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Ask HN: Successful one-person online businesses?
594 points by pyeu on Feb 28, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 267 comments
How many people on hacker news are running successful online businesses on their own? What is your business and how did you get started?

Defining successful as a profitable business which provides the majority of the owners income.

Here's a couple of links you might like, although not all of them are exactly what you're looking for:

- https://www.indiehackers.com/ (of course)

- https://www.starterstory.com/

- https://www.authorityhacker.com/undercover/

- https://failory.com/

- Ask HN: Successful one-person online businesses? (Jan 5, 2017): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13326535 (thanks @jbonniwell)

- Ask HN: Successful one-person online businesses? (Mar 9, 2014): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7367243

- Ask HN: Sideprojects/passive income businesses with little or no own coding?: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15806208

- Pieter Levels - Turning Side Projects into Profitable Startups (1h presentation): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6reLWfFNer0

I would say that these sites chronicle just the tip of the iceberg. I run a successful solo online business and would never agree to be profiled as I don't want to invite competition.

You also invite competition by selling/advertising your product. For any product, it's most probably one of the customers that'll go "I can make something better than this!" Also, if your income depends on absence of competition, that means that your product needs a bit of improving and that your business is fragile.

You completely misunderstood the point. What would invite competition is the realization of how much revenue can be made with that product.

So you could say that by not advertising it, for risk of competition, you're missing out on potential revenue too?

I may be wrong, but my assumption is that you are assuming putting your story on something like indie hackers is a lost marketing opportunity.

But I'd say a large percentage of successful small saas products are very niche and would not benefit in the least from talking about it in a public forum.

In my case, none of my customers would be reading anything like indie hackers so I have no reason to get the word out through those channels. It would just invite competition without returns.

If your product does not target entrepreneurs, then you're not really missing much, other than stroking your ego.

I think the main benefit for those businesses would be the seo value. Relevant, high PA links are hard to come by these days...

In my opinion, those site are just advertising for your business.

Which means it only makes sense being profiled if the readers of those sites are your potential customers.

Agreed, this is why I'm shunning an interview with IndieHackers too.

Agreed. I would only do it if I was targeting entrepreneurs

"Entrepreneur" is only one label for the people who read Indie Hackers, though. They are software developers, designers, creatives, fitness enthusiasts, etc. All the people who currently work a day job and are hoping to do their own thing. Entrepreneurship may bring them together, but it's not necessarily their only (or even their primary) identity.

Yeah, but that still is a tiny part of the overall economy. If you don't target those small niches, it makes no economic sense to get profiled on Indie Hackers et.al.

Or headhunters.

That's one of the big reasons people share for sure. Another reason that can't be underestimated is that, sometimes, it just feels good to talk about something you've been pouring your heart into in obscurity for years.

Also, the interviews are just one part of the site. Arguably the most useful part of Indie Hackers is the forum where people share what they're working on with the goal of getting feedback and advice from other founders.

I have my doubts about this. The interviews made IH take off when the forums had maybe one Post per day or less.

I bet the interviews get way more traffic than the forums.

For lurkers, it’s the interviews for sure.

The forum and the discussions there get 3x the pageviews the interviews do, and that gap is widening every day.

I sure hope so, it's literally the front page :]

I think you're doing a great job growing the community, it has a different vibe from HN and r/startups and I personally do get a lot of value from it, although I'm still mostly interested in the interviews.

Wholeheartedly agree with this. The hardest thing about being a solo founder is the loneliness. In times of joy, in times of grief, it's just you. Sharing your successes and your failures with a group of supportive entrepreneurs as you plod along is the next best thing (or maybe even better) to having a co-founder.

You're not wrong. They are a great source for inspiration.

Responses like this really show the best side of HN. I'm not the OP, but I appreciate the work in pulling together these resources.

Thanks and you're welcome :)

For the past 20 years I've been a recruiter, and a few years back I started a resume writing and career consulting business called Resume Raiders (http://resumeraiders.com). It's a literal mom & pop operation and I do 99% of the projects myself.

I started the business because I've always loved writing, am good at navigating tricky job search and career situations (I've seen it all after 20 yrs in recruiting), and I enjoy it more than recruiting. I also noticed most resume writers didn't really have a background in hiring, but rather were just trained writers that probably had a hard time making it in journalism or other areas.

I'd been writing resumes for my recruiting candidates for many years, and many of those candidates would rely on me for career advice as well. It was odd to provide career advice as a third-party recruiter, as there were times when I might have some financial interest in what a person does. As an example, if someone approached me and said "Should I leave my job?", a recruiter might say "yes" with the thought that if this person leaves I might get a placement fee if I help them find work.

Resume Raiders is now my primary focus and has been quite profitable since it started. There is very little overhead. I live in a pretty expensive area, but my clients come from all over the world. I also offer a discount to HN'ers (see my profile page).

I worked with Dave, too! While I didn’t get the gig I was after at the time, I was super happy with the help I got from him. Not surprised, but glad to hear the biz is working.

Thanks for the kind words! Biz has been great. I was in a 'test mode' for a bit, as I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do this full-time and earn enough to maintain my lifestyle (wife, 2 kids, relatively expensive place to live), but it's been very successful and incredibly fulfilling on a personal level as well.

Ha! Hi Dave! I've been watching your little business flourish via your LinkedIn page for a couple years now and it's been a joy to observe it blossoming. Keep up the good work and I bid you continued luck in the future!

Thanks! I used to enjoy doing social media ads for my recruiting business (my 3yo daughter will likely kill me when she's older as she was featured in most of the memes), and I'm still figuring out social for my resume business.

People are more likely to follow a recruiting biz on social (might have a job for me?), but a resume biz is very time specific. Thanks for keeping an eye on me!

Congrats Pal. As a fellow resume editor, etc. and 2 years into my professional services biz in Shanghai, hat tip to you.

Congrats. curious why you don't list the grid of services on your main page? do you use PPC or other lead gen practices you can share?

No lead gen services at all. Most clients via referral or Reddit and HN. I could list the services on my main page, that's not a bad idea.

Pieter Levels is the creator of:

  - https://nomadlist.com/
  - https://remoteok.io/
  - https://hoodmaps.com/
And he just broke €50,000/m a few days ago: https://mobile.twitter.com/levelsio/status/96802754410347315...

Yes, this guy is truly an inspiration. If you're a one person business, you will find this tweet very useful:


(aka stop running after shiny new things and just do it!)

I think that's right. But there's a limit to what kind of business you can create with a single php file in 2018, and typically those spaces are pretty competitive.

Pieter's approach of what lead him to land on Nomadlist is I think where the value is - scratch your own itch, and do a lot of business experiments - don't spend more than a month or two on a business idea if it hasn't gained traction, move to the next one. Again, only works for some type of businesses.

And also, the main takeaway from his story (like so many other similar stories) is: build a community.

Really, his projects are interesting and all but "just ship it" is not enough, it has never been.

Just ship it works great if you have a unique mailing list with 100.000+ interested users. He had a hit with NL and kept building it from there; most of these businesses share the same target audience. Good for him!

No offense but Pieter Levels seems like a bit of a bastard, and you can see it in that thread. I don't pay much attention to him, but when I do come across his social media posts they're pretty off-putting. He's pretty successful yes, but €50k/mo is not exactly f-you money.

50k a month isn't f-you money? What???? What in the world is wrong with this place? My wife and I are combined pulling 10k a month. I can only imagine that I would need to come up with creative ways to actually burn through the other 40k.

It's certainly impressive for a one person company. Is that 50k a month profit though? I co-own a company that turns over a similar amount but you wouldn't be jealous of my bank balance.

He doesn't employ anyone, doesn't spend money on advertising and runs the entire thing in a PHP digital ocean server. Now you do the math.

I think he said in his recent announcement that his profit margin is ~90% before taxes, so definitely good.

50k a month is 600k

With a 90% profit margin and 30% taxes, 378k per year in bank.

Almost 1k/day

Not fuck you money, but that’s pretty solid. I remember getting paid 1k/month as my first Job.

You can also expense a lot more stuff as a business.

Not sure where I’m being a “bastard”? I answer most replies, many of them odd questions about tech stack when the whole point of the original tweet is that tech stack is irrelevant here.

You weren't being a bastard at all. That tweet shows several people telling you that you're doing it "wrong", and your responses were concise and kind. If anything, I think some of those people were being a little rude.

Can't argue with results. I don't personally care if you have one file with 4500 lines or 100 files with 45 lines. You have a successful and helpful business. Good job!

After re-reading that thread I can see why you were frustrated with the people arguing over minutiae. So I apologize for that.


I don't know what makes HN so civilised but it is great. An oasis of peace in the cesspit of the internet :)

Just had to add that...

Haha I agree, this happens nowhere else.

Frankly all the messages he has to put up with are plain stupid, so if he's being a bit of a bastard, rightly so. I just found about his websites, bookmarked nomadlist.com already. It's funny, to say the least, how people exaggerate taking some data from a database and spitting it out as HTML. The important bit here is the data and the presentation, nothing else.

WRT $50k/mo, for any sane person that's two times more-than-enough. If I could stably do $5k/mo from an app or website I'd be happy.

So I'm going to reply here because I think this is a good one (of the replies I've gotten) to express my thoughts a little bit more clearly:

1) I was wrong about what was going on in that thread. I sort of scanned it at first and saw that snarky "this is why I build companies and you do contracts" post and it rubbed me the wrong way.

2) The $50k (or €50k, im not sure which it is now) number is a lot, but given the way I originally interpreted the thread my initial reaction was more of one like "who does this guy think he is?"

3) I later went back over the thread and saw that people were being needlessly critical of a tiny webapp.

All that being said, I do agree with the replies that are being critical of my thinking here -- I just can't go back and edit it on HN!

Yeah, that sometimes happens, totally understandable. You can't edit after 2 hours, and I think that's too short of a window. After posting the comment you replied to, I saw you made similar clarifications elsewhere, where if you could edit you could've added a little "whoops" message under your original one.

I think it's the word you chose that brought it all on you though. Yet empathising with the way you interpreted the thing, I could've made a similar rant too, frankly.

Yeah I definitely used unnecessarily harsh language. Lesson learned: read thoroughly before being a jerk ;)

When it's $50k/mo revenue from business you built and do not need to needle with day in and day out, it absolutely is. Can you sit back and live off dividends from that? No of course not. You don't have Hollywood money or VC money but you sure as shit don't need to spend an afternoon polishing your resume for a day job.

If unemployed and broke is at one end of the spectrum and living off investment dividends is the other, this is 95% of the way there.

He's already his own boss, the whole point of f-you money is being able to tell your boss, "f you!"

That means you can either go for the lump sum or the annuity, either one gets you out from under The Man.

Yes exactly. Also why would anyone need more than $50k/m? Even if you have a family?

is that revenue or take-home profit?

Costs and tax goes off but my profit margins is somewhere from 80% to 90%. Mostly server, mail and map costs.

Not to mention he could probably have f-you money if he accepted an acquisition. So I would say that he is double smart for not doing that and continuing to build.

i dont think VC would be interested.

hey man i love my boss :).

Where do you live? I always find it fascinating how the same amount of money can be valued so differently by people. €50k/mo would absolutely be f-you money in my world.

Hell, €5k that's just about passive income(like Levels business are close to being) would set me free and change my life in ways I cannot describe.

$50k/month may seem not much to you but a lot of us earn much less. I would sign now to get 10 times less that figure for life. Besides, that amount is well above the necessary "critical mass" of money needed to make it grow by itself if carefully used: just resist the temptation to waste them immediately in new cars, luxury homes etc. That's the mistake most "rich quick" people (mainly sport players, top chart artists etc.) make when they believe that money will flow forever (it won't).

> €50k/mo is not exactly f-you money.

I f-you money is saying f-you to your boss, then yes it is. Even in the most expensive cities in the world. Hong Kong, SF

On more levels than just one. Take a look at the bottom right hand corner of one of his projects[0]. No publicity is bad publicity, but I'm certain that violates proper attribution for Open Maps. If it were Google Maps instead, I'm sure he'd have gotten a very suggestive letter by now.


Oops! That wasn’t on purpose. I have “by @levelsio” on most of my projects on the bottom right corner: see https://nomadlist.com and https://remoteok.io.

I’ll try moving the map attribution to left tomorrow or move the “by @levelsio” box! Thanks for telling me.

Fixed now: https://hoodmaps.com. Moved to top right.

So he's a 1) bastard 2) off-putting and 3) not as successful as you want him to be.

C'mon dude. At least be consistent with your line of reasoning.

Yes I was wrong in that comment. I re-read the twitter thread and apologized for it in a different reply chain to Pieter.

It is far easier to become a bastard when running a one man business than if you had a team. With a team no one person can take all the credit.

I think you underestimate the human capacity for opportunism/narcissism :p

Here's a recent talk by Pieter - https://youtu.be/6reLWfFNer0

I think it's really good. Probably the best startup talk I've seen in a while.

In my opinion, there are benefits to doing things alone, but you have to be able to learn a lot of things quick, have a lot of available time with few distractions, and be very focused and persistent.

Cons: it's not as fun, and will probably take longer than working with people with specific talents.

*Revenue though, not profit

Not many expenses, though.

Then why not just list the profit?

Typically when I see revenues posted it means the profit must only be a fraction of that amount.

Good point and I agree! I posted revenue first because it’s easier to collect the data.

I’ll be importing costs from several sources (like PayPal, bank etc) in the next few days and adding it to my open revenue dashboard:


Rough calculations is that it’s somewhere from 80% to 90% profit margin pre tax.

I don't know anything about the person in question, but any "profit" number is going to have to be fictitious anyway. Ideally, you make as little profit as possible so that you avoid paying taxes. You want your money working for you rather than going to the government (or sitting in a bank account). This is one of the nice aspects of taxes and tax avoidance -- it provides incentives for companies to continue investing. Anyway, the point is the person could give an impressive sounding number (indicating that they are bad at managing money) or they could give a tiny (or even negative) number. It's kind of lose-lose.

But I agree with you -- anybody posting "I'm making $X/month doing something that seems easy" is usually trying to sell you a book/workshop/seminar (which is where they make their real money).

I agree and observe the same. I honesty do it because I want to show you can build a business without venture capital funding, and do it as an indie (and in my case solo) maker with a strong disregard for hip tech stacks and frameworks.

I sell a book but that’s less than 5% of my income. 95% is business.

It is certainly possible to make it as an indie and solo maker. This has never been in much doubt.

The question is for how long?

What does an an indie maker who has "made it" do next? What do the next decades of their life look like?

Will you ever team up with someone?

In terms of money, if you just save enough and have low costs, it means potential financial independence.

I think the most joy I get is from making, so I will continue that. Money was the goal in terms of me having to pay my bills, but the second goal was always that I just like to make things.

Before websites, I made music and visual graphic art. Making makes me happy.

Let's use a car as an example. Say Peter's biz buys a car and he uses it. Is that an expense? Does the biz make less profit because of that car payment? Or is he just spending profit on it since it's mainly/entirely personal use? Not trying to get into a tax discussion but my point is profit can be massaged and is entirely subjective. Revenue is not. The money came in, or it didn't. Even in the US for single-job W2 employees, tax rates vary even by locality for folks at the same pay rate in the same company. So with identical pay, benefits, retirement savings, state and federal taxes, my personal take home pay is different than the guy next to me because we live in different townships. Same with business. Revenue is the easy number, profit is pretty subjective.

And by definition profit is a fraction of revenue. It can't exactly be more than 100% can it?

Bwaha, revenue can be massaged even worse. There are companies making BILLIONS in revenue, and it all sounds very impressive until you see they are actually burning more money than they are even making. Profit can’t be more than revenue, but it can certainly be negative.

Making billions but spending more is not "massaging revenue." It's being shitty at turning a profit.

Please explain the scenario in which you can take the same balance sheet and use it to show two different revenue figures. You can't. You can easily do the same thing with profit.

You could add in deferred revenue from previous quarters.

Is that what Pieter Levels is doing? Stop moving the goal posts.

I guess it's mostly his living expenses and some hosting fees.

Yep. I spend about $1,500/month to live. Then there's Mapbox ~$500/month, SendGrid ~$500/month, and Linode $300/month. One part-time moderator as contractor $1,000/month, and part-time server guy as contractor $1,500/month.

I run Scribophile, one of the largest writing communities online, as a one-person business, though I have a ton of help from our volunteer forums moderators.

The story is pretty unimpressive... I had the idea back in the days when web 2.0 was the new hotness, so I decided to make it happen and use it as an excuse to learn web 2.0 technologies. It was a freemium model from day 1, though I didn't expect many people to buy the paid upgrade.

People seemed to like it, paid upgrades were getting sold, and after a while of it being a hobby I realized I could live off the earnings and decided to make it full time.

It allowed me to spend many years being a digital nomad back when that sort of thing wasn't quite popular yet. I traveled to a lot of places and met a lot of fascinating people. Now I'm settled at home but those years of my life were priceless.

These days we're one of the largest and most respected writing communities online, at least 3 of our members have been in Writers of the Future awards ceremonies, and our members regularly go on to be published by major publishers and smaller outfits.

I should also emphasize that having one's own business doesn't mean you're a millionare, like many assume. I make a comfortable living but much less than you'd think if you pictured a "business owner guy". I still very much consider myself a success, because I get to do what I love, and on my own schedule. (For example I took a little time off to start a new hobby, standardebooks.org, which produces high-quality, modern ebook editions of public domain literature, and releases them free of cost and via CC0.)

Just checked out standardebooks.org a bit. Seems like a great idea. Will check it out more and share it with others via my social media channels.

I checked out a couple of books there. Neither had PDF as an available format. Why is this? Is PDF not considered an ebook format?

So you're the wonderful person who started standardebooks. Many thanks!

Tarsnap. I have an employee now, but I ran the company myself for the first ten years and from ~2011 onwards Tarsnap has been the vast majority of my income.

I got started by... well, sitting down and scratching my itch. I wanted good backups, and it turned out that other people wanted them too.

Can you give a simple explanation why a Tarsnap backup is superior to competitors, but for someone who isn't going to understand the research paper?

Does it backup my website like S3, or does it back up my personal files like Dropbox?

Does it backup my website like S3, or does it back up my personal files like Dropbox?

No. It backs up your files like tar. (Except with deduplication and encryption and cryptographic signing and off-site storage.)

I guess this is the trade-off - you should spend a significant time (or maybe a whole life) on one thing (e.g. backups) to become successful, so the price is to miss out on a lot of other stuff.

I love tarsnap as well. Does its thing very well without getting in the way. It's a pleasure every time I use it.

I'll add another "Thank you for Tarsnap!"

Tarsnap is great. I love supporting it.

I love tarsnap

I'm running BazQux https://bazqux.com paid feed reader. It's my only source of revenue.

I wanted to read comments in feed reader (there were few forums with very interesting discussions) and Google Reader only allowed to read blog posts. So I've started developing my own feed reader.

I believed that comments reading feature is killer and thought that Internet is big and many people will like it and I will be rich soon ;) I saved some money and quit my job to focus completely on my product.

Guess what? After initial release nobody purchased my product. I was quite disappointed and started asking people what they didn't liked (turned out to be the most important thing to do). And I've started to add features they've missed, asked again, improved again. And got first purchase few months later and second purchase few more months later.

Few times I thought to abandon project. But then Google announced it will discontinue Google Reader. By that time I had more or less usable product and got a lot of new clients and a lot of feedback (which is very important). Worked like crazy for a few months and after Google Reader was closed I've had enough clients to pay the bills.

It's still in active development with a huge TODO list.

Can't say that it is success. I would make more if I go to day job (and won't worry as much about what to do next to have income in the future) but I'm working on my own project, talking with my own clients, using technologies selected by me and can work on my own schedule (although after being burned out and birth of baby I returned to working 5 days a week in office -- my own office indeed, with piano ;)

Having one-person online business is definitely possible but it's not as romantic/easy as it sometimes shown. "Wow, this guy could work on the beach" is actually "damn, I must work even on the beach".

> "Wow, this guy could work on the beach" is actually "damn, I must work even on the beach".

This is a fantastic way to put it.

I've only made about $5.00 on it so far (certainly not enough to retire on), but my latest endeavor is looking quite promising: http://fastcashmoneyplus.biz

Love this. Any interest in a merger with the cash machine that is http://subpar.biz/

I talked to the board, and they say that we're not taking merger requests at the moment, but would be open to a licensing agreement :P

Oh my god. I'm trying so hard to keep from laughing my ass off!

Damn, the jokes don't end. Co-worker was wondering why the site was using a whole core to run, and checked developer mode for crypto mining.

This reminds me of LINGsCARS which is a 100% legit business. https://www.lingscars.com/

She even featured on Dragons Den: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc1ktZRZ5ZM

I think I laughed a little too much looking at the site. Good work.

This is absolutely hilarious! Geocities meets cryptocurrencies.

I laughed for full three minutes. Thanks for this stranger.


but WHY?

why NOT?

Not sure if you've checked https://www.indiehackers.com/ before, it's full of such stories and those are amazing and inspirational. Because those are not your Googles or Amazons, it's just solo business that are very practically approachable.

csallen is the best. Love indie hackers so much.

I created and run The Online Slang Dictionary - http://onlineslangdictionary.com/ . It's the eldest slang dictionary on the web.

I started it in 1997 when I was in highschool. I found it interesting that slang terms frequently heard just the year before were already passe. I thought it was something that was worth capturing.

It affords me a modest salary in a fairly high-priced area, on around 2.1 million visitors a month. I estimate that it would get 2.5x - 3x the traffic (and hence the earnings) if google weren't up to strange shenanigans with the site's rankings.

That's amazing! I've definitely stumbled upon your site while searching some phrases.

How has UrbanDictionary affected your traffic?

Nice! I'm always happy when people have come across it.

Urban Doctionary gets around 30x the traffic. So it definitely gets the lion's share of slang dictionary traffic.

The Online Slang Dictionary was always a side project from when I started it in 1996 until 2007, when I started working on it full-time. It wasn't until 2007 that people could put content on the site without my manual intervention. So it's easy to see why Urban Dictionary overtook my site in the long past. Since 2011 though, Urban Dictionary's traffic has been artificially propped up due to an ongoing manual penalty against my site, which I've had no success in resolving.

So if anyone works at Google or knows anyone who works at Google - I can be reached at waltergr@gmail.com or editor@<my site's domain>. :)

Do you only monetize it with Google Adsense?

A small amount of Google AdSense (<$100 monthly.) Sortable makes up the vast majority - https://sortable.com/ . Switching from only-AdSense to almost-entirely-Sortable is what made me able to afford to live off the site's revenue: my earnings doubled overnight.

I suggest you look into Header Bidding, you're leaving tons of cash on the table by going all in on just one demand partner.

Sortable does header bidding.

What are your recommendations for other firms?

I believe they do header bidding for their own demand, but you can squeeze more revenue out of your traffic if you learn to manage your own headerbidding stack. Take a look at prebid.org and checkout the r/adops reddit. You might find some inspiration there.

Thanks, I'll check those out.

Recommend Publir:


Thanks, very interesting!

Edit: 1996 not 1997.

I run BugMuncher on my own (https://www.bugmuncher.com), I've been working on it full time since October 2015, and it's been profitable since November 2016, providing all of my income.

If you're interested I've been documenting the entire process of taking BugMuncher from a side project to my full-time job on my blog starting here - https://www.bugmuncher.com/blog/from-side-project-to-profita...

I get a certificate error on Firefox Nightly. This is likely caused by https://wiki.mozilla.org/CA/Upcoming_Distrust_Actions

Thanks for letting me know! I'll get that sorted

Just checked out your website - great stuff, and super professional also.

Thanks! It's been a long journey, but totally worth it :)

I built a fully automated self-service Instagram publishing system, no private API hacks or such, but instead, by completely automating lots of Android phones (OCR, pattern recognition, etc.). Mainly offered this to small businesses and friends. Took off due to Instagram’s popularity and made six figures after a while. Now contemplating to shut down, as Instagram has opened up publishing access to hand-picked partners.

A second business focused solely on Twitter analytics. Was about to shut that down years ago when Twitter suddenly offered free analytics, but it barely changed sign-up rates, so I kept it going.

On good days, I answer one or two emails, that’s it. The occasional one-week-of-hell when things go sideways mixed in every few months, of course.

Now looking for the next project.

I run https://officesnapshots.com which highlights office design projects from around the world.

I guess I don't technically qualify for these posts anymore since I've hired a couple employees, but it was a one-person business for 9 years before doing so.

The basic origin was seeing photos of Google's offices and looking for a website that showed photos of other offices. There wasn't one so I made it.

Do you get the snapshots from the companies themselves or your employees collect them? What's the incentive?

We receive the project photography from architecture and design firms responsible for designing the offices. The incentive is to promote their work for others to see.

Thank you.

I've been visiting your website for years and never realized it was an actual business. Have you written or presented about it somewhere? I'd love to learn your process.

When I talk about it on HN it is mostly in the context of not using ad networks and selling/hosting our own advertising since that is of interested to the folks here. Other than that though, the audience here isn't the main one we're trying to build so I haven't spent much time talking about the process of building the site.

Would you mind to share that is this business profitable or not?

It pays for me to work on it full-time and I have a couple employees now.

Sidekiq is a one person business. The creator, Mike Perham, gave an interview about what it was like building his business: https://www.indiehackers.com/interview/sidekiq-6e71309457


That Sidekiq is a one-man business which allows me to exist as a one-man business (by simplifying a critical processing function and being free) is beautifully meta.

Thank you kind sir for sharing your wizardry with us mortals.

Most of my worry with one person business is what happens when you are not well or need to take personal vacation. How to arrange an ongoing support ?

My business is based on OSS; people are used to no support. I've tried to guide my customers to open issues and stackoverflow questions to get a response from the community. This makes for a nice historical archive that others can search and find similar questions and answers.

I explicitly state in my support policy that emailed questions can take 48 business hours to answer. I take my laptop with me on vacation to answer support questions every morning. The rest of the day is free.

You could also contract out support for a week if you really want to avoid the laptop. Pay a contractor friend $$$ to answer your support emails for a week.

My main issue is that collecting money takes as much time/email as support. ~30% of my customers have some need for a manual touch during their annual renewal: forgot password, change email, billing question, etc. My first hire is likely to be an AR person who can handle that administration.

I run IdeaCheck, which validates startup ideas by running a survey within the idea's target audience. Started in early 2017 and it can now sustain me full-time.


This is interesting. How did you actually find people to respond to the surveys?

Amazing! How do/did you market the service? And how long did it take to make you quit your job?

Paging patio11[1].

Patrick McKenzie is a HN celebrity that, in a previous life, blogged about his small consultancy and SaaS products[2]. His insights about A/B testing and automated sales emails are worth their word-count in gold.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=patio11

[2]: https://www.kalzumeus.com/greatest-hits/

I have been running a very unsexy business selling WordPress plugins for the last 5 years, averaging about $30K in revenue a month.

Only expense is my time spent and a $5 Linode VPS that hosts my shop & update server.

Are these your wordpress plugins or is it an affiliate site? Any advertising?

My own plugins, all with a free version that's hosted on WordPress.org. The free version of my most popular product has hundreds of thousands of users and is what brings in the bulk of my customers.

No paid advertising. I tried but it never really got to a point where it was worth it.

Sorry for being a little vague, I'd rather not state my revenue and product together. And sine I've already mentioned my revenue, I won't mention the product. ;)

I develop Cursive (https://cursive-ide.com), an IDE for Clojure code based on IntelliJ. Strictly speaking it's just a plugin right now, but that's how most of my users use it.

I worked on it for about 2 years, mostly in open beta, and started selling it in December 2015. It's been the only thing I work on and has provided all my income since then.

And what a wonderful tool it is! Thank you so much for Cursive. For all of you folks wanting to try Clojure, this is a great way to go.

Thanks! I'm glad it's working well for you, that's always great to hear.

If anyone is planning to try out Clojure, Cursive is free for non-commercial use (OSS, personal hacking, student work) so it's easy to give it a try. I make my money principally from companies buying licences for their devs.

Not quite at the majority yet, but at the current rate it should be by end of year. I run two websites:


I launched that in January, but the investment advice I've used for years (when it was a couple python scripts). It's regularly making 100% yoy returns for me, so I'm happy. Kind of different than most startups / businesses though. In late January I launched the paid version, and I'm getting a few trickling in every day. We offer one month free, every month you provide feedback (meaning I get feedback more than money ATM)

My other business is https://easy-a.net - it makes me a lesser amount of money, but enough to keep both projects running without me paying for infrastructure.

Those are combined under my C Corp, so I look at it as a single online business. Utilizing same tech stacks, methods, etc.

I've started one after listening to a lot of indiehackers podcast's. Mine is https://browserless.io, which is IaaS, and I just hist ~$1k/mo at about the 3 month mark.

Still not providing the majority of my income, however it's growing to the point where it will in a year or so, depending how things go. If anything else it's been a wickedly fun ride, and I've learned quite a bit in doing it.

you already provide docker image in github, how do you make money ? by running the customer's script in your infrastructure?

Apologies on not replying, I seemed to have missed your comment. Money comes in two ways: hosted plans on browserless.io and via commercial licensing. Happy to answer any more questions you have

Here's an awesome list of resources for indie makers :P https://github.com/mezod/awesome-indie

Coderpad [1], an interviewing platform, is run by Vincent Woo [2].

[1] https://coderpad.io

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=akanet

Only 1 person? Wow, we use it in our interview process

I think they have 4 people [1], still pretty impressive though and Vincent started it solo.

[1] https://www.indiehackers.com/interview/coderpad-c95d5d0dd9

I sell random stuff on Amazon, buying wholesale. Current run rate is ~200k/month, more in Q4, figure profit somewhere between 5-20%.

Started 2 years ago buying from stores etc, shifted to wholesale a year ago.

If you're referring to the "Amazon drop-ship" business, I think that space is probably already overcrowded. Those who got in and figured it out - and got a head start, probably still have an advantage. But you must realize that Amazon can, at their whim, change anything at any moment and kill that business.

Plus you have unscrupulous competitors who will throw a little money in to buy a bunch of your products as soon as they appear (if your products compete with theirs), and then leave negative reviews. I suspect that eventually the only way to be a winner is to be a cheater. Surely you don't do that.

I got out of drop-ship and pivoted to wholesale a year ago.

Agree with you on saturation, margins are tiny but some people are making serious bank, I know a couple 8 figure (gross) accounts

Wow! That's pretty amazing!

I have a course on how to do that. It seems pretty easy, but for some reason I never go out and just try it.

I have another business idea that I've been working on for some time. So, maybe that's the reason for not starting this one. But, why not have multiple source of income than rely one thing that may be BIG.

I guess I'm saying I'm throwing my hat into the ring today. Gosh, business is scary and exciting at the same time.

what kinds of things do you sell?

how do you advertise?

do you have a marketing campaign? how do you know people will want to buy what you have?

1. Random, electronics/toys/health/office supplies

2. Not much advertising, just checked and YTD spend is $600, most on a single product. Most traffic is organic

3. Mostly sell existing items that already have a lot of sales and we just get a share of those. That's what I'm paying Amazon enormous commissions for - to bring the eyeballs

How do you figure out what items have a lot of sales?

Rank, reviews, guessing, other tricks

200k revenue or profit?


So, what's gross profit look like? Edit: My mistake. Already said it.

It's in my first comment

That’s great! Do you ever physically handle any product?

Rarely. Returns are a bother to handle, I put it off then go through a bunch of boxes every so often.

That's interesting. I just heard about a guy who is in the returns auction business where he'll take all your returns and then get rid of them without you ever having to get involved, then you get a cut after he sells the product.

I know a couple services like that but aren't using them for various reasons

So today is the day of the week I feel stupid for not being rich (yet) thanks to my skills in coding.

Thank you, @pyeu ;-)

Foremost you need soft skills to change that.

I know me some languages (human ones) and some programming. I can read from people's faces that they think I'm a nutcase when they learn about that and then I tell them I want to become a comparative literature researcher instead of becoming rich.

I run one-man security consulting business. Pays well enough to live comfortably and provides enough free time to work on side-projects.

Six months ago I started transitioning from service to product oriented approach with online vulnerability scanning service https://getroot.sh aimed at network administrators and webmasters.

I have another product targeted at penetration testers in works, to be released in couple of months.

How long did it take to get your first client and do you have any advice for someone who would want to become a security consultant without having a large network of business contacts?

Initially I advertised among friends and former co-workers that I knew needed this kind of service for their own infrastructure. They became my first customers pretty much right away, but my first organic users came couple months later. I marketed primarily by writing articles on LinkedIn.

For the second part of the question - I'd say do some original research and publish it. Hang out where other security people are. Still, the easiest way is to build street cred and professional network while you work for someone else.

I built a daily technology briefing + community because I got pretty tired of the way technology sites work (just a vomit of news stories) and make about $2,200/month at this point, so I recently gave up my job to work on it. It's growing fairly steadily, because people really value not being advertised to, and that's been fantastic.

I'm also pulling together a bunch of disparate services to make it a great experience, including SSO to the community, paywalled content and a custom emailer that integrates deeply with the CMS. So far, so good, and I basically slammed it all together until it worked over the space of a year -- but the real work was three years of sending a weekly newsletter as well to build up an audience before I even launched this thing.

At some point I'm planning to sell the application I wrote that powers it, because there's a distinct lack of 'community in a box' platforms that can solve this problem. First I have to finish it, but that's kinda the end goal.

https://char.gd/recharged if you'd like to try it! The code best-friends gives 25% off for three months.

What are some of the key things you've learned along the way? E.g. More community interaction helped grow the newsletter, etc.

I would be curious to know what your roadmap for the "additional features." What are the advantages you've found "slamming together" the system vs. having a custom system built?

Hey! Great questions, thanks! Well, so far:

1) Focus on the community, then the content. I thought the content would be some sort of mish-mash of opinion and really more long form stuff, but people prefer compact, quick takes, in 3-4 paragraphs. Makes sense, but hard to see as a maker!

2) Additional features is a great question! I plan a few different things:

- Community integration with the newsletter

- Integration with 'real-time chat services' like Discord, as I do think they serve a purpose

- Web push for notifying of "big" news outside of the band of the slow newsletters for those that want it

- Alternate delivery mechanisms for the newsletters (perhaps as simple, short FB Messenger pieces)

- Calendar subscription for events in the industry

- A bunch more I've forgotten already :).

3) Technically the system is custom built, I guess I'm referring to how it feels to have done that myself. I tried to hack it all together via existing stuff at first, but it was clearly not going to work, so I built a deep Craft CMS integration with my app to get where we are now. It's a great way to work because it's all built on top of relational content!

Working on a new view for Indie Hackers that will allow you to filter more powerfully. For example, revenue-generating businesses with a solo technical founder and no employees: https://www.indiehackers.com/products?employeeCount=0&founde...

I do freelance development work and sell video courses focused on building and deploying web apps.

I started by thinking to myself "what would happen if I tried to make training videos?", slept on it and dove right into it the next day without knowing anything about creating videos.

Hosting fees and a hell of a lot of time are my only expenses.

And now https://del.icio.us/ too :D

Stock trading robots, everything on autopilot, makes much more money than my "real job" as technical team lead for big corp.

Truly lifestyle business running from the cloud and not looking for investor, customers or employees...

One day will leave to my kids to run...

What do you trade and how? No need for reproducible details, but useful to know something.

I have been writing options scripts (short puts) for a couple years and have had a lot of fun solving puzzles there.

Highly liquid US equities, using discount broker API to find, initiate, monitor and exit trades - everything written in Python and hosted on few VPS around the world (for redundancy) ...

Options are to complicated for me :-)

What books/blogs/forums/libraries/frameworks would you recommend to get started?

I cannot recommend anything concrete, all authors are selling either ideas that do not work anymore or just selling the dream...

No one will publish a working trading strategy and even someone crazy enough to do it, it will be arbitraged pretty quickly...

The best way is to buy stock market data and start testing ideas until you find your edge...

All that said, here are the books I usually recommend, more for motivation and inspiration:

The Asian Saga by James Clavell, reading as a kid on how to rule your life, business and create a dynasty...


More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite by Sebastian Mallaby - on how to rule the world :-)


A Man For All Markets by Edward O. Thorp - basically the father of quant/systematic trading and one of the greatest minds of our time...


What are your Feb results so far? 2018 started not so easy as 2017 was.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I am flat, but my strategies are not really competing with the broad market... Actually my losing years are at the bottom of the market cycle for some reason...

Have you back tested your strategies for down weeks/months? What is the time horizon for you typical trade (days/weeks/months)? Just trying to get a feel for what type of trading you're doing! Congrats by the way :)

Yes, you have to test for years, as many years as you can find data for, to cover at least few market cycles, so you know how your strategy will perform in both bull and bear markets...

You've mentioned you wrote your trading bots in Python, how does one go about doing that? If I write a script that executes buys/sells via an api, I still need to periodically get market data, build candle stick charts (or whatever) and calculate moving averages (or whatever) to then decide to buy and/or sell.

Then to back test, you have to do all that, not with an api, but against and data from a flat file or whatever. I guess you could do it by hand for awhile, but that would certainly become tedious.

It's actually quite complex. Would you recommend anything to read to get started building trading bots?

You'll have to start the other way around: start testing ideas using the back data and in the end you'll have not only the test to prove the theory, but the algo written as well...

The automation after that is easy, the current data is not a problem either, you can get it trough the API from your discount broker, here are the docs for Interactive Brokers for example:


I do employ a few people now, but in the beginning, it was just me for about 4 years:

OSREC - https://osrec.co.uk Bx - https://usebx.com

Got started with OSREC because I could see a gap for a good suite of tools that could automate mundane data tasks in banks and hedge funds. Also, I did not enjoy my investment banking job.

Got started with Bx because many people complained to me about Quickbooks/Sage/Xero and I thought I could do better :)

this look great what is more profitable the online Batch processor or the accounting app? can you explain the technical side of things ?

Both are fairly profitable, however the bulk of our income is via HeavyMETL as we can get customers that are willing to commit to big contracts (>$1MM/year). Bx was a labour of love, because I too did not like the existing bookkeeping packages.

We're going to be releasing an improved version of Bx with some additional project management and task management functionality, so stay tuned! It's going to be a pretty awesome addition to the basic project management stuff on there already, so be sure to check back in a month or two :)

I specialize in creating useful apps that help me, first and foremost, and then share them with the world.

I have released these two products: https://callmeprivate.com https://textmeprivate.com

Working on some apps that I haven't released yet dealing with some telecom API, I got the idea of having a phone number without having a phone number to stop scam callers from calling me. But that evolved, of course... I started a virtual number service that privatizes your phone number with many added options -- basically your phone number can become a very useful piece of software.

I released Call Me Private about 3 months ago on Hacker News ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15905375 ) and just started marketing it a lot the past few weeks.. so far, I've got about 12 customers or so. Since I've released it ... I've also had a few organizations contact me for some minor customization requests, which I was able to make happen. My early customers are definitely helping the product to evolve more to suit their needs... and what they are asking for.. I usually weigh whether it would be beneficial to that one person ... or many. If its able to help many, I spend more time on it. If just that one person.. I might or might not, depending on the usefulness of the feature.

This is my story

I started a resume company focused strictly on ATS optimization immediately after college with my best friend after we noticed how many peers were woefully underemployed.

A year later, after mild adoption and the co-founder deciding to focus on his career, I moved to South Korea to localize the company which the goal of supporting Korean universities & to escape the competitive pressures of the US.

Things are going well these days.


Currently doing ~$20K combined from https://www.toofr.com and https://www.inlistio.com.

Also have these in the hopper - https://www.thinboxapp.com, https://www.enps.co, http://www.glist.io, https://www.voxloca.com

Idea is I'd love to cycle through them, sell whatever's working after a couple years. It takes time to find the right business at the right time so I advocate 'incubating' a project in the background, building SEO, seeing if it catches. It just takes time.

I'm polishing off a book about it now -- http://www.parallelentrepreneurship.com. It incorporates a lot of the wisdom in the comments here. (And I'm taking notes on the stuff I missed.)

I ran a one man side gig for a couple years (farm management software). Got it to $200k and growing after 6 months in the market but I needed to bring the development in-house.

Could've used outsourced talent for all dev and customer support but interestingly enough the reason why I hired was "what happens to all of our customers if I die?". I felt like I owed it to them to put a team in place, albeit a small one.

How do you get in a market like that? We tried but failed because the owners didnt like the fact that we where from "the city".

I was doing consulting work in the space, saw a need, and built the product. I came into it knowing the traits of farmer, the lingo, etc. That and a good product have helped us gain trust

Find a cofounder who can talk comfortably with the country folk*.

Hi, I started and run park.io by myself. It is a place to backorder expiring domain names. I started it for fun and it grew into a business. You can read or listen to an interview I did on Indiehackers here: https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/034-mike-carson-of-park...

Coollector Movie Database:


Small income, but profitable.

Looks great, will check it out in the weekend. Do you have any plans for an Android app which can read bar-codes to register DVDs? Have planned to make that for years but never got around to actually do it. Have tested several before but all have had major problems

I can't wait to start working on the Android app, but as a single-person shop, maintaining the desktop app is already taking most of my time. When you're alone, everything takes longer :(

I understand that, is the same reason why my version is still at the planning stage


I have curated a stellar portfolio of brandable domains geared to startup community, allows me to dev other projects without raising seed. I succeed by being flexible/sympathetic with early stage companies, expect to reach six digit sales on almost autopilot.

How often your domains are sold? Are those all inbound inquiries?

I rely on word of mouth and random visitors for sales. With very little time, interest or expertise (in marketing) my approach is quite basic - offer domains that I would buy for my own projects and be humane with pricing. The extent of my customer strategy can be summed up in: if a customer has a good experience they will tell a friend. If they have a bad experience they will tell 10. I'm not trying to build an empire with Brandfountain, small is perfect for me as I am very busy with another project.

how do you price them? eg. I'm not sure how you would price cookry.com at 7k vs chefgram.com at 3k etc

Not 100% science but typically: length of name and number of words are biggest factors. Category can matter as well - eg 'crypto' names are very hot at the moment.

I think https://apex.sh is run solely by TJ Holowaychuk.

I didn't actually realise he started a company. The funny thing about this one is that you have to think, "Hmm... I'll start a company just like TJ. Now, all I have to do is be as good and prolific a programmer as TJ..." It's a pretty high bar ;-)

i am not he, but i believe that macej is the only person behind pinboard.in (which i love to pieces and pay for gladly)

That is correct (and thank you!)

you enable me to be even more annoying in conversations by emailing links to people on the spot!

i don’t know if this helps you sleep better or worse at night but it’s been really nice for me.

Breach Insider is a one person bootstrapped company: https://breachinsider.com

Been live for a few months now and enjoyed finding the balance between sales and producing new features.

Additional discussion of one person businesses from about a year ago here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13326535

(Un)successfull one-person business is https://botproxy.net (rotating proxy) Started couple of months ago as I needed such a service for my other project and I thought why not to make it as Saas. Now I have a dozen of active subscriptions and balancing around 0 in monthly profit while having to do a lot of work to keep things going. If I knew in advance all the stuff I know now would never start anything like this but now I feel sorry for the effort spent to just quit. literally everything went not as expected. So I warned you.

Care to elaborate on what exactly you didn't anticipate? Unsustainable unit economics? I guess bootstrapping anything alone is a stressful to get the wheels rolling. What keeps you from a) shutting down or b) experimenting with prices etc.?

Every part of the project went not as planned. Most bright example is billing. I was initially implemented everything using PayPal preauthorized payments API and only going live it appeared that this API only available to merchants with personal account manager, and to get one you need to already accepting more than 2500$/mo in paypal. So I have to re-implement it. And not only billing as subscription management also depends on billing. Then getting many IP addresses for outgoing proxies appeared to be much more problematic than I was expecting. Answering the second part of the question. I use it for my other project where I need to pull data from many websites on a daily basis. And I use it in my browser to change IP location and avoid country level blocks. I hope that eventually I can convert it into more or less profitable project, but the main lesson I learned from this is that when something looks simple it doesn't mean it simple in reality.

$50k/month with my current business: Manypixels (https://www.manypixels.co) I do work with many freelancers though.

Hey vinrob, big fan!


Not exactly a conventional business, but I believe he does pretty well for himself.

Love that site! Do you know of any other ones who are doing that?

Not really.

Anything remotely close that comes to mind is phoronix, but that is in an different class entirely.

Think about a product/solution/service that scales revenue without scaling directly with your own time. For example, tutoring would suck because the revenue is tied directly to how much time you spend. However, a tutoring portal where you connect tutors with students can scale in revenue beyond the number of hours you can put into it. In other words, you want something that makes money while you sleep.

10beasts.com Amazon Product Review site it was run by guy named Lukhman Khan and recently it got sold for some 600-700K USD.

I'm running https://ipdata.co which is an IP Geolocation API. It's been 5 months so far with 20M API calls served last month. The project is not yet providing the majority of my income however there's been tremendous and very promising growth!

Shameless plug: Revela Preço, an app to do price surveys (brazilian market)


Well, not profitable yet, but promising :D

Newsblur and Overcast come to mind.

I freelance in building Web Apps for companies so I can build free Web Apps in my free time. ' Guess I love building stuff. Last finished: https://eddtor.com

most impressive, builtwith.com, 2M / month

I run https://dndemail.com -- do not disturb for your gmail.

I launched in 2016 and have solid growth. It is the 3rd web business I have launched. My first was in 1998.

4chan as well

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