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Ask HN: Anyone making a living from just 1 app?
118 points by SomeoneAtHN on Oct 8, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments
If you have a desktop/mobile/web application that is sustainable and you can be able to live on its profit, list them here. Thanks!

I don't know if www.bitkeeper.com qualifies or not (it's the inspiration for git / mercurial / bzr / etc), but it's happily supporting a bunch of people in the US and Canada. Turns out people are willing to pay for this sort of stuff if you do a good job.

Speaking of which, we're looking for a really good web / designer type. If you can stand getting paid for non-open source send me a message. Thanks.

Forgot to say, email in my profile.

ah, nice to finally find you :)

I was wondering how bitkeeper was doing, good to know it's doing alright :)


my first commercial app TotalFinder seems to be covering my living expenses soon (launched a week ago)

I used TotalFinder a while back and remember enjoying it. Installing again.

Small bit of feedback: the handwritten text on your homepage is difficult to read and looks a little out of place with such a cleancut design.

Interesting. I actually like the handwritten aspect. I'd agree with you if there was a lot of text. But, since it's limited, I think it gives a personal / apple-like touch.

I think you should give people an option to get the full version of the application in return for viral actions.

Some people prefer not to pay but would rave about your app to 10 people (e.g. like dropbox, where both sides get some space for free in case of a referral). You could give 2 months free for every person that somebody gets to join (to both the referrer and the new user).

I think otherwise you may be crippling your own growth. Also, I'm sure you can find other premium needs that people would pay for and that don't detract from the experience for the non-paying user.

Lemme know if you want to chat. I like the app a lot and would love to see it get into as many hands as possible :)

Just bought totalfinder - great work, it solves a lot of issues I had with finder.

I just bought it as well. Fantastic piece of software.

Everyone who sees me using TotalFinder asks me about it and I know at least a couple have bought it first thing when they got back to their computer. Great work.

Woah, that looks nice. You need to make a TotalExplorer for Windows 7 that has all those features ... I guarantee you it would sell!

woah, you made visor too? I love that thing. totalfinder looks awesome too, will be check it out later today.

I think Visor was created by Blacktree (the guy behind QuickSilver), but woid is the new maintainer (if I'm not mistaken).

Yes, you are right. I picked up that project because I needed to fix applescript bug in Visor. And the rest is the history.


I will work hard to make TotalFinder the best Finder addon ever :-)

Whoooa, TotalFinder looks amazing! How long has this been around, and how have I missed this?

Nice, I wonder how long before Apple adds the same functionality.

hm, so vanilla Finer doesn't have tabs, doesn't have dual panes, and can't sort folders on top!!


On Gnome, it's quite the opposite story: all these features are included in vanilla Nautilus, but it just looks ugly! people make plugins to beautify it (elementary nautilus).

love total finder!! It does get a bit greedy on memory though (only one window with two tabs open): http://skitch.com/adamgries/d4uc7/activity-monitor

My non augmented finder is about that right now. 12 threads, 174.1MB real mem. two windows. The extra memory might just be a sunk cost of the app and might not increase appreciably with the number of tabs open. I guess you need to decide if it is worth the 60MB of ram usage.

I loooove totalfinder

trying it out now ... you my friend probably just got yourself another new customer

oh nice, a friend told me about it and I bought it right away, great app sr!

Buying now!

http://www.fantasymonsterapp.com/ I'm making a living based off of my iphone app Fantasy Monster, which I did as a Master's class project and released on the app store 4 months ago. It is currently earning more per month than my wife and I are at our full time jobs combined (I'm a s/w engineer she is in HR)

Not quite able to live of its profit, but means my wife doesn't have to work part time any more :)

Android Mind Mapping app Thinking Space: http://www.thinkingspace.net

Take some dollars to get a good website. This one is the default Drupal(?) looks, you want something more unique. And make the screenshots full resolution available at least when clicking on them. I would highly suggest making a full resolution image the default, maybe crop it, because it just looks nicer.

Thanks, hearing this said out loud (so to speak) is good motivation to get the web site sorted with something proper.

I can't test the UI dynamics, but the static appearance may be the nicest I've seen for a mind-mapper on any platform -- nice work.

There's a free version in the market, check it out.

I would, but lack an Android device. Thanks for pointing that out.

I wish I could click your screenshots to enlarge them. I can't see the one on the right very well

Great app. I use it as an example of a good use of a touch UI all the time.

Thanks! :D

How (if at all) did you handle marketing your app? I have a few small Android apps in the works and one on the market, but gaining visibility is my biggest issue.

It's a learning experience, that's for sure!

Here's what I've tried for marketing so far:

Paid for advertising, $120 for a 125x125 image on AndroidGuys.com for 30 days: 200 clicks after running for 27 days

Paid for advertising on AppBrain.com, they use a pay per install system. Free version got 57k exposures and 700 installs in 12 hours, spending $25. But paying users to install your app is not good business model :-/

Puting the paid version on AppBrain.com: After about 30 days, AppBrain seems to have stopped advertising it after 20k exposures with no sales they can attribute to the advertising. It rarely gets exposure time on AppBrain now :(

Biggest marketing successes: Lifehacker article, and recently a Reddit submission.

In summary, no silver bullet that I've been able to find/control, just 'word-of-mouth'


Although i don't 'live' of it's profit, I have been making more from it the last two months than my 'real' job... 'Stick Golf', - iPhone/iPad game. http://noodlecake.com

I just want to say great job man. I have been doing a lot of traveling lately (for iOS development) and I play this a lot on the plane. As a fellow iOS developer, good job.

Thanks man! It's great to hear that kind of stuff from other developers.

Stick Golf rocks. I love it and my 4 year old also likes to think he is playing it. How do you make money on it though? I don't think I have ever seen any ads. EDIT(I must have downloaded when it was free? It you ever do a version update I will be buying it for sure.)

Stick golf was free for about 5 days during a promotion I did with FAAD. (freeappaday.com). It's now $0.99, and been at that price for a while.

I had a really cool idea for your game, have some time to talk about it?

I've played stick golf it's great! Keep up the good work.

I was living off of my app ShoveBox (wonderwarp.com/shovebox) for most of last year until I made another app.

My fiancee is a jewelry designer, making a living selling her work on the website I built for her (http://www.ghostlove.com). Not exactly an app as such, but what the heck :)

I make more from my iPad app Portfolio (http://ipadportfolioapp.com/) than my other source of income. I could definitely live on just the app sales alone if it keeps up.

A game I wrote for iPhone (Spit a.k.a Speed) has been covering my living expenses for about eighteen months now but it looks like its coming to an end :(

It seems like its also mostly due to a bug I'm unable to fix (mainly since I can't reproduce it). If anyone wants to give it a shot maybe we can work out a deal?

If you're making your living expenses off it, why not just buy an iPhone that exhibits the behavior?

Looks like most of the apps are either OSX desktop app or iPhone/iPad.

There's one Android app and one web-app.

Is there any of you who makes a living in Windows desktop app? just curious.

http://www.viemu.com, and it now supports a second full-time developer too. It's never going to grow much more but that's ok.

There are many, many apps that generate more than enough to sustain one or one hundred people.

Fantastic app. Didn't think I'd make the outlay (it's pricey), but for any tedious tasks I can turn them into a challenge with Regexes and Macros. I really love it, thanks for putting it together and for charging so it is still around today.

Thanks! Indeed $99 is a bit pricey, but many think it's well worth it, and it's a niche. ViEmu had its 5th anniversary this year, and I'm hoping for the next five, still better years (both for ViEmu and Codekana, http://www.codekana.com).

I use it at my dayjob, and love it!

It's kinda hard to work with visual studio once you get used to vim :)

Oh, and your "why oh why" vim intro really motivated me to learn vim, so thanks for that too!!

Thanks for posting, I was waiting for your 2010 version to be done, and now you remind me that it is :)

Hey, thanks for making viemu. I make games and I use viemu for visual studio about 6 hours a day. :)

You're very welcome! I'm an ex-games dev myself, so I know what you're talking about - and I can very barely believe that you only use it 6 hours a day in that industry :)

I'm nowhere near making a living, but my "Brainstormer" app (http://www.tapnik.com/brainstormer) is making enough to pay for my apple gadgets, so it's kind of a self-sustaining hobby at this point.

I just released a free, iAd supported game called "Still Pond" (video review: http://www.appspy.com/still-pond-review) which is only making pocket change, but I haven't done any promotion on it.

Our first app - SourceGuardian - protects PHP source code and we've been running it for 8 years. We used to make a living off just the one app, but broadened out into other areas. The freedom that the income from SourceGuardian provided allowed us to take risks and create other products - some that have worked out well and others that haven't. Its been thoroughly enjoyable though!

During a talk [1] at Stanford, Loren Brichter mentioned that he was living off income from Tweetie (this was before Twitter's acquisition of Atebits and the rebranding of Tweetie to be Twitter for iPhone).

[1] http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewiTunes...

He was doing a lot more than just living off it, Tweetie was the #1 Paid App for a long time and was in the Top 10 for all Paid Apps for months. He was selling thousands of copies per day for $2.99.

Yeah, I think if your app is listed on top 10 of all paid apps, you can make a lot of income very quickly.

Just some math: $2.99 * 2500 copies/day * 30 days * 70% to LB = That is a whopping $156975 a month!


Jason, the founder, was profitable within 10 months of building the product (he spent money on adwords). Was running it all by himself for nearly 3 years and is now building out a bigger team to get to the next level. That's when he hired me :)

www.codemonkeysatwork.com - We have a pay-for iPhone app called QuickShot that I make my money from. I also just launched http://www.talentopoly.com as another source of income.

Dude, Total Finder owns ... except when Chrome downloads something and I click to open the finder window. Then it pops out in the middle of nowhere and no chrome around it. I have to click on the tab to get it back whereit belongs -- Fix that please! :)

I'm still working my day job but my most recent iPad app, iJuror, has been doing almost as well for the last 3 months.


Ship Mate for the iPhone is making me enough to pay all my bills and then some. I still have my full time job though, I don't know what I'm waiting for to just dive in and take it to the next level.

socialadmanager.com is a social ad server that i developed. It allows advertisers, ad agencies etc... to incorporate user generated content and other social elements in their display ads.

My main (and only) client right now is a ad agency that I used to work for but that covers all my bills + some.

see: /ads /campaigns /dashboard for demo of agency white label.

right now im working on making the entire social ad server turnkey so that people can productize their influence in the form of a social ad (endorse x to audience y) setup affiliate payout etc... much quicker.

see: /

The iAd revenue from my flashlight app has continued to do quite well.

PadPressed.com is ramen profitable off of V1. Ironically, it started as a side project and may be the full time project over the next month.

Just curious, how did you find your initial paid customers?

I'm living on earnings from SimplyTweet, my iPhone app. Look into some other stuff at the moment though.

I'd love to, but I need idea(s), motivation and a lot more time to work on them.

Mark Zuckerberg.

I worked for a couple years in college to come up with way to intuitively encrypt application data without resorting to full-disk encryption, the result (http://www.espionageapp.com), has been keeping me alive and self-sufficient. My advice isn't anything remarkable: find something both you and other people really need that doesn't exist and focus on it.

I love Espionage. Thanks for making such a great application.

Thanks! Glad you like it! :-)

http://letsfreckle.com is totally livable for two people right now (about $150k/yr and growing), but since I want to be rich, we're rolling all that money back into expanding it.

Very cool. Didn't Freckle start as a Rails Rumble? IIRC it was actually a wedding planning or some other event planning app at first ...

Wow, this actually looks better than Harvest. I love threads like this!

You have a very good memory! Yeah, I won RailsDay (the first contest, a 24-hour one, supplanted later by RailsRumble) with a wedding planning app called Freckle. But that never got anywhere as a product. I just reused the name because I like it.

I too am supporting my Apple Gadget fix (http://logicpretzel.com). Working on some new apps and hoping they'll make a bit more money though. Small contracts for development help too.

Fingers crossed that it will afford me to go to WWDC, but being one the east coast and in Canada makes it a little iffy.

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