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[flagged] I Hit $115k/Month with a Status Quo Improvement (indiehackers.com)
407 points by JamesIH 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 273 comments



This product lets people send up to 10,000 emails[1] at once to a cold list of contacts (ie, not opted in). Let's not kid ourselves: The use case is spamming.

The reason it's making $115k/month is because most other ESPs (Mailchimp, etc) don't allow spamming, so spammers flock to (and pay for!) products that look the other way.

To the creator: Good on you for creating a successful business. I hope you take these resources and do something positive for the world.

[1] https://www.gmass.co/blog/you-can-now-send-10000-emails-with...


> to the creator: Good on you for creating a successful business. I hope you take these resources and do something positive for the world.

Not good on him. It's an immoral business. I don't see why the hn community would endorse this just because it makes money.

If the emails were also a tool for privacy, decentralisation or some good objective behind it, i could see the pros and cons. But here it's all pros for him, and all cons for the rest of the world.


Also, shame on Indie Hackers for choosing to promote this.


Like any community, the SV startup community falls for clickbait, and given the upvotes here it certainly drove traffic both to the IH site and to the topic company's site.


Yup! You would be surprised to see how many do vote or even comment without reading an article.


That can be perfectly valid.

I always check comments before reading unless it's a topic or site I generally trust. I end up reading things I wouldn't have from title alone, and not bothering with a lot of others.

e.g. In arriving in this topic I clearly see I dislike the spam business model, the method, and have no reason at all to read the article.

Yet I just commented and upvoted you, and flagged the submission. :p


You appear to be ignorant (meaning lacking of information, not 'stupid') of the history of social networks in the bay area:

Friendster

Hi5

Tagged

FB

MySpace <-- LA

All about email lists and spam.

ALL of them.

All of them did shady things, founded by spammers, etc...


Yeah, but philosophically, what if he takes that immorally gained money, and does 10x the good? Is that immorally gained money immoral anymore?


> Is that immorally gained money immoral anymore?

Yes.


No.


Why would you put the original comment as a question if you're being rhetorical and it's obvious people disagree with you?



There's a reason we don't use the research from Josef Mengele.


There is, but it's largely that his "research" was unscientific crap.

The US readily gave the equally brutal Japanese Unit 731 physicians immunity in exchange for their human experiment data on bioweapons.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731#American_grant_of_imm...


Was unaware of Unit 731, thank you for the knowledge!


We use plenty of research from Nazi scientists, that's actually a horrible example, lol.


Maybe


This is Hackernews, as in whites, blacks, and gray hats.

Some people here make money through cool silicon valley startups that make for great success porn but don't forget that some people here also make money doing shady or even downright illegal things.

What we have in common in this community is our technology interests, not our morals or values. If you accept this fact, you can open your mind up to some great content and conversations.


I mean no one likes spam.. it's adding negative value to anyone other than lining spammers pockets

That's not something I see celebrated on hn not sure what you mean


> some people here also make money doing shady or even downright illegal things.

No thanks.


You're thinking of Crackers.

Hackers are people who create things.

http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html


Words mean what the majority of people take them to mean. The fight for Hacker vs Cracker was lost well before the turn of the millennia.


What? No, words mean different things in different contexts. For example, to most people a "graph" means a thing with an x and y axis, but to computer scientists it means a thing with nodes and edges.

So yeah, in certain contexts hacker means someone who breaks into computers. In the context of this site (and MIT culture where the term came from) it means someone who draws on their creativity to make something cool.


A niche population vs the general population. When paths cross, who wins? For matters of communication, usually the general population.


The fight happened on multiple fronts. Yes, it was lost on cnn.com, but it wasn’t lost in the comment section of HN.


Do you mean to imply that prescriptivists are completely illegitimate?


I'm laughing at thinking about how "CrackerNews" might sound somewhat hilariously off color.


you crack me up ;-)


I'm not thinking of crackers.

Hackers do create things. Sometimes malicious things and sometimes things that offer no real benefit to society, but things all the same. In this definition you have to take the good with the bad.


The actual definition is in the dictionary and this is how it would be described in a legal sense as well.

hack·er

1.a person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data. INFORMAL an enthusiastic and skillful computer programmer or user.


I would reverse those as to which one is formal and which is informal.


What year were you born? Because it's pretty clear there must be a generation of programmers who never grew up with the whole hacker mythos of the 90s or early 2000s. Some people's only experience with the word "hacker" is a person who makes cool nice things with code.

There was a time many ages ago when the word "hacker" was reserved only for the most dangerous and reckless breed of computer programmers.


I think you might have your timelines a bit reversed.

Afaik: From the 1960s to early-80s, it meant someone who creates. From the mid-80s to mid-00s, it meant someone who breaks into systems (driven by media reporting on FBI prosecution of the first network-enabled cyber crimes). From the mid-00s to now, it seems to be turning the corner again (co-mingled with the rise of maker culture).


Are you saying you've never received any benefit from an email you received that was part of a campaign? Like a discount to your favorite store? Not all uses are commercial, either. We have teachers who use it to communicate with all the parents of their students. A tennis club that emails out the week's upcoming schedule to all players. An HOA communicating with its residents.


It's a spam tool, plain and simple. The relevancy of that spam is entirely besides the point.

Once this app becomes large enough to get on Google's radar it'll likely be shut down.

The makers of spam tools often make lots of money in the beginning (e.g., XRumer blog spam), but once they get big, adjustments are made (e.g., CAPTCHA for blog spam) and the tools become ineffective/useless.


And some people really do buy health insurance from spam phone calls.

That doesn't make it not spam. Spam provides an overall negative value to my life, even if an individual message could conceivably be useful.


Your use cases sound very much like opt-in (and low volume) mailing lists, not cold list of contacts without opt in.


Please post your personnal email address in the next comment, so I submit it to a few campaigns. I'm sure you'll find benefit in some of them, and some might be even legit like your home town council shedule.


ajay AT wordzen DOT com


I like how you obscured your email address from scrapers in replying to someone so that they could explicitly submit it to spam lists...


I can’t see wait for someone to put his email everywhere. “Did you mean ajay@...”


Looks like someone has a lot of free time on his hands. I've received 4 emails I didn't sign up for in the last couple minutes. https://www.dropbox.com/s/j8e0qpvnzn23opg/Screenshot%202019-...


Case in point.


Not from me. My comment was tongue in chick, I'm not going to practice what I just criticized.

Which make it even more ironical.


This is a pointless straw man argument


I just always love rising to these de-anonymization bluffs: dimino@gmail.com.

Let's put that good ol' spam filter to the test! I even operate under Inbox Zero, so rest assured I'll deal with every email the supposed mob is going to send me.


You're claiming that is the majority of your use?

If it's an HOA or small mailing list (obviously without DOI), then what is your click tracking functionality for? (I mean, the question answers itself...)


Sure, I get a lot of value from those emails. But I'd prefer the company that is sending them to be paying for the right to do so, and not circumventing the restrictions of a free email service.

I have no doubt Google will discover this and block the service, and we'll all be better off for it.


Literally? I don't think so, no.


You're confusing a couple of issues. It's not that we're looking the other way. It's that I wanted to design a system where we don't have to look at all. GMass doesn't actually send any emails through its own servers. Emails are sent either through users' own Gmail accounts or through a third party SMTP service like SendGrid. Those actual email server operators (Gmail or SendGrid) have pretty sophisticated systems to detect spammers. THEY will shut down a user's account before I could ever even notice it. I don't have to look, because the owner of the email server will do the monitoring.


> Those actual email server operators (Gmail or SendGrid) have pretty sophisticated systems to detect spammers.

Yes, and your product helps spammers bypass those detection systems. You even explain it in the post I linked:

> GMass will automatically send 500 emails/day or 2,000 emails/day if your email campaign has more than 500 or 2,000 recipients, respectively. You can also control, however, how many go out per day with the new Spread out setting under the GMass Settings arrow. If left blank, GMass will use 500 (regular Gmail) or 2,000 (G Suite) automatically, but you can override this by setting your own value.

And...

> It's not that we're looking the other way... we don't have to look at all.

That is what the phrase means.


The text you're quoting has to do with how we distribute volume, NOT how we enable spammers. High volume campaigns does not equate to spamming. You can send a 10-email campaign that IS spam and a 10,000-email campaign that is NOT spam.


I hate this argument. People always resort to this type of argument when they want to divert responsibility. Have you ever heard of how the environment enables certain behaviors?

Supporting a system where people can mass-send emails = enabling spam.

How absurd will you extend this argument? "Oh, yeah, 99% of my customers are spammers, but I'm not the one making them click send! They could've just paid, twiddled their thumbs and not do anything with my product!"


This is effectively structuring for email. Would it be immoral to sell a system that allows people to bypass money laundering restrictions by automating structuring? I don't see how this is any different.


Structuring email isn’t illegal.


If you found most of the campaigns fell in to the spam category would you shut down the business?

Maybe that's a convenient reason not to check.


> High volume campaigns does not equate to spamming

In what instances is high volume not spam when using this service? Given one legitimate use case where a customer isn't better off using a cheap MailChimp account.


I used to run ops for a mailing list with over 1 million subscribers (all double-opt-in — perhaps you should google that?).

We never had to bother avoiding any of the measures you deliberately subvert, because our mail was all legitimate.

Granted, doing a 'mail run' with that volume took about a week, but whatever.

If your (client's) recipients aren't all double-opt in, then what you're running could very easily be seen as irresponsible (and that's me being polite), no matter how much money it's making.


It is a spam tool plain & simple. Stop defending yourself and keep counting your money instead. Congratulations on your financial success.


I don't see how any of the citations you've presented incriminate GMass in helping spammers bypass their detection systems.

And the phrase "It's not that we're looking the other way... we don't have to look at all" simply means he's delegating spam detection to the Gmail/SendGrid platforms instead.


"(Gmail or SendGrid) have pretty sophisticated systems to detect spammers"

Yes, but, the evil genius of the idea is that the email will be from a gmail domain. Emails from gmail to gmail with your own 5 year old account will have a ridiculous conversion rate. In my tests with email, if the email is from the actual gmail domain other carriers TRUST it more. Spam systems rely heavily on DNS/IPaddresses -- and this bypasses all that.

I feel for the smaller email providers. Gmail wont be able to patch this anytime soon, thus, the smaller ESPs without resources will have to change their rules to make the gmail domain less trusted.


I don't know about other servers, but on the systems I manage gmail itself is the #1 spam source since 3 years at the very least. If you look at my previous posts, I commented on this two days ago.

There's literally _Zero_ value in DNSBL/DKIM/SPF because of this. Email sent from reputable sources is actually _more_ likely to be spam than small mail servers.

Content-based filters are the only thing that work against this sort of spam.


Following your logic, his idea wouldn't work, and he doesn't make 115k a month. But, clearly, it does [if he isn't lying] - so I am not following.


I'm not contradicting his assertions. I actually confirm them: there is now a lot of spam coming from gmail. He's clearly one of the reasons.


You are correct. :)


I feel uneasy with your reaction.

Maybe reducing the max number of recipients to the hundreds would help reduce the chance for abuse while still keeping your core customer base happy? It might also reduce the risk of getting booted off the Chrome Store.


You're assuming their "core customer base" aren't spammers.


Google keeps the number pretty low (2000 daily recipients per GSuite user. Less for gmail?)

True spammers are sending spam to many orders of magnitude more recipients. They are not going to use this tool.


My reaction was simply validating that sending from-gmail to-gmail has high open/conversion rates, as the poster stated. However, you can only do this with a limited number of emails (500/day for Gmail or 2,000/day for G Suite). That's not to say that Google will let ANYTHING be sent between Gmail and G Suite accounts. There are lots of cases where Gmail has blocked its own users from sending to each other.


From your documentation:

>We recommend that an unsubscribe link be added to all mass emails containing promotional or marketing content, but the decision is up to you.

An unsubscribe link is a requirement of the CAN-SPAM Act and the GDPR. Your own docs effectively say "We advise you not to use our product to break federal and EU law, but the decision is up to you". I can't speak for anyone else, but that doesn't really accord with my sense of ethics.

https://www.gmass.co/blog/unsubscribe-link/


Technically CAN-SPAM does not require an unsubscribe link. It requires providing instructions to be removed. That could be using the text, "reply back with the word 'unsubscribe'". We put the burden of legal compliance on our users, and the tradeoff is complete control over your message content.


That's like saying a cigarette company saying "We're not the reason lung cancer exists. We just create them, and if people choose to smoke it, that's their decision!".

Which is fine, but admit you have an immoral business, and are just doing this for lots of money. Don't justify anything.


It'd be more like a gas station saying that, not the cigarette company saying that.


I mean they’re not wrong... it’s like the hospital refusing to help you give birth because having another child will worsen the ecological catastrophe on Earth. That’s ridiculous. Ultimately, the decision is yours, as it should be.


If there are no people left on earth, who are we preventing the catastrophe for?


Aka I’m going to assume no liability


Huh. Does it matter if you shoot someone with a gun labeled "Gmail" vs. one named "SendGrid"?


Depends on sendgrid's perceived customer base.

To answer your analogy with another analogy: If you're gonna get in a shootout under questionable circumstances you'd be well advised not to pick the hundred dollar hi-point as your weapon of choice.


"I Hit $115k/Month with a Gmail Span Cannon" might not have produced the levels of engagement he was looking for.


Just FYI, I didn't come up with the title for the interview. The editors at IH did.


Does that comment means you would you be ok with the "spam canon" one too?


Reminds me of a HN story awhile back from a guy who built a business with eye-popping revenue. The article was cagey about what the product was - some kind of imported good.

Turns out it was counterfeit watches. Ugh.


I guess this product is targetted to very small shops. It’s pretty usual to have the optin in a pc/pos without any email capability.


Even YCcompanies sell your info for marketing.

https://www.reddit.com/r/stocks/comments/ao8gav/carta_spread...


This will be a pretty short-lived business once the spam traps detect what's happening.


Not only is it a spam tool, but this post is an advertisement for his spam tool.


I'm glad it wasn't just me being sick and my mind muddled that was making me raise an eyebrow as I was reading his description.


If that were my service, I'd be pretty embarrassed by the number of unhappy users who have commented on the blog posts about cancellation[1] and refunds[2]. Doesn't seem like a good look.

[1] https://www.gmass.co/blog/how-to-cancel-your-paid-gmail-mail...

[2] https://www.gmass.co/blog/request-a-refund/


> You clicked the wrong button. Please re-read the instructions.

Probably not the best customer response I've seen from someone doing customer service.

As a learning lesson for others out there with a SaaS service. If you cannot have a phone number for support, absolutely provide a clear and easy to find email address for support. The people who tend to be the most likely to not understand the cancellation process, or have other similar issues, have a large intersection with the people who will have difficulty contacting you via something other than phone or email.


Agreed. I was arrogant in some of my blog post comments. I've changed my tune since then. For me, gaining confidence in my product and gaining traction turned me into a more customer-service friendly person.


I was just giving you a tough time there with that. We've all been there. I certainly have.

Customer service is always full of challenges and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about things you've learned and changed since then to make support more streamlined. It tends to be one of the earliest scaling challenges new companies face.


I like your admittance to prior arrogance instead of doubling down.


>> You clicked the wrong button. Please re-read the instructions.

> Probably not the best customer response I've seen from someone doing customer service.

Right. It may be perfectly accurate, but it doesn't come across as at all sympathetic or helpful -- especially to an already-frustrated user. I also suspect a good number of those users are not native English speakers, making the (lengthy) instructions even more likely to be a source of confusion.


If you don’t have support@ as an email address that actually reads the inbound messages you’re doing it wrong. Ditto for billing@, legal@, dmca@, and shibboleet@ (unpublished of course).


It's not something I'm proud of, but I'm not embarrassed by it either. The upset commenters are the minority of our users. Some parts of our UI are a little difficult -- most commands have to be done via the Gmail Compose window, because we want the entire experience to be inside Gmail. That workflow is unnatural for some.


I hear you, except you don’t address the refunds and cancellations concerns. I now have a habit of only using software that makes refunds and cancellations pain free. I shouldn’t have to email you to cancel, this is just creating a false barrier to make your users life more difficult so maybe they won’t cancel and you can get another charge out of them. The fact that you believe this impacts a small minority of users and your overall response to this is very disconcerting. This impacts all of your users, only some of them are complaining. I also guarantee that you aren’t reaching your full potential because people are reading those comments and not signing up in the first place.


Cancellation is instant and doesn't require an email being sent. You'll see that in the post.

You may be right. A better solution might be to build an external UI for account management, but I've shied away from that, wanting to keep everything inside Gmail. Maybe in the future though.


I think you should have the email set up not to bounce and cancel accounts sent to that address just as readily as you cancel when they press the magic button. A lot of headaches and bad will considering anyone can cancel with their credit card and you might get screwed by your payment processor.


It might help to separate out business functions from the product itself.

From your comment on the blog: > Like I’ve explained above, cancel@gmass.co is not an email address.

To the average user, it certainly looks like an email address. Maybe just have it act like a normal email and list it under the support section of your website: https://www.gmass.co/#contact


Still, given the number of people who seem to be having trouble with it, maybe it'd be worth re-thinking that design?


Given the number of people that (reportedly) paying for it, maybe it's good enough.


Making it difficult to cancel is not a good way to keep churn down. It's going to come back and bite him if that's the way it still works. His customers are clearly telling him the current system is broken.


What about the upset users who just don't publicly comment? Just because you don't hear about it doesn't mean users are happy with it.


Great story, thanks for sharing.


ajaygoel you are an inspiration! Thanks for sharing your story!


About 90% of the complaints there seem to be from users who have obviously not read the instructions in the linked page. About 10% seem to be from users who are being charged after cancellation which is a bit worrying.


Users not reading the instructions... what a world.

Also I find it helpful when dealing with users to mentally replace users with people or humans, users sounds like someone with a drug addiction, they are people each of which is different and has their own priorities - genuine empathy goes a long way with people, treating them as interchangeable blobs not so much.


Sounds like you could use some empathy towards people with drug addictions.


I'm sure he's happy to have made $115k in a month and he doesn't really care about anything else.


If that were my service, I'd be pretty embarrassed by the number of unhappy users who have commented on the blog posts about cancellation[1] and refunds[2]. Doesn't seem like a good look.

And if my business was turning over $115k/Month I'm not sure I would let that keep me awake at night.


> Most successful businesses aren't based on revolutionary ideas, but rather improvements to the status quo. The media tends to focus on the revolutionary ideas, so it's easy to think that an idea isn't worth pursuing if it's not groundbreaking. But in my case, email marketing had been around forever when I started GMass but I found an unfulfilled niche and built a business out of it.

This is a really great paragraph. I think the part that I get hung up on is right at the end - how does one actually go about finding an unfulfilled niche? It seems like they are kind of difficult to find almost by virtue of them being unfulfilled.


It's difficult to go looking for niches without guidance or some direction on what to look for. And when you do find the online ones, you may find that it's hard to shake the incumbents loose because (a) the niche is tiny and (b) the market is already satisfied with the current producers.

The niches I have found always come by accident: "hey, we notice you have this product that's close to what we need. Can you build us a version that does xxx" where xxx is some trivial change that results in a product I can sell to others in that niche. Or "we know this has to be possible and it shouldn't be difficult, but we don't have the skills do it. We'll buy xx units if you can build it for us."

The second-order problem is that often even if you know the need exists and you have a customer, without good knowledge of the domain, it can be hard to figure out how to reach other customers (they may not be online much) and make more sales.

I had a site that would consistently rank in the top 5-10 for google queries, yet I had fewer than 10 hits/day for those queries.

Another issue I've come across is that when you're approached by someone with a specific need, it can be hard to decide if you've found a new niche or just a custom design for one customer.

None of this is to suggest that you shouldn't try, but that it can be harder than it seems at first glance.


>It's difficult to go looking for niches without guidance or some direction on what to look for. And when you do find the online ones, you may find that it's hard to shake the incumbents loose because (a) the niche is tiny and (b) the market is already satisfied with the current producers.

Still much much easier than finding a 1 in million unicorn idea and getting VC and getting users.

Judging from number of successful companies in both categories, it's several orders of magnitude easier (which is obvious).


This particular product is pretty easy to think of if you have a little bit of experience with marketing.

What it does is add a common feature found in marketing automation/CRM systems to Gmail, a massively used platform.

It essentially unbundled a feature from a specialized product and made it available as on add-on on a prosumer product.

If you look at large platforms like Gmail, you can probably find isomorphic ideas.


I've heard one of the best ways is to work at a company for awhile and identifying what they have problems with.


Another neat approach is to use Google auto complete to help. If you are a Excel wizard, type "I wish Excel could..." and let Google complete the rest. You might find some interesting use cases that people are searching for.


I tried letting Google complete that for me and it didn't offer a single completion. Go figure. A great general approach, though.

After sorting through a bunch of junk about making an Excel wish list, here are some pages about suggested Excel improvements:

https://www.thespreadsheetguru.com/blog/excel-weaknesses-a-w...

https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/msoffice/forum/all/excel...


You don't even have to be an Excel wizard. Just a competent Excel user.

A previous company I worked at made YouTube videos for content marketing purposes. For some reason that no one could explain by the time I started there, the first couple videos in the account were random, basic Excel tutorials. Nothing fancy. Just things like using the Cell Formatting dropdown or doing a VLOOKUP.

Those videos were 5+ years old by the time I left. And in their worst week, a single one of those Excel videos got more views than the entire view count of every non-Excel video combined. It was crazy.


Another similar approach is to see what crazy process they're trying to jam into Excel or Google Sheets, and then you can build a more tailored app for that process, ideally if other businesses could benefit from it.

Edit: I should've read giarc's comment below! We're essentially saying the same thing.


If you roll around in enough problems you'll eventually find one that's not solved properly and yet is fairly prevalent.


In the successful businesses I know, finding that niche was often 1-2 years of exploration/iteration, where the final result looks vastly different from the initial hypothesis.


This is also something I struggle with.

I think that they are incredibly difficult to find and most people (me included) can't identify "problems" in their day to day that could be improved by something - in hindsight - relatively simple.

I'm constantly asking myself: where are the pain-points in my daily interactions with computers/software etc.

So far there's nothing and I know that can't be true.


A big part of this is when you work on computers / with software all day, you're looking for pain points in the same place that most other developers are looking. There is certainly room for improvements in this market but it's generally much more saturated than others. (Hence the common advice to go work or talk with people out of the industry for awhile.)

Otherwise the best advice I'd give for finding problems is to start making a log of every time you get annoyed or frustrated at something. Your package didn't get delivered on time, you realize you have no milk when you're in the middle of cooking a meal, a driver on the highway is endangering people, your phone is too big for your pocket, radio stations all seem to play commercials at the exact same time, your home ran out of heating oil and no one will deliver until Monday, your hard drive failed and you realized your backup program wasn't including a new folder of vacation photos, even though you make an appointment at the barber/doctor every time you show up on time you show up you still wait 15-20 minutes, there's no Mexican restaurants that deliver to your house, you never know how your child is doing in school until they get their report card at the end of the semester.

There are dozens of tiny annoyances that we run into every day. Some have easy solutions, some less so, but they're there if you know what to look for.


That's because thinking of it in terms of pain point isn't necessarily helpful, since people have different "pain tolerance" when it comes to technology.

Try to think of it in terms of outcomes.

What are you trying to do with computers/software, and how could the outcome be massively improved/democratized?


Im a bit jealous of people building a billion dollar business that solves a problem that could literally be solved in ten minutes. The business are rarely about a better solution, its more about a better business model and better marketing!


Better marketing sometimes is the better business model.

Can you do basic scripting? Can you do advanced scripting, with such revolutionary capabilities as calling out to external APIs for stuff like OCR?

Then rejoice! As you have the potential to make your very own billion dollar business[1]! Just leverage those skills for process automation, market it as "software robots", leverage the existing perception of "robot replaces human" to make the recurring $10k/year cost for your automation script seem like a steal compared to the labor costs of a human, and through in some AI references for a bonus multiplier on your valuation potential.

Process improvement and automation has been a thing for ages. Marketing it as "software robots" is much newer. Turns out that particular phrase resonates really well with the target market.

[1] https://outline.com/zHrZ4A


You really need all three. A product and market fit (cost/market). The product could be nothing but the marketing never is.


Have you ever used a product recommended thinking it's going to work a certain way and it works completely differently and it was not nearly as intuitive or helpful as you thought? Take those experiences and apply them to your own version of the product. See where it goes. Talk to people in various niche sectors: Librarians, movie ticketing, museums, etc. whatever. Ask them if the software they use has problems that are not being fixed or if they software has changed over the last 10-20 years. Most likely there is and nobody has taken the time to figure out how compete in that area and then like start from square one and build something good/modern/fast to use for the folks that need it.

I'm kind of talking out of my ass because I've never built a business but I've seen some terrible software that people are forced to use and been in many company-specific or industry-specific situations so I have buttloads of ideas. Most of my ideas come from hearing those pain-points or having my own pain points and searching for the right software and not being able to find it (or not finding what I need because I don't know the right way to look for it, which is another thing that should be a thing which is like, how do you figure out what kind of product you actually need?)


Unfortunately the problem with the kind of niches you're talking about there is that the buyers of the software rarely have to actually use it which leads to the terrible situations of the users.


> how does one actually go about finding an unfulfilled niche?

Start with things you already have some domain knowledge of (better even, try to find unrelated things you know about that overlap in interesting ways and where few people have domain knowledge of both) ;

find what problems/frustrations practitioners in that field have and do your best to solve one of them in a very immediate, low cost of adoption way;

fail fast .


I cannot wrap my mind around why growth hacking/analytics tools make such profitable businesses. They don't add any actual value to society, so it doesn't make sense that they should be profitable at all. All they do is deceive people into thinking that a low quality product is actually good (and distract them away from better alternatives). Why is it that so many profitable businesses these days add 0 or negative value to society?

It seems that the best way to make money for yourself these days is by destroying value; by obfuscating facts, masquerading, deceiving, pretending, laundering, coercing, manipulating, diverting attention, saturating the media, manufacturing hype...


> In Bullshit Jobs, American anthropologist David Graeber posits that the productivity benefits of automation have not led to a 15-hour workweek, as predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, but instead to "bullshit jobs": "a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case."


Adding "actual value to society" is a very vague term and very prone to opinion.

Adding value to a business process is much easier to define.


>> Adding value to a business process is much easier to define.

But the effects of a business process on society are really important.

Money is a social contract which is universal and fungible. It was designed to be a measure of the value that an individual brings to society and which that individual can redeem from society.

If we lose sight of that fact and focus only on thinking about individual business processes in isolation, then the economy will lose its substance; it will be all smokes and mirrors; and everyone on the planet will end up wasting their lives working on one silly trend after another instead of helping to make actual, lasting progress.


You make a good point, and a lot of sense, but also a very abstract point. While I agree, it's good to think about business processes in a macro sense, most of the time that won't solve the problem of where you can add value.


Because you are making a ton of assumptions. I'm sure there are some spammers using this service. But I'm sure there are lots of legitimate users too.


If people value what is popular then the art of making things (appear) popular will always be in demand. Many things can be simultaneously valuable and "bad".

> They don't add any actual value to society, so it doesn't make sense that they should be profitable at all... Why is it that so many profitable businesses these days add 0 or negative value to society?

This is a contradiction. If it is profitable, then it is creating value. Society (or anyone) is allowed to value things you think are bad.


No. If something is profitable, it moves value into someone's pockets. Bank robberies, advertising/spam and nigerian scams are all profitable but create no value.


I know it's cool to hate on advertising these days, but (un)fortunately advertising does create value -- it connects people to products they didn't know they could buy or wanted to buy. People are consumers, whether we like it or not, and they enjoy consuming things. If people didn't click ads, then it would eventually not be a thing.


If advertising created value, people would seek out ads. They might even pay for them. In reality, they block them.

> People are consumers, whether we like it or not, and they enjoy consuming things.

Making people want to consume things is the point of advertising. Looks like it works.

Most people's consumption is not limited by how many things they are "connected" to, but by money. Exposing someone to stuff they can't afford won't make them happier.

> If people didn't click ads, then it would eventually not be a thing.

If people didn't use heroin, then it would eventually not be a thing.


> If advertising created value, people would seek out ads.

Yes, they click them.

> In reality, they block them.

Some do. Others click them.

> Making people want to consume things is the point of advertising. Looks like it works.

Yes! It does work, but don't forget everyone has their own agency. No one is forcing you to click ads. But people still do -- it's almost as if they get value out of it. Otherwise, why would they click them?


>> If advertising created value, people would seek out ads.

> Yes, they click them.

Those are completely different things. Ads do their harm by being displayed.

> No one is forcing you to click ads.

People are forcing me (or try to force me) to look and and listen to ads. That's the problem.


> Ads do their harm by being displayed.

Do you have any research to back this up? If someone owns real estate, they can put whatever they want on it. If it's a billboard with an ad, and you don't like ads, then that's a personal problem. I too had this problem, and I used an ad-blocker. Some people don't have this problem, and they don't use ad-blockers.


> Do you have any research to back this up?

Now I know you are not arguing in good faith. Asking for citations about things that are obvious is a classic shill tactic. I will not let you waste my time.

> If someone owns real estate, they can put whatever they want on it.

And that's derailing. Whether someone is legally allowed to show ads is not even the topic.


Huh. I guess I'm a shill now, which sucks because I'm not getting paid for this! I've made plenty of "anti-advertising" comments in the past if you go through my comment history, so your theory that I'm a shill is weak and seems to be a superficial attack on my character rather than a well-researched observation. I guess there's not much I can do other than continue explaining the same thing in different ways, hoping one of these ways sticks for anyone who is reading this thread and is still confused:

If people click ads, then people get value out of them, otherwise those ad-clicking people wouldn't be clicking ads. When people do literally anything voluntarily, it's presumably because they get value out of it. The fact that <div>s are rendered with ads in them is a problem between you and the website you are voluntarily going to. You may use an ad-blocker if you don't like some of those website's <div>s. Not everyone uses an ad-blocker. If you think everyone uses an ad-blocker, you are mistaken, but you can continue believing that and you can continue being confused as to why advertising creates value.


If someone voluntarily exposes themselves to ads, then yes, those ads are probably valuable. But that does not happen. Ads are not on separate websites, where people that are interested in them can voluntarily look at them.

Instead, websites try to force people to look at ads by embedding them with useful content, by blocking or bypassing ad blockers. They charge people for avoiding ads.

I'm sure there are instances where people voluntarily and intentionally expose themselves to ads. But those are rare, the vast majority of ads are forced upon people because they provide negative value. (Not blocking ads is not necessarily a choice, but the absence of a choice)


> ...websites try to force people to look at ads... They charge people for avoiding ads.

Do you know how the web works? When you go to a website, you are making a request to someone else's servers. If you don't like what they are serving, then stop going there. Vote with your attention. I have stopped visiting places like BusinessInsider due to their adblock-block and free-quota walls. They no longer get traffic from me.

> If someone voluntarily exposes themselves to ads, then yes, those ads are probably valuable. But that does not happen.

It does happen, it's called "coupons". There are plenty of coupon aggregators that people use all the time: RetailMeNot, Groupon, Ebates, Slickdeals.


> Do you know how the web works? When you go to a website, you are making a request to someone else's servers. If you don't like what they are serving, then stop going there. Vote with your attention. I have stopped visiting places like Businessesider due to their adblock-block and free-quota walls. They no longer get traffic from me.

Trying != succeeding. If someone applies force, it rarely means you cannot choose not to comply. But you'll suffer from the consequences.

> It does happen, it's called "coupons".

Not really. The value of coupons is that you get discounts, not that they advertise something. Classifieds are a better example.

(Arguably we would better off if coupons did not exist and companies just set proper prices to begin with, but that's beside the point)

Either way, even if valuable ads exist, advertising as a whole still destroys value because the vast majority of ads are destructive.


Except for Microsoft and Facebook all the email newsletters/new product announcements/whatever actually add value to my life since I actually find them interesting or I'd click the unsubscribe link.

With Microsoft I try to get them to stop sending emails but it seems to not even be possible without some sort of advanced MSDN certification.

With Facebook they seem to come up with some new opt-out classification every time they get some bad press and start filling up my inbox with stuff I couldn't care less about.


Growth hacking and marketing are all about targeting the right products to the right potential customers. So as tools they are fine and add value to society, because without them product discovery would be less efficient, and there would be more big companies keeping their claim and less chance for indie hackers. Some people may use them to promote bad products, but I would argue that those businesses are the problem, not the tools.


The positive value-added is well captured (through sales conversions), while the negative value isn't. The annoyance of the sendee isn't expressed as a charge to the sender. So it's a net-positive for the sender, even if it's a net-negative for everyone involved. It's a tough problem to solve the general case, even if some specific cases have been (mostly) solved (eg: some types of pollution).


I think it's related to the old "in a gold rush, sell the shovels" adage. And these are often phantom shovels.


Unfortunately adding value to society isn't very correlated to profitability. The most extreme example I can think of is selling heroin.


In today's world, a status quo improvement is revolutionary, because the default is for everyone to seek to create nothing but revolutionary products.

In other words, you might say OP is disrupting the disruption industry.


Not to mention a lot of disruptive ideas are poorly executed leading to wonderful headlines but sub-par products/assets.


Funny, I don't see similar moral outrage at talented engineers working in Facebook and Google, doing no evil. (I do see such outrage at the companies themselves - but rarely at the developers working for them).

Yes, these companies do make useful products. But they have real negative effects on the world, which would have been better off if all those engineers had made these products for companies other than these lobbyist, competition-stifling, aggressive monopolies.

There's no real moral difference between selling your talents to the highest bidder and this specific case of running a spam service to make money.


Really? It seems moral outrage against engineers working at Facebook and Google has been pretty popular for the last ten years. First it was because they are displacing long term residents in places like San Francisco, and now it's because they are responsible for building giant surveillance machines.


There’s far more respect among the tech community for the (truly!) talented engineers working in these companies than there is moral outrage.


For one thing, facilitating spam is some distance further down on the benefits to harms scale than facilitating Facebook or Google. Google, especially, has created a enormous amount of value, and continues to do so^; spam, not so much.

^Which isn't to say that it's perfect, of course. Or even necessarily a net good, although my personal belief in the case of Google is that it still is.


> facilitating spam is some distance further down on the benefits to harms scale than facilitating Facebook or Google

So... Facilitating spam is worse than facilitating censorship in China?


Is an arms manufacturer at fault when there's war?

China is always going to censor. Google facilitating it or not make no difference. Might as well make the money, and also hope to influence the system from a position of power rather than a position of weakness (i.e, not involved at all)


Spam is always going to exist. Might as well facilitate, make money, and try to influence the system from a position of power?


That's like saying theft will always exist, so you might as well go steal things. Tools like this actively add to the quantity of spam out there, making it worse for everyone.


the analogy isn't to do stealing, it's to make lockpicks.


Although this spamblaster is terrible, I consider Instagram to be a clear net negative for humanity. It has almost no redeeming traits, it just makes people insecure, envious and wastes their time.


I can tell you it's a net positive in my life. I rarely use facebook proper, but I quite enjoy instagram. I keep it to a small number of actual friends (I think I have about 20 contacts, or whatever they're called on Instagram.) And I enjoy opening it and seeing what they're up to once or twice a day.


I think you and I are the very, VERY small minority. I muted everyone I didn't care about too, and it works for me, but young people especially are very affected by it.


Yes there is. And it's obvious.


I'm happy for people who find personal success according to their own value system, but my personal measure of self wouldn't increase if I spent my days expanding the amount of email advertising in the world.


You can do it like a lot of philanthropists. First make your money through cut throat business tactics and then become well-respected by giving away some of your money.


This seems like a serious violation of gmail TOS and am surprised gmail isn't shutting down your customers and banning your extensions


Having a look at some comments in the linked pages (further above) it seems like people get regularly banned by GMail for using this spam service.


And when they get banned they have trouble cancelling their subscription, which is tied to their email account. Apparently to cancel you have to use the plug in from your email account. I think we figured out where a lot of the $115k/mo is coming from. Wouldn't be surprised to see some legal push back.


Why would one use the same email to sign up, and to send spam?!


Because that is how this works. There is so much wrong about this service, this is just another tip of the iceberg.


> I was so excited to have a working version to play with that I paid the freelancer $5,000 dollars to build the backend that I needed under the condition that he delivered his part within seven days, which he did.

> All of this happened while I was living out of a hotel room in Oahu, Hawaii. My then-girlfriend was getting her yoga certification there, and the program lasted a month.

Ah, if only we all used our hotel room in Oahu for a month, and $5k to drop on some developer to help! We could be building status quo improvements.

Seriously though, that just comes off as completely out of touch with reality to me, or some weird "humble brag". Most of us probably have day jobs. Not all of us are probably lucky enough to be in a regulatory environment where moonlighting is protected. But by the time I get home, more software is almost always the last thing I want to do. Mostly, I want to sleep, or eat. Or recover.

By the time my mind recovers enough to think about coding something that appeals to me, it's Monday again.

But perhaps I'm just not the type of person that'll ever get $115k/mo.


Umm... I don't think he's insinuating that this is what it took to make it happen, but rather that's just how it played out in his case. I view it as him just being transparent. Maybe a humble brag but is that really a bad thing?

Plenty of IndieHackers get their product out as a side hustle after work; it just takes luck and patience since progress will be slower.


This is a good story, but I'm surprised Google allowed this extension to exist, especially if it's true that it was widely used by spammers.


All the extension does is provide a conduit between the Gmail UI and the Gmail API, really. Google's systems for detecting spammers are pretty good, so they're more likely to shut down a spamming account rather than my extension.


Hey everyone - someone just alerted me to this post. I'm Ajay, the person interviewed in that article. Let me go through now and respond to people's comments.


Maybe I'm cynical, but I have a hard time believing that the brand new user JamesIH created three hours ago whose only submission or comment is posting a link to your indiehackers page, and then you, a relatively savvy SEO person from skimming the article, suddenly show up because you were "alerted" to the post, when the post has a specific link to HN in its sidebar. My guess is that the simplest explanation is probably the right one: you created the JamesIH account, posted the link to your content, then were "alerted" to the post to post here and help give it traction. A better story than posting it yourself to be sure, but also kinda scammy.


Please don't post like this to Hacker News. It's really easy to convince yourself that you've uncovered a sinister plot that simply must be true—everything adds up! and then it's hard not to come out blasting. But because you're working with incomplete information, most of the time it's just not true—and the people on the receiving end of the blast are as human as you are, and basically it just really sucks. This is covered by the site guideline that asks: "Assume good faith." (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html)

Sure, a small portion of the time, you guessed right and your suspicions were correct. But the upside of being right isn't worth the downside of being wrong. Statistically speaking, it poisons the commons, even though your intention was to protect it.


Dang! The was a very even-handed correction.

You are exceedingly good at your job :)!


Well, that was nice of you. It's mostly just a lot of practice, but there's an interesting part too, which is learning to observe one's own reactions so one doesn't unconsciously just feed them back to the other. Slow process.


I run all of the content for Indie Hackers, and I recently hired James as our new managing editor for text-based interviews and a couple other content series. He is not Ajay Goel.


Okay.


I absolutely did not create the JamesIH account. I have no idea who that is. From the "IH" part of it, I'm guessing someone that has something to do with Indie Hackers.


Given that it's perfectly fine to just post it yourself, and that you only really get one shot at making the front page, I personally don't really have a problem with people trying to find the right way to do these kinds of submissions, even if it feels a little gamey. Would be nicer if the community didn't take itself so seriously, but that's the world we live in.


> Maybe I'm cynical

Confirmed.


I don't see anything wrong with posting your own content as long as it's not all you post. Way better and more honest than using a sock puppet.


I would like to not have to have a monthly subsription model to every gosh darn interesting service.

How about "Try us unlimited for $10" for X days.

For example - I have a campaign I would like to send out. to >2,000 addresses... I'd like to try that for $10 and not have a subscription...


Companies have every incentive to create recurring revenue. Wall Street these days is all about repeat business, from Tech to Industrials to residential services like security cameras and alarms.

Some companies like Adobe were extremely successful in changing their business model to that end, so investors expect all other companies to follow suit and severely punish those who don't


I get that.

But what you're missing from my comment is that companies all think to themselves "Well cmon - $X/month isnt that much money"

But also forget about subscription fatigue, as well as the fact that a company/individual might want/need >a dozen "subscription" services to accomplish what they want. So if you're paying ~$10 to $20 per month for every thing you need....

Thats a lot.

What we should have is a subscription hub - where all these startups can place their services and with a single account - I can click the services I want access to.

Eliminate payments across thousands of little subscription startups, allow me one account, one dashboard, one resource to find all the various tools... let me see results and reviews from users etc...

All in one place.

So - who is going to apply to YC with this for 2019?


What sort of monthly subscription fee would you be willing to pay for a subscription hub? :-)


First thing you should do when thinking about a new idea is to research if it already exists. Spoiler: there are tons of services doing that.

With that said, the fact that you were not aware means they are all failing at reaching their target market.


> But what you're missing from my comment is that companies all think to themselves "Well cmon - $X/month isnt that much money"

> But also forget about subscription fatigue, as well as the fact that a company/individual might want/need >a dozen "subscription" services to accomplish what they want. So if you're paying ~$10 to $20 per month for every thing you need....

I would imagine these companies run the numbers on how many people think "$x/month isn't that much money", how long people stick around on average and then optimize for maximum average revenue per user (ARPU).

Though your perspective is entirely valid – and I am not disputing any of your arguments – from the company's perspective, there are probably enough people that don't feel like you on the margin so they can optimize for them instead at the expense of potentially alienating you.

I don't disagree that a centralized hub for handling subscriptions should exist. I'll go even further and wager that your bank will ultimately provide some variation of this service so that you can easily tell apart recurring subscriptions from one-off purchases. At least that's what I would do if I were appointed CEO of Wells Fargo tomorrow


This subscription hub you talk about is kind of like what setapp is doing (except it's just one flat fee). They have a couple pieces of software that I'd normally be paying for separately but the single 9.99 subscription ends up working out better for me.


We have that, it's the internet and a credit card. You sit in one chair with one mouse looking at one screen and pick the services you want and it's all transacted on one monthly card statement.


> I'd like to try that for $10 and not have a subscription...

$25 prepaid credit cards are pretty hard to keep billing after the first monthly bill and you spend the rest at McDonalds (which is awesome for that but they look at you kind of funny if there's only 35 cents left on the card).


Some kind of federated payment model would be nice too


Yes, some kind of JPM coin :P -- joke


> Also, I sleep with a CPAP machine, and I've found that it's enabled me to get by with only five to six hours of sleep, allowing me to be productive during most of my waking hours. Before my CPAP, I was sleeping 9-10 hours a day just to feel normal. It's weird, but my CPAP machine has been the biggest contributor to my productivity gains in the last few years.

This is my first time hearing about CPAP. Has anyone else tried this?


CPAP is a machine that forces continuous air through your nose via a mask. When you have sleep apnea, you're actually not breathing, thus, wake up during the night. The CPAP machine keeps the air moving, thus, you don't wake up.

I have _mild_ sleep apnea (you go through tests for diagnosis). With a CPAP machine, I've been able to add a solid hour per night of sleep, from about 6.5 hours to 7 .5-8, with it being continuous. Ergo, I don't make the "midnight trip to pee" with it on. With it off, I snore loudly, and wake up at least 1-2 times during the night.

It's possible that Ajay here actually has worse apnea, and the "9-10" hours from before was actually spent waking up, then trying to get back to sleep. Thus, the "6 hours" is just purely continuous sleep, instead of hours of tossing and turning.

Sleep apnea tests are comfortable take home tests. You basically just wear a couple of sensors for a night. If you're not prone to apnea, don't bother with a CPAP. It's not cheap, and some people can't get used to putting the mask on.


Do you have any recommendation for an at-home test? I've considered doing a lab study, but at-home sounds much better. I didn't realize that was an option.



This is where things get really complicated. The output data of these tests are typically for a specialist to interpret, I'm not aware of "consumer" tests that break down things like "here's here you flipped over to your side" and "this is when you woke up". Specialists can interpret this, and can read past how you might adjust results yourself.

What gets covered by insurance and what doesn't is specific to your situation (what state/country you live in, etc). I just requested it with my primary care physician, who set up the consultation with a sleep center. Because my case isn't considered "problematic", it really helped to have a specialist request the CPAP, because otherwise, I'm pretty sure insurance wouldn't foot the bill. (I might add this is insane, because I'm sure I've added years to my life with the improved sleep. That's healthcare in the US for you.)

My impression is that the kind of tests is up to the sleep specialist to kind of figure out. The take home thing is much cheaper so I think they'll probably go that route first. I do note that they deal with a wide array of problems, like narcolepsy, sleep walking, night terrors, etc., and that's where I think you'll end up in a monitored hotel room.


Your local sleep doctor can evaluate your sleep apnea risk factors and prescribe a take-home test. Should be covered under insurance.

I think you can DIY with a cheap pulse oximeter, but I'm certainly not qualified to say how to interpret the results.


My knowledge of this is little more than yours, but my understanding is most people use CPAP machines to cure sleep apnea (extreme snoring basically). I've never heard of someone using one as a sort of sleep-hack. I imagine the machine is fairly uncomfortable? Would be curious to hear more about this.


I assumed that the OP was saying as they'd mitigated the effects of their apnea they now managed on only 6hrs of sleep instead of 10 [ie 6h of good sleep is enough, 10h of poor sleep was what they were getting before].


Just to note, there are two kinds of sleep apnea.

The one you typically hear about that presents with extreme snoring is obstructive sleep apnea. It's pretty much as the name implies: sleep apnea caused by an obstruction. Your body tries to breath, but for a variety of potential reasons, your airway is obstructed. The snoring is your body's attempt at overcoming the obstruction.

Then there's central sleep apnea. With central sleep apnea, there's no obstruction blocking airflow. Your central nervous system just periodically... decides not to breath. Doesn't even attempt to contract the muscles necessary to intake or expel air. Then at some point, it... decides to start back up. There's no snoring or other loud noises involved like there is with obstructive sleep apnea.

They're both sleep apnea, and both have the same impact on the body if left untreated, but they present in almost complete opposite manners. Obstructive sleep apnea is loud because your body is trying real hard to do it's job. Central sleep apnea is generally pretty quiet, because its the absence of your body doing it's job. It just decided to take a little breather from it's typical life-sustaining duties, then (hopefully) after a ~10-30 second break it gets back to doing what it's supposed to do. The loudest you might hear is a bit of deep, heavy, or irregular breathing as it handles the backlog of oxygen needs that built up while it was on break.

I spent years being misdiagnosed with stuff like depression and hypertension, because I'm pretty much the exact opposite of someone at risk of obstructive sleep apnea (don't snore, not overweight, not old). It took paying for a home sleep test out of pocket and giving my physician the results before I finally got any traction from a doctor to explore that route. Turns out I have central sleep apnea, and treating that has been revolutionary on my life. I don't sleep through alarms anymore, I'm learning to love waking up early, I'm not mentally and physically drained at the end of the work day, and all kinds of little things.

You can order a home sleep test online for $150. And if you have an FSA, you can use your FSA dollars on it without even having to go through a doctor. If you're constantly dragging ass during the day, have a wonky sleep cycle, wake up randomly at night, or just happen to be curious. At that price, it's well worth taking a sleep test just to rule it out as a cause.


Sleep apnea is actually much more than just snoring. It's actually a period of time during sleep where the person stops breathing.


It helps if you have sleep apnea. If you don't have sleep apnea, I'm unsure you're going to see cognitive or productivity gains, as your brain is already getting enough O2 during sleep.

EDIT: Now if you could find a drug that promoted the ability to more rapidly clear waste using cerebrospinal fluid while you sleep, that'd be a possible route to still maintaining high levels of wakeful productivity with limited sleep (without causing harm later in life).


Right, I do have moderate-to-severe apnea, which is why I use the machine. But still, going from 10-11 hours/night to 5-6 and feeling great has been a big productivity booster.


If you have sleep apnea it's useful.


As one of the founders of Streak and someone who helped build the InboxSDK this is so cool to see. Congrats to Ajay!


Hi Omar! I'm eternally grateful to you, Chris, Aleem, and the entire InboxSDK team.


An $8,000 a month AWS bill is surprisingly high for this service.



So roughly $1300 in bandwidth, possibly could cut some there by putting Cloudflare in front of static assets, but no idea how much of that is from static vs dynamic assets.

Most of the compute cost ($2400) goes to an m4.xlarge and an m5.2xlarge. That could be reduced by using reserved instances - but there's other gotchas there if you're likely to change that anytime soon. Google cloud is much nicer in this regard with the auto discounts for continuous usage.

The provisioned IO for EBS $2500 makes me sick, but may be necessary to get adequate performance.

Honestly you could move everything onto two dedicated servers (one as a hot backup) and cut this down to $1000/month and get better performance. But that's the AWS tax.

I use AWS all the time for work, but I would never build my own business on it.


I agree with most of this. Some ways to save money are

1) Switch to the newest instance families

2) Save up the cash then reserve your instances.

3) Don't bother with the provisioned iops volume type, just use GP2 volumes large enough to give you the baseline IOPS you need

4) In general you have more block storage and snapshots than I'd expect, maybe that can be cut back?


the benefit is outsourcing operations. If he used dedicated instances he'd need to manage his SQL server, disks, deal with hardware failures...etc.

7k$/month is cheaper than hiring an additional head.


I don't think of RDS as zero-maintenance, but I'll agree it's probably less. You get different and arguably more complex problems under load with things like EBS performance. I'd rather have local disks which are simple for me to understand and debug.

Basically, with his skillset, maybe it makes sense. With my skillset I'd rather have the hassles with the dedicated setup.


I'm not sure I agree, now I have no clue where he's from, but assuming he would save 7k a month that'd be 84k a year.

Obviously there's other overhead/costs involved, but surely he could find somebody for 60k+ a year (I make less then that at my current development job but I'm from Michigan)?


That single person you are paying a sub-par wage won't be providing 24/7/365 support, which is a big benefit of AWS / cloud providers. It's also a bit of insurance on your hardware in case of failures, free replacement. Finally, if something catastrophic was to happen, with a recent-ish offsite backup it's usually pretty trivial to setup on a different region or even cloud provider. With your own hardware, that's a bit harder.

I agree though with one of the parents, AWS costs here can likely be significantly reduced. I cut costs in half by (a) reserving instances and (b) thinking about EBS and downgrading / downsizing where possible rather than using the defaults.


Could save (edit: not $3600) $1873 per month by using Linux instead of Windows. I see you are using SQL server, probably C# for the code, might be worth looking into running it with Mono.


That's more than he spends on EC2 servers entirely. So your math is off by at least an order of magnitude.


To the downvoter, your math sucks too!


The article says he's tracking when recipients open emails and click links. So for every email one of his users sends there's some potential network traffic and data to be stored. He was probably able to offer the service for free originally because those features weren't added until after the subscription service launched. His AWS bill before adding those features was probably a few hundred dollars per month at the most. He also mentioned he is financially secure from selling a previous spam tool he created, so he could afford to run it for free for a while.


Open/click tracking doesn't add much in terms of cost. That traffic is minor. The bulk of the traffic is the transmission of the emails.


I'm confused. In another comment you said "GMass doesn't actually send any emails through its own servers."

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19211369


Let me clarify. GMass doesn't send any email, but we do have to transmit the email to someone that does send it, hence the bandwidth costs.


If it's client side, where does this communication happen?


It composes, personalizes, and "clicks" the send button. Google/gmail actually sends the email.


He makes it sound like that is all handled client side though, no? It uses the users own gmail account to send the emails.


No it's not all client side. Just the interaction with the UI is client-side. All the heavy lifting is server-side.


I am sorry if this sounds dense: But if you are sending the emails from server side, how are you getting to the user credentials / gmail login 2 step verifications etc.?

I am assuming you mean you send from the client UI but the extension talks to your server for scheduling the future sends etc. in which case you shouldn't have that much network bandwidth.


The user logs into his Gmail account on his own and uses the GMass extension, which operates within the Gmail UI, to create/schedule campaigns. On the back-end, GMass connects to the user's account over standard Google OAuth 2 to then send the emails.


Well I should have thought of Google apps . Good stuff!


Yeah, I think you should be able to get that under a $1000 without trying too hard. But at $130K/month revenue, it's hardly a priority.


$1000? $5 should be enough.


How do you figure? What do you think a system like this entails?


I didn't read thoroughly, but why does it need to run on AWS? Does the plugin send requests to a back end server and the server send the mass emails out?

My naive thought is that some frontend JS (without the help of a backend server) would be able to accomplish some of the features.


Just spitballing, but he mentions working around gmail hanging for minutes when sending thousands of emails somewhere, so I presume he's storing the addresses on a server and looping through them in gmail in bite sized chunks.


I thought so as well. But, if he's okay with it and the numbers pencil out well, there's not a lot of reason to improve it: probably better ROIs elsewhere.


I had the same thought and I'm curious how he was paying the AWS bill before making this a subscription service.


Most products really do not need to be revolutionary, and very few are.

Markets are unimaginably large and complex, and they're always changing. Sometimes even the most basic feature can divide huge portions of markets.


Indeed. But knowing how to market to the right audience is very important.

There are so many good X (where X can be anything from a potato peeler that doesn't clog to a fantastic musician that you've never heard of or even a software service you need).

I'm definitely in the camp that sees needs and pain points and solves them, but doesn't know how to market...


I am really happy with his success. He is a classic case of blowing his own trumpet in world chasing next unicorn.

One question though. If he is enabling his users to send mass emails using Google's infrastructure. Doesn't this violates Google TOC?


> Doesn't this violates Google TOC?

Users risk having their account locked if they send too many emails (mine was for 1 day)


This is impressive but I’m surprised he thinks it’s possible to build a personal legacy from an email tool like this. Almost all web software is transient and will be forgotten in a few years. Certainly not the stuff of “legacy after I’m gone.” Even mega apps like Facebook or Instagram will likely be long forgotten before their founders die.


What makes you think FB and Instagram will be forgotten? They are billiondollar companies


Billion dollar companies come and go like dust in the wind, especially in something as fickle and quickly evolving as the internet. I’d estimate roughly 0% chance your grandkids will have heard of either of these companies.


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