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Ask HN: What is your money-making side project outside programming?
1134 points by napolux on April 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 717 comments
Always wondered this. Sometimes I feel the need to do something else outside my field, and possibly get some money out of it.

Breville coffee grinders are impossible to get internal parts for. I designed a 3D printed upgrade for the main wear-part in their BCG800XL and BCG600SIL Grinders.

The storefront is through ShapeWays[1] and I use iFixit[2],[3] to drive the traffic. It passively makes enough to cover my own coffee needs forever. I spend about 20 minutes per month fielding questions. This all happened because my grinder failed and I could not get parts.

[1] https://www.shapeways.com/product/NASLAGCCP/breville-coffee-...

[2] https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/BCG800XL+Grinder+Jamming+due+to...

[3] https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/BCG600SIL+Dose+Control+Pro+Coff...

My wife bought your part and it worked perfectly. She was really happy when she found it. Thanks for making this part available.

This makes my day. Full circle to Hacker News. Enjoy your espresso.

I have no need for your parts, but cheers for keeping a line of products out of landfill for a little while longer.

I use a super cheap hand grinder I bought off amazon (the stainless steel one that there are 100 different variations of on amazon). There is a plastic part that breaks after about 6 months of usage. Someone modeled and uploaded a replacement piece to Thingiverse. The grinder is cheap enough that it is disposable, but since it is so easy to print a replacement piece with my $179 3D printer, I haven’t needed to throw it away. I hope that at some point 3D printing becomes more accessible and affordable, and with more materials, that more and more products are repaired instead of replaced.

Anecodte: Bought an old one for my aunt, but it was dirty and rusty. Polished it, but I just learned some parts might be Cadmium coated. What a bore.

Out of curiosity and ignorance, why is cadmium significant?

It's quite toxic. It causes cancer among other problems. A lot of things used to be Cadmium plated because it's an excellent rustproofer. Some things in the aerospace world still are, because for some things, the safety risk from corrosion outweighs the health risk.

It's not a great idea to grind or sand Cadmium plated items, because it kicks the Cd into a fine dust that you will inhale and will be absorbed into your system.

So far I only brushed it, and am not sure my model is Cd plated or not but well. The more you dig into materials, the more you realize you were handling toxic things all the time without knowing it.

My father-in-law as a kid used to go to the junkyard and break open thermometers and dump the mercury out into his hand. Seems like he did it a lot. Dunno if he ever suffered any health consequences because of it; but, you know, he didn't know any better. He just thought it was neat.

Your father-in-law wasn’t in any great deal of danger. Thermometers used elemental mercury, meaning pure mercury that hasn’t reacted with anything. The only real risk from elemental mercury is that it has a low vapor pressure, and can therefore be inhaled, which can be dangerous. Since your FIL was outdoors, the risk of vaporization was high, but risk of inhaling a concentrated amount was low. Had be been doing this in, say, a tool shed, then the danger would have been much greater.

The kind of mercury you hear about that is incredibly toxic and can absorb through your skin are actually mercury salts (ethyl mercury, methyl mercury, etc.) and aren’t as likely to be found.

The other day i accidentally broke a magnetron ceramic heatsink. I knew of the potential toxicity (disassembled a dozen so far) but this time i fucked up. Cue 3 days of ventilation and cm by cm wet cleaning.

Metal on metal knee and hip joints replacements contain cadmium. It can ruin your life. If you want to see a good documentary about problems with modern medical devices, check http://bleedingedgedoc.com/

Who you mind sharing what printer make and model you are using?

Another random datapoint. I have been using a Monoprice MP Select Mini V2 [1] for a couple years (similar price point) and am extremely pleased. After leveling the bed the first time I've done no maintenance and it seems to print when asked with no trouble. I typically use it not at all for a few months, then up to multiple times a day when working on something.

[1] https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=15365

I've helped a friend with this one (I have a MP Select V2 full size), and I can tell you the thing is a workhorse. Pretty sure he has it running 5 days a week with 5-7 hour prints per day. He keeps the moving parts lubricated but that's about it. Just set him up with Octoprint to make the loading and monitoring easier.

Creality Ender-3, ordered from Banggood.

I recently ordered a part for my daughters dresser drawer - the Kenlin Rite-TrackII, and paid $12 for four including shipping. 6 to 7 years ago I paid $68 for a single part. To my surprise when I opened my recent plastic mailer envelope, I discovered it was a 3D printed piece. Any idea how one can 3d scan a part for exact copy?

They make full on 3d scanners but most parts do not need "3d scanning" so much as they need a few minutes in the hand of someone with a caliper and a sketch pad.

The field of photogrammetry deals with taking multiple photos of something to create a 3d model. There is free software for consumers that can do this. But there are a lot of limitations and currently the traditional way of making a CAD model more or less by hand is almost always faster/cheaper and more accurate.

Never did it, but in Windows 10 you can is Kinect to 3d scan an item, it's on the Todo project list...

There are a few services including Autodesk ReCap which you can give a number of high quality photos and a 3D model will be produced which you can then scale appropriately in your CAD software

For most things scanning works pretty poorly. IME, you are better off you use some calipers and a free to use tool like Fusion 360 or TinkerCAD, or a really free tool like OpenSCAD to generate the model.

Thanks! My 800XL grinder failed a few months ago, now I'll be taking it apart and buying your part if necessary.

This is my favorite side project that I've ever heard of. It's so cool how you stumbled into it and there's a lot of scope for other products too!

I know a guy who runs a multi-million dollar business making replacement parts for a particular type of business machine that you find in a lot of places. There are only a few OEMs and they all stopped making a similar (critical) component for their older models.

He was originally in the business of repairing these machines and then discovered he could no longer buy these parts from the OEMs so he learned CAD and CNC and injection molding and started making them a few years ago. He has a 3D printer for prototyping, but he needs to injection mold part of the final product because there is no filament in the particular material that he needs. His business has transitioned from repair to manufacturing and now he mostly sells replacement parts to other repair shops.

I don't want to disturb his business by talking about it in detail, but the point is that I think there are and will be many opportunities around repair parts that manufacturers are unwilling to provide because they'd rather be selling new machines. Aside from the environmental impact, that's fine since there are many people who won't go the repair route, and then there's a secondary market for those who will make parts and repair the machines.

I used to know tool and die makers that did that back in the day. Sadly, a lot of manufacturing was sent off to China. I assume there are Chinese people doing similar things.

I'm willing to bet the quality of a lot of these is shite, though. Plus people in the US would most likely want to buy from a seller in the US (faster shipping + implied better quality).

There is a solution to so many problems here (creating usually unavailable parts for machines/devices/products) but the problem is knowing which parts are in demand and currently have no supplier.

A maker would need to have an interest or hobby in such a device & discover a need for the item for it to come into fruition. But just think of how many general 3D printed parts could be printed as solutions for so many products out there that are going unmade.

I meant that there must be Chienese people doing the same thing people used to do here when domestic factories a thing.

I was not commenting on the quality of the work. BTE, saying the Chinese quality must be automatically shite is a ridiculous idea.

Not all Chinese stuff is bad, but there's so much bad stuff that it's hard to know what's good. "Chinesium" is an accurate description of the situation.

Same with American made products. Have you driven a Chevrolet lately?

In the case of American-made products, it's easy enough to do the research to determine if a product is good, or even try it before you buy. I don't know how good Chevys are these days—the newest one I've driven is a 2005 truck—but they're a known entity and you can test drive one for free. Ordering something online from China is a stab in the dark.

Just wanted to jump on the bandwagon and say that you saved us from buying an entirely new grinder about a year ago. Thanks so much!

Clever. Do you have the intention to make more replacement parts for other products?

I would like to if time permits. There is a huge untapped market here. The difficulty is in locating the parts that are both unavailable and 3D printable. I keep it in the back of my head as I repair other items. So much expensive stuff ends up in a landfill over a tiny part.

I could see someday having a github project for replacement parts, each one iterating and getting better an better -- far beyond the original.

I'd look into little parts for classic cars. Almost no price sensitivity, and if you find some unmet need for a popular one...

Could even be something silly, like a plastic fuse extractor tool that people will pay $50 for if it looks OEM.

This. A friend buys and restores old Porsche 911s. He will pay anything for custom made parts that are rare as hens teeth. As an example there is a housing around the main cooling fan that seems to be titanium or aluminum or something very exotic. [1]

A company does sell a replacement, which he paid a fortune for, which had garbage tolerances and we spent weeks modifying it until it fit more or less well enough.

I suspect if you spent time on "classic car" forums you'd find owners of very specific models of cars searching for things you could make and sell for any markup, and every owner would buy one.

[1] Its the silver part in this photo, which the alternator mounts to and must be precisely centered https://rennlist.com/forums/attachments/993-forum/1236047d15...

I am into older Maserati's. Own a couple of them. I do a lot of manufacturing myself. 3d printing, cncing. The problem is that whenever I design a replacement panel, wishbones or various other stuff and try to sell them commercialy I will get sued by the original Maserati company. On a low scale it's fine, but you will never get a living out of it. The only parts which are in a gray area are rims, exhausts, filters, springs and couple of other parts.

What do they sue you for? If you are upfront about what you are selling, and you didn't steal any IP, it isn't fraud or theft of trade secrets. Maybe they have patents, and claim you are violating them? I can't see how it is illegal to reverse engineer a part and sell a similar version.

Exactly, 3rd party replacement market for car parts is huge.

Similarly, a German-based company started producing replica Mercedes 300 SL bodies but they were shutdown and the bodies had to be crushed. Although, this isn't quite the same, because the bodies weren't used as replacement parts to keep existing cars on the road.


Interesting. I suppose you could stick with manufacturers that either don't care, or are long defunct.

If we had a right to repair law, presumably it would allow third parties to make replacements when the original manufacturer lo linger was.

Even without that, I'm kind of surprised they sue. Are they patenting each part? Is there case law that covers this? Or is it just a case of bringing a suit to scare people I sto stopping? I wonder.

I would actually like to hear a little more about why the tolerances were poor. Were the major diameters the issue here? I could see a lot of adjustment happening on a car-to-car basis to get concentricity between the alternator fan and the shroud just right. I have very little experience with Porsches, but am a coordinate metrologist for a major aerospace parts manufacturer. I don't see something like this being a huge issue, at least compared to what I deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Edit: I actually looked into it a little more- it looks like the part is probably machined from casting given that there appear to be four stators which also locate the center mounting point. That's where the concentricity would be set; not by the casting, but by the machining of the center flange. So assuming that the fan's mounting points are within spec, I would say that your friend's part could just be chalked up to machining process that leaves something to be desired. This is actually a trickier part if machined from casting (without the appropriate tooling), but actually pretty simple (and wildly expensive) if machined from billet.

Probably some entrepreneur ordering them in small quantities from China from a place that makes frying pans one day, car parts the next.

I used to order a lot of custom things from China. Took a lot of trial and error to find good suppliers. They only accept bank wire as payment, so they risk little other than repeat business if they choose to be sloppy.

You're right, it was a cast part that had been machined, and (from memory) the machining was not precise enough to locate the alternator (and thus the fan) in the exact center. It kind of seemed liked a backyard job, but the price was anything but.

I think from memory the inside of the circle (which was cast) was not perfectly round. From memory the original Porsche part was titanium, and this replacement was aluminum. But I might have that backwards.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that circularity on the casting would be messed up, you would just think that the person on the mill would have the presence of mind to take a look at it before sending it off to the end-user. We reject castings pretty regularly, and that ID could be turned true without a great deal of difficulty provided the deviation in roundness didn't exceed something like 1/2 material thickness.

What doesn't sit right with me is the fact that for a small run, the price of even an aluminum casting would absolutely motivate me to get it right the first time. At the level of volume that the guy would have to be operating at, I would be test-fitting every part to a car before sending it out the door.

I feel like the relative scarcity of air-cooled 911s coupled with the difficulty of machining the part correctly as a third party is why the part itself is so hard to come by. If a person were motivated, though, there is definitely another way to make a suitable replacement more cheaply and easily with a modified design. That's provided someone is okay with not having a completely factory 911.

A 5 axis mill? Once you had the model you could get one offs in many contract shops. It is by no means trivial but if it is an expensive part you could make a very workable copy. Given the required characteristics of the air flow there are some programs that calculate blade profiles. Maybe the part would end up even more expensive but that sounds like an interesting and worthwhile project.

I do this for old (15yrs+, not old-old) JDM cars. There's a massive untapped potential in this for any car-nuts who have 3D printers.

Just take a quick look through your favourite forum for your car of choice and there's endless threads begging for some random old plastic part that can no longer be found.

Interior trim clips, centre console fascias, exterior body plugs (where tow hook goes, where roof racks go, etc), stereo surrounds, door handle surrounds, etc etc etc.

> parts that are both unavailable

Depends on your pricing and margins. There's a huge number of parts that are available but ridiculously priced, often coming out an order of magnitude in excess of what seems reasonable.

Take for instance a kettle scale filter. OK you probably can't 3d print these, but for something so simple they're insanely priced - £5-£15 for a bit of plastic. A whole kettle with filter costs typically £15-£35. Dyson parts are even sillier.

e.g. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Genuine-Philips-Kettle-Filter-HD467...

There may be a far wider range of parts you could profit from than you may think. :)

After material costs, time, shipping, advertising, & customer support, how much margin do you think there is to make on a part that already sells at £5-15 (ESP in an environment where spending £15-30 to get a new one is an accepted norm already)?

This is def not viable from my view- at least not for parts that are this cheap already.

lol. 99% of it is margin - it's 50% of the whole retail item cost for <1% of the material or complexity.

That's most of it left for promotion. Domestic appliances, large and small, regularly have small spare parts that attract 25 or 50% of the price of the entire item. Never used to.

That they're already doing well with small appliances in the niche of non-available parts says enough about pricing floor.

My car was EOL 2011. The e-windows 4-switch costs 300$ for original and there’s no replacement. I’ll be extremely happy to beta test this market...

All plastic parts for appliances: dish drawer wheels, fridge shelves - are all designed to not last, run for $$$ on vendor site if possible to find at all. If you print it - they would come.

I recently had to replace the side wheel motor assembly on a Roomba. The motor and housing were fine, but the gears inside had worn out. I think they were just made out of ABS, so if they were printed in Nylon they would be a lot longer wearing. Roomba do make their robots (at least the 620 I have) repairable and a replacement of the whole assembly was only £20 so I'm not sure if the margin is there, but it is a bit wasteful when the only issue was the gears.

I've also considered creating some upgrades to the stock parts, but it's on my "some day I'll get around to it" list.

Did you check out grabcad? Kinda sorta like github, but for things rather than code.

The hard part is finding appliances that need fixing. This is super easy if you happen to own a lot do things that break. If not, it becomes quite boring and tedious to scout out things that are breaking for other people, that you have no personal motivation to fix, to get the broken appliance and then figure out the 3d model for the bad part.

A few years ago I bought a replacement part for a baby stroller: https://www.shapeways.com/shops/bugabooparts

It's a neat business model: The person posts DIY repair videos on youtube, which drives traffic to his site. The strollers can easily cost $1000 new, and are often handed down / resold, so there is motivation to keep them running, and they have some weak spots which tend to break. The 3D printed replacement parts can be of superior quality to the original parts.

It seems like once you build up a critical mass of reputation/SEO you could get people to send you their broken parts to reproduce (then start advertising that specific part too)

Then that depends on either how much they're paying for the part and how much you enjoying 3d modeling and the trial and error dof 3d printing. You'll also need at least a real version of the part to copy and maybe even the appliance.

Depending on the long-term economics, it might be worthwhile to work as a repair technician for some time and gather repairs.

someone needs to make wheels for those luggage suitcases, some wheels broke while the case is still good.

If you buy a bag with rollerblade wheels vs the plastic castering garbage that comes on a lot of bags you’ll get significantly more life out of them. I spend 15-20 days/month on the road and get several years out of rollerblade wheels.

A lot of them appear to be the same as roller blade wheels

Hmm. So my rearview camera in my car just died and a bit of research revealed it's a common problem with this car model. Maybe I should try to fix it.

This is awesome! I'm curious tho, is there not a trademark/patent that prevents you from making/selling these?

are you concerned about the low amounts of ground nylon that your customers (or really the original customers) were ingesting if this part does wear down over time?

PA2200 Nylon is not water soluble so any particles would stay with the discarded grounds. It’s pretty harmless stuff anyway. Breville’s version wears fast but the ShapeWays one has held up really well. Check out the two year wear study on the ShapeWays shop page; I am really happy with how minimal it is.

Aah I wasn't thinking it through. I guess as long as the fragments are caught in the filter during the coffee making it's likely fine. And for some reason I forgot that coffee is essentially strained/filtered. I have a jura and so I just press a button and it goooooess.

Would you look into teaming up? My father has an appliance repair company in Florida. He could be interested

I saw this response to the same question several years ago. I'm glad you're still at it. Kudos.

Is it good grade plastic? Do you print it yourself?

Want to team up on an a milk gallon jug attachment to pour cleanly?

If OP is selling via Shapeways, it's printed and shipped by Shapeways in the user's choice of material. From the link, it looks like the only option for this one is Nylon, but that's about the strongest plastic you can get for things like gears.

Not necessarily suggesting it for this, but for anyone not used to shapeways they have a wide range of materials, with plastics of different types, metals (I have silver wedding rings I got printed there) and ceramics.

I think sellers may be able to limit the materials to known working ones (each material has it's own requirements).

> metals (I have silver wedding rings I got printed there)

was it to save money? or for some unique design?

The goal was the unique design, but they were cheap too for wedding rings. I recorded each of us saying something to the other, then took the waveforms and made a ring from each one. Printing came to about £40 for each ring.


That's really cool, is there any way to scan it from your phone and hear it?

Thanks! I'm pretty happy with them.

> is there any way to scan it from your phone and hear it?

It's not detailed enough for that, though you can tell the cadence and reliably guess at the number of words. If you know what we said, and only we do, then you can see it.

Very nice!

If you take a look at the shapeways page OP links he mentions that the nylon material is technically not rated food grade due to it being slightly porous. This can cause particles of the food to stick in the holes. He mentions it's not much of an issue with coffee since that just means some stale coffee, however I imagine it might be more of a problem with milk. It looks like shapeways has a variety of material, however.

I think I have read this before here on HN. Cool business though.

Is the plastic from Shapeways safe for a grinder in terms of food safety?

Had a Breville expresso machine I repaired multiple times for my wife. The pump was decent, but the electronics were complete garbage for a $500 machine. The main problem were unsealed switches in a humid environment.

If you are someone that drinks no more than 1-3 cups a day, then I see no pointing getting an electric grinder over a higher-quality manual grinder, like the Comandante C40.

I buy beans and grind them all at once probably once a month. It's less effort with an electric grinder.

This was the machine though, not the grinder. Probably 10 years ago too. She just uses a Nespresso machine now.

I buy cars, repair them and recondition them to my level of satisfaction, and send them back out the door, typically targeting 55-65 year olds. I focus mostly on entry level luxury crossovers around 7 to 10 years old, though starting to also do hybrids since there’s more profit in it since everyone is seemingly allergic to batteries and pack replacement/rebuilds.

Parts are cheap, I listen to music or a podcast, I do all the “PITA” repairs (replacing wheel bearings, ball joints, tie rods, full brake service) that are really just labor in terms of professional repair cost, perform additional rust prevention, and for sale it goes when I feel a new grandma or grandpa would never give a hesitation to load it up with all their grandkids. They also see a very thorough interior cleaning, and a full exterior detail (including paint correction when required).

It has bought every very nice tool I could ever want, most are 20-30 hours of labor including acquisition, and I’m at the point where I have repeat customers (the put a 2nd alongside the first) and have direct referrals. Now the profit mostly goes towards putting a 2nd interesting car in the garage, and some towards moving up the ladder to try to earn more per vehicle.

Selling cars isn’t bad when you don’t have employees to pay, and it lets you sell really high quality stuff. I keep thinking of how much I couldn’t justify doing, and how much my product standards would suffer if I had to pay help.

Can you make YouTube videos about it? I watch Chris Fix all the time, not for educational purpose (I don't own a car), but because they are so freaking satisfying to watch. Seeing things go from 'meh' to 'wow.'

I think the unfortunate reality of ChrisFix is to make videos at that level of quality... takes real time and effort -- plus a vehicle that merits actual work he's not done a video on yet. Hence he only puts out one or two a month, but they're of an extraordinarily high quality, which is evident in his sub numbers and view count.

I've considered making videos, but the reality at the moment is there's not yet the time to do it to my level of quality. At least not yet.

ChrisFix videos are outstanding and somewhat generalized, he really does fine work.

One of my favourite channels has much lower production values (not bad by any means though!), and is much more of a hacker. He buys something damaged, figures out how to somehow fix it up and does so. Often a bit of a bodge, lol. But the videos come out frequently and are fascinating. This channel is "B is for Build". [1]

Another channel I will recommend, more for the awe of seeing an absolute master craftsman - "Arthur Tussik". This fine Russian gentleman is almost certainly the most skilled panel beater on Youtube. His videos are bodywork restoration of mangled crash wrecks back to perfect in one short video. [2]

And finally a recommendation I'm sure any hacker will enjoy watching - "Bad Obsession Motorsport", and their "Project Binky" series. Rebuild of a classic Mini, with a twist, almost every part needs custom fabrication. Simply amazing. [3]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl4-WBRqWA2MlxmZorKOV7w/vid...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/user/tussik01/videos

[3] https://www.youtube.com/user/badobsessionmsport/videos

There are a few mechanics who stream on twitch... however that does require some level of interaction and distraction which may just be annoying to you, but doesn't require the post processing. However it's a decent sales pitch and if you do enjoy interactive with people and networking it can be pretty good.

I'd love to see your shop or even just time lapses. I really enjoy watching cnc and hand builds on youtube. It's very helpful to watch these to see what's really involved in say pulling the front end off of a mini-cooper.

It would be impossible to hit my target level of quality live, without heavy investment in the environment, lightning, video equipment, and honestly the help of someone when filming. If I can't hit my own targets, I just don't do something.

The videos would also be too long. Part of why ChrisFix is so well known is he has high-quality, edited, to-the-point content that packs everything into a concise high-quality video. I could not do that on Twitch without great expense, lots of advance planning, and helping hands.

Sure, I'm not going trying tell you what to do. You're the content creator, you need to do what you feel works or you won't make good content.

They're 2 different things, eg there's a huge difference between say ChrisFX and a twitch stream for a mechanic, though they're both basically build logs at the end of the day.

Twitch is definitely more the low overhead mass content version of content. Similar to the Howard Stern Show, or Car Talk, as opposed to The Grand Tour. Thousands of hours of contents as opposed to hundreds, or 10s.

I was just pointing out there's a market for the mass quantity content.

It's actually one of the things I DONT like about the produced car rebuild shows, they often edit out stuff just to make it entertaining to everyone, where I'm wanting to watch just to see the whole thing and the techniques. Much more like slow tv. I'm totally happy to skip through parts I don't care about.

Hadn't heard of Chris Fix before. Here is a link to his channel - https://www.youtube.com/user/PaintballOO7/featured

The next time you watch one of Chris' videos, try to figure out how much prep is required for every single shot and edit. He works without a cameraman, so figure out where the camera is mounted and how it was mounted there. (hint: it's usually mounted _inside_ the car, somewhere harder to get to than the part he's accessing in the shot!)

It quickly adds up to an insane amount of effort. (Which is why he's got the best auto repair tutorials in human history!)

I wonder how many people are going into diy/craft in the recent years.

chrisfix makes nice videos, kingofrandom, dan rohas; for french car/bike chops: '103 mob stories' and 'Garage, Bangers and Rock'n Roll'

matthias wandel and others for woodworking

AvE OldTony for mech/metal

Tons of electrical engineering

I love OldTony for his humour! I'm not quite interested in metal work but he explains things so well and makes it funny during the process!

I do to.. except the editing. Sometimes it drags so long I quit. Everything else is amazing.

Watch south main auto or mustie1

Pine Hollow Auto Diagnostics https://www.youtube.com/user/motoYam82

And the OG of youtube diagnostics, Scanner Danner https://www.youtube.com/user/ScannerDanner

This only scratches the surface of good diagnostics channels on YouTube, but they along with S.M.A. are my favorites.

As an amateur shade tree mechanic myself I have so many questions! Feel free to ignore if you feel you'd be giving away your secret sauce.

1. Where do you find buyers? I'd be concerned about inventory either piling up or taking too long to sell at a price that even breaks even when you are spending time/money on fixing.

2. Do you feel your value-add is more on the sales side as a broker or is it in the repairs? I know people who just flip cars and do extremely minimal "freshing up" and are also profitable/successful.

3. How do you keep up with the increasingly locked down and opaque ECUs and other systems? More and more diagnostics require factory wizardry these days.

4. You implied that you do paint and body work. Where/how did you learn and become proficient? Most auto repairs are pretty much "follow the steps" work anyone can learn from YouTube, but body work is artistry.

5. Do you worry about liability? I'm OK fixing my own car since if I screw up it's my ass on the line. I'd be less confident in sending the car off to grandma, even if I knew what I was doing.

1. Mostly Craigslist, with a bit of AutoTrader. The reality is AutoTrader is swamped with dealer listings and sponsor listings that I don't feel I'm receiving any additional value for their listing fees.

2. Repairs and preventative maintenance. We average ~4 feet of snow a year, so tie rod ends, wheel bearings, control arms, bushes, flex pipes, exhaust hangers, etc. suffer since no one really maintains a steel car properly. The reality is when even a Honda or Toyota dealer is $125/hour and a Lexus or Acura dealer is $175/hour, people don't replace $18/ea bushings -- but when things rattle or feel loose, they sell the vehicle like it's going to explode.

These aren't difficult repairs, they just require lifting the vehicle (I have a Bendpak Quick Jack) and doing it. People also don't properly clean their undercarriage, and rustproof. I do. Very easy, very inexpensive. Though when many people treat cars as disposable, it lets a lot of nice stuff come onto the market for the well-inclined.

3. Not an issue unless you're in Porsches on up with encrypted ECUs, and even then, that prevents MODIFYING them, not reading diagnostics. Regardless, this has been a problem 0 times since I've started many years ago. OBD-II is a wonderful thing, and there's no weird shenanigans coming from Honda/Toyota at all.

4. I only do paint correction, as in "level a clearcoat" to a mirror finish, and only for vehicles that merit it (let's ignore that any car sub-$150K new comes with some level of orange peel). I do not buy any vehicle that needs a respray, ever. It can be DIY'd very well, but the amount of labor is prohibitive. Not enough money made for the time spent.

5. I've an umbrella policy, mostly because I have one for my primary business, in the odd event I ever were sued. In general, vehicles are sold as-is. Zero concern here.

Those Bendpak Quick Jacks look pretty nice -- seems like you'd have good access to everything. Any drawbacks?

For most people the only drawback will be cost, and storage space when it’s disassembled.

Regarding point 4, do you even consider small patch work? Perhaps where you would need to apply a body patch, filler, sand & paint?

I imagine with the cars you're working with rust isn't an issue, but could be needed for minor damage. Are you passing on those cars completely or leaving those as is?

I can repaint entire panels, and blend it well enough to be indistinguishable — though ultimately I’ll end up leveling the clearcoat on the entire vehicle, which is a ton of work to do right. The problem is to hit my standard of quality it’s far too much time for the effort required. The time is better spent finding something that doesn’t need major paint repair.

I hear ya. Thank you for the followup.

I sorely miss being able to regularly work on and drive cars, but job and salary necessitates being in New York City for a long while. I have a long term project sitting and waiting for me 1000 miles from here. Will involve taking everything off the car, fixing rust, repainting and rebuilding everything. Someday...

Thank you, very inspiring.

Do you float the titles or just bend over and take whatever arbitrary limit for non-dealer title transfers that the dealers lobbied into existence in your state?

What does floating the title mean? Is it never registering it in your own name and just letting the next guy do it?

Correct. Many states have laws where if you sell over a certain number of vehicles a year, you're considered a used car salesman and must register and get licenced. In addition, if you register the title in your name, you have to pay taxes in most states, just to turn around and sell it to somebody else who also has to pay the same taxes.

Some states also take into account intent. Meaning that you need a dealers license and insurance just to purchase and sell a single vehicle, if the original intent of purchasing the vehicle was to sell it.

In my state, Oregon, for example, the DMV has agents watching craigslist, facebook, autotrader, etc. who go test drive private party cars under cover and ask the question, "So, why are you selling?" where answering that question incorrectly (along the lines of, "oh I bought it to fix up and make a few bucks") will net you a several thousand dollar fine.

That's such a scummy enforcement tactic since it's literally going out of its way to screw over people who are taking initiative to try to make money. It's not like they're flagging transactions at the paperwork stage.

Do you live in the US? In my state (wa) you need to be licensed as a dealership to do this legally and I hear this is the case in all the other states too.

I find it surprising that the US is seen as strongly free market when things like this crop up all over the place.

Here's a video of someone failing to get pricing in advance for a medical procedure and an article about how many simple tasks need licences.

The fact that a lot of areas only have 1 broadband provider blows my mind.




"Regulatory capture" aka corruption.

Generally it's sales over a handful a year. It'd take him long enough to fix one up that he'd fewer than the limit I think.

There's definitely a benefit to working on the same model/series more than once. Three fourths of my amateur mechanic hours are split between asking "now why won't this darn thing come loose?" and "Oh! So I didnt't need to take all this apart to get to this piece!"

There’s a sizable market for used Land Cruisers. People will fly across the country or buy cars sight unseen.

You must have fixed up cars when you were a kid? How do you handle paint matching?

Not really, except out of necessity. Mechanics aren't, cheap, and where I am, really not cheap. Cars are just giant metal Lego.

As for paint matching, I don't. If I car needs any significant paint work, I'm not interested in buying it. It's also a sign that when I get underneath a car, I'm going to find other issues which are going to be an immediate no sale (as in welding required).

Even at normal, non-insurance repair rates (as in, full price), an independent mechanic charges around twice as much per hour than a body shop does for your average paint work (high end a very different story) -- I can get much more $/hour for my labor doing repairs than I ever will doing anything more than leveling a clear coat.

May I ask what car brands do you usually work on?

Bread and butter is the Lexus RX, Acura MDX, Honda CR-V and Toyota Highlander. There is zero issue putting them out the door, because the demand is insane. I've also started with Toyota Priuses because there's high-demand, most mechanics are allergic to batteries, and people dump them for cheap over any battery pack issue.

Though I've worked on a ton of stuff, the above is where there's A) enough people owning the above who still think all vehicles explode when their odometer hits 100K B) have inexpensive and easy repairs for simple things that are rotting or are wearing out and C) plenty of people who know better and when they test drive a 10-year old one that feels as good and looks as good as new, won't even negotiate your asking price.

I've entertained the idea of selling BMW M cars, Audi S/RS and Merc AMGs, but the reality is there's far more labor involved, far more to usually fix, higher acquisition costs, less demand, and buyers who are completely insufferable. I've sold several, but in retrospect it wasn't ever worth the time and effort.

For your target market, it sounds to me like you'd be much happier dealing with more mid-range stuff like Fords and Volvos rather than going to premium grade stuff. Parts are cheaper, usually less going wrong, and the customers are of course a whole lot nicer (disclaimer: I'm a Ford owner).

If you want to get into performance, I'd go gentle: Ford have sports lines of their usual mix (ST/RS in Europe), as do many other makes.

Also a small hatchback with a big engine is a lot more fun per dollar than a Merc...

> I've entertained the idea of selling BMW M cars, Audi S/RS and Merc AMGs, but the reality is there's far more labor involved, far more to usually fix, higher acquisition costs, less demand, and buyers who are completely insufferable. I've sold several, but in retrospect it wasn't ever worth the time and effort.

That's interesting, when I used to have a shop and flip cars on the side, honda civics and euro cars were the most profitable. Civics because you can fix them up, lower them and throw on a set of wheels and you're good to go are super easy to turn over. Euro cars are easy to pick up at steep discounts when they're older and need repairs, and the parts are actually not bad and once you get the hang of it, they're not too bad to work on.

Of course you'd want to also have accounts with parts stores otherwise you're losing too much on those costs.

However this was 5 years ago so the small crossover suv craze wasn't what it is today.

If you were to start selling BMWs/Audis/Mercs, you might also find your reputation suffering if/when things go wrong shortly after purchase. You're probably better off sticking to reselling the more reliable brands.

Every reliable source for lifetime cost of maintenance I have ever seen shows Toyota is the cheapest, that most other Japanese brands are close behind, and European brands are way more expensive e.g.


That certainly matches what I've seen happen with my friend's cars: Toyotas just keep going and are cheap to fix, Euro cars have something bust earlier in their lifetime and usually outrageously costly to repair.

I am from NZ and as a country we keep driving second hand cars until they are uneconomic to fix, and maybe half of the cars imported from overseas are second hand Japanese cars. We don't have a lot of American cars but my own limited experience with them is that they are as unreliable and costly as the European cars.

You can find some individual models within other brands that are reliable, however if you are buying a car that is 5 to 10 years old, you can't yet know if the model you are getting is a good one, so buying by brand actually makes sense. Quote from article about maintenance costs: "Toyota completely avoids the the most expensive models list" which helps averages (although I think they used median costs in that article).

I’ve sold them. The main issue is when you look at the extra profit, the extra labor doesn’t really put you ahead.

You also get a very different kind of buyer (skews faaaar younger) that honestly, is just insufferable to deal with. There’s more profit per unit, but not more profit an hour, and too much dealing with awful personalities.

I wanted to do this. Restoring devices is very zen like, and I might throw in some computing kits (bt/usb/car tablet).

You should start a youtube channel, buy a wrecked Ferrari from Copart, document the build step by step, then reap youtube riches.

that's really cool man I'd like to check out some of your wares some time. I'm very interested in giving old things new leases of lives and just refurbishing some of my old stuffs

Isn't that illegal everywhere in the US without a dealer license?

No, there is no law anywhere in the US prohibiting you from selling a used car in a private transaction.

It's illegal in my state to sell a car for the purpose of making a profit as an individual without a dealer license, and there's a limit of 4 per year.


Wait, are you saying that private used car sale is illegal in your state?

No, private car sales are legal as long as the seller isn't trying to make a profit off the car.

That seems like an insane restriction on what you can do with your private property. What are they trying to protect against? People peddling lemons? There must be a better way.

I think what happened was auto dealerships successfully lobbied the state congress to raise the barrier to entry so they had less competition from private sellers.

Like if they try and sell it for more than they paid for it?

What if they end up selling it for more than it is estimated to be worth in something like blue book?

Is that considered profit?


Not true. There is a limit to the number of times you can sell a car per year before you get a dealers license.

(I have several companies in this space)

It's only a "private transaction" if you aren't doing it for the intention of making a profit. (depending on exact laws).

Unless the laws in their state are solely based on volume, they are almost certainly acting as a dealer, which requires a dealer license and a bunch more legal requirements. In most states once someone buys a car with the intention of reselling it rather than using it, they automatically become a dealer.

You are certainly allowed to buy a car, fix it, and sell it.

Not at a profit, iirc correctly. Taxes and dealer license comes into play.

So here's the crazy thing -- if you pay taxes on the profit you earn, like everything else, your state tends to not care and treats it like any other business.

Though in my state, in excess of 5 vehicles per year they start to care, and prefer you hold a surety bond -- which as of a few months ago, I do for an amount well in excess of the transaction price of the vehicles I typically sell. I also now have a dealer plate, which never goes on anything because some buyers would get weird if they saw one.

You can call the profit your labor cost and break even in the governments eyes.

Launched in 2016 for free. Started making money in 2018 with $3,000+ MMR. Referral only (side) business. I work full-time as an engineer/principal in growth.

I conduct a form of ethnography, embedding myself in the lives of consumers the way Margaret Mead did among Samoans. I interviews my subjects and the people around them, itemizing the contents of their home (photographing and videotaping), and accompany them as they progress through their day. Then I sift the resulting information for weeks, even months, looking for connections and telltale behaviors.

The service is used mostly by founders for small businesses and startups. I takes questions about sales figures and product lines and reconfigures them into questions about worlds, the context in which people unthinkingly live their everyday lives. The idea is that examining the beliefs and unconscious biases that people have will eventually yield profitable insights for these businesses.

So far, I've done market entry for a few Chinese companies into Japanese market, helped indie game design company launch a successful game, a boutique lingerie shop launch a new summer line, street musicians, and a few cafes and bars.

I do this on the side with hopes to go full time into it soon.

This makes me so happy as an anthropologist-turned-programmer.

I'm trying to go from programmer -> anthropologist. I could use all the help, advise, and connections I can get.

I think this is a fascinating project, but I have to ask. How do you get your foot in the door with consumers? I'd feel a bit sketched out if someone showed up and just asked to follow me around for a while. What's the incentive?

I have done a lot of consumer research for a previous job - I honestly think if you give someone an ear to talk to about almost anything a lot of people will do it.

With that being said, you might get a handful of, "no, absolutely not that's creepy" responses to the request, but if you ask enough people someone will say yes and be excited about it.

This is absolutely true. I also ask my clients for customer contact information and reach out to them until I have enough subjects.

Do not be discouraged by the no’s. Starting with friends and network is an option.

It also helps if you have a code of conduct/governance documentation for them to read and understand how their data is gathered and used.

I usually send a copy of all data to my subjects with a thank you letter and how it helped (with a gift card).

Getting started was (really) hard. There are agencies out there who enable the connection between the researcher and consumers for a fee. These agencies usually have a directory of people who volunteer for this type of research work.

It also helps to build a network, for starters I partner-up with many prominent content producers on YouTube and Twitter and pay them a small fee for introductions.

I also pay the people I study on the field (but not always, some are happy to help once they understand what it's for). A lot say no, but you only need a few yes. It's about drawing insights from a small set of data.

People like attention, especially if you care about what they're saying and take their needs and frustrations seriously.

This is the most fascinating side business I've read of! Does what you do ultimately help whoever you are following in their business? Have you seen them make changes that have helped the business in small or even larger ways?

The goal of my side project is to use human science to put people back at the center of business decision-making. I work specifically with the founders of business and not their sales or marketing personal.

Studying consumers on their own isn’t enough to be successful. I look at all the data I can regarding technology, marginal practices, client and industry data, and speak to many experts with knowledge on the topic. I analyze the assumptions underlying what I observe happening and identify the gaps (e.g. between the client’s assumptions about their customers and what I observe in the real world, or between the industry’s assumptions about the future and consumers’ marginal practices).

Analyzing these gaps helps me see white spaces that have impact in the market, which allows me to advise my clients on where the market is likely to be years out and ensure that my recommendations are actionable. Since these are new perspectives they often make it actionable. Execution is something they handle and all of my clients have seen a change. Most are repeat customers.

How do you convince founders, small businesses and startups to pursue this kind of ethno work? In my experience only big companies with dedicated consumer insight teams have the budgets and patience to do this kind of exploratory qualitative research. Just curious as to how you’ve ‘sold’ this service in to smaller organizations...

I did not market or sell this service. Back when I did this free, I worked closely with my mentor who had a startup (which later was acquired by a publicly listed company). I helped his company a lot. They were building an BI platform for big data.

That success gave me wings for a while. Word of mouth referring helped and I only took on clients who were recommended to me (i.e. they were aware of it)

Sometimes I meet business owners and founders at meetups or for lunch and we organically start talking about what we do (with no intention to sell). I always try to make the other person curious and then feed their curiosity. Also, I do an initial consultation for free.

The motivation is not money and my rates are pretty compelling (low) for the ROI I promise. Not every small business takes the opportunity but some did.

This is really interesting.

It sounds like this is a form of consulting where would-be founders outsource the idea-gen / problem discovery work to you.

How does the problem statement from the client manifest -- is it usually something like "I want you to determine if there's a market for X", or "I want you to explore this demographic of people," or something else?

Clients come to me with major and fundamental business issues, characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. Most of my work is focused on helping my clients get a view of their business from outside.

Do you live in Japan, the US or somewhere else? I work in marketing strategy and we use in-home and other ethnography vendors all the time. I'd be interested in someone who can work in Japan/APAC, or even to have someone else to call here in the US.

I live in Japan and presently focus on the Japanese market.

I do provide remote services to a few startups in california but their audience is usually online and has ties to Japan.

I'm happy to listen to you. You can fill this form [0] out and I'll react out to you by the end of the week.

[0]: https://forms.gle/fafgq2kBTEQiMjsm7

As others have mentioned this is a very interesting side gig. How did you find leads on these companies to turn this profitable though? I imagine any company that does this sort of research would have to be relatively forward thinking.

I used to be in technology consultancy and I built relationships and kept in touch. I sent out a newsletter, some reached back and asked for more information, others made introductions and got me connected. Most of the business I get is through referrals / word of mouth.

My base of operations is in Tokyo right now and there's a lot of demand for these services once people hear about it. Often people approach it for curiosity and then I work my leads to turn them into clients.

Not all companies were forward thinking but they have a common traits: empathy, more concerned on providing value to their customers, and emphasize long-term problem solving over quick fixes.

Logged into my HN account just to upvote and thank you for this. Is there a way I can contact you about this to learn more about your services?

If you fill out this short form, I’ll reach out to you. If you just want to chat casually I’m on Twitter, same username as HN.


This sounds interesting. Did you build an app for this type of ethnography? And do you collect and make sense of qualitative information?

The philosophy behind my approach to research is based on the phenomenon, the science of how things are experienced. I start by working with my clients to identify a human phenomenon at the heart of their business.

I use psychographics to define customer values, opinions, and life-style.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm interested in your service. How should I contact you to discuss details? Thanks.

Right now it is referral only but you can start here [0]. I'll reach out to you for a preliminary hearing/meeting.

[0] https://forms.gle/ehuzNXmtdjCBgsjP8

On ethnography what books would you recommend?

I've been reading books on philosophy, cognitive science and behavioural psychology for half a decade.

For ethnography I don't have any recommendations. I've read books largely to complement my thinking, phenomenology and existentialism. Here's what I've read (notable ones):

Being and Time – Martin Heidegger

The Principle of Reason – Martin Heidegger

Phenomenology of Perception – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time – Ernesto Laclau

Introduction to Metaphysics – Martin Heidegger

The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy) – Martin Heidegger

History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell

How do you do this while also working as a full time engineer?

I negotiated with my current employer, sacrifice salary for time. I get a few extra hours each week. My full-time job doesn't demand a lot. I manage it quite well and get things done during business hours.

I manage my time quite well, I get eight hours of sleep everyday and the rest I try to be productive. I have a wife who understands what I'm trying to do and helps me out. Needless to say I work on weekends and holidays and gave up all hobbies.

It's not easy but it's a choice. This has helped me build habits and a discipline. I am mindful and try not to bite off more than I can chew i.e. understand my limits.

My side project has also changed the way I think about engineering problems and solutions. Since I work on the growth team its complementary rather than diverging.

When I look up MMR I get "measles, mumps, and rubella." I assume that isn't what you're referring to.

I think the parent meant "MRR" -- monthly recurring revenue.

MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue). Sorry about the typo. To clarify its from retainers.

Probably meant MRR

Antivaxers are popping up everywhere.

I established DamnInteresting.com in 2005, a place where myself and handful of others produce original long-form non-fiction in article and podcast form. Despite plenty of traffic, it didn't reach the break-even point for several years, because I despise advertisements and I refused to add them to my site. I funded the project in other ways, such as donations, publishing a book, licensing content, etc.

Nowadays it still only earns a little every month, but that's mostly owing to a rise in expenses (e.g., I pay the contributors more). But profit is secondary for me, my primary motive is to have an excuse to research and write this stuff, and for intelligent people to consume it.

Kudos and thank you for resisting advertising and figuring out an alternative business model. It would be awesome if there was a whole alternative Internet like this, where ads (and selling user info) was forbidden.

Thank you! I found your site long ago and I’ve enjoyed every article. I often wondered what your plan for it was and would be. This puts a little closure on it. I feel the same way about advertising and wonder what alternate business models could happily maintain such a place while keeping it mostly free and open.

This is pretty cool seeing this here. I've been a Patreon of your site for awhile now, and reading for far longer.

Wow, I always thought damninteresting.com was wildly profitable. Not sure why - I have been reader since the early days and always found the content to compelling and "sharable" - I'd have imagined that it would be extremely profitable.

I suppose without ads there isn't a lot of high-monetization opportunities.

Thanks a lot for creating and maintaining the site. If you ever need any help with the design and front-end development of your site, let me know - I'd love to volunteer some time to the site that I love so much.

I've loved DamnInteresting over the years and probably first discovered it soon after you launched it.

Thanks so much for all the damn interesting knowledge!!

I started reading DI in 2005. I know because I found it during a lunch break at my first job.

The quality there never lets me down. Thanks for it!

Just want to say thank you. I wish more sites on the internet put out quality content like yours!

Hah I just wound up on that site a few days ago randomly. Used to be on it more. Thanks for the contribution to the world!

Damn Interesting is my 12 year old daughters favorite podcast.

Thank you for keeping it going. It’s great story telling.

I'm a long-term reader and listener, and DI is a fantastic source of interesting stories.

Wow! Thank you! I've been reading DI for years and years!

This looks neat. I'll be sure to read a few articles from here.

Why the curated section though? I think it distracts to have links to articles from NYTime or Wired on the side.

It's a long story, but the short version goes something like this:

At first we worked our cabooses off to publish new original content several times per month. This proved unsustainable, partially because we were becoming more ambitious with our work, but especially owing to stressors that had arisen in my personal life, and I burned out.

I spent a year-long hiatus putting things right, and when we resumed our writing, it was with the understanding that we were switching to a marathon-not-a-sprint publication schedule. The curated column arose to fill in the gaps between our in-house writings. Nowadays many readers specifically visit us for the links, so we feel duty-bound to persist.

I'd just like to thank you for this. I love all your content and have supported the site in the past. But I especially love the curated section - it's better than recommendations I get from other places like Pocket or Instapaper.

Thank you for doing this. Your site is a treasure.

I LOVE your site, thank you!

I make and sell staff paper notebooks for musicians: https://www.themusiciansnotebook.com/

I'm an avid saxophone player and am taking evening classes in theory, so I made this to solve a problem that I myself had. Nothing else like it on the market!

Every part of this notebook is automatically generated with a bunch of python scripts: the cover design, the interior, the line placement, the margins. The program basically spits out a PDF which I can then send to print shops (which is the hardest part of the whole thing!)

The product is good, people like it, and the hardest part for me right now is sales - trying to get stores to carry it, or get traffic to the site to drive sales! If you know anyone who might be interested...

edit: Okay I've opportunistically created a coupon code THANKSHN for 10% off.

First, great job! Second, I'm confused. When I used to play music, I remember buying staff music pads at a low cost. A quick check of Amazon shows a bunch of staff pads for sale. What am I missing? Is it the combination of staff and notebook pages in the same book? Or do you use higher quality paper (e.g. are you the moleskin of music staff paper?) Just curious.

Elevator pitch:

- combination of staff paper and college-ruled lines

- perforated to easily tear out pages

- three-hole punched

- decent quality paper, binding, cover material

You'll find that there's surprisingly nothing like it on Amazon! My inspiration was those cheap Mead spiral notebooks - incredibly functional.

Hey, taking a look at the picture on the site I saw that you only offer a format of 8.5" x 11". If you'd like to grow to Europe, other formats like A4 would be very interesting and probably needed. I'd also be happy about one in A5! :)

I actually really really want to do this! It's a chicken and egg thing: do I try to get this 1 product profitable, and then use those profits to invest in new product lines? Or do I try to do multiple versions of the product at first (which comes at higher cost, since I'd start with a small production first?)

Also need to figure out how to ship to Europe more cheaply, since right now I'm sending everything from my little apartment in Brooklyn!

Maybe printing in Europe might already help? – See www.wir-machen-druck.de, probably the most inexpensive German printery (try Google Translator). I can imagine using Amazon and its FBA service might be an option here – not sure if that's something you'd like to consider.

if you're looking for printing services in germany: https://www.druckpreis.de/

and it appears they have at least some info for some other european countries :-)

disclaimer: not affiliated with them, though i did some work for them a few years ago

Very cool! I'm the CXO of TrueFire (leading music education software company with the largest library of online guitar lessons in the world) and would love to find a way to work together to get your notebooks in the hands of our 1+ million students :-) Let's jam on some ideas!

Would love that! Lots of folks have been asking for a guitar tab version, so if you think there's opportunity then I have a few ideas myself. What's the best way to reach you? jay@themusiciansnotebook.com

Thanks for posting. I have always wanted this. Just ordered 6 (accidentally, meant to order 3) and I’m hoping it’s as awesome as I’m imagining.

Nice! I just got your order (thank you!) and just emailed you too.

>automatically generated with a bunch of python scripts

Can you expand on what you mean by this? Seems like straightforward design(s) that you can just keep printing over and over..

Please find a way to ship these to Europe! It would become my new notebook of choice in a heartbeat but I run through them like (insert some kind of simile here). I would also happily share this with all my musician friends.

Totally! Do you mind sharing your contact info with me, so I can keep you updated when I figure out a way to charge less than $20 to ship to Europe?

I think most users went digital, like iPad or kindle. There're apps where you can type notes or search and buy existing sheets. Of course paper is better for kids or beginners, so you could push your product in that niche.

BTW those digital sheets are pricey, so I wrote some scripts to generate PDF for my kindle, the output looked quite neat. I used LaTeX, Lilypond and perl to comb out unsupported stave notation from songs I ripped from public sources.

This sounds awesome! I've been looking around at printing specialized notebooks (for various worldbuilding tasks) lately. Do you use local print shops and/or have any you'd particularly recommend?

I feel like the hardest part to get into would be finding a way to keep costs and shipping times down without maintaining a large floating inventory. Have you found that is a problem at all?

The three biggest challenges for me have been:

- Marketing

- Finding a shop which produces at acceptable quality

- Finding the balance between order volume and cost

If you're not fussy about physical characteristics (eg, rounded corners) then I'd prototype at the local office max - pretty affordable and fast.

If you email me I can maybe give some more details! Maybe I should start a business doing print shop consulting...

If you don't mind me asking, how did you find print shops? I've had random ideas for notebooks that might be useful to someone else before, and getting something printed has always been kind of interesting to me.

Lots of googling,and then emailing stores with my specifications until I found a place that responded and could do it within my budget and with quality.

If you're not fussy about some of the notebook features (eg, the specific kind of binding, or rounded corners) then you can do custom books at your local UPS Store, office max, etc. You'd save money and time by prototyping that way, wish I'd done more of that.

Can you help me understand why you need to use a bunch of python scripts to generate the PDF?

Couldn’t you just make it in Adobe InDesign? Cool item, btw. I used to play saxophone years back.

Oh, sure. I mean, the first reason is because I am a backend engineer and all I know is python! The second reason is that it made it easy for me to iterate - you have no idea how painstakingly I adjusted the line thickensss, spacing, margins, etc. So being able to just update a little config file was super useful. And, finally, for future product lines (different sizes, for example) using code made it easy for me to, essentially, provide the dimensions of the book and have the code make the "right" design choices to generate a new PDF.

I've used to do these myself for my students! Amazing job!

That’s brilliant!

Thanks! Okay I've created a coupon code THANKSHN for 10% off to make it easier for you to try it out for yourself :)

How do you handle production?

1. Email 50 print shops from searching google about the project and specifications 2. Wait for 5 of them to respond to you 3. Work with them on the specifications and obtain physical proofs 4. Choose 1 which prints the books with an acceptable quality-to-price ratio

Two things, both of which I stumbled into accidentally -

I make lots of jellies once the berries in the garden are ripe; I bought a house in a rural area a few years ago and it came with loads of berries. Might as well put them to use.

It is all done manually (in part because it is meant to be a diversion from my engineering job) - red- and blackcurrant and gooseberries mostly. Last year the harvest was some 1200 4oz glasses of jelly - some 1150 more than my family consumes. Sells by word of mouth.

Also, as my mother is quite into weaving tapestry and it was hard to find the exact hues she wanted for her yarns, I started dyeing for her, using traditional colouring. Turned out there was a (veee-eeery small!) market for that kind of thing, and I now make small batches for some 30-35 weavers. Again, fully manual as the idea is to do something completely different from my full-time job.

This is a true break from tech. Go for it.

-Oh, I'd go nuts if I did either of the above full-time; however it serves as a wonderful diversion and it is great to do something which produces tangible results.

It helps being an engineer, too - I've found (much to my surprise) that keeping detailed notes to ensure repeatable results is quite rare in both pastimes.

I thought everybody kept log books! :)

This is wonderful.

I've written a couple of books that sell on Amazon and Apple iBooks - it takes zero minutes per month work for me, but brings a nice little side income. I won't get rich, but it's nice to have the money come in for doing nothing after I hit the "publish" button. Even the printed books cost nothing.

I'm about to hit publish on a photo coffee-table book from my three years around Africa, and I'll write an Africa guide book and The Road Chose Me Vol 2 in the next 12-18 months.

* The Road Chose Me Volume 1: Two years and 40,000 miles from Alaksa to Argentina (https://amzn.to/2vfCYvn)

Stories and lessons from two years driving my Jeep Wrangler down the Pan-American Highway

* Work Less to Live Your Dreams: A practical guide to saving money and living your dreams (https://amzn.to/2OD6UtA)

An eBook about how exactly I can afford to take years off work to do what I want and live my dreams.

* West Africa Myths, Misconceptions and Misnomers (https://amzn.to/2veyQMt)

After driving the length of the continent, I collected a bunch of information that is extremely helpful to anyone else thinking of doing similar. The vast majority of the Western Worlds "knowledge" of West Africa is so out of date it's useless. My book is from info I learned during my drip from mid 2016 to late 2017, so it's relevant

Any hints about publishing a coffee table photo book? I have a photo journalism project in mind.

Check PastBook.com I made a coffee table book from my NYC trip and it’s super cool. Stefano, the CEO, is a very close friend of mine, but I can guarantee on the quality of the products.

This is awesome! My co-founder actually did something similar last year: http://www.businessinsider.com/i-live-and-work-in-my-car-her... (he did it in a Landy though!)

Would love to help in any way we can on your next book (I'm the founder of Reedsy, https://reedsy.com)

VERY COOL! So many questions:

Do you work on the road or take off years at a time?

Are you armed, or do you just avoid central conflict areas?

I take it no family? (hence the 'solo' bit) or are they undersganding?

> Do you work on the road or take off years at a time?

For the first one (AK->Argentina) I just took time off and lived off my savings account. For around Africa I wrote my first book and I write for multiple magazines while on the road.

> Are you armed, or do you just avoid central conflict areas?

Crossing an international border with a firearm will result in instant jail time in virtually every country on the planet. No, it would be impossible to bring a firearm. You might be surprsed to know I have never heard a single gunshot in three years around the continent, and Ethiopia was the only country I ever saw regular people with firearms. In every other country it's only the police/military, who are extremely professional.

> I take it no family? (hence the 'solo' bit) or are they undersganding?

No kids or wife. I did have a girlfriend with me for some of the Africa Expedition - living in the Jeep proved too much for our relationship.

If you do have a family, don't let that stop you, I've met plenty of people on the road with families, ie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc61AxCQQR4

I just bought your book and am excited to read it. I've fantasized about doing exactly this, but in South America. Twice I almost did it, and twice I backed out because I didn't know how to start. You might get me over the third hump!

You can absolutely do it! Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or need more nudging!

Awesome. I've been following your Instagram and, to a lesser extent, blog since you started your recent trip around Africa. Such an awesome adventure

Very cool to see you on hacker news!

I've asked you a few questions on Instagram and you've always taken the time to answer my questions. I appreciated it.

I also have enjoyed following your journey, from one world traveler to another.

Really cool idea! What tools do you use to write the books? And how long did it take for you to write one?

For eBooks you can write it in any editor you want - word, pages, it doesn't really matter. Then just export to ePub and you're done.

For my published books I want ultimate control over the layout, so I write them in LaTeX to get the pdf to go to the printer. To get it into an eBook I use pandoc to convert them. I wrote a script that does it for me, and massages the resulting ePub until it's exactly what I want.

My published books is about 70,000 words. Writing it didn't actually take very long (a few hundred hours I guess), but then I probably spent at least that much time again editing and revising multiple draft rounds.

I'm going to be self publishing a book this year - very curious about what have you found in terms of income? And if you have any ideas on how people find your work?

Did you write fiction or nonfiction books?

Nonfiction about my adventures or guide books. I find it much easier than fiction, though I'm an Engineer and not overly "creative" when it comes to writing.

any chance to define a bit more the side income you make?

I taught myself circuit board design and found a niche market that I designed a few products for that sold like gangbusters with zero marketing for a few years until the market cooled off and low cost knock offs started entering the market.

I also found that you could use the same CAD program that I learned to design PCB's to draw outlines to cut out on the laser CNC machine at the local maker space. I ended up finding a niche on ebay building open air computer cases. Because of the economics of shipping large items from overseas and the low cost of the materials I was using I was able to under cut the imports on price by like 60% and still make a nice amount of money on a $/ hour basis.

In hind sight the best way to find these kinds of opportunities is not to be looking for them. You really just need to get a really deep understanding of a hobby or industry or market that interests you in some way and once you have that then these sorts of things kind of pop out of the woodwork.

This is super cool!

> I taught myself circuit board design and found a niche market that I designed a few products for that sold like gangbusters with zero marketing for a few years until the market cooled off and low cost knock offs started entering the market.

Can you elaborate a bit? Did you teach yourself literal circuit board design (but already had a background in electronics/hardware)? Or did you start from scratch and learn how to design an electronic circuit?

What was the niche (broadly?)

> In hind sight the best way to find these kinds of opportunities is not to be looking for them. You really just need to get a really deep understanding of a hobby or industry or market that interests you in some way and once you have that then these sorts of things kind of pop out of the woodwork.

1000% agree. The single best way to find an idea is to be seriously and deeply involved in a hobby/area of interest. There are so many ideas out there screaming you in the face.

It was a bit of both, My degree is in CS, I only took one EE/hardware class in school that was more about programming CPLDs than anything else. These days really all you need to know math wise to build simple stuff is V=IR and P=IV, things everyone learns in high school physics class. Everything else you can usually get by looking at the reference circuits in data sheets or looking it up as you go. The hardest part for me was finding the time to get over the learning curve of the PCB design software, in my case I learned EagleCAD. After I did that and formed good habits with how I used the software I now able to do some pretty complex stuff. The limiting factor now is probably that my ambition has outgrown the software I learned.

The niche was building adapters for old server power supplies so you can re-purpose them for use as general purpose 12 Volt power supplies. It was a thing in the RC community for a while to charge batteries but it got really big in the 2014 - 2017 time frame due to the Bitcoin mining industry needing low cost high wattage PSUs.

That last paragraph perfectly describes and encapsulates how to find a niche project.

would you mind linking to your case designs, or give a search keyword to find you on ebay?

I found some old photos, the maker space I was using to cut them went out of business so I haven't made any recently.


About 10 years ago and ten years into my career, I had been working and stayed at the same job way too long and both my salary and career stagnated.

I had two part time money making side projects. I was a part time fitness instructor and had some rental real estate.

Teaching fitness classes was fun, I made a lot of friends, and it gave me a release valve from working at a computer all day. Real estate was a headache.

Around 2008 -2011, a few things happened. The real estate market crashed and I did a few “strategic defaults”, I realized I could make a lot more by getting better at software engineering and job hopping, and I got married and gained a wife and two (step) children.

I gave up all of my side projects, concentrated on my career, started building a network of recruiters, former coworkers, and former managers and doubled my income over the next 8 years (not bragging, I still make about the average of principal engineer/architect/team lead in my area).

Even looking over the next two to five years, I should be able to increase my income by 50% (working for local companies) to well over 100% (if I can get into Amazon) as some type of cloud consultant, “digital transformation consultant”, or “Architect”. The only thing stopping me now is the travel requirements. I want to wait until my youngest completes high school.

But, that means I can’t juggle my job, family commitments, working out, filling in some technical gaps and a side job/business.

So no side business.

Thanks, this is insightful. Sounds like the opportunity cost of a side business isn't worth it for you right?

If I worked on a side business now that wasn’t purely passive income, it would be doing side software gigs involving technology I was already good at. I’m not sacrificing my job (main source of income), my time working out, or my family. The only thing I could realistically give up would be filling in skills gap and learning more.

So instead of in two years being able to command 50% to 100% more as a cloud consultant/architect, I would still only be able to make what I’m making now. I will be spending a lot of time building instead of sharpening my axe.

Even worse, I risk being further behind technically in two or three years and not even being able to find a job in development in the then hot technology.

It’s like the difference between deciding to go to work right out of high school and postponing starting your career and going to college.

to;dr -- Never devalue your personal time. If you can, monetize your hobbies that you'd be doing anyway.

I don't have a side-hustle yet, but I'm working on one. As you pointed out, there's an opportunity cost to a side-business. I'm working on a scheme to monetize a hobby; make money off something I'd be doing anyway. I'm just over 10 years into my career, recently married with a teenage step-child. My family-time or my "down-time" is very precious to me. During our wedding, we got some beautiful wedding save-the-dates off Etsy. They were water-color paintings. But then we needed additional stationary: invitations, menus, seating charts, table signs, a gobo (wtf is a gobo??), etc.... I ended up using photoshop to make all of the other stationary and graphics myself based off the initial Etsy save-the-dates (it was important to me that the fonts & colors matched on everything). My wife loves to paint water-colors, and I'm into photography & graphic-design. I'm working on a side hustle to do wedding invites and similar stationary on Etsy based off her paintings and my photography & graphic-design skills. These are (mostly) activities we'll do anyway. So... make some stationary templates once, throw them up on Etsy, and if people buy them GREAT, if not then no loss.

For me, monetizing a hobby is a quick way to start hating it. Unless you really want as much money as you can get, you probably shouldn't monetize all of your hobbies.

Can you tell me more about your cloud consultant, “digital transformation consultant”, or “Architect” as in what area are you looking to go (or already are in)?

I'm guessing you are helping companies move to Azure or Amazon?

Thank You.

Most AWS consultants that I’ve encountered are old school net ops folks who took one or two classes, became certified and all they know how to do is a “lift and shift” and apply on prem designs and processes to cloud. That always ends up costing the clients more without many real benefits.

Coming from a development background, with some Devops experience, I want to take companies to the next step - actually taking advantage of what cloud providers offer and interface with the developers and Devops.

As far as “digital transformation consultants”, some recruiting companies offer both staff augmentation services where they hire contractors temporarily on a W2 basis to work for clients and offer complete project management. Companies pay them to actually build a project and/or build up a software development department.

The consultants work for the recruiting agency permanently. A team is built up under them consisting of temporary workers either locally, “rural sourced” by hiring developers in lower cost of living areas domestically, or outsourced.

I don’t like the politics and red tape of large companies and have avoided them for most of my career. Being a consultant I hope gives me the best of both worlds. The total comp that only a large company can offer and the ability to just work on projects without worrying about the politics.

If I were to work for Amazon instead of one of their partners, I wouldn’t have to move - just travel a lot.

Right now, I work as a developer at a small company and the de facto “AWS guy” but I am also filling in some non AWS technology gaps.

Could you recommend a training course to get started on AWS? There are millions of options, so maybe you could give a pointer?

LinuxAcademy. If you sign up right now it’s $300 for a year. What makes LA different is that they have a “hands on training portion”. When you start the hands on lab for AWS, they create a live temporary AWS account for you where you can follow along. I’m working on the Big Data cert now. For that, they give you a preconfigured AWS account for the lesson they are teaching and a login to a website with a Jupyter notebook where you can follow along with the video and make changes to the Python scripts just to play around with it.

The next time they will probably offer this deal is Thanksgiving week. They have courses and hands on training for a AWS, Azure, GCP, Linux, Kubernetes, Docker, etc.

Did you do fitness classes at a gym or on your own?

I worked for a company that managed fitness classes for corporations, churches, and apartment complexes that had gyms. Later on, I just worked at the local Y.

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