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Ask HN: How to come up with monetizable side project ideas?
426 points by sunilkumarc 84 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments
I love building small tools which solve problems I myself face in my day to day life. Having been worked in different companies over the last 4 years, I feel I've acquired enough knowledge to develop big applications(big enough to make money) on my own.

I was wondering, how one can come up with side project ideas which can generate few hundred dollars per month on the side. Any inputs, resources and wisdom are appreciated!




It's really easy to make a few hundred dollars a month if you're good at product and can do basic marketing.

1. Find a popular SaaS product. Like Intercom, Algolia, Segment. Make sure it doesn't have a free plan. This guarantees there's a market for the tool. Check out GetLatka for ideas. https://getlatka.com

2. Build your own take on the product. Find the minimum set of features that make it valuable. 10% of the work for 80% of the value.

3. Sell it at a 50-90% discount. There will be price sensitive customers that want the popular product, but don't want to or can't afford it.

4. Target bottom of funnel marketing channels: Targeted quora questions. Paid/organic search queries. Set up retargeting ads on Facebook. Product hunt launch it. That should get you a steady stream of customers.

I don't think this is a great way to build a million dollar business, but is a very easy way to make a few hundred. Shoot me an email if I can be helpful.


I launched a SaaS startup called "SalezTalk" with the same exact strategy. The problem with this strategy is that it assumes that reaching to a customer is an easy thing.

One of the most difficult thing in a SaaS is reaching to a customer in a cost-effective manner. It's common nowadays to have a CAC of $100+. So paid acquisition channels would be impossible if your prices are low.

If you already have a community or a user-base, then probably you can make a few hundred dollars out of it. But if you are starting from scratch, I would rather suggest going for a big idea instead of a smaller one because your marketing efforts in both the case would be almost same.


Posting answers to highly targeted Quora questions is free. Launching on Product Hunt is free. Writing targeted content that ranks on Google takes time, but costs no money. Retargeting ads are cheap.

I agree that if you're trying to build a big business, you need to think hard about how you're going to get customers. But if you're just trying to make a couple hundred a month (as OP asked), it's a completely different ballgame. You just need a tiny sliver of an enormous pie.


Getting on the front page of PH is not easy.


What's your email I'd ? :) Thanks !


My first name @ my company's domain


just shoot you an email.


Dunno why people are still afraid of just posting their email addresses. I use gmail for my domain specific account and just rely on their spam catching tools. If you run your own server then there are lots of anti spam tools as well.

Edit: To expand on my reasoning, don’t make it hard for people to contact you. There’s no reason to be afraid of spurious email contacts. They’re easy to mark as spam and ignore future contacts.

When have you seen people obfuscate their public social media contact addresses? I haven’t seen anyone hide their Twitter, FB public pages, or LinkedIn addresses. Email shouldn’t be any different for general contact purposes.

Now the one exception I have is work email addresses. I don’t publicize those.

charles@geuis.com


Maybe because it makes their accounts easier to find when people google their email address?

You never know what someone might do with that information I guess :)


I totally get that. But in this specific case where someone is saying “contact me”, I don’t think you should make this’ll at harder.


Some people get really hostile online and try to start witch hunts. I've seen it happen even here on hacker news.


> Make sure it doesn't have a free plan

Nothing wrong with being free. It can get you popularity like dropbox, robinhood etc


I think his point is that if the existing service has a free plan then it is going to be hard to undercut them on price. Dropbox and Robinhood want to dominate the market. OP's advice is for making a couple hundred bucks a month on the side.


If the aim is to build a limited version of a product, targetted towards price sensitive users, and the existing product has a free tier you can't compete on price, and there may not be many paying customers anyway.


Hi Andrew, thanks for the awesome sharing. Is there anyway I can have your email? Thank you.- Allen.


Having created a few money making side projects here is some advice:

1. In my experience B2B ideas are best for quick monetization compared to B2C.

2. Think of roadblocks you face creating your own site. Pretty sure somebody else will face them too (many great products were created out of this, readme.io, statuspage, etc)

3. Don't go all in. I never spend more than 2 weeks before submitting my project on PH, HN, mailing my list. Don't ever make the mistake of working on something for 2 years alone not telling anyone about it.

4. Don't reinvent the wheel. Ie don't waste time on things like your login page (HNs login page is a great example on how much it matters), hiring designers (a template from HTML5rocks or wrapbootstrap is just as good). A lot of these things (support, auth, chat, etc) are offered as Saas services and can be integrated directly to save you weeks in launch.

5. Marketing is where you want to spend most of your time since yoh ask about making money. Also don't be afraid of pricing. Read patio11 black art of saas pricing for an excellent guide. Learn content marketing, SEO, etc.

Good luck!


Clarification: Don't reinvent the wheel means Don't exactly copy another product. It's damn important to reinvent defensible products that either, and hopefully do all of:

a) solve a slightly different problem

b) target different users

c) solve the problem in a 10x better, compelling way

Uniqueness will be added to the collective, so don't bother creating categories because that requires extra effort building validation from below zero and any new products coming along can execute much easier with the lessons and improvements of the "settlers."


I don’t believe that your clarification of the point you quoted is correct.

It sounds more as if the commenter wanted to point out that it is better to outsource/Saas chat, login, design and the likes to some external service instead of wasting time on it initially.

With that said - I believe you have a point in what you stated. A lot of products came out as a better copy of another product.


Great point. Let me rephrase this slightly to make it obvious that there is no contradiction between these two seemingly opposite pieces of advice. Do reinvent the wheel to solve your problems that you are then planning to sell to others. Do not reinvent the wheel to solve your problems that you are not planning to productize and for which you can easily get SaaS solutions. In other words, either create SaaS products, or use SaaS products. Don’t create one-off internal products that are not SaaS-able.


Focus less on your own problems and pay attention to the problems that other people have. Especially problems where they've come up with really hacky workarounds -- think Excel spreadsheets, weird approval/email chains, manual import/exporting from one system to another, etc. All good signs that there's something to be improved, and that it's enough of a problem to put effort into.

Couple of other thoughts -- your problems are likely not to be technical. They're going to be obtaining domain knowledge, marketing, and supporting your product.

I'll second the recommendation on "Start Small, Stay Small". Also Eric Reis' "Lean Startup" and 37 Signals "Getting Real". The latter two were really helpful in getting my most successful project out the door and making money.


Do you have any book recommendations specifically for the online marketing piece? Or does the space change too fast for books? I’ve picked up some read user forums, write content for marketing, email lists, and pricing tips, but haven’t found a “definitive guide”.


No, sorry. Mostly it came down to "find out where your customers are". I had a payroll service for home help, so I reached out to the people who place the people and pitched the service as a way to help their customers. I had a site to check for security problems in popular blog frameworks so I made it so you could direct link to a site's results and then helped people out on forums, providing a link to the analysis. Stuff like that.

Advertising on FB/AdWords/etc can help, but there's no substitute for finding your customers yourself.


I recommend the book "Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup by Rob Walling about this topic. It pokes every aspects of starting side projects including how to find something worthwhile to create. It really changed my perspective of how to find out if a side project could work or not.


Thanks for that recommendation, it sounds great! I just ordered it on Amazon, and also signed up for the MicroConf [1] mailing list.

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


I second the book and recommend the podcast that Rob does with another guy named Mike Tabor. It's called Startups for the rest of us, lots of wisdom in that library! You can even send them questions and they'll do an entire show in reply.

https://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/


A friend of mine shared his strategy with me: find some big uninteresting data set from the government or whatever, figure out some way to make it interesting for regular people, and build a nice interface to it.

For instance, turning old real estate and immigration records into an ancestry site.

Monetizing it is still an issue...


There's a lot of stuff in this space that hasn't been done yet, but that's for a very good reason. First of all, it doesn't pass the toothbrush test: it's the type of thing that's super valuable the first time you visit but you don't really need to come back to it over and over.

Second big problem: SEO. Search engines like long form written content, they don't know how to value tools that slice and dice data: they simply don't see any value in it and you'll never get SEO from it.


That's similar to Matthew Lesko's strategy (AKA question mark guy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Lesko)

Many of his books consisted of freely available government publications.


This reminds me of city-data.com

It is an ugly looking site, the forums are full of nasty comments, but it is still useful at some level I guess. They claim to get millions of page views. Not sure how much money they make, but they have been around for more than a decade


https://www.northdata.de/ Did something like that: Crawl public registries for companies, parse changes to them and build a graph out of it. Very cool!


As a marketer, I see countless great projects that were abandoned. What seems like a promising project goes dry when, presumably, the dev can’t market it.

Marketing and sales are so important; without it, your project risks a short life.

I would look at what you already have and figure out why you aren’t making money on it, versus building something brand new.


Yeah, I don't get it. People put all this time and effort into something and then murder it, and post their "self-fulfilling victimhood apology letter" "why we shutdown and left our customers twisting in the wind."

Build something that doesn't cost much to keep going and let it simmer at least 5x longer than you think. And, make copyright dates self-updating. ;) Furthermore, if it's not losing copious amounts of money, pivot, restructure it or sell it to somebody else.

Shutting down usually == disrespecting money.

Or they become slightly successful and abandon it, like they have self-harm tendencies.


Sometimes the problem is that it takes 10 years for the thing to finally start generating real money, but by this point everyone involved has moved on and you have customers that you don't want to let down, but really the thing is Rails 3 and the $100k of profit per year it is bringing in aren't really worth the headache of upgrading everything.

I think in the next 5 years someone is going to invent an entire stack for long-lived apps. Where every level is as simple as possible and the only updates that are issued are security updates. We need computers to be able to run 30 year old software without having to stress, and the only way I can think of doing that is to minimize feature development and complexity.


Wow. I can't imagine any (legal and moral) thing I wouldn't do for $100K. Well, maybe working for a really toxic boss, but we're talking about self-employment here.


Why is Rails not a stack for long-lived apps? Or "JAM", MEAN, LAMP, .NET or any of the other popular technologies people have chosen over the past quarter century? Sure, it might be harder to find someone willing to write PHP now than it was in 1998, but that's how things work when new technologies are constantly being invented.

With few exceptions, browsers and servers support the same things they did when the web began. Your old server-rendered Perl app might look a bit long in the tooth in 2018, but there's no reason you can't run it exactly the way you describe.


I think gp is referring to the ongoing effort to keep an app up, running, and secure; not any feature of the platform.

You can of course buy Rails LTS (though from a quick glance the pricing can be very expensive if you have eg a deploy per tenant rather than multitenant). But gems move on from your version, apis change underneath you, etc.

Keeping a moderately complex rails using say 100 gems with okta + google SSO and various other integrations up and running on a permanent basis can easily consume 1/2 a ft engineer.

So if you're in possession of an app that earns say $150k/year, you have to decide if you want to put that half eng year in or if there are more productive ways to spend your time.

This is even more painful if you bet on, for example, a javascript framework that fell out of fashion.


Remember maintenance doesn’t need a high dollar engineer. $30/hr or less guys can do that.


Serverless on AWS is the closest thing to an “eternal” stack. Utilize only managed, auto scaling, self updating services, and your app will keep running for a long time. Occasionally the Node.js major version in Lambda gets deprecated, but even so I think old deployments still keep running.


IME customer requirements change often, even if only because of fads. Interoperating with ever changing third parties is another complication.


100000% agree. Chances are the OP already has a number of finished things that he/she can sell. Sales and marketing sales and marketing sales and marketing.

I have 3 side businesses that make between a few hundred and a few thousand per month. All 3 sat idle for months after completion as I groused about no revenue. When i stopped building the next thing long enough to sell the finished things it really wasnt a problem.


How did you initially go about selling these products? Cold calling? Ads?


Cold outreach. Built an email list using free email databases and linked in. Used Mailshake to create cadences to ask for a 5 minute call. Did the call myself to close the deal. I'm a sales person by training so that part wasnt hard for me once I got the engine going.


Would be interesting if there was a thing to match people with marketing skills with people who have side projects that need better marketing on a cut of the revenue generated basis.

I have this problem myself. I've got a product that sells itself within its target market but the market is kind of niche so I have no idea how to get it in front of that audience. I tried Ad words but it seemed like a waste of money and didn't move the needle.


Reading your other post that described the niche market, I think I might be able to really help you out! Please feel free to reach out bitbybitbybitcoin at gmail


Hey what is this niche market you’re referring to?


Low cost high wattage 12 Volt power supplies. I make adapters that let you recycle old server PSU's that otherwise have zero value because of their proprietary connectors. It primarily has applications in Crypto Currency mining. The real money is in targeting industrial scale miners who need them in volume. I had one really good year in the 5 I've been selling them, mostly by dumb luck.


I'd be happy to brainstorm some marketing ideas to help with monetization. It sounds like a great product that just needs some clearer messaging.


I'm hardly the first person to have this, well, insight is generous, but it remains true:

People wildly overestimate technical risk and wildly underestimate gtm risk.


A list of these would be hugely useful to a large portion of the HN community, and I bet you'd get to use some of those projects gratis (or at least see them brought to market).


I someone knew why they weren't making money off of it, they would already know what to do.


>As a marketer, I see countless great projects that were abandoned.

Where do you see these?


I was in the same boat after 4 years of working and built a simple side project that solves a clear problem and now has several hundred thousand MAU (https://onthegomap.com) and costs a few hundred dollars a month to run.

My question is on logistics: Adsense brings in a bit less than expenses. Many users have expressed interest in supporting the project financially. Any recommendations on services to let people do that? One person recommended Patreon but that seems more geared towards artists.


Hi, I run a small site and have recently made a simple change that has increased revenue significantly. I couldn't find your contact info in your profile. My email is bryndyment@gmail.com … get in touch? FYI my site is a simple tool for learning the various Japanese alphabets. It has benefitted from being online for a long time (thus, good SEO) but I have struggled with monetization until recently. Still not a huge money maker but I'm much happier after this change. Email me!


I hate you :-) Opened your app and stuck there for a good half an hour, mapping my walking routes around the neighborhood :-) I want my half an hour back!!11


Why not make it a traditional SAAS application that charges $10/month?


Not all apps can be monetized that way. Maybe some kind of freemium model, or some kind of partnership with the correct target for the audience would make more sense.


More than 15 way-points: $$$

Want to save the map: $$$

Sync to GPS-nav device: $$$

Show places to eat with a rating: $$$


I wouldn't be suggesting ideas and approaches. I would instead concentrate on "few hundred dollars per month". I think you are setting the bar too low if you are in US. Let say this side project will generate $200/month and you are spending 15 hours a month on it. It means that your hourly rate will be $13 (which is way-way below software engineer hourly wage). If the goal is do something useful, then work on opensource (for free). If the goal is to get some additional income, then you need to find an idea which can grow more than couple hundred bucks a month.


TIME. Time is the MOST precious commodity. Help users SAVE TIME. Save time finding something of value to the USER. You can't "presume" how much to charge. You have to "TEST" pricing then keep jacking it up until your customers don't pay. How can you pay for something what does not offer value. Stay small. Stay NICHE. Grab a slice from a BIG market. Forget millions. slap-yo-self with fury with delusions of becoming a millionaire, and make a goal of making enough to avoid being trapped in a 9-5 lifer situation. It take a LOT of luck + skill + market segment expertise. Like you have to KNOW the market you are going to be competing in. Assisted living , senior care , retirement calculator is VERY hot now. You'll be at it after your day gig 6pm-2am testing / building / iterating. Good LUCKY. launch a free beta version learn what customers value and how much they will pay ( ask them) THEN when you have enough people crack addict addicted to your service / app start charging. Be merciless. But offer excellent customer service. Always be honest.


One thing I will try doing soon is to look for job postings of companies, and then look what those companies are looking for, and what domain they're in. The theory is: maybe I can get product ideas 1) as spin-offs from their general mission, or 2) maybe I'd be able to replace their job posting with a product.


When I first started consulting, I had an idea of specializing in automating business processes. It was something I had done before, and I really enjoyed it. However I ran into the problem of those that understood the potential had already employed a few full time devs, and those that didn't, also did not understand the potential. I reasoned that people who needed automation were hiring tons of people. So I searched job ads that looked close to what I thought an ideal customer might be as a way to generate leads.

It turned out to be a fairly low quality way to find leads. Random cold calling would have probably netted me the same conversion rate.


I have similar story: corporate experience in process design and implementation and moved to consulting with idea of using knowledge and connections. What I realized I have no way to sell to big business. And s.m.b. don't use erp, let alone bpmn. s.m.b are quite happy keeping notes in spreadsheets and smartphones. Most of the market for bpmn comes from regulation and certification e.g. ISO certification requires processes to be reproducible and documented (with appr. software) and the list goes on say if company goes public and all of that. No s.m.b has this requirement, so there's no marketing to them.


I used to do a variation of this by looking at project requests posted on RentACoder or other outsourcing sites and considering if there was a product idea there.


Applications repeat themselves - apps like chat, productivity suites (word, excel), photos - got moved from desktop to web and later to smartphones. If you had developed a first chat app on iphone back in 2009 then imagine the leverage. A new platform is in the making - AR\VR, so keep an eye.


At the risk of being grayed out to invisibility, I am going to say this.

What you are asking is similar to "I think I have learnt playing the keyboard well enough as an assistant in an orchestra, now how to create great music for ads or whatever to make some pocket money?".

This is a matter of creativity. The situation you describe is usually the other way around - people have ideas first and then learn whatever is necessary in order to realize their creativity, they don't start with a tool set and then look for ways to apply it. That is done by consultants. So may be you must become one?

Creativity can't be taught. No amount of tips is going to substitute for innate creativity, of any degree, because all tips are effective only when you have an idea to work with, which is the product of creativity. If you don't have it, in this case identifying a problem and imagining a suitable solution, just do what all/most successful companies do - copy, but add a tiny variation to claim that its different and your own.

All that said, my tip would be to keep eyes and mind open, and just build whatever you feel is right and release it. Do consider feedback but don't get discouraged by criticism. There are ample examples of how the most derided product ideas have ended up making quite a profit, not just in software, although luck had a major hand in their success.


Ideas do not only come from creativity. Creativity is a shortcut but ideas can be mechanically generated. You can analyze a niche market and identify gaps, statistically, and address the ones which will return value.

He doesn't need tips. He needs a process to find a market data set and analyze it for profit opportunities. The amount of untouched data in the world tells me that it's really a matter of time, hardwork, and intelligence, rather than creativity.


1. Search through the highest-selling 100 apps in your favourite app store

2. Looks for apps which are poorly-rated (< 4 stars). These are apps which serves an actual need, but whose execution is lacking.

3. Build polished versions of those apps.


Found one: Uber


Good example. Remember to start small, build it on open source and sell it to small cities


Yes, you wouldn't compete with Uber directly but you could look at some small piece of that business which they can't serve very well because of their size.


pasting a link here to save everyone else few mins - https://www.apple.com/itunes/charts/top-grossing-apps/


1) Go and interact with people/companies in "unsexy" industries. The stuff cool silicon valley companies don't want to touch (shipping, waste removal, small manufacturing, etc). They have shit ton's of small problems that they would gratefully hand over spare change for the problem to go away.

2) Find Entrepreneurs that have had a couple of hits, and don't have the time or resources for small things. They'll more than likely just give you the idea.

3) Pick up freelance gigs and get an agreement that give you rights to the underlying code. (I.E. the unique combination of elements belongs to the client.) If you do enough of this you will start to find efficiencies. You will start finding ideas all over the place when you see how other people work.

4) Read a lot. But about niche things.

5) Read blog articles by Venture Capitalists/ Angels. don't work for them... but built the stuff that they want built.

Also... Please build a themeforest for Bulma. I haven't had time to do it and I hate working in Bootstrap.


Number 2 is very true. Make sure you choose people who have actually successfully built something not just a serial wantraprenuer. They can tell the difference between an idea that sounds good in theory and one that will work in the real world.


Concerning nr.1:

Maybe find areas where people use excel sheets/ or word/pdf forms that they email around to each other. Always seemed like an idea to me.

Disclaimer: just a wantrepreneur.


Are you looking for landing pages, corporate sites or web app templates built with Bulma?


I'll second that Bulma wish, I'd buy templates off that.


Start a sandbox of some sort, some kind of (digital) file to collect things in.

Collect stories and examples of successful side projects that resonate with you. (You can start by searching HN. This gets talked about a fair amount here.)

Also, collect your ideas and start fleshing them out.

Also, collect information on how small side projects get monetized.



Just start building free stuff until something sticks. Then figure out how you can make money from it or something similar.


I am in this situation and now I stumbled upon a (good?) idea with some code but it's very difficult to market as it aims at replacing one of the most successful software of all the time, namely git.


Have you posted on Twitter or an Ask HN thread here?

I would stay away from Reddit, personally.


Yes, both. Honestly, it's difficult to have a deep public convo even on HN. I had some contact with people interested in the idea of a git for (big) structured data. The problem is that a) Data Science practice is not mature enough for the kind of problem my project is solving aka. collaborating around structured data to improve reproducibility and QA. b) mature data science project already have ad-hoc solutions and they are not ready to migrate to a freshly new solution.


Honestly, if you have a full time job (which it sounds like), i’d consider buying a product. At that kind of revenue prices are extremely reasonable - the only challenging is binary: is this worth $0 or something else.


My two cents... Find a service-tool-solution for something that could be used by many people (try not to think of only your country/language but global), build it fast and simple but practical and fast, offer it for a really low price (coffee, beer, pizza range) so that you can be certain that you’ll have users/customers. Oh yeah, and build it so that it doesn’t need too much of your time.

As for good ideas, that’s the tricky part. Look around and open your ears... sorry for not letting you know of my exit plan idea ;-)


I have already built several sideproject over the past 15 years. For me the hardest part as a marketer is to find a developer, mostly freelancers, who are willing to "dive into" the idea and work with the same passion as i do on the project, even if they are usually getting paid by hour.

The biggest issue for me was finding a suitable developer who is willing to grow the one ore another project together with me. So if any of you guys is interested in a marketing partner and willing to invest his time into a project and split the revenue, i would be happy to get in tough with you.

Now let´s come you back to your question - how to come up with an idea? I will discribe you my way:

note down every "problem" somebody is telling you. No matter if it means "find the cheapest flight price", "would be cool if tool X could do Z" or if somebody tells you a terrible workflow within his company. In addition to that, we are all surfing the web all day long, so simply also note down things you like somewhere, and make screenshots / screencasts, if something is really great.

when you do this some days / week, you will generate hundreds of cool ideas within a very short period of time. but the idea itself is worth nothing at all. the idea itself is just an idea.


Sent you an email.


thanks. :)


So making a few hundred bucks per month with a product/project is not that difficult, but growing that or making it so the time you invested into it is not too high is difficult.

My personal experience, I built a newsletter to a small size (800), took about year to do this so I definitely didn't scale out very fast by any measure.

Either way I did reach a point where I was able to get a few hundred bucks per month in sponsorship. The time I put into it though didn't get the returns I needed to keep going at it so I've put it on hold and am not making any revenue now.

It's one of those challenges where I believe I need to put a lot more time & money into it, take a risk and see if I can grow that revenue to a few thousand per month so that my time has better return. At a few hundred bucks it's not a passive income generating project.

I thought this would be a good story to share because in thinking about what could make you a few hundred bucks, it would be good to define how you get there. Building a SAAS product takes a ton of time upfront, and a few hundred bucks per month won't be enough to justify that time... but of course it's proof of a business model that can get to the thousands per month, and maybe more!


I don't understand the whole monetize XYZ, shouldn't we all be designing(making) things that help or solve problems to make others lives easier and therefore built into the project is $omething valuable for your time and ingenuity?

If it helps people then let them try it and pay what they want for it, which tells you how much you're helping based on how much they are paying.


I spent a few months developing this app: https://deepnest.io where I have a "pay what you want" model. Currently it has a conversion rate of 2.08%, with average payment of $28.73 totalling 1,556.00 in the past month. In terms of income it's really not great, as I imagine actual commercial software in this space is making much more than that.

I guess it really depends on how much you value money vs having people use your software or other ancillary benefits.


That looks really nice! Great landing page. The screen shots look like simply straight-forward UI. Good work!


Companies use spreadsheets to fix gaps in their IT processes.

Find these big, ugly, shared spreadsheets and turn them into webapps.


I tried to come up with ideas like this for years and failed. Then I just did things that were interesting to me and it led to a business. So, my advice is to not even try to come up with an idea. Simply explore what is interesting, but be open to turning it into a business


> how one can come up with side project ideas which can generate few hundred dollars per month on the side.

You can't. 99.9% of those ideas where you could start something from a blank state are already done, most of them already a few times.

> I love building small tools which solve problems I myself face in my day to day life.

Sounds like you have already build something. Brush those up, make them available for the public and for the start don't think about how you will make money from those. You will get users and feedback. Those might help you in building something which will earn money.


> You can't. 99.9% of those ideas where you could start something from a blank state are already done, most of them already a few times.

You realize that that's how it felt like to most people at almost any point of time in the human history?


What? Nonsense.

Ask someone you know who doesn’t work in technology what they need. A teacher, a plumber, your doctor, your mechanic. I guarantee that someone will come up with something.

Us geeks think all of the problems have been solved because most of our problems have been solved. Meanwhile the rest of the world doesn’t know that we can actually help them because they don’t know to ask and we don’t think to.


Even in tech, find some speciality market that isn't well-served by programmers already. My day job is information security, and our tool sets are atrocious. We use them because it's all we've got, and the security field isn't well known for being a software engineering powerhouse.

I could list off a ton of programs I'd love to have, but are way (way way way) too niche to pop up on the radar of anyone who doesn't work in security.


What kind of software would be needed


A couple weeks ago I shipped a simple project that consisted of an Arduino logging some data to an SD card. Three of them actually.

Dataloggers are a dime a dozen, but yet someone still wanted to pay more than the price of buying three off the shelf units simply because what he wanted was slightly different from everything he could find.

The point is that it doesn't matter how many times something has been done; there's always something different you can do that a niche of customers need.


I've found a lot of amateur tinkerers will pay me to write arduino/esp8266 code for them.

The downside of this kind of project is that it can often be quite time-consuming, and often-times you wonder if failures are caused by the parts you can't see; the owners not soldering/wiring things properly.

I've had interactions where my "code was broken", which mysteriously got fixed without me making any changes. Throw in timezones into the mix, and you can waste a day looking for a bug that just isn't there.


My approach is to try to avoid the obvious "tinkerers" who are just messing around. I'll happily work with amateurs, but I have to believe that they are invested in getting something working and I also offer to buy the parts and provide them with a complete assembly for a fixed fee. The pickier I am about the project, the more likely it is to go smoothly.

But I far prefer working with actual businesses because they just want an end result and won't try to dicker with me by pointing out how high my prices are and how much less "this guy on Guru.com" can do it for.

The thing I truly love about the Arduino ecosystem is how fast it lets me put together those one-off projects. Things that would take weeks in "normal engineering" can be out the door in an evening. What I don't like about Arduino is that the focus on simplicity often comes with a huge cost in performance. Luckily, it's rarely been an issue.


> most of them already a few times.

This is the major point. The market is HUGE, and it's very possible still to build a better mousetrap and capture enough customers for a decent side income.

Assume your audience already knows the competition, and differentiate.


It might be sustainable, but only because you're not charging anything. Also, products don't have to be different to be successful. If something has a high price, it has not reached market saturation, so the same good would be fine there.


For those who have built and deployed applications before, how do you go about planning/developing your idea before you begin building it? For example, do you sketch out rough drafts with something like Balsamiq Mockups or just pen and paper? Do you bother filling out the YC application to flesh out your idea (even if you don't plan on applying)?

There are different approaches to achieve this, but finding a technique that is both comprehensive enough and time efficient is the challenge.


For me, it depends on what I'm building. If there is a GUI, then I usually write basic HTML and CSS using Bootstrap as my foundation. I prefer that over Balsamiq because I can work out flow as well as layout. If it is an API then I design the list of functions and parameters first in a text editor. Or the list of commands and arguments for a command-line tool.

If you notice I start with the high-level design first rather than the code. I find I build a better tool/product doing that first and I often save time. Personally I find myself doing a lot of code churn if I start with the code.


While I agree with some of the tactics here (make a twist on similar ideas, contact businesses, buy a business, brush up an existing product you built)

I'm going to suggest an alternative method that has worked for me.

Start with the money.

If you want monetization to be guaranteed you need to prioritize that first.

Take this method and rinse/repeat for you and your skills.

1) How much do you really want to make from this a month, what would make you happy?

Let's say you decide $1k a month would make it worth it after time, expenses and payment processing fees.

2) You then decide how many customers you really want to have to find and how much support email you want to answer.

Usually developers pick prices like $6 and wonder why no-one buys. This low price screams a lack of confidence in the product. That you aren't taking it seriously. That you may not be around in 8 weeks.

Starting without monetization in mind or equally, pricing low is the death of a product because for someone who dislikes marketing you just set yourself a huge marketing mountain to climb.

At $6 each, finding and selling to 150+ customers - when you don't even have one yet is a huge trek to your $1k happy place.

Let's say you feel more confident about finding and serving 10 customers really well. That seems achievable, right?

So with just 10 customers we're looking at a $100 a month product, right?

Whoa, you're thinking you could never build something that's worth that much.

Maybe you're worried it's enterprise level costs now and that's not the type of product you want to build.

Don't worry, a $100 product can be really simple.

Often developers think that a big cost means solving a big problem and that a big problem needs a big solution. Not true at all.

A big problem can be solved with a small elegant solution.

3) Now we know how much we want to make and how many customers we need and how much we are going to sell it for.

We now need to find the problem we are going to solve.

So how big of a problem needs a $100 per month solution?

Not very big at all really.

Let's say a business owners time is super-conservatively worth $50-$100 an hour.

So to add value, we are looking at saving someone between 2-4 hours a month on a task they normally have to do manually. That's not too bad!

Or maybe you want to help them reduce their business costs by $200-$400. Also, very possible. Now we have the value proposition.

We know what kind of problem we are looking for, so value will be clear for the customer.

4) Now we decide _who_ this is going to be for.

Don't pick people the same as you. They have the same skills and can solve the same kinds of problems that you can.

Pick a group of people :-

- That are easily identifiable by what they call themselves on social media (blogger, podcaster, videographer, designer, public speaker etc)

- Make sure they are a group you like interacting with, that you have some experience of working with already in some way (please pick a group you like and care about)

- Make sure they are the decision maker in their own business (don't pick employees of big corps)

- What tech skills have you worked with that overlaps with this customer group?

Let's say you've worked on a few video platforms in the past so you know that space well, so you choose to help YouTubers.

5) What is the issue that we are solving?

Ok, so now we're helping YouTubers to either save 2-4+ hours a month or reduce costs by $200+ - for your $100 MRR product.

This is where we breakdown what it takes to run their business.

What stops them being more profitable?

What tasks do they do everyday?

What can be automated?

What do they hate doing in their business?

If you know this space even a little, you will have answers here.

Maybe video storage is a huge expense.

Perhaps running their community takes up too much time so they can't scale.

Is just publishing a video end to end super time consuming? Look at why.

If you don't know what matters to them, ask. Make a hypothesis and see if it's true.

In just a couple of DM's you might find that they spend a whole day a week on something repetitive. Or are spending money on something that you can optimize. Write a few possibilities down.

6) Make an offer

In just a day or two you can go from no idea, to identifying a significant pain point for a group of people that's easy to reach.

Now you consider a couple of small technical solutions for the problems you've found.

You go back to a couple of your ideal customers and make them a proposition.

Something like - "You said you spent X hours on this particular problem. If I built something to solve that, this week, would that be worth $100 to you?"

If it's a huge pain point they will bite your hand off. If you get weak responses - no worry, you've not built any code yet. You can use the conversation to get to a deal.

They might say it's worth less so you find out what features would be needed to make it worth the $100.

Maybe they suggest a different problem that is more urgent for them.

After a few conversations you should have at least a couple of paying customers and a clear solution.

8) Building

Now you know exactly what you need to build and have customers waiting. There is no excuse but to launch. This will help you focus on the truly essential code.

As you build, reach out to a few more potential customers. (we made sure they were easy to find earlier) Ask them if they have the same problem. Show them what you have.

Go through a few cycles of building and feedback. Make sure people are paying you what you set out in the beginning - or close to it.

Ask your starting customers for referrals. You'll reach your 10 customers with zero marketing spend.

You then have all of the elements needed to scale further if you wish!

Remember that code comes last in this method for a reason. Only build when you have paying customers.


I am taking a different approach and trying to eventually write an ebook after reading the book Authority. I tried coding a food app, but I found that finding product market fit takes too long in some cases.

This time around, I am trying to focus more on the marketing by using off the shelf systems and less on coding the site from hand.


a stalled project of mine, maybe you want to take over?: https://www.meinesz.de/automatische-nebenkostenabrechnung/


If you understand offset lithography, and ways to impose page sizes onto press sheets given a set of constraints, with the utlimate goal of minimizing expenditure - that'a a very difficutl problem to answer with real work appplications.


What software have you yourself paid for? Try making that. If you don't pay for software, what would entice you to pay? If you don't know you need to do market research into what other people do pay for...


One other idea is to find old desktop products in weird/small markets that are still selling, and make web apps to compete with those.


B2B might make sense but beware it needs more maintenance at some point.


I've seen a lot of people have good success with a side project they do called 'waiting tables' and they make a few extra hundred a month very consistently with little risk.


Very little retained value there. Short term


I have a couple ideas I could sell you.


Well you already let one loose. Sell your ideas!


That was a freebie. Just a taste.


How much for the rest?


One meeeelion dollars. But act today and get a 50% discount.


Can I get a few more 50% discounts stacked on top of that offer? I'd like 150% off, please.


How about I give you one of my ideas, and you give me 1% of the profit? Sell the my designs on thingiverse: https://www.thingiverse.com/ellisgl/designs




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