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I stopped setting a financial goal for my SaaS (inkdrop.info)
333 points by craftzdog 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 116 comments



This post resonates a lot with me!

I've got a side project that's current bringing in around ~2-3K MRR (https://buttondown.email).

I spent a long time daydreaming about having it hit four-digits in recurring revenue — it felt like such an accomplishment that if I were able to crack it, it'd be a dream come true. It's certainly not enough to live off of (especially living in Seattle), but it's a non-trivial amount of money and gives me a great source of pride.

The idea of doubling that amount, though, seems — well, if not _exhausting_, certainly unappealing. I can't think of a way in which my life would be improved by additional revenue, but I can think of a lot of ways it would be hampered by having twice the customer base:

1. More customer support and time spent writing emails

2. More time working on features that aren't what I care about

3. Less freedom to experiment with other projects or ideas

One of the joys of having a project that is truly _yours_ is that you alone get to dictate your terms of success.


Have you experimented with removing your free plan? Curious to know what your support-time is in relation free:paid plans. Just from my anecdotal experience free-plans attracted the wrong type of customer for me, switching to paid with a free trial worked much better. When you have a large team and can built fancy funnels to make freemium work it seems like a great idea from a marketing perspective but for small(ish) companies I really doubt the numbers (% of upgrades from free to paid after a certain period of time) make sense in a lot of cases.


I think this is one of things where my Business Brain 100% agrees with you (the majority of my customer support burden comes from free plans, though it's worth pointing out something like two-thirds of my paid cohort converted from free) but my Hacker Brain things this project _should_ have a free plan, because free plans are nice and good and neat.


>my Hacker Brain things this project _should_ have a free plan, because free plans are nice and good and neat.

I agree free stuff is neat. I think the other side of the hacker ethos is "figure it out yourself", so I would never expect someone who hacked something together and shared it for free to then provide support for said thing. That's cool if you want to do it, but seems like asking for burnout unless you really like the support side or perhaps are looking at turning it from a free thing into a business, as you seem to be.


When somebody from free needs support, wouldn't that be a good time to "Upgrade for support or reach us on Twitter"


Depends on the person providing the thing. If you're ready to build some revenue from your thing, then yeah, upselling free customers when they need support seems like the natural thing to do.

However, there's another breed of hackers that enjoys making things more than they enjoy making money from things they make (which involves a different set of skills and interests). In which case, it's also valid to just say, "Sorry it's hard, but I can't commit to formal support."


Yeah, I think you did a better job of describing my dichotomy than I did. The galaxy brain corollary, though, is that if I get _too_ many folks who are asking for free-tier support, it means I can't support everyone at the level I'd like to; sort of a microscopic version of the OSS labor crisis.


I addressed this with my side business by keeping the free option pretty limited. Only a very small set of my potential customers qualify for free (very small, volunteer orgs, with very small problem spaces), so their support burden is kept pretty low. I still feel good about being able to offer something free to folks that get some value but can't afford to pay anything, but I'm not overwhelmed by ungrateful masses.


A little second-hand anecdata: my sister works for one of the big email marketing companies and from what I've heard from her the tagging features are a _big_ thing for customers. You could perhaps try shifting "tagging" to the paid subscription or somehow constrain the tagging on free plans?


Oooh, interesting. That's good to keep in mind — thanks.


You could run an experiment and track the data. Three cohorts: paid, free, trialing. Data points per cohort: customer support tickets per 100 accounts, conversion rate, ARPU, LTV, churn %.

I think you'll be surprised at the results. At the very least your hacker brain will be more informed, especially if you put a dollar figure on your customer support time. Doesn't have to be anything fancy, it could even be minimum wage.


A lot of small business don't nearly have the customer base to make statistically significant claims about their business.


this is obviously my cheap opinion and I am looking to get to the point where you are with my side project: I think you could have the best of both worlds by getting rid of your free plan. The key would be to wind down your free plan in a way that is respectful to your current users and you could do this by offering them a steep discount on the first year's terms or giving them ample time to make a decision once you discontinue the free plan.

You have probably enough word of mouth now and establishment to build off of with your product that you can get some new customers without it. You can always do trials or free POC periods.


Above you felt the tradeoff to get to higher revenue was more support work (not worth it).

But perhaps the real tradeoff you're making, is to do more support work in order to allow the free tier?


Hey Jmduke,

Others have pointed out about the free plan and I mostly agree with them.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is the opportunity to position your product as the alternative for people that think mailchimp is just too much. Tell me this on the headline. "The easiest way to run your newsletter." sounds generic. Maybe something like "Write and click send, that's all it takes. No templates, no extra steps."

Finding people that want to send a simple newsletter without all the steps of mailchimp should be easier. Tell your customers early that you will handle the migration part and you might find more conversions as well.


Write Click Send. I like it. it's not even registered as a .com (or maybe I shouldn't say that out loud)


Can confirm, someone bought this today through Google domains. I had the thought to do exactly that as soon as I read this. That's quite an OG domain, you should have bought it.


Consider hiring a virtual personal assistant and delegating the low impact, high (time) cost tasks. There will be an inherent limit to how much money you can make if you try to do it alone.

If you truly want to learn to build a business, realize that you aren't a software developer anymore. You're a businessperson and thats completely different. It's a different field and you can have a lot of fun learning it. It's a reward experience.

I say this from experience. I grew my company from 2-3k MRR and did it all myself. It was only when I realized I needed to hire myself out of low level tasks and focus on the important things did I start to make real strides. It wasn't long before I was well beyond that MRR level (now have 6 employees)


Something I've found helpful is to make a list every day of the tasks you completed, and circle anything you could've delegated. This is then an iterative process to help you improve your delegation skills, which should allow you to focus specifically on business tasks that provide the most leverage.


This is a great approach. And one must resist the urge to "just do it myself" because it'll take too long to explain to someone else or you want it done just right. I used to do that to, as do most software engineer turn founders.

In those cases you should take the time to write a detailed how-to document to complete the task along with a checklist of items that should individually be true/complete in order to call the task as a whole complete. Instructions/code for a human to execute.

That "system" (how to) and "control" (checklist) forms the operational basis for most companies that scale nationally and will remove a significant amount of stress and work for the founder.


This is a really good idea, and I'm going to start doing it; thanks.


Can I ask - how do you send emails programmatically? Every time I've done this for personal projects, I run into issues. Whether it's auth blocking from GMail or whatever. Seriously would appreciate even just a nudge in the right direction.


Not OP but I've spent a lot of time setting up email sending for SaaS apps. It shouldn't be too difficult, just use a third party provider like sendgrid and make sure your DKIM and SPF records are setup properly and you should be good to go. I've also used stuff like Amazon SES and it's not worth the trouble for side projects (or even medium sized, real businesses, honestly). If you have specific questions feel free to ask.


Hey there -

How would I setup a "native" email system. I don't want to use some third party that I have to pay for. I'd like to be able to send the "raw" email myself.

So for example my current system uses Java + GMail's SMTP server. I have to pass it a username+password, and I can send basic emails that way. There are at least 2 major problems with this setup:

1) So far, all I have done is send REALLY basic 100% test based emails. It's not exactly clear to me how I would send a fully baked HTML email.

2) Consistently GMail BLOCKS my username. It requires me to manually go in at least every few days and enable "Allow less secure applications"


Basically you don't. It's a really big challenge to create a consistently non-blocked email sending service, especially if you host on a big cloud provider like AWS.

Sounds like you are using the Gmail API. To be honest that's not really fit for sending transactional emails, and is increasingly unfit for 3rd party consumption due to API restrictions.

Sendgrid also has a free tier that may work for your use case if the app is for a very limited audience, other than that you're kind of asking "how do I get something really difficult for free?"


Well, how does Sendgrid do it?


Sendgrid uses a mail transfer agent like Postfix or PowerMTA (I don't actually know what they use but I wouldn't be surprised if it was PowerMTA) to talk to receiving email servers via SMTP.

It's not hard to set up the technical bits to send email. You basically just need to run an MTA that knows how to stamp your outgoing messages with DKIM (a cryptographic signature). Your server has to have an SSL certificate. You also need SPF records set up that accurately reflect what servers are allowed to send on your behalf. DMARC records are helpful as well but not required. If you're only sending as yourself, that's basically it. You should be able to get mail through to the big receivers without much trouble (maybe having to mark "not spam" a few times to start).

The trick to maintaining your sending reputation as an individual is to not send email for anyone else and never send content that you don't control. Sendgrid sends for other people and they have people on staff who's full time job is to fight with the big receivers to maintain their reputation.


Sendgrid puts a huge amount of money and resources into maintaining both technical and political legitimacy. They have relationships with other major senders and receivers of email, they follow every single rule to the T, they aggressively police their own IPs (of which they have many) etc. It's a complicated business, which is why it's totally worth it to pay them to do it for you.


Funny how its a common refrain on HN that email is the one true decentralized communication protocol, and yet...


Yes there is a real lesson about the pragmatic impossibility of true decentralization in email. Specialization of labor is a useful thing, it turns out.

That being said: the fact that is a protocol and not a proprietary standard does have decentralizing effects that do provide a useful incentive check against providers, even if there are only a few of them. There is also a real lesson there too, that one I'll leave for the reader.


Create an app password [0], and then use something like ssmtp for sending the mail.

Your app then then just call out to ssmtp, passing in the relevant mail information (to, from, subject, message, etc).

0: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/185833?hl=en


(Email noob here) I'm writing a very low traffic web app, and I was thinking about SES, mostly because it's free for small volumes. What's wrong with it? Would you recommend sendgrid (or something else) instead?


I recently set up SES for my own projects so some this info is fresh in my mind. I’m not an SES power user so ymmv.

My only real, big issue with SES is with email templates as in I don’t know of any way to view templates in SES.

So, if you create an email template and want to preview it, you’ll have to do it locally/off-SES. If you need to handle hundreds of templates, this can get tedious.

The other minor tech issue is that SES needs you to work out of one of three regions - US east, west, and EU (if I recall correctly).

If, for legal or hygiene purposes you need your data anywhere else in the world, you’re SOL.

Other than these two, SES has been amazing. It costs pennies and I host all my email, both transactional and personal, with them. Worth noting that my transactional email is in the order of a few hundred per month, if that.


I’m a little biased (being the CEO) but check out EmailOctopus. We connect to Amazon SES and if you've got fewer than 2,500 contacts/subscribers you'll be on our free tier.

https://emailoctopus.com/amazon-ses


My experience has just been that SES is a little less user friendly to setup and debug. It's not a huge deal, you'll probably be fine.


I'm using a combination of Mailgun and Postmark to send emails, and heartily recommend them both.


A combination of? Aren't they largely the same product? I'm just curious why you'd be using both.


Not the OP but I wouldn't be surprised if they use both for different purposes. Postmark has extremely high delivery rates but is very particular about primarily sending transactional email like account updates, receipts, etc. They did recently add bulk API messages but it seems like a higher tier feature.

Mailgun is much more flexible about what they allow to go through their servers, but they have correspondingly lower delivery rates.


Yup, precisely. I use Postmark for transactional emails and a very small subset of bulk emails; Mailgun handles everything else.


Just took a look at your landing page, cool idea -- one element of your service that really stood out was down at the bottom "Free concierge onboarding".

Really interesting offer. Do you find new subscribers take you up on this a lot? Seems like a great way to improve your migration tooling!


Hey I use your product! Thank you for making it.


What the deliverabiltiy story of your app?


Do you worry that Substack is going to eat your userbase here?


Cool


I had a similar experience growing my company (funnily enough, also a note taking app). When I reached the point where I had everything I needed, I had to ask myself, why keep going?

The answer for me was a custom-fitted realization that building a company is to be treated no different than a game. A factory building simulation game, like Factorio. The goal isn't to achieve operational bliss, because that goal is wickedly unattainable (or also extremely attainable, but would mean you'd accomplish that goal by simply just not playing at all). It is instead to grow, build, scale, solve, for no reason other than it being enjoyable to do so. Because playing the game, for problem-solving minded individuals, is a lot more stimulating than not playing it.

I wrote more about my personal experience with this here:

https://listed.to/@mo/2476/play-the-game


Nice Post. Now you are making me question if I should play the game.


That was an enjoyable read, thank you


Jesus Christ, this is disgusting.


Nice job ripping a new asshole in a theme-park version of buddhism, but I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to communicate here. I mean, yeah, sitting on your ass doing nothing your entire life is a bad idea, sure.


I guess this applies to solo founders (like me) and micro teams but after making a decent livelyhood from SaaS too, my experience is that a lot of people confuse product and project.

I mean a project is something you do in your leisure time (like on a weekend) and it's meant more to show off your coding skills or scratching your own itch or maybe like gaining the pleasure a painter gains from drawing a picture.

A product otoh is a very different beast. It does need a project but that is like may 10-15% of it. The rest is a whole new world of selling, maintaining, growing which has things like content marketing, link building, SEO, optimizing Salescopy, sending out emails, building an affiliate program, recruiting affiliates, A/B testing, conversion optimization, reducing attrition, giving bonuses, doing discounts and coupons, cross-selling, upselling, funnels, analytics and a hundred different things.

The product makes you money, the project gives you pleasure of coding. For new founder and especially programmers trying to make a buck selling online services it can be a easy pitfall.


This makes some sense of it. The author has a project that happens to have some financial reward.

A startup SaaS is a product, and while a project can become a product, I think it is better to set out from the beginning as a product. And for projects to remain so and be treated that way as the author describes.

Projects are great, but revenue is the primary metric for most SaaS products, and and if you follow YC school of thought you should be chasing growth of that metric.


Congrats to authors and good luck.

Have a question. I do pay for few things (netflix, amazon prime and couple of others). Their services are natural candidate in my opinion for being billed monthly.

Now everyone my cats included are trying to sell their wares however small they are as a service. If I've paid monthly fee for every notepad sized program I use I'd be out of commission.

How does this business model manage to survive is puzzling to me.


To play devil's advocate, part of the reason that this business model survives is because of how much better it is for the creator of the service.

Receiving a steady flow of income from those who use your product every month is a great proposition. Additionally, if you build a product useful to more people, your monthly income increases (it's recurring, as opposed to being cash-flow based).

On the user's side, the argument is twofold:

(1) there's increased competition. Economically, the switching cost is lower if you're paying each month— to make an analogy, it's easier to convince someone to lease a new car at the end of a lease than it is to convince someone to buy a new car when they have already bought a car. This allows a lot of new and impressive SaaS companies to grow like wildfire.

(2) there's more freedom of choice, because you're entering a relationship with a company only for a period in which it benefits you enough that you want to continue using it (and as mentioned above, there's ideally plenty of alternatives). This motivates companies to improve their offerings.

While it isn't perfect, I doubt amazing apps like Notion would exist if not for a subscription model. It just isn't worth it to make a perfect note-taking app otherwise.


I agree, it's ridiculous! Not to mention that many app developers (as mentioned in the post) can't grind along on a single app for 10 years, so you most likely are not getting $5/mo (or more!) of value out of the product for 10 years.

Sublime did it best, IMO. Charge a non-negligable amount ($70) for an individual, but pennies to a company. That's how many of us got our licenses. That $ should be enough to run their business if it's a good product, and when the $ dries out because of competition, make something new! Seems greedy that everyone who writes a note-taking app thinks they deserve a subscription in perpetuity.


The flip side of the story is that Sublime died. I know they have had some updates recently, but for years it was completely stagnant. The hole that was left by Sublime was filled by VS Code. Maybe Sublime would've survived with a subscription model?

When you're paying a subscription you are paying for the maintainer's continued interest in the product over time, which is not to be underestimated. Software rots quickly.


I don't know how many people have downloaded or purchased Sublime but I'm not 100% convinced it slowed down due to not having recurring revenue.

ST2 has been out for over 6 years and ST1 was initially released 11 years ago (based on the wiki). I have to imagine he made really good money. Possibly even so much that he lost interest after hitting a financial goal.

Back in 2017 MS said more than 2.6 million people use VSCode on a monthly basis. That's not downloads, but monthly users. It could maybe be double that by now (who knows).

But if you're talking about millions of active users, I don't think it's unreasonable to think 3-4 million people used Sublime in its life time -- especially before VSCode existed.

If only 1% of users bought it (40,000 sales) at $70 = $2,800,000 dollars in a business where practically all of that is profit. That doesn't even account for the $30 price to upgrade from ST2 to ST3. Even if he only sold half of that amount, that's still crushing it over a 10 year period of time.


Sublime is very much alive, they had another update at the start of October. They also have a second product now, Sublime Merge.


I just went back to Sublime. I'd forgotten how fast and editor can be.


I don't agree, coworkers and I use Sublime as our daily drivers. I think it depends very heavily on the tech stack and the work being done.

I also disagree that you can even compare Sublime to VS Code because one is a text editor and one is an IDE. I don't know a single person that switched just because Sublime wasn't being updated, they switched because VS Code has some really deep integrations and features that are easy to become dependent on.

Alfred has another better option than subscriptions IMO where they release new major versions you have to pay for every couple of years, but you own the previous version in perpetuity.


VS Code isn’t really an IDE, it’s more of a text editor with a much stronger extension story than Sublime’s.


did sublime die? I use it everyday. and I am looking forward to sublime merge with plugin capabilities


None of my colleagues or friends are using Sublime anymore. I think that there's a chart somewhere at Sublime HQ that looks like a ski slope.


If they implement a sane plugin system I will switch to Sublime. Currently it takes too much effort to use Sublime as and IDE when you compare it to something like VS Code.


I went back to it after getting sick of the slowness/bloat of jetbrains and vscode.


I'm also surprised by all the talk about Sublime's death. I use it all the time for everything except C++ (for which I use CLion) and it's good as it is, I don't see why would it need update churn. Well, except for still making money for the author, I guess.


Well people seem to expect support and updates in perpetuity.

In reality most software offered a pseudo subscription through updates. Every couple of years they would offer a new release with heavily promoted features to entice you to open your wallet. Bug fixes were often an afterthought.


The minute you stopped paying for service is the minute you loose it. With software updates you can still use the old software just fine. So, no I would not consider it a form of subscription.

Lemme give you very particular example. I own old copy of DxO labs software for processing photos. It suits me just fine and works like a charm despite it being 4 years old. they keep sending me offers to upgrade to new version with new features at very attractive price. If one day the old one stops working for me for whatever reason I will upgrade then. But I have already saved tons of money on just this software alone never mind whole bunch of other titles that I bought.


It's common sense that these SaaS products are targeted towards people who use them enough to pay for it, monthly.

The reason why it's better for the creator to offer it paid only, is that they can focus on shipping features only for those who care about their offering enough to pay for it. These users could be described as power users in comparison with people who expect the service to be free.

The website FAQ even says that this is for professional use, which means that the person who's subscribing, needs to use this on a day to day for their work (or something that's important to them).


Subscription model fits better. There are ongoing costs to maintaining the service indefinitely.

One off cost only really makes sense when you can sell a piece of software as being done essentially and move onto the next piece of software to charge a one off cost for. Having a one off cost to find ongoing costs probably isn’t going to end well as soon as a product is no longer growing.


If there IS A SERVICE. Releasing new version of software is not really service, Netflix is. If new version is compelling enough I'll upgrade, if not then it is vendor's problem. As a customer I could care less what suits better for Vendor. I am not paying $5-10 or even more/month 100 times. That is insanity.


The most important thing a SAAS founder can do is to clearly understand their own goals (which is exactly what this article's OP did) and then develop a realistic plan of achieving it.

I bumped into a tool recently that helps simplify some basic financial modeling and goal setting for SAAS companies called http://www.Simsaas.co

I'm always surprised how little financial modeling and goal setting is baked into the "side project hustle" mentality.

I've watched a lot of companies wind up on a treadmill - pumping dollars into marketing acquisition for non-sticky customers vs. focusing on product side improvements to extend retention.

Or stagnating at a level BELOW that "hey I'm making enough to live on forever" and letting a project deteriorate vs figuring out how to drive a little more marketing.


> Make it better rather than bigger

Yes! I wish more developers would heed this. There have been quite a few apps that I started using when they were new, simple, and focused. Then feature after feature gets added and over time the app becomes less attractive and less fun to use.

Jamie Zawinski once said every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

These days that could probably be updated to say every app expands until it can share to social media.


> Yes! I wish more developers would heed this.

I think a lot of us know this, but customers demand more...I am selling a scheduling app for small businesses, and I wish I can just make the app better instead of building new features, but if you have over 1000 customers chances are you are constantly getting 10-15 new feature requests on a daily basis, it's hard to ignore those, especially when some customers give low ratings to your app with reasons like "missing feature X", even tho the feature was never promised to them.


> chances are you are constantly getting 10-15 new feature requests on a daily basis, it's hard to ignore those

What I've tried to do at work is to leverage other programs as much as possible.

For example, many customers want our program to massage the data slightly, or maybe augment it with some fixed values etc. Instead of making dozens of different ways to do this, I focused on making it easy to export data to Excel (or similar) and import it back in again. The import/export routine is generic enough that it takes me 15 mins tops to add it to a new form if it needs a bit of custom handling. If it's just a generic grid it's a one-liner.

Similar for file integrations. We can do (S)FTP, again with a reusable framework making it a breeze to add. For anything else we just access a (shared) directory and the customer can use what they want.

Fortunately for us though, we don't rely on ratings as such, so we can be a bit more strict.


I follow the same philosophy, but my side-project got out of my control and its monthly profits now cover 12x my expenses.

Of course, maintaining it became a lot more stressful than when the MRR was at $10k and I had to hire a small team to help.

I still try to keep things under control by spending most of our time on product and customer support, and zero time/dollars on marketing/ads. This keeps our growth rate manageable (3%-5% per month). I also ignore all interested investors/buyers that want to scale the business.

At our revenue level, I realize I could probably sell the business and never have to work again, but I'm enjoying the ride and afraid of what the pressure to scale could do to our customers.


What's your project?


Nice try, Mr Bezos.


One of the things I have observed over the years is that some people are motivated to build technology because they like building things, and some are motivated by the fact that builders of technology make money.

People who like the 'art' of building this stuff, are (again in my experience, not an exhaustive study or anything) generally much better programmers and engineers that the purely financially motivated folks.


I don't disagree, but this romanticized view of the selfless visionary engineer/designer/founder is counterproductive.

the truth is that moderation is important. you need both. do both. be flexible. pay attention. know when to shift focus. getting stuck on one thing at the wrong moment is how you go out of business. don't go out of business.

going out of business is decidedly the most anti-user thing your company can do.


I think we're on the same page here, there is a reason that sociopaths who use 'money' as their scorecard do better (at least initially) as CEOs. It is also this same principle that explains why startups with multiple founders have a higher correlation with success than solo founders. Having the ability for one person to both pay attention and recognize it is time to shift focus can be rare.


Definitely. I think we are, too. I worried that your original comment could be misinterpreted.


I think there's a third set, which is people who like seeing other people use the stuff they built, whether or not it makes money.


I totally agree with this too. So three sources of joy; money, elegance, and utility. Of course that reminds me there is the "other" side of developers the ones who find joy in puzzle solving, overcoming artificially imposed barriers, and discovering protected knowledge.


I'd suspect that purely financially motivated folks are better at making money, though.


1300 paying users for a markdown app, I'm actually impressed by the size of that market. That's either a great job marketing or a much bigger market than I realised.


It is a huge market, almost every single one of my colleagues uses the built in MacBook note taking app on a daily basis (as do I).

Personally I have never found the need for a markdown editor (never really liked markdown much for typing) but I can see clearly why lots of people like it.


I'm paying for Inkdrop.

For me anyways, the reason to adopt it wasn't to do with markdown, it's just about having better UX than the built in Mac notes app. I don't know why, but I just felt like I was fighting with it on certain tasks, such as using it as a scratch space for system logs or taking notes when doing customer support.

The markdown support is nice / simple for formatting, but at least for me that wasn't the reason to adopt it.


> It is a huge market, almost every single one of my colleagues uses the built in MacBook note taking app on a daily basis (as do I).

What makes this a "huge market" for a Markdown app if everyone uses the not Markdown based note taking app shipping with macOS? I would guess that dedicated Markdown based editors is mostly a niche market, even if it seems to be common in the tech bubble.


I meant a note taking application in general is a huge market, I should have been more clear. Think about the amount of non-tech users that still take plenty of notes with a pen and paper (my parents for example), but in their case (and mine) the notes app on Windows/macOS or pen/paper is sufficient enough.

I would assume that the use for a Markdown based (developer focused, as it seems from their landing page) editor such as this one would have a more niche market. Without conducting market research into the topic myself, I would say that his success with this product would serve as a pretty optimistic point that there is a need and use for a product like this.


Ah yea, makes sense now. Thanks for the clarification!


I think the point was that the market is so huge that snagging a small part of it via a niche offering might plausibly lead to a successful business.


So I have an idea I'm kicking off a POC for regarding note taking that I think is a very different spin on how the process typically flows. I'm interested in building up a roster of folks willing to give it a try, would you (or others reading this) be interested?


I would be interested in giving it a swing, my Discord tag is Haste#0001, that is the best way to contact me.


This is really great, and gives me something to look forward to.

Two years ago I started a company with a friend, and we are _nearly_ at the point where our SaaS covers all our expenses. We do consulting to make up the rest, which is not bad at all, but of course it would be nice if it was completely optional.

I realized reading this post that I've definitely been focused on financial goals for the last few months. It wears on you, and it's not the best long term motivation.

Our dream has always been to be able to make our software better for a living, but it's definitely easier to do that once the financial side is taken care of :)

Sidenote, if anyone is looking for excellent geocoding with autocomplete, give us a try over at https://geocode.earth.


$200/mo is quite a lot for "basic". I could see myself doing 2k or even 20k requests per month, but nowhere near 200k. If there were a $20/mo option (or maybe even $50/mo) I might consider it. But then of course you have to deal with 10x of small-time users like me, who have limited resources and may have problems getting set up. So it may not be worth it for you.


We might add a smaller plan it someday, but you're right. There are enough businesses that need that much geocoding, and it's much less work to support 1 $200/mo customer than 10 $20/mo.

Setting our lowest plan to $200/month was very intentional and has served us well.


I can relate to this a lot. I'm working on something that brings around $200-$400 revenue each both (https://seeker.company) and honestly, while I'd love for it to hit the $750 or even $1k range, it's been hard dedicating time to it given the intensity of my day job. I'd love a healthy buffer though for the monthly revenue, hopefully I get some breathing room to do some more work on it in the future.


> Similarly, I feel so happy when I could build things, make progress or make things better. As it’s not a VC-backed startup, exponential growth is not mandatory for me. What I want to do is to make my product better instead of just making it bigger.

Great post! I can relate with growing my own paid side project (https://www.checkbot.io, a Chrome extension for SEO). There's a big initial buzz with making the first sales as you never know how it's going to be received when you first make it public. After you get used to the sales getting more steady and predictable though, I don't find the marketing and sales side that interesting - I'm more motivated by the feeling I get from making something that people find useful and easy to use.

Having a project that I can manage myself is also much more appealing than the stress of e.g. having to get funding and hire people as well. I enjoy posts about apps/startups that aim for and are satisfied with modest profits instead growing huge. I can never relate to stories about mega rich people trying to get even richer.


Awesome write-up and this post resonated with me as I have run saas companies in the past and while revenue was great it became a lot emailing customers, marketing, sales etc. I now am working on https://mattebot.co where I am following the "Make it 'better” rather than “bigger”' motto.'


Thank you for sharing! I have exact same experiance and I'm very uncomfortable talking about it. I guess one has to experience it first hand to be able to comprehend in full. Once I tried to explain, but I guess others mistook me for either being arogant or plain stupid. Not wanting more money is beyond their imagination. Thanks again, all the best in future endaveours!


Your comment reminds me of the fisherman and the business man:

> There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village. As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish. The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?” The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.” “Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished. “This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said. The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?” The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.” The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman. “I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.” The fisherman continues, “And after that?” The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.” The fisherman asks, “And after that?” The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!” The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”


Love this one, heard a version before where the fisherman was a Greek and the businessman was a German.


Inkdrop was announced more than 3 years ago on HackerNews. I am happy for the creator, and I am glad it is financially viable and going strong. But to be honest, as someone who often muses about entrepreneurship and lifestyle businesses, I find it a bit discouraging how long it takes to get to the point of financial viability.


Three years is typically just the tip of the iceberg ;) There's probably at least a decade's worth of failures that lead up to finally having a successful product.


Any tips for staying motivated? I want to see my project through but it feels like a real grind after the 1 year mark, every new signup makes me feel some guilt because I feel the product isn't ready yet.


You need perspective.

This is one of the biggest casualties of our industry's hyperfocus on software all day, every day, and nothing else. Everything in the world is two dimensional to us.

How many hobbies do you have?

Three years is only a long time if you are young or have never studied anything longer than the time it took to get your CS degree.

In virtually any other hobby or pursuit, you have only just become interesting to other people around the 3 year mark, and software developers are already daydreaming about the Next Thing. If in fact they aren't already looking at the Old Thing shrinking in the rear view mirror.

Pick something to try to get good at. It'll help reset your concept of 'a long time' and your pain thresholds to something more compatible with the rest of the world. An instrument. Crafting (wood, cloth, leather, beer). A sport. Mushroom hunting. Learn to play Go (particularly good one for developers who are uncomfortable picking up something too out of character). Stick around to get properly good at it instead of simply conversation at parties good.

Slow down, and take a breath for fuck's sake.


Thanks for the thoughtful reponse. I do have hobbies, I'm part of a road cycling group and I learn my girlfriend's native language, I used to play guitar but have less time for it now. You are correct though in that I hold software and particully the software I produce to a different standard, especially regarding the time I spend on it and what I expect. I guess maybe it's a product of having invested so much in learning and building things.


Very well put. I resemble this comment.


Indrop looks really well done, and I agree with the author's motivation coming from building core product as opposed to focusing on bizdev, marketing, and growth.

I know a lot of open source authors and indie makers who have very similar motivations, which is in large part why I decided to build https://saasify.sh.

I'm hoping that it will help developers and makers like the author in this article focus more on their core value proposition that drives their motivation while being able to largely put aside the growth focused stuff that most businesses need to focus on to be successful.

Saasify won't work for every project or for every author, but if it helps some aspiring makers out there sustain their passion, then it'll have been a success in my eyes.


Great insight and a great app you’ve written! I am enjoying it on my Macs and iPad Pro. And I’m glad to support your work, as I benefit from it ;-)


Inkdrop is really nice. Have just used the demo. Can't afford it right now as a student,but really amazing product.


Looks like he has a student discount, maybe that'll work for you? https://docs.inkdrop.app/student-discount


I love having goals. It keeps me focused especially when I fall behind. Working on watch.ly (pivoting to chatbot that connects users to sales reps etc via text) and Todo lists/financial goals keep me going. :)


Getting redirected to a 404. Is there a cached version?


It's up for me now, but in case it's still not available for you: https://web.archive.org/web/20191015012115/https://blog.inkd...


i don't wanna be that guy but the demo app is almost 300MB - for a note app. for comparison, vscode is 227 MB




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