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How Much Money I Made From Side Projects In 2010 (pseudocoder.com)
276 points by mattcurry on Feb 8, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments



This is very inspiring! Matt, for your next post(s), in addition to the monetary costs I'd like to hear about how much time you put into maintaining and supporting these projects. I can imagine that with a couple of thousand users you could easily spend a lot of time answering support emails.


You'd be surprised how easy it is to support web applications, if you work on killing the issues which continue to cause support requests. (BCC had something like 75k trials in 2010. My support load is typically well under an hour a week.)

Maintenance in terms of "Making sure stuff doesn't break" also doesn't have to take a lot of time. January was a bad month for me, and that only took about one hour of firefighting and one hour of (hopefully) preventing the next firefighting.


Wow, that's shockingly low! I'd have guessed at least a few hours a week in answering customer emails.


Thanks. Will do.


Hat's off, that was some fantastic growth last year. If you're ever in the mood for chitchatting, I also sell to your market and know a few things about a few things.


That would be great.

I actually emailed you in the beginning of '09 after reading about your site in Bob Walsh's MicroISV book. You took the time to send a lengthy and detailed response which was very appreciated.


Heh, I saw that when I searched right after posting the above comment. My thought was "Oh goodness, there is totally egg on my face if he has already emailed me and it slipped through the cracks."


Is that market averse to monthly subscriptions? Charging $5/mo. Could triple your revenue and turn a side biz into the main stage. And 5 bucks is a latte a month.

I recall patio11 speaking about marketing to the educational market but not sur if he covered recurring subscription revenue vs. Flat annual rate or not.


Nitpick - I think you mean "revenue" not "earnings". Nice article though - very inspiring.


I don't think that's nitpicking at all. He did mention that he was going to break down associated costs in follow up posts, but it's very prudent to note the difference between revenue and earnings.


You're right. I fixed it.


Thank You


Nice article Matt.

I taught high school CS for ten years and can tell you from personal experience that you are scratching at the surface of a very promising market. Most schools hand out the traditional lesson plan books at the beginning of the year during faculty meetings and in-services. They are a pita to fill out and maintain and frequently change year to year if you are worth your salt

However, I believe your sales would increase dramatically were you to target administrators and department chairs instead of individual teachers. $20 per instructor is well within their annual budget and they are very open to ideas that make day-to-day operations smoother.

Making it possible for parents to view the lesson plans would enable you to engage entire districts without much difficulty.

Well done.


Any tips on the best way to approach admins or department chairs?


Start local. Work with a couple of elementary schools and a couple of high schools. Ask them to beta the product in exchange for feedback. Help them load it on their server and start with a small group.

And then make it work for them. You have a good product.

Most schools have a curriculum director (or someone in that capacity) in charge of coordinating classes, adding and dropping courses, etc. They usually interact with everyone from admins to teachers.

Principals are the decision makers but asst principals do a lot of the implementation.

You'll be able to cold call with no problem. And now's a good time of the year to lay the ground work for 2011-2012.

Here's the key: be functional and very useful. Schools are up to their eyeballs with the latest wiz-bang gadgets.

Your product may qualify under some kind of Federal Grant. Many schools have part/full time people whose job it is to manage grant applications. They'd be able to help you as well.


Thanks, great advice.


Do you mean, specifically, the "lesson plan book" market?

Are there other similar things that teachers have to deal with, that he could expand into?


Hey Matt, out of curiosity, why do you want to avoid this blog post showing up in Google searches?

Thanks for these posts, by the way--I find them patently inspiring. It's nice to know I'm not the only developer with a million ridiculous project ideas. Keep up the good work!


I've been going after some big schools and entire districts lately, so I worry that they'll be less enthused if they knew I was just one guy doing this on the side.


Interesting point here. It's all about how you present yourself.

Fact: you are one guy doing this on your own. And that's the only fact they need to know. Everything beyond that can fabricated to build confidence and brand perception. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not saying you should lie or be dishonest in any way, but their perception of you (and your business) is entirely what you make it out to be. If you say you're doing this as a side project and you're blatantly advertising it as such, you're selling yourself short. Side projects die, and nobody wants to pay for a service that will die in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, if you advertise this as a one-man bootstrapped profitable business that you pour your life and energy into, then you create a whole different perception. People will support that. People will be impressed, and they will talk - as long as you can deliver what is expected. And there's some free word-of-mouth marketing for you. They will also be more understanding if you make mistakes, as long as you accept the blame and correct those mistakes. People are naturally understanding - especially when they're dealing with other people, not a giant faceless bureaucratic machine.

So I say fuck that. Don't hide yourself. Be open. Share your numbers with the world. Tell the world who you are, and tell them you're serious about what you do. If you aren't confident about your product, others will see that - and they won't be confident either. Don't make it a side project, make it your baby. Nobody will love your product if you don't love it first.


That's a nice sentiment, and applicable in some cases, but in other cases bureaucracy gets in the way, regardless of what any individuals might think of him.


Would love to hear about how you market to school districts/large school units.

I built a product (back in 2008) that was aimed at the education sector for students and teachers to use to study in groups, but alas it never got much traction with large groups like I intended. But it was heavily popular with international users from (mainly) Europe.

I had pretty much 0 luck marketing to school districts or schools, just a few classrooms.

It seems the school district market is a hard nut to crack that I've been wondering how one can angle on..


Going forward I'm also listed in the Google Apps Marketplace in the EDU section (http://www.google.com/enterprise/marketplace/viewListing?pro...), which has gotten me a few inquiries.


Awesome, so good SEO and a platform where people are _looking_ for this type of thing.

Thanks a ton for the tips Matt!


All the ones I've gotten so far have all come to me. So I'd say win over the teachers and let them sell it for you. Especially since a lot of districts will pay for stuff like this, the teachers know that and lobby for you.


The fact that "PlanbookEdu.com" is listed in the sidebar on that page means that it is in fact indexed [1]. I assume your logic is that mentioning it within the blog post as well would make it rank higher for a google search of the site name - would it actually make much of a difference?

[1] https://encrypted.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&b...


Probably doesn't want people who are paying for it to know how much he's making. At least, doesn't want that to show up as the first thing in the search results when people search for it.


Pardon my naivety, but... why?


Let's just ask this the other way around. What would he gain from people knowing how much he makes from that app ?

On the other side, I think that some people, seeing he is making some money, would feel he's charging too much (or something else). It may not happen, but why take the risk ?


Or maybe his paying customers would worry that they're relying on a service that's considered to be a side project.


Both great answers. Thank you!


Thanks for the inspiration. I needed it.


FYI: Matt, your "redacted" links on the 2008 and 2009 versions of this article still link to the site in question. The Twitter link on the 2009 article actually links to the Twitter account in question, too.


Very, very inspiring. I love posts like this (as we all do) because it's a good way to benchmark my own projects and gives me hope for future projects. When I finally round the numbers up (hopefully later this week) I'm going to make a post detailing the financials of my little 4-hour profitable project (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2176771)


As I see it, both your renewal rate and the number of free users are high enough to launch a promotion (e.g.: $10 instead of $20 for the first 12months).


If you haven't already, I recommend you read what patio11 says here (and on their blog), they are in a very similar market with similar customers.


Great post. Do you have some sort of referral scheme whereby current users can recommend the product to their coworkers and get a discount if someone signs up? I think that could help you grow it if not, your existing users spend all day alongside your target users - give them a reason to talk about it!


I did a few years ago, but it went poorly. Might have just been my implementation. Either way I removed it.


nice post. really. I bet if the UI of the sites were refreshed for something more intuitive, easier on the eyes, and a better layout (rsstalker) - i bet you would see an increase in signups.

http://planbookedu.com/ - seems to have a better design than the others. The UI of a site really is important to me, and how I perceive the company or outfit, not sure if that is a good thing, but its important. You will attract the more web-savy peeps - IMO


This service might not be targeted at web savy folks


you know, I thought of that, as I work for a company that targets the "IE" crowd, but regardless, I think good UI goes a long way, regardless of your target audience.


Matt, What caused the signups and new orders to go up compared to an year ago? Other than AdWords, are there any strategies that worked well for you?


Most of the traffic still comes from Google search, so I'd say a combination of user interest in this type of thing and being near the top for most of searches.

As far as features I added sharing which allows teachers to generate links that they can send to other teachers and embedding which allows teachers to put their planbook right in their website.

Nothing revolutionary, but both helped w/ SEO and increased visibility with target customers.


So you have spent 100k in adwords and over the years you haven't earned that amount back?

Or did I mis something?


Sorry, that was unclear. Off the top of my head I probably spent $5k in 2010. I'll know for sure once I write the next post.


Pretty sure they are presenting a hypothetical situation where the revenues mentioned are worthless, implying that revenues are not the whole picture.


Yes, exactly.


Don't see the match between title and content and I'm not sure If there was anything informative in the article.


That's a big "if", eh?




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