but that doesn't stop it being user hostile and doesn't negate the need to call it out.

For a web app, Javascript is fine. To present what is primarily a textual article, it's ludicrous. Just because it's becoming increasingly common doesn't mean stop it being so.


This. Pointing out lack of no-javascript support is tantamount to starting every dinner conversation with "I'm a vegetarian". It's OK to turn javascript off but we've long since left the world where javascript wasn't the norm.


It is not okay to design your site such that it requires permission to use browser features that are not necessary for the presentation.

Asking for script permission to display text is as bad as asking for microphone permission for an app that does not use audio. Presentation of text has always been possible in HTML without the use of script. You don't need script permission. Don't ask for it. Don't require it.

Just because a lot of people do it doesn't mean we should ever stop complaining about it (bandwagon fallacy). It is wrong. The people who do it are doing it wrong. They may not be aware of it, so someone needs to mention it. Every time.


You're building a strawman's narrative here. This website uses javascript for _far_ more than displaying text. Additionally, "requires permission to use browser features that are not necessary for the presentation" is deflective and misleading. Your monitor isn't necessary for presentation either - you could print out the website.


You are absolutely correct. The monitor is not necessary. Only the text characters are necessary. They might never appear on any screen. They might be converted to audio by a screen reader, or rendered on a Braille display. They might be fed into a webcrawler robot to be indexed. Any additional features also implemented in script are not relevant to the delivery of the text.

Whatever else the javascript may do, it is not necessary to transmit text. The text is all I care about. Other people might want additional bells and whistles, but I just want the human-readable text. The web is a consumer's medium. You cannot mandate that anyone experience the content you send them in any particular way. Whatever it is that you send may be blocked, filtered, or modified before ever reaching human eyes. It is therefore polite to provide many options for the manner in which users may experience your content, such as by providing graceful degradation all the way down to someone opening up a raw telnet connection to port 80 and typing in their HTTP request by hand. (Have you ever done that? I have.)

Remote transmission of alphabet characters has been a part of human networking since 1793. If I ask a question using an optical semaphore tower, I don't want your response to be sending a minstrel to me in person, with a bunch of hand puppets and marionettes to act out the answer.


That's like saying paint isn't necessary for an artist to convey their art. You only want pencil and that's all that should be used.

You're welcome to want text on a website but the website creator is welcome to do as they please. I'd point back to my origin example: a vegetarian is fine excluding beef from their diet but no one should have to listen to them blather about it.


More like I want to see a painting at a traveling exhibit, and I'm not allowed inside the gallery where it is being held unless I agree to sit through a 2 hour "behind the art" video first.

The website creator is welcome to do as they please, but there is such as a thing as abusing one's audience.

Your analogy is not apt. The vegetarian is being served beef even though they ordered a vegetarian entree from the waiter. They get the beef whether they want it or not. They can't get the kitchen to give them the meal they want without also giving them beef. The cooks are being intentionally provocative to their vegetarian guests. They are certainly able to do so in their own restaurant, but it is a dick move, and nobody should tolerate it, whether they are vegetarian or not.


"The vegetarian is being served beef even though they ordered a vegetarian entree from the waiter."

No - you accessed the website with a personal expectation that the author adhered to your standards. The web is free, developers and designers can do what they want. If it's not what you want then go somewhere else.

Similarly, the vegetarian ordered "the special" and was befuddled when they received a dish with meat. There was no expectation of a vegetarian dish except by the vegetarian.


  V: Can I get a hamburger, but without the beef patty?
  C: No.
  V: What?  Why not?
  C: My artistic vision demands that the meat be present.
  V: (irritated) Fine.  I'll have the hamburger.
  C: Here you go.
  V: <throws meat patty into the trash>
  C: That's not allowed!  Wharrgarbl!
This isn't a matter of "can I substitute lobster tails for the fries?". You can't force someone to consume something they don't want just because that's the way you want it. Clearly, it is well within the capabilities of the cook to make a regular hamburger and not put the meat into it in the first place. Bundling up the entire sandwich as one unit may be more convenient for the cook, but it might be irritating for the customers, and the cook's business is driven by customers.

In the context of this specific website, the cook is grinding the meat up with the vegetables, in such a way that it is needlessly difficult to throw away the meat. It may not be intentionally hostile to vegetarians, but it does show a careless disregard to anyone that doesn't like their sandwich the only way the cook makes it.


You're again creating a strawman's argument. You're pretending the cook is forcing you to eat the food. He's not. Go somewhere else - it's your right.

This whole thread is about people who take that right, to not do something, and prattle on about it like the rest of the world cares. The majority of internet viewers have no idea what javascript is. The majority of those who do use it don't care about what it's doing behind the scenes. The few who do care enough to blacklist/whitelist should be happy they can but shouldn't try to make policy to enforce their wishes and dreams when they go against the norm.

That's what you're doing.

Edit: "It may not be intentionally hostile to vegetarians, but it does show a careless disregard to anyone that doesn't like their sandwich the only way the cook makes it."

Yes, this is very true. But it's also tangential to the conversation. The website _could_ be better about offering no javascript support but they certainly don't have to. You don't have to use their website just like you don't have to talk about how it doesn't work without javascript.


No, they don't have to. But I also don't have to refrain from saying they are lazy jerks that are breaking the Internet.

They are lazy jerks that are breaking the Internet.

And, in case you haven't noticed, I did go somewhere else. Here. This is somewhere else. A site that provides a forum for commentary on articles from other sites that appeal to one's intellectual curiosity. And here, on this site, I am joining my voice with those that routinely complain when a site uses script to display text, and does not display text if the script does not run.

We have building codes for physical structures that mandate certain minimum requirements for creating buildings fit for human occupation. They ensure that people don't cut corners and hurt people through negligence. They ensure that carelessness in building does not result in arbitrarily denying someone in a wheelchair access to areas that would otherwise be usable. The vast majority of people do not need to know how to build a stairway according to code, but they can all benefit from properly-built stairways.

In the same way, in lieu of actual enforceable codes, the majority of Internet consumers can still benefit from some knowledgeable people that scream their heads off every time someone is caught cutting corners. Malicious scripts exist, and the only safe way to access the web is by allowing scripts only from trustworthy, pre-approved sites. The ignorant majority is gradually coming around to block-by-default, after too many times being burned by trusting site-operators, or their ad networks.

If it annoys you that people complain, you are free to use the built-in "downvote" function of this site, the built-in "hide" function, or to write your own client-side script that removes posts containing objectionable keywords. You are not required to engage with the people who annoy you by complaining about badly-built sites in the same manner that vocal vegetarians annoy me.


"No, they don't have to. But I also don't have to refrain from saying they are lazy jerks that are breaking the Internet. They are lazy jerks that are breaking the Internet."

Nope, you don't. But don't pass it off as different from vegetarians vocally espousing and touting their vegetarianism. It's the same thing. Which, coincidentally, was the point of my OP.

"Pointing out lack of no-javascript support is tantamount to starting every dinner conversation with 'I'm a vegetarian'."

Most of this conversation was you arguing your points about javascript whereas I was discussing why it's the same as vegetarians. To which you've agreed " in the same manner that vocal vegetarians"


Careful reading shows that vocal vegetarians apparently annoy both of us, whereas the noscript-complainers only annoy you.

Thus, you have not convinced me that they are the same. I have only admitted that you think they are the same. That's an easy admission, since that's what you've been saying all along.


This didn't happen this time but:

If your site displays nothing without JS, I have to be desperate to see your content to, well, turn on JS to see your content. You as a site owner are asking a whole lot more from me by allowing just anyone on the net to run code on my computer than I am of you.


also they seem to need to publicize this to the whole world. I disable JS. -_-'


I allow 1st party scripts by default, so I didn't see that error in their page. I had to allow scripts from a 3rd party CDN to read the text.

I don't think I'm a kook, but anytime I have to go into uMatrix more than twice I reconsider reading the article at all. That doesn't apply to this particular article, but it happens more often than I am comfortable with.


I'm more conservative since I don't really see how the lack of scripting prevents them from dumping the content and it works OK normally, but here it's just an empty page with the said "error" message and a single <script> element downloading a JS file which is quite unacceptable. This is ridiculous, really.


There's nothing wrong with JavaScript, since it can run inside a sandbox.

What's wrong with browsers is that they allow JavaScript to do anything once it's enabled (like make network requests).

So talk to your browser vendor. Ask them to implement a mode where JavaScript can be run with custom privileges.


> There's nothing wrong with JavaScript, since it can run inside a sandbox.

Spectre and Meltdown have shown that there is no such thing as a true sandbox. You're always safer not running a sandbox as this way you're safe from the next sandbox breaking vulnerability that already exists but has yet to be discovered.


> Spectre and Meltdown have shown that there is no such thing as a true sandbox.

On the Intel platform, perhaps. But that's only because of performance optimizations, so that statement is not universally true.


Until you can give me a hardware and software stack that has full correctness proofs, including absence of side-channels, I will have to assume that my best course of action is not running untrusted code if it's not absolutely necessary.


Meltdown is Intel only; Spectre is the one that affects most platforms, and is exploitable from Javascript, although it's harder to exploit, and browser makers have deployed fixes.


Spectre is based on branch-prediction and cache memory, see [1]. This means that one obvious way to avoid it is to disable branch-prediction, with a performance loss as a result. Another way would be to separate cache memory between different processes. There are probably more clever ways, but that's just to show that the vulnerability can be avoided. Also, early processors such as 6502 and 8086 didn't have the bug, obviously, but should be capable of running web-browsers if performance is not an issue.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectre_(security_vulnerabilit...


Spectre can never be trully fixed though. What we have are mitigations.


Spectre is not Intel specific, and most of the processors immune to spectre attacks also don't run web browsers, making it a irrelevant-to-the-discussion point.


"There's nothing wrong with JavaScript, since it can run inside a sandbox."

This is not true, as Meltdown and Spectre have recently taught us.

A site which can degrade gracefully in the absence of js features is a higher bar than a static, js free site. At the end of the day, disabling js entirely is a custom privilege level of zero.


An idea: is there any way to pause JavaScript on a page? I would be more okay with letting JavaScript run long enough to load the page, and then stop it executing after a couple seconds


Or since I will be ignored just don't run Javascript by default.


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