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Who is living off their startup fulltime?
254 points by webbruce on Nov 20, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 182 comments
I'm curious who is currently living off their startup? Self-sustaining or through funding? Also, if you are a link?

When I started out in 1999 my business partner and I took $1,200 and turned it into $1M (revenue) in 12 months...100% online sales. We started out buying 3 beat up laptops, fixing them and selling them. Within 6 months we were buying containers (semi-truck loads) of off-lease laptops and shipping up to 150 a day. 60-70% profit margins. We grew for a couple of years and then we ran into our first wall.

By 2003, our product commoditized and margins started shrinking fast. All of a sudden the used laptop business turned into the used VCR business. New laptops were cheap and our margins went from 60-70% to 5-10%. Our world was changing and we needed to pivot fast. We had to lay off our entire staff, sell our office building (yea, we bought our own office building) and start over...but not from scratch.

During the good times, we would always throw new ideas around. If we agreed that an idea was solid, we would build it out and let it sit on the back burner. When the time came, we were able to jump into a new project that was already setup and ready to go. We just needed to start executing.

Fast forward to today. Our website (services, subscriptions, advertising) currently does about $400k annually (up from $250k last year) with a substantial profit margin, zero debt and miles of growth in front of it. It has been WAY harder this time around, but we are building something much more substantial.

While my business partner and I whole-heartily believe we are about to enter a hockey stick phase of growth, we do have a couple of ideas built out and simmering on the back burner...just in case.

tl;dr I have been bootstrapping and making my living online since 1999.

Awesome! What is the site doing $400k annually?

Because I shared some sensitive data, it is probably a good idea to keep the name of our site to myself (for now).

yes please share that info with 1000's of would-be competitors with the right skill sets and entrepreneurial drive ;)

If having a niche is your main competitive advantage, I'm not sure success will last long anyway.

That's not necessarily the case. There are many niches that aren't obviously profitable. From the outside, it seems like they'd be a waste of time until someone discovers a way to make money with them.

also, certain niches may have limited time windows where it's relatively easier to make profits and/or there are no competitors active in it or only a few. after this window, profits are driven down to commodity levels and/or a large number of strong competitors enter the same space and bite off some percentage or all of the market that was previously yours

It'd be fun if, every once in a while, a post was just dropped on HN pointing out a time-limited niche as it begins. The result would be somewhere between a flash-mob and a gold-rush: hundreds of competitors popping into existence in the same space over the course of a weekend.

Of which very few would survive 2 years. :p

Part of the reason many niche markets exist is due to a need for domain knowledge, be it about the product itself, or the particular community you are servicing. I would argue that most niche players have either or both of these attributes, which allows them to hold their ground against would-be competitors.

If domain knowledge is the main barrier to entry, the competitive advantage is not the fact that it's a niche, but the fact that you know something that your competitors don't about that niche.

S3stat (http://www.s3stat.com) brings in enough to live on, and funded me while I was traveling last year and bootstrapping the next thing. It also has the advantage of pretty much running itself on autopilot, so I can sometimes go entire months without opening the IDE or doing anything beyond responding to the odd customer email.

I'd highly recommend building something like that (a low-maintenance income generating business) as opposed to the sort of zero income "shorten urls then tweet them from your location on your camera phone" thing that requires 14 billion users and a Google buyout before you see your first dime.

Could you talk about how you go about finding customers for the site?

Mostly it's word of mouth, SEO and the occasional writeup on Amazon's Web Services blog. And this:


It's a strange niche to be in because it's something people are looking for but there was basically nobody doing it when I started out. It goes squarely against the two most fundamental pieces of business advice you can get: "Never build a business based on a missing feature of a popular software product", and "If there's no competition in the space, be warned: there's probably no market there".

Evidently, there are actually a few good left ideas out there that nobody ever thought of doing before.

"Never build a business based on a missing feature of a popular software product"

First time I see this, is it really a fundamental piece of business advice?

It's something I've heard many times, and something that I agree with.

You want to build a business, not a feature. Unless you can come up with more features, it's difficult to grow the business.

Then of course there is the risk that your feature will come standard in the next version of "popular software product." If your audience is niche, then you are likely safe, but if your feature appeals to all users of the product, it's inevitable that it will eventually be included in a future version of the product. You end up doing the R&D for free.

I love how clean and concise this is. Also the great use of humor in the right places. The "Cheap Bastard Plan" idea is awesome.

I so very much agree with you. And once you make a small self sustaining site, you can then think of stuff that need not necessarily bring in money instantly but can be exciting to work on.

How well is the "Cheap Bastard Plan" working for you? ;)

"Copyright 2011"? Are you a time-traveler?

Maybe he is smart! He may be travelling for whole of 2011 after all :)

i dont get why people don't use copyright <?=date('Y')?> assuming they have access to a server side language

It's legally inaccurate?

what technology you are using for it - Ruby , Python etc,

As somebody else deduced, the public site is ASP.NET.

The heavy lifting is done in C# as well, on a pile of EC2 machines that gets spun up each night. Back before EC2 Windows instances came out, it was running under Mono, with the help of a bunch of Ruby scripts to handle everything that Mono let me down on (such as ALL the downloading, uploading, talking to webservices, etc. that require pieces of .NET that is hard to implement and non-sexy and thus didn't get implemented by the Mono team).

Now it's all C#, leveraging a half dozen Amazon Web Services and running on EC2 Windows instances.

It is clearly written in asp.net.


I have been living full time on this since I launched paid plans in May this year. My annual revenue goal was surpassed in first two months. But to be honest, I was very scared the week paid plans were launched. Thoughts of what if I don't even make equivalent to my previous salary haunted me (I had left my full time job 2 months before launching paid plans -- so my family and friends thought I was doing nothing for 2 full months). But, it has been profitable (touch wood!) and I am very happy about it. Been approached by investors a couple of times, but the revenue generated is good enough to expand the team by itself so I don't see a reason to take any outside investment.

But before getting to this point, I had toyed with numerous ideas and coded a bulky conversion optimization platform for more than a year. http://www.wingify.com/product/tour.php Showed it to patio11 and others who all said: "you know what it has to be simple". So, redone the whole thing and that's how Visual Website Optimizer came about to be.

I have been lucky to have learnt many great lessons: what to make, how to make and how to get covered in TechCrunch even if you are bootstrapped :)

Can you please share your learnings on how to get covered in TechCrunch if you are bootstrapped, I thought they only covered VC funded startups.


I quit my job in March, and could survive on my fairly modest revenues indefinitely. (I have done some consulting on the side in the interim, which is nice, because it means I don't have to make any hard choices like "Proceed at maximum speed on the business or go home for Christmas?")

The next product comes out at the end of November or thereabouts. I am cautiously optimistic. I haven't accepted any investment yet.

I was listening to your podcast yesterday at the office. Very insightful, especially the idea of launching the business in 8 days...

Hacker Monthly (http://hackermonthly.com), self-sustaining so far and doing everything to keep cost really low:

- Only 1 fulltime employee (um...me) + 3 remote freelancers.

- Works from home.

- Based in Penang island (somewhere between Bangkok and Singapore with its living cost much lower than both of them).

How's the Internet connection on Penang Island? I'm curious about how reliable it is in remote or developing places.

It's OK, could be better, used to be horrendous (do a search of "Streamyx Sucks" and you will get the idea).

Cool. And thanks for student subscription! https://hackermonthly.wufoo.com/forms/student-subscription-p...

wow!! I'm based in Penang island as well! What a small world!

And, Penang is a state in Malaysia. : ) Proud to be Malaysian.

Do you speak the local language? Malay?

Yes (along with Chinese and its dialects: cantonese & hokkien). The national language is Malay (Bahasa Melayu), but most people speaks English here.

Penang, beautiful island. I was there not too long ago. I would make the 12+ hr journey to return, just to taste the BBQ stingray again. Awesome!

In fact, all Malaysian speak Malay. It is a must-learn language in our public education system.

I am with my startup Codesketch (http://www.codesketch.com). We've been designing and coding apps (mostly iPhone, but some web apps too) for various companies. We are also working on some apps that we will sell directly to consumers on the App Store.

- 2 partners (one of them is me)

- 3 board member who contribute several hours a week gratis

I took some funding at the beginning, but we are now completely self-sustainable. We did this by being hungry. Our burn rate is incredibly low. Our downtown office we rent we got for next to nothing (thank God for karma). The only thing we splurged on is we bought the best tools for our employees. Getting married in 230 days also helps you to keep your foot on the gas.

It's been a lot of fun.

>> Our downtown office we rent we got for next to nothing (thank God for karma)

I'm curious to how you got a free office. Would you mind sharing?

Between high school and college I took a year off. I decided to spend 6 months in South Africa to help people help themselves out of poverty.

I did this by writing a curriculum that covered basic computer office skills. We got about 15 laptops donated from the states and began our mobile lab. Our first 2 class rounds were people that we hand picked to be teachers in later classes.

The next round of classes launched with the teachers that we just trained running the show (we still attended all of these sessions just to help out). The classes were self sustainable (teachers got paid a small amount from students, and the students were then committed to the program).

Jason (the guy who hooked me up with the downtown office) was a part of my team.

Moral of the story: Be nice and help people.

I created/run a couple web apps (http://w3counter.com http://w3roi.com and a few more). Everything is profitable and I've lived off it for the past 6 years. All bootstrapped, no outside funding.

Dan, I really admire your products and your business sense. Your post on "Step by step to launching a new product" is spot on. Keep up the good work!

Can you please share the URL for that post?


This is probably the most motivating thread I've read on hn.

I agree this thread rocks with real life stories...

The design of your sites is great. Do you outsource that?

Yeah, I have a designer I use on contract. I would give you his info but I have him booked solid for awhile. :)

Incredible, its really spartan and great design. Where would you recommend I start looking designers like that? 99designs? Any tips?

Awesome! AdZerk looks like a great product - great presentation at the Internet Summit Demo btw.

Thanks, I enjoyed your demo as well. Did you ever hear who won?

ParkWhiz (http://www.parkwhiz.com) is fully bootstrapped and paying full-time salaries to both founders. It took us 3 years of being ramen-profitable to get to that point, though.

What a great concept!

Congratulations guys

My wife and I were living on AgileZen (http://agilezen.com) before the company was acquired earlier this year.

There are so many project management apps. What made you choose this particular niche? How did you get your first customers?

Congrats. Your app looks beautiful.

haha. asked and answered.

Awesome. Congrats..

Forrst (http://forrst.com/) makes more than enough to cover all costs, including some of my salary. The rest comes from a seed round I took in March.

Seed round. You and your puns, Kyle. :)

I couldn't help it.

I'm a big Forrst fan, thanks for the site! It has become my new place to go for inspiration/motivation when I need it.

Now when do we find out what Acorns are for? ;)

I just signed up to try it out. May I have an invite?

Name: Eric Lavigne

Email: lavigne.eric@gmail.com

Twitter: ericlavigne

Something I made: https://github.com/ericlavigne/island-wari

I sent you one earlier, Eric. Happy to hear feedback at kyle AT forrst.com

Thank you so much. Means a lot to hear.

Acorns are currency.

One Day, One Job (http://www.onedayonejob.com/) is my startup, and it's just reached the point where it's covering all of my business and personal costs. The site, along with its sister site One Day, One Internship, help college students learn about interesting career opportunities.

Nearly 45% of this year's revenue has come from direct advertising.

Another 40% of the revenue comes from contextual job advertising which directs users to a private label job search engine.

About 10% comes from product sales (an online job search course), and the rest comes from various affiliate programs.

I've also been able to get some significant referral credits with a few online clothing retailers. That's enabled me to be well dressed, despite just scraping by for most of the year.

Left full time employment two years, was profitable within three months, now employ three full time staff and profits into seven figures. The best move I ever made.

"Shop More, Pay Less! Use a Promotional Codes every time you Buy Online."

is that an intentional mistake for SEO purposes?

Can you briefly comment on how revenues are earned?

Care to tell your story?

I have been thinking about telling it for while, I have considered starting a blog to help other start-ups especially people who are a little older and get caught in the full employment trap with the needto pay the mortgage. Also considereddoing a mixergy interview. But always go back to 'head down, work your arse off', there is always work to be done. One day, one day soon. I need to pay back to the community.

His site is in his profile. You can probably surmise at least a portion of his story from that.

NerdKits (http://www.nerdkits.com/). Started with roommate co-founder in senior year of college with $200 of parts, continued part-time while I still in school / doing Masters degree, and now full-time since graduation (almost a year and a half now). Profitable and a lot of fun.

Heh, I remember reading a shameless self-promotion post from you on Slashdot a few months back. Looks like things have turned out well, and I'm considering getting one myself. Nice work!

All my outgoings (including staff wages) are paid for by a number of small sites that I have run. They are quite diverse, but I love creating different things. Here's some of what we do:

www.sourceguardian.com - encryption software for PHP. Have been running this for around 10 years. This alone would be a very good 'wage' for someone

www.europeantenders.com. This provides leads for european government contracts

www.ukscrap.com. This is a referral site that we created for people who's car is 'end of life'.

www.rubyencoder.com. Similar to SourceGuardian. It's for encrypting Ruby source code. We had a need for this ourselves so created it

I run a few more also. I love the freedom that this has given me and the regular income allows me to play with what I'm interested in

Feel free to message me privately if you want any details or just some advice

Hi, sorry for the stupid question here but I'm a tech newby. But why would you want to encrypt php? I thought only the hosting server can view the actual code. Is it possible to view php scripts that are not executed through a browser?

ThatHigh.com pays my rent in SF.

Currently working on Djangy.com, hopefully that will "supplement" thathigh :-)

Can I buy you lunch in SF sometime? My email is rodguze@gmail.com

Would like to buy a banner spot for our hoodie site, because well, stoner's love hoodies.

Remember smokedot.org? Anyone?

how did you advertise ThatHigh?

Chalked the SHIT out of college campuses, basically IRL spammed as much as I could. Paid for some reddit advertising as well as StumbleUpon. That's pretty much it.

I got lucky with a good name and a ton of early exposure from college humor.

how many daily uniques do you receive? and what's your CPM?

I get about 10k and 15k uniques per day. I charge direct advertisers between $0.75 and $2 CPM. I fully realize this is a pretty low number (considering how targeted the audience is) but I've spent some time contacting businesses and the only companies that can afford to pay me can only afford $1 CPM rates.

I basically get around a million page views per month, which is the figure I use when I sell ad space.

How are you selling your ads? Do you have your own ad server? You should really check out isocket if you're interested cutting out all the logistical crap. Granted I'm biased as the sales guy, but seriously, you should check it out/email me (jason@isocket.com)

Were you at WePay's hackathon?

If so, I talked to you :-)

(I currently use Google DFP)

I haven't really been living off of my apps, but since I've been unemployed for the past 6 months with no other streams of income, I'll count them.

http://www.facebook.com/amznwishlist was pretty profitable up until about mid-October when Amazon decided to disable some of its Product Advertising API calls for getting Wish List data. If the app still worked and ran through the holidays, it probably would've paid for rent (and then some).

http://www.fatearthmedia.com/ - My browser extension for shopping sites is also profitable. If the Mozilla add-on policy was less strict about affiliates earnings, then it'd probably be paying for rent as well.

http://usabilityhub.com (including http://fivesecondtest.com) was originally a free app. We introduced subscriptions in August. It's now getting close to being able to support two of us full-time. At the moment, we're both still doing consultant work to fill the gaps. I would certainly think in the next 6-12 months it'll be covering both of us. We're entirely self-funded from 3 years of contracting/consulting.

If I have a tip for anyone, the consulting/startup pairing works wonderfully well....especially if you're in demand. I can turn paid work on and off as needed depending on what we're working on.

Toast,I am pretty decent at graphic/web design, but have trouble finding consulting work in order to make this work. Mind if I ask where do you look? Craigslist seems saturated, and elance seems too much of a hassle with outsourcing companies and others with years reputation on the site.

I'm a programmer (and in Australia), so maybe that makes it a bit easier.

I think it's mostly a case of knowing people. Nearly all of my work is from people who already knew me before they needed the work, or knew someone who I had previously done work for.

Referrals and recommendations are worth more than anything else, and people will pay more for someone they know will do a good job. My two current side projects are for an old client of a company I used to work for and had worked with previously (they referred me), and a friend of a friend of my father. Previous work has all been via referrals from friends or clients. Once you do a job for someone, give them a stack of business cards and ask them to refer you to others. If you've looked after them, they'll be more than happy to do it. Since starting my business 3.5 years ago, I've never once had to actually look for work.

I'd strongly avoid looking for work on any website, you end up competing on price, and that's no way to make a living.

Toast, great advice, thanks for sharing. How do you estimate how much to charge for a project? I'm more of a designer than a coder (though I can technically do both), and I'm always seeing price estimates all over the board on craigslist and other places. Any advice on this?

It's like anything. You get what you pay for.

If you're up against low price estimates, they're probably using templates, or reusing stuff they've already done for someone else or maybe even outsourcing it overseas. You can't compete with that when you're starting from scratch on your own time. You just have to accept that some people are cheap and won't pay your price. You should never do a job that loses you money just for the sake of winning the job.

Estimation on any project is a matter of breaking it down to the smallest components. Estimate each component with a high/low bracket (i.e. best case and worst case). Find the average, add some slippage (15%-20%) to allow for when you get it totally wrong, or to give you some room if the scope changes (and you want to be nice and not charge more), and you have your number.

Don't ever budge on your hours estimate.

If your client thinks it's too much you can do a % discount on the overall price, but you make sure they're aware that 200hrs is 200hrs. Too many clients think you can somehow build the exact some thing, but in less hours by "trying harder" or waving a magic wand. They'll ask why the guy on craigslist is cheaper, I'd suggest they give the guy a go and find out, and if they're not happy to give you a call back. It may help to ask them if they'd ask their surgeon for a discount :P

But seriously, give up on craigslist. The only people looking there are ones that are trying to save a buck. We've tried a few online "job markets" and found we were estimating $2000 for jobs others were quoting for under $500. A 15 page website in a day?? No thanks!

toast, again, great post and thanks for sharing.

http://ridewithgps.com/ is paying my "full-time" salary, which is barely ramen level. But, it's doing that right now in the off-season, off donations and a small licensing deal. Releasing premium features within the month, and negotiating a larger licensing deal right now. Then, I'll be up to spaghetti profitable :)

My part time app http://justunfollow.com rakes in wayyy more than my day job. I'll be doing the "obvious" in a few months time. The reason it's taking me long is the people I currently work with. They are all talented and something gives me a feeling I'll find a "co-founder" in one of my colleagues ;)

BTW, your app saved me a ton of effort. I spent a full afternoon wading through the API before I found your site, and at that point it was a no-brainer to pay the four or five bucks.

I'm so glad to know that :)

I've been working on CallGraph.Biz (http://callgraph.biz) and living off it for around two years now. The work's pretty hectic though and recently I hired two contractors in Phillipines to take the load off me. Work from home, live in Bangalore, India.

Living off iWantMyName (http://iwantmyname.com) – completely bootstrapped, enough to support 3 co-founders (including me) and we'll most likely start hiring next year. Fun times... :)

Reachoo (http://reachoo.com) is a video classifieds website (a craigslist and youtube's baby). It also aggregates ads and distribute ads. I'm a single female founder that started and self-funded the site since early 2009 . Reachoo went from being ramen-profitable to replacing my corporate income in the past 6 months. My site is reaching 1M unique pageviews/month

WOAH, awesome stats! I just bought http://www.clasificados.tv (Classifieds in spanish). Let's get in touch. my mail and gtalk is nicogarcia at gmail ;)

We are with Steam Clock Software (http://www.steamclocksw.com/). We're self-funded from day one and were profitable within three months.

We're doing iOS apps and consulting. Finding enough consulting to pay both the bills and the cost of developing our products has been straightforward. I've been working on product #2 this morning and having a lot of fun.

Quick recommendation for you. Google "sticky footer", it'll make your site look better. :)

Oh thanks, what a newbie mistake.

Checked out your iPhone DJ software; how do you handle interruptions due to incoming calls or text messages? Whenever someone is using their iPhone to DJ they always occasionally get messages or calls and the noise is played over the loudspeakers. Does the SDK provide a way to turn those off?

Good question. The only way to do it is to detect and encourage them to turn both Airplane Mode and Mute on. There's no way for an app to prevent incoming phone calls, which is probably a good thing. We've considered enforcing Airplane mode, but that would be really annoying if you're just testing the app out.

Airplane mode?

The iPhone has a mode which disables WIFI, GPS and the phone network.

The phone is still operational for all other tasks which is ideal for when you are on an airplane.

No, I know, I meant they should use it.

Disables all of the radios in the phone, and thus stops incoming messages

I am, but that's because our costs are incredibly low. I have a team of 3 with a monthly burn total of $1,000. We have our seed funding from i/o ventures. Company is called Skyara if you want to check it out.

$1,000 a month includes a team of 3?!?

thoughts on i/o ventures? email me if you'd like mjhunter at gmail

I'm currently floating on a pretty ridiculous niche website: http://www.snowboardsforwomen.com

I actually started it for my then girlfriend whom I wanted to go snowboarding with me by buying a board to guilt trip her into coming along. We couldn't find a place with a lot of women's snowboards so I pulled up some datafeeds and scraped them just for the women's boards, some friends asked for the list, I got lazy emailing everybody so I made a site, threw up the affiliate links for funsies, and actually started making some money.

It's a seasonal earner which I don't recommend to anyone because my winter makes or breaks my year. It helps a lot that I don't live in the Western world anymore which reduces my cost of living, but Shanghai is getting more expensive by the day so I'm working on other revenue streams.

Menuism (http://www.menuism.com/) - bootstrapped in 2006 and profitable for a few years now. 2 FT founders.

Who enters the menu data for the restaurant?

Users, owners or partners. We also aggregate online menus from around the web.

scribophile.com is paying my salary right now. Not as much as working as a developer at a big company, but enough to live, and I'm much happier :)

Completely bootstrapped. The only cash I put down was $100 for some small graphic design work, $500 for an initial Adwords campaign, and $20 for a server.

From what i get, is it more or less the same as http://page99test.com/ but with the whole texts?

Did the adwords campaing success?

Signal (http://www.signalhq.com) supports 13 including myself, co-founded in 2006. First few years as a founder we're incredibly tough (paid others but not ourselves), but we're doing great now.

I love the design - did you do it in-house?

Thanks - yep, design was done in-house by our design/UX director (http://www.signalhq.com/about-us/team/drew-myler). We're now focused on cleaning up our message so that you immediately know what the product does when hit the home page. I think a few walk through videos will be helpful, it's a great product.

I cofounded Nektra Advanced Computing (http://www.nektra.com) in 2003. It was self-sustaining after some months (we started while we were working on different organizations, and we quit our jobs after reducing the financial risk). We grew to 12 full time employees and found a niche that progressed to other lines of business. Our company was able to have some Fortune 500 customers and sell windows internals services to them. It was everything accomplished without a previous business network, just selling solutions via our web page.

I'd be interesting to look at these by category and/or business model.

* Sells advertising.

* Sells physical goods.

* Sells a software product.

* Sells a subscription to software.

... and so on and so forth.

Ramen Profitable off my several Websites. The big one that makes the most is http://utopiapimp.com (freemium), but several other websites I created are also helping out with the costs.

Others included: http://demotivatedposters.com http://itfeelslike.com http://drinkingfor.com

http://www.coolestfriends.com until about a week ago when the "New MySpace" launched.

Bootstrapped from day 1, I'm pleased to say Trafficspaces (http://www.trafficspaces.com) is now profitable enough to sustain operations without requiring additional capital.

I've learned five lessons.

1. Charge from day 1

2. Focus on business customers (the Average Selling Price is much higher)

3. Pump all your profits back into marketing.

4. Never stop innovating.

5. Put a phone number on your site (it does wonders for trust)

Making more than I did as a full-time system engineer. http://www.glasscodeinc.com based off IT services alone. Soon to invest the profits into some software for managing enterprise infrastructure and hopefully grow from there.

Your use of the word 'unfounded' in your front page copy is not correct.

I started out 6-8 months ago by reading through HN and being introduced to the entire idea of bootstrapping. We had an idea that was partly technical, but mostly good marketing (e.g. closer to the idea of the parrot book: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=516215)

In fact, there are sites that sell wholesale kits for the technical part of the company.

We didn't buy a kit though and took the high road of building all our software in house using hired talent. Most of the work was done through freelancers at under a $3000 budget. (We would not do this again, the code quality on first run was incredibly low and hiring better is definitely worth it).

Getting the marketing working took another few thousands, but all said and done, we got it running with under $10k investment.

What was especially hard for bootstrapping for me was that I'm not a very technical guy. Most bootstrapping ideas here require you to be the engineer, but I didn't have the privilege of that position. I had to pull off a Derek Siver (http://sivers.org/how2hire) to get the idea to work.

Now that it is running though, it's doing great. We're pulling in over $100k of profits on an annualized basis, enough to cover living costs and more for sure.

As an aside, the roadblock we're running into now is that user demands are outstripping my current system of hiring freelancers. I've posted another thread asking for hiring help if anyone has experience: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1932131

Anyway, it's been a really fun ride, and I want to tell everyone that it really can be done. Your idea needs to be creative, and you need to be in a space where bootstrapping is possible (e.g. NOT biotech). The biggest lesson is to have good judgment. While investors are often a burden, they add a lot of experience for real, and with bootstrapping, sometimes you're left completely on your own.

I make enough with MTH Software (http://www.mthbuilt.com) to not have a full time job. My sales are seasonal in nature, so I either need to scale down living expenses or to supplement with some consulting in the summer.

It's not my startup (I'm an employee, not a founder), but I'll put in a shout out for R Systems, a bootstrapped startup providing high-performance computing resources. (http://www.rsystemsinc.com/)

TinkerCAD (http://tinkercad.com). Self funded and in soon-alpha mode, 3 FT founders. Quit Google a few months ago after five great years at the place.

If you're self funded and not even launched yet you're not actually living off the business. I'm not having a go at you or anything, just saying thats what the question was.

You are obviously right. As per mkramlich definition the startup is currently living off us (given only founders have invested in the corp) and we will live off non founder investors before being in the black.

I initially hesitated to reply but as the original post did not differentiate between type of investor I assumed it would be acceptable. I stand corrected.

Please have a look at what we do at http://grabcad.com/ - may be there are some ways for future cooperation. We're based in Estonia, saw you guys are Finnish :) You can ping me at jk@kaljundi.com.

I cant wait to get my alpha invite for TinkerCAD!

OOOOHHH -- If tinker cad is like the Lego+Sketchup of CAD, then I am excited. Sounds great (based on what I can surmise from the pic and the name) -- hopefully it is easy enough to use that my 6 year old can use it too!

I signed up for info...

(Did you work on the SketchUp team at Google?)

Yes. Android app sales.

I own staffing/ consulting firm names http://www.Sohosquaresolutions.com. We are profitable from 1st years and mostly focused on financial firms in Tristate. We have solid revenues and many people working @ client sites. The business is totally self sustainable. Only time I spend is to grow the business in recruiting new people and identifying new clients.

While were not a "traditional" SaaS type of startup we've managed to turn bandsonabudget.com into a full time gig for myself, my partner, a full time employee, and a number of part timers. I supplement income w client development work and consulting but have been gradually phasing that out of the equation as we've grown... We have yet to take any funding and completely bootstrapped the company ourselves...

I am, sort of. But it was a huge step back money-wise.

I think there are differences between an "aspiring startup" i.e. self-employment, small business, cooperative etc. and a startup. To me you are running a startup when you are ready to take funding that will mainly be used for growth. People can of course call their businesses whatever they want, but using a term like "seed stage startup" would be helpful for clarity.

Why does being a startup have anything to do with taking external funding at any particular stage? I would say being a startup is more defined by whether you are at an early development and market research stage or whether you have an established, significantly profit-making product/service. How that early development and market research happens to be funded seems irrelevant.

I don't agree. Readiness for funding should not be a litmus test for whether a business is a "startup." There are plenty of startups that never need funding.

I think that if you want to differentiate between startups and self-employment, a good litmus test would be to ask yourself whether someone would potentially buy your business. If the answer is yes, then it means that there's something more than the income stream from an individual's labor.

I am. I don't know if I'm technically a startup; right now it's just me doing freelance iOS development, but it's paying the bills.

It's awesome when anyone can make a living doing what they choose. But for practical purposes, I think most people think of "living off their start-up" as making money from things other than an individual doing contracts/hourly work; in other words, a product or service that can scale in some sense. If you were making money by paying others to do the work, that would be a different story!

I actually agree, and i'm taking steps to make that happen and move from a freelancer to a sustainable boutique iOS development shop. That's more startup-y, right? :)

Only if you're building your own products that you can sell in a scalable way - not just becoming a larger consulting shop. That's not to say it isn't a good idea -- just that building a business is a little different in most people's mind than a "startup".

Really, the goal is both. Consulting is a much more reliable way to generate income in the iOS market, but the app store is steadier if you can get a good performer out there. I'm trying to use consulting (and grow the business that way in the short term) until I can get a serious product in the app store that can support the business.

In our case we were able to convince some of our clients to let us keep ownership of the iOS code developed for them as long as we didn't sell it to their local competition. We basically gave them a license to do whatever they wanted with the code while we kept all ownership/IP/ability to create a product with it.

After 5 months developing a fairly complex iOS app for a local cable company (think i.TV + Netflix like vod recommendations) it sure feels that we have created some value as we can go out and create spinoffs or repackage the same solution to other (non local) cable providers.

we're hiring, shoot over details of your experience with iOS dev if you're interested. http://www.fiplab.com

Teambox maintains a small team of us fairly well (5 programmers, 2 people on sales and marketing). We're now relying on some more freelancers and looking at ways to handle the increasing workload.

It's been close to one year since the first people jumped in full-time besides myself, and we've been funded to get the product and early revenues on track.

Do any of the operators of the sites mentioned here need design or logo work? I'm revamping my portfolio page and wanted to offer it to hacker news entrepreneurs. My about section has my old portfolio page, I've also done some work for hacker news entrepreneurs already, so you can email me if you want to see the absolute latest.

It's enormously motivating to read about all these startup stories, really gives me energy to start coding :-)

Also I find it a lot of fun to check out the different startup websites mentioned, because you know a bit of background info.

Thanks all for sharing!

http://www.supersaas.com Doing exceedingly well, thank you, and growing like mad still. (no funding needed, cash positive from day one)

http://autolicio.us --> Bootstrapped company making me a few $. Enough $ for ramen, unfortunately not enough to pay the mortgage.

I am, but I'm taking my bare-minimum salary at this point (thank god for my lovely wife). We're actually doing quite well money-wise, but I just keep reinvesting everything we make.

I would appreciate more information! Thanks.

Yes, full time with iPhone apps, including SimplyTweet (app store link: http://motionobj.com/simplytweet$).

I don't think a 14 year old web business counts as a startup... but it's paying the bills. I only returned to it 4 years ago after an long um 'sabbatical'.

http://prixfeed.com/ just makes some beer money - but it's ok for a single short PHP script..

Living full time off 2 startups, but they are 6 and 2 years old so I'm not sure if they still qualify as "startups".

Not sure if "children" and "child support" qualify either! :-)

What doesn't count as a startup? Bill Gates is still living off his.

We've just reached ramen break even, 2 years after seed funding.

ditoweb.com has been paying my bills for the last couple years. we are a google apps partner/service provider with a growing staff of 16.

bloobox.com.br - still a local/national business, still to be launched worldwide

already making enough revenue to keep us up, though (3 people total)

I am living off http://www.AwesomenessReminders.com and http://www.CustomerFind.com. For AwesomenessReminders, you can use the referral code HACKERNEWS to save money.

Awesomeness Reminders is hilarious. Wish I had known of the referral code, but regardless, it was money well spent!

Glad to hear it was a dose of awesome!

What percentage of your income is coming from CustomerFind? Just curious, because it seems like a really lean startup.

CustomerFind (http://www.CustomerFind.com) is built around an idea: enter in keywords, then get notified about who is mentioning them on Facebook & Twitter. Then you get a neat way of replying to those people, in case you have a targeted solution to their problems. A small number of people pay for the software, perhaps because it is poorly marketed, or perhaps because there is a lot of competition in the social media monitoring space. Most people just use it for the email report functionality.

However, most people don't take full advantage of the powerful software I built. One entrepreneur was savvy enough to realize that I had something powerful on my hands, and now he's paying me handsomely to manage and grow his Facebook and Twitter profiles. I use CustomerFind to find people (targeted by geography and keywords) who might be interested in his services, and then one of my employees sends them a personalized direct message to start building the relationship. It's like SalesForce but for Social Media. I'm excited for what the future holds there...

Would you like to buy SuckinessReminders.com from me for a very reasonable price? ;)

No, thank you though

living off your startup: it has revenue, it's being used to cover all it's own costs, including paying you some money which you are then using for food, shelter, utilities, etc.

startup living off you: it's costs are being paid out of an account that you personally funded. it is not in the black yet.

you/startup living off investors: it's costs (including possibly paying you a "salary" of some kind) come out of an account which was funded by investors -- other people's money, not from you and not from customers

I am, along with my cofounder and a dozen employees.

It's been 5 years though, so I'm not sure one could easily qualify us as a startup any longer.

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