These products do not appear obviously commercializable and multiple years invested into them without materially improving the businesses does not decrease my confidence in that snap judgment. You could probably talk to business owners with problems, launch an (appropriately priced; hundreds to thousands of dollars per year) product against those problems, build contingent on getting 10 commits to buy, and be at +/- $100k in 12 to 18 months. Many people with less technical and writing ability have done this in e.g. the MicroConf community. If you want the best paint-by-numbers approach to it I've seen, c.f. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otbnC2zE2rw&t=2s
(I'll note that What Got Done is probably a viable boutique SaaS business if you somehow figured out distribution for it, at price points between $50 and $200 per month. My confidence on this approaches total. HNers skeptical because it is technically trivial should probably reflect for a moment on how much time is spent on standups at a company with 20 or 200 engineers, what one hour of their time is worth, and how likely that company is to put an engineer on this project specifically.)
If you run an API-based business in the future: Usage-based billing is a really tricky business model for a solo developer. Note that you can say "Usage-based billing but we have a minimum commitment", and probably should prior to doing speculative integration engineering work. Your minimum commitment should be north of $1,000 per month; practically nobody can integrate with your API for cheaper than a thousand dollars of engineering time, right.
This also counsels aiming at problems amenable to solutions with APIs which are trivially worth $1,000++ a month to many businesses which can hire engineers. Parsing recipe ingredients seems like a very constrained problem space. Consider e.g. parsing W-2s or bank statements or similar; many more businesses naturally care about intake of those documents, getting accurate data from them, and introducing that data into a lucrative business process that they have.
I would encourage you, to the maximum extent compatible with your sanity, to prioritize "Will this get me more customers?" over behind-the-scenes investments like CI/CD which are very appropriate to Google but will under no circumstance show up in next year's report as One Of The Most Important Things I Did This Year.
For similar reasons, I would suggest devoting approximately zero cycles to cost control. You don't have a cost problem and no amount of cost control will bend the curve of your current businesses to sustainability. You have a revenue problem. Your desired state in the medium term will make it economically irrational for you to think for more than a minute about a $50 a month SaaS expense; marketing and sales gets you to that desired state, not cost control.
I don't doubt that you're absolutely right, but this bit strikes me as hard. I've struggled to find one business owner with a problem they perceive, let alone 10 with commitments to buying a solution for the same problem.
Ironically, it strikes me that there's a gap here for a business to solve; connecting entrepreneurial devs with business owners aware of problems.
Draw the funnel diagram, with numbers if necessary. Having talked to many devs who believe similar, I think the most actionable advice is likely “Organize your next N weeks to talk to many, many more business owners than your last N weeks.”
I am lacking the domain experience to even have the first conversation, and it feels like paying people to ask "so tell me everything that is wrong with your business" is the wrong way to do it.
I know PG mentions "solve problems you have yourself", but I am not a business owner. I'm a software engineer.
That video you linked earlier - Designing the Ideal Bootstrapped Business - was incredible and feels like the right move once you have that idea. But what about finding that idea?
I was in Software for a couple of years and I only saw software/IT problems. But these problems usually had a variety of solutions and only some glue was required.
Now I've been in the natural stone industry for 4 years and I can't count the number of problems to which the solution is "add more people". So much data entry and data extraction from PDFs <-> ERP/CRM/Other software. 100s of man-hours spent on something that could be done with proper data formats and simple automation.
I personally believe that software engineers are SORELY lacking on all other industries besides software. We need more software engineers venturing out into other industries and identifying and solving problems.
this seems to line up with my experience well. But I don't have a good line of sight for me to actually experience those businesses outside of taking a non-SWE job and going from a well-compensated expert to barely-paid newb. Spending years learning a specific industry in the hopes that I can turn my former skills into a viable business seems like the wrong approach in several axes. I know VC groups (sometimes) have entire departments whose purpose is to understand other industries... it seems counterproductive for individuals to try to and go this route. Thoughts?
Some potential paths can be:
1. SWE @ SW company -> "BA" @ non SW company or whatever term is used for generic-problem-solver in that industry.
2. Part-time hourly work in another industry. This is fairly easy through temp agencies.
3. Apprenticeship in another industry (perhaps in more hands-on industries).
Some are hard to get, others don't pay as well. But to find gold, I'd say some level of hardship is required, and this, in my view, is a bulletproof way of finding that gold.
Whether you're able to dig it out and then able to sell it at a profit, is totally another question.
This sounds like a more brilliant idea than #2 in a list in a long thread.
Temp agencies are where businesses turn to when they have a reasonably simple problem and they are willing to pay to solve it.
Out of curiosity, what's your role in the space you're in now? Are you solving these data extraction problems?
I don't have a fully working solution, just started testing with specific documents (steamship lines notifications) to see if it's a fit.
I think it'll be slow road for each department I want to tackle - logistics, accounting, purchasing, etc. Every department has this issue, and I'm sure products could be built to serve those niches.
Most business owners tend to be experts in their specific domain, where they have already used their knowledge and expertise to great advantage. But running a business entails more than just handling the problem domain itself. There's an entire category of tasks and responsibilities under the "business administration" umbrella that the business owner will not be an expert in, and will probably despise dealing with because it takes them away from the fun stuff that is their expertise. That's a good area to focus your gaze on.
For instance, the accounting clerk may be spending 4+ hours every day manually typing invoices into two different systems, but to the business owner this is probably perceived as a normal and expected course of business. The accounting clerk is unlikely to complain about it themselves either, since they are getting paid to do it (remember that Sinclair quote). But to you as a software engineer, double data entry is very obviously a red flag, and if you care enough about it you can do a deep dive and see if it can be eliminated using automation, and present it as a cost-saving solution.
Generally speaking, nobody is going to hand you a written list of their problems on a silver platter, and even if they do, the problems they have identified will be so general and vague (e.g. "we have a lot of inefficiencies in our accounting department") that you won't be able to simply go home and start hacking away at them. So you need to use a methodology to start peeling off the layers of the onion, so to speak. And that always entails follow-up meetings and learning other software systems and familiarizing yourself with various business practices.
At some point, you will come to the realization that you no longer view yourself as a "software engineer". Rather, you are a problem solver, and writing code is simply one of the many skills you possess. That's when you'll know you're on the right track.
Why don't you start from your own problems?
I bet you have some of them and you are not alone definitely.
To give a counter-example, I did consulting for a decade before going off to do my thing, so I have a lot of personal contacts and I'm familiar with a lot of problems, both general and specific, that businesses struggle with, and turning those into products has been relatively straight-forward. But most solo devs don't have this background, so they need more specific and actionable advice to build their funnel.
There are like eight zillion guides to doing this online, and unless you're willing to spam people, it always boils down to: Grind it out. Start making cold pitches, and hustle for as many warm intros as possible.
Learn sales y'all.
They want “interesting problems” instead of just trying to create products that someone is willing to pay for.
After over two decades, despite all of its attempts, Google has yet to do anything successful that wasn’t advertising based.
No Android doesn’t count. It came out in the Oracle trial that Google had only made $24 billion in profit on Android from its inception until the beginning of the trial. I’m the meantime they pay Apple $8 billion a year to be the default search engine on iOS devices. Apple has madd more in mobile from Google than Google has made from Android.
What I called technically interesting is "working on a large scale product", which for you seems to have implied "work on a new problem", but for me it's exactly the opposite. The kinds of large scale projects I find the most technically interesting are long into their growth curve.
Personally, I find boring to be quite exciting - but perhaps not if the only thing you're looking at is the technical solution. Building a small business involves figuring out how to solve the mundane but important thing, but then you get to figure out how to sell it, how much to charge, how to do customer outreach, do support, turn the business into a repeatable process, etc. Building a business out of it is quite challenging and fun and the technical solution is frankly a small part of it.
Many solo-preneur types with technical backgrounds are way over-indexed on the technical aspect and want to treat it like their last technical job, but without a boss, which leads to a lot of disappointment and frustration.
i'm kinda in that situation now, and got to play all the roles, like how we increased our conversation ratio by 50% with me thinking like a sales person (hint, don't over-complicate your pricing page), and those things can get you exited for some time and the money also, i just don's see it long term. i would rather playing with something that i love to do.
In my experience business owners tend to talk about problems that are impossible to solve, or problems that are trivial.
Typically, when you actually find problem worth solving, it is not merely a software. You are looking at whole processes that need to be changed. You will change how people work. And when you actually try to present the new solution to the organisation, you will face resistance. People don't like change.
Some could say that it is the business owners responsibility to push the change. But when they give up, they stop paying you.
Anyways, the advice "just find a problem" feels to come from people who either read too many books and never tried, or from people who got lucky the first try.
This struggle is real. People also don't understand that software development is a process of continuous optimisation, learning and improvement. They won't accept a good solution only a perfect one.
No one really wants to deal with a saas when a one time purchase is available. Things like free tiers, lockins prevent us from moving until something happens (something always happens from big price increases to service changes or shutdowns changes to terms, etc).
Biggest problems are cost and uncertainity and losing a sense of control.
A saas to a customer is run like a fly by store selling stolen goods out of the back of a truck. Even though this person has been selling at this same spot every friday you know this can't go on forever so when he doesn't show up you are not surprised. When a saas closes down / changes terms / increases prices suddenly you are not surprised.
It works with some industries that have a high rate of change but if you plan on having a stable business you want to avoid saases
Every "tech" company is not actually selling tech, but rather is selling something tangible, a product of sorts. Software developers are selling their labor.
If you want to find out the scalable product or solution in a particular business or domain, I think you really need to be a part of that industry or have someone who is.
Otherwise, even if you end up developing a SaaS that satisfies the needs of 100 customers, you won't really ever truly be able to scale. So my suggestion is start talking to friends and family in other industries.
Beyond that, every business owner kvetching on Twitter. Problems are everywhere!
Certainly can be very hard to get 10 business owners with the same problem to all line up and pay thousands for your software, but problems are easy to come by.
Edit: filtering for problems solvable by any particular solo developer's skillset in less than 2 years is another challenge.
I have a backlog of like 200+ viable new product / feature ideas that help solve some business problem or improve the efficiency of activities people do with financial transactions involved. Many are too small to be stand alone for sure, but I do not believe million dollar ideas are grown in a silo
But as an example I also get a lot of fluff ideas for video game mechanics. For multiplayer games, the ability to tag another player for tracking. So you can pull up a menu and see players you've tagged and their recent performance and such or create your own 'achievements' and see what players have accomplished them (with necessary privacy options included of course). The primary use-cases being clan recruitment and pro-player analysis.
Random product idea example: A renting service for size-adjustable tables. So you can test out what table size fits best in your space. counter-height vs standard, square vs skinny, size A in room 1 or size B in room 2, etc. probably too small a market on this idea though since itd only be worth it before expensive table purchases
This. Why hasn't this gap been filled yet?
>This. Why hasn't this gap been filled yet?
It's called Upwork.
No seriously, hear me out. When a business owner has a problem they perceive could be solved with technology, they create a job or they go on job posting sites seeking either an employee or a contractor to try and solve their problem.
Where they get it wrong is that they frequently have unrealistic expectations about what it will cost and how long it will take. They have no idea what skills they should look for and who to trust.
Is there a market mismatch here? Absolutely, but you'll have to find a way above the fray of recruiting sites as that's really the state of the market.
The freelancer sites are just a starting point, they answer the question of, "what are some things business owners want".
Therein lies the problem: They know lawyers, doctors, accountants, heck even plumbers are going to be expensive because they are educated / trained and/or they get you out of an identifiable tight spot (the IRS isn't happy, water is coming into the house, I'm having a heart attack, I'm getting sued, etc).
Software developers? Outside the FAANGs technical people are viewed as fungible. Many, many small businesses are grossly undercapitalized such that a business owner might very well be paying that technical person a lot more than they pay themselves. Likewise, technical roles are typically compensated well above many other clerical / field / service / business type roles such that a business owner might not have ever paid so much to any other single employee.
Fungible does not mean low-paying. Plumbers are mostly viewed as fungible, however expensive they may be.
Or something like that!
I used to have an Upwork account, to try and swing some cash on the side. Most of those jobs are paid far out of proportion to what they are asking people to do. "Facebook but for XYZ", is something I'm pretty sure I've seen there, several times.
I suspect that you can get a lot more leverage visiting your local business organization watering holes...
That might be true, but it doesn't negate that there are a lot of business owners there doing exactly what I stated.
Someone who solves or even slightly mitigates either of these issues will have a viable business. I know that for the "ensure the dev is competent" side of things there are many consulting companies that live and die by their reputations, but generally these don't usually scale up beyond a certain size, and when they do their reputation deteriorates. I am not aware of any businesses that attempt to solve from the flip side and weed out problem clients (if anyone is aware of such a service, I would be interested).
As if that wasn't enough of a challenge, if you do manage to connect quality devs to quality clients, there's the issue of sufficiently monetizing that relationship: you can charge a finder's fee or similar when you first connect them, but once a client finds a dev they like they will probably stick with that dev. So in that business you can lose business because you match people too poorly (and they leave because you can't help them) and you can lose business because you match people too well (and they leave because they've now found somebody they trust so they don't need your services anymore).
Then on the other side of the scenario, the dev has to be logistically available to working on the project, be capable in both the tech and soft skills needed, care about it, have the proper motivation (financial and mental), and network.
The hypothetical business would solve the networking issue, but not the rest. But I think these relationships are built in a more decentralized way, though chance encounters, mutual friends, and cold connections. Sort of like dating. (Kind of is because this relationship seems like one of cofounders.)
Or I could be completely wrong and there is a stealth startup out there ready to shake things up.
1. Know someone at the company or a key advisor
2. Spend time together
3. Hear "we think we need help but we're not sure where"
4. Respond relatively insightful with 2 or 3 things they could do that are valuable and force rank them
5. Get feedback
6. Price it. Explain value.
In my eyes if you're helping smaller companies sub say 1000 employees the value you bring is in knowing what to do. And telling them. They need you to understand the universe of options, what you've seen at other places (i.e. experience) and to weigh in on what works. They largely have no idea how to move the boulder otherwise you would not be there.
This is why I faced finding solve-able problems much easier as a consultant because once you're embedded in an organization you see their problems, and perhaps you can ask the right questions and tease out a possible sale-able solve-able solution.
"... I outsourced much of the writing. That cost me more than it should have because I knew nothing about hiring and managing writers, but the experience taught me a lot ..."
"... no love for Xero ..."
As an entrepreneurial dev who is also a business owner, it sounds like he may have some problems there to solve!
Not sure if those are viable, just pointing it out. The easiest problems to solve are your own or at least ones you encounter yourself. Doing some consulting may help to see problems in business or industries that are not your own.
To be quite honest: He's spending all day playing.
That's a position I envy quite a bit.
You can easily amass 500k-1M and just coast on 40k/year in expenses for a long time. If it's something you want... a lot of people want kids, or to live in high cost areas, or to accumulate wealth to pass on, or have dependents such as elderly parents, or enjoy money a lot.
With the usual caveat, "if you are working for a big tech company in the bay area".
In London, starting on 30k and rising to 80k after ten years, not so easily.
I’m fortunate enough to be in this situation, where if I go somewhere cheap and keep my expenses down I can sustain myself financially for a long time, maybe indefinitely. And I’ve though about leaving my salaried job to do my own thing many times. I do worry though that the lack of financial pressure will just leave me lazy and “playing around” instead of focusing on building a financially viable business.
Anyone else have experience with this?
The one thing I'd say, is that it's critical to know whether you have a strong internal drive / self-motivation. If you don't, it can be a dangerous context to put yourself into (dangerous in the financial or time waste sense). If you don't have that internal always-on motivation, it's super important to have a firm plan and object/thing/business idea that you're going to be pursuing before you quit. Start at least drawing up some sort of minimum framework before you quit, laying out what you're going to do, how you'll spend your time, what type of lifestyle businesses you're interested in, plot everything out financially as much as possible and so on. Good advanced planning will save the day and help prevent catastrophy as the road gets challenging. It's a new type of 9 to 5 job, although it's more likely to be a 50-80 hour job getting started. Without financial pressures, you have to either naturally self-motivate strongly so you don't constantly veer off (get lazy, get distracted, get bored, and such), or follow a fairly strict plan that you've laid out for yourself ahead of time to keep yourself sane, productive and making progress.
Harder if you're in a higher cost location but you can definitely live off $60K even in SF if you're single.
In a sense, it's cool, cuz like, you're helping people in the world out for less than the cost to provide that service. But in terms of recommended reading material for people hoping to replicate the situation without an infinite runway, selection bias is a definite concern.
The argument would probably be that he's lucky to be in the position he's in. But presumably he earned the money he has from working at Google. So either dismiss his entire situation by saying that anything he tries to achieve from now on is just "playing around" because he already has enough money, or respect him for trying to continue to improve his life (even if it's from a good place to start).
I don't think it does, but looked at purely through the lense of 'how to be a solo entrepreneur' maybe discount advise from folks who can afford to be wrong for years.
I want to distance myself from the 'you should just work for google' folks. I totally respect the idea that using your savings to build the services you want from society. My position is that by default, postings on HN are viewed as recommendations to others. And yes there are other reasons to write, even if nobody else is reading it. But with zero qualifiers (Show HN, Ask HN, etc), my expectation from HN front page material is that people should read and learn from the material.
Anyone hoping to learn from the post for their own ambitions needs to be able to separate the typical from atypical in the author's post. The author is forthright that he's funding this via savings and I think it's reasonable to think he can afford to do so in perpetuity -- again, great for him; I hope to be in a similar boat some day. But like, last year's post describes a cost cutting strategy of buying a house, and most self employed persons find it challenging to get a mortgage without multiple years proof of income.
You make it sound easy! How do I do that outside of not just SF, but the US?
Work for one of the big tech cos outside of US is probably your best bet.
Bag-holding 101, folks.
It looks to me like some people have a well-developed intuition to distinguish between products in "seems like it would be useful to me" category vs. products that have a good chance of actually being commercialized.
I certainly don't. When reading various indie hacker stories I'll be damned if I can predict with reasonable success which ideas have a good chance of taking off and which don't.
> Your minimum commitment should be north of $1,000 per month; practically nobody can integrate with your API for cheaper than a thousand dollars of engineering time, right.
That's my thinking as well, but haven't had much luck getting companies to accept this kind of pricing. Even though it's all inbound interest (no advertising or outreach) and they're sometimes large companies.
Here are the problems I'm aware of:
1. People generally don't think about the cost of standups or meetings or per hour employee cost. That's just not something typically being considered.
2. They've compared with other APIs or use other APIs/SaaS and are used to <$100/mo. So $1k/mo or even $500/mo is a shock and they decline or disappear. Apparently deciding they don't actually need it that bad or going with their 2nd choice.
How do you overcome these? Do you actually point out that the API is cheap compared to employee cost? Help them justify it to themselves and/or their manager?
There are several paid SaaS apps and / or Slack bots that do this. It’s a viable niche, but has gotten somewhat crowded in the past few years. Earlyish example: https://iDoneThis.com (worked there 2014/2015)
I strongly disagree with the perspective here. Cost control isn't the core problem for the author, but every dollar matters at this stage. The difference between "we're losing money every month" and "we're break even" and "we're slightly profitable" is huge when talking to parents and other people in the social circle.
>You could probably talk to business owners with problems, launch an (appropriately priced; hundreds to thousands of dollars per year) product against those problems, build contingent on getting 10 commits to buy, and be at +/- $100k in 12 to 18 months. Many people with less technical and writing ability have done this in e.g. the MicroConf community. If you want the best paint-by-numbers approach to it I've seen, c.f. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otbnC2zE2rw&t=2s
Thanks, I'll check out that video!
I hear that advice a lot from people I respect, and I put a lot of effort into that over the past year, but I was never successful.
The biggest problem I ran into was that there's this "disconnect problem." I know I'm a competent developer and can build niche solutions to $10k problems, but I don't know which companies have $10k problems. I can guess at it, but they sometimes don't even realize their $10k problem has a software solution. The companies also don't have incentive to talk to me to explore the possibility if I'm just a developer off the street.
In 2019, I tried to do this with stone quarries, sheet metal shops, and email copywriters, but the first two mostly wouldn't talk to me and the latter didn't seem to have enough opportunity for a niche business.
>I would encourage you, to the maximum extent compatible with your sanity, to prioritize "Will this get me more customers?" over behind-the-scenes investments like CI/CD which are very appropriate to Google but will under no circumstance show up in next year's report as One Of The Most Important Things I Did This Year.
I get a lot of pushback about my love for CI/CD, and it always puzzles me. Is CI/CD seen as difficult or time-consuming? For me, it's such a net positive on my time and mental energy to know that basic functionality works before I push to prod. There have been many times where CI has caught breaking changes that I'd otherwise have to catch by waiting for customers to complain or manually smoke testing my product after every push. And I don't have to do much to set it up - just slap in a Circle CI config.yml and flip a button.
>I would suggest devoting approximately zero cycles to cost control. You don't have a cost problem and no amount of cost control will bend the curve of your current businesses to sustainability. You have a revenue problem. Your desired state in the medium term will make it economically irrational for you to think for more than a minute about a $50 a month SaaS expense; marketing and sales gets you to that desired state, not cost control.
Thanks, I agree completely and you succinctly articulated a feeling I've long struggled to put into words.
I often get pushback about spending O(hundreds) of dollars on non-essential expenses, and it always feels like it's missing the forest for the trees.
For example, I'm currently evaluating warehouse management systems. It appears that everyone in this space runs a SaaS; with ludicrous prices where they want to bill per shipper/ac count. We still plan on being in business in 3 years; and after 3 years we will have paid more than what it would cost to develop this system ourselves. If you are mostly focused on tech it's easy to think that everyone likes the idea of SaaS; but realistically the only people who get excited about that idea are the people cashing the checks every month. I have heard much lamentation and whining about having to 'subscribe' to software instead of just buying it.
I don't think any of these businesses would pay for What Got Done, but I think there are a zillion businesses very geographically close to you that would.
I note in several of your posts that you live in Western MA. You're two hours by car (assuming you miss traffic!), or three hours by train, from Boston. I can think of ten companies off the top of my head that fit the mold Patrick mentions as potential customers for What Got Done, that would not bat an eye at paying the upper limit of prices mentioned. (My current employer being one of them!)
Happy to help you brainstorm potential customers via email - I'm at (my_hn_username)@gmail dot com.
Oh, to clarify, I wasn't trying to sell What Got Done to these industries. I was trying to understand their businesses to see what new thing I could create for them.
I guess the core of my original point was that there's a big regional hub of businesses whose operations you do understand (i.e. SW businesses) that's right at your doorstep. (I'm assuming from your other blog posts you don't know a ton about sheet metal bending, whereas you do know enough to be dangerous with software, but I've been wrong before!)
With the quarry example, you couldn't get them on the phone. How about conferences, meetups, trade shows etc? Furthermore you probably need to search for companies that might _want_ to speak to you: younger owners, companies with less to lose etc.
In the sheet metal example, it sounds like you had already decided what you wanted to build for them before even meeting them (an improved software solution for their shop management apps). Maybe trying to just speak more generally about their processes and difficulties would tease out problems you might not have considered.
I'd return to this approach/phase and give it another go to find a market fit for the ideas before you start doing a line of code.
I think that's sound advice. The strategy I had in mind was courting industries that were physically close to me. I wasn't just calling the businesses, I was showing up at their offices to ask for meetings. My hypothesis was that there are probably plenty of profitable businesses nearby that are disconnected from the tech world, so other software companies aren't approaching them.
To clarify with the sheet metal companies, I didn't go in pitching a replacement to their existing tools. I always opened the conversation by asking them if they had processes that frustrated them, cost them money, or if their existing software failed to meet their needs. But I definitely found it hard sometimes when they asked me what I wanted to build for them and my answer was basically, "I don't know..."
Maybe it's just a matter of picking the right spot on the spectrum. It seems like you want businesses that are niche and disconnected enough from mainstream tech that big players aren't courting them as well. But they can't be so disconnected that they won't talk to you, either.
I think  that a better approach, one that’s more likely to lead to a profitable business, is to flip the strategy around. Instead of “Do customer interviews, sniff out a problem, and build a solution”, it can be more effective to find the customers where they hang out (online is ideal), observe the problems they complain about, and crucially observe what they already pay for.
For one, it avoids the natural bias they’ll have while answering questions (they’ll very likely tell you what you want to hear to try to be “helpful”).
For another, it helps you create something they’ll actually want, and pay for, by fitting in with their existing habits and worldviews.
Going into a conversion with the idea of “I need a problem to build a SaaS for” is only one level better than “I need to validate that they want my idea”. The format of the solution is already pre-decided — which is no good if they don’t already pay for SaaS. That’s an uphill battle you definitely don’t want as a solo founder! “If I could just make them see how great this is...” is a rocky start for a business plan.
Choosing an audience you know and already understand is a big advantage. Picking one you aren’t part of is harder.
You don’t need to be new and unique to be profitable. You don’t need to invent a new kind of product or solve a problem that nobody else has solved. All of that just makes it harder :)
 I think this because of Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman and their 30x500 class that teaches this approach. Not my own invention :) I’ve had success with it though, and other have too, so I want to give credit where it’s due. They have a lot of great free material at https://stackingthebricks.com
That's tough stuff. I've done the same, and while it feels good when you're able to talk in detail with a business owner, I didn't come away with actionable things usually. There just isn't a good substitute to being embedded in an industry.
Michael, work part-time in a warehouse (as manual labor) handling stone for 3-6 months. Guaranteed you'll come away with more problems than you can solve.
measure how often you're talking vs. they are if the split isn't 80% in their favor you're doing it wrong.
They sometimes do realise their $10k problem has a software solution though. You need to be in the pathway for when they go looking to solve it, not go to them.
Advertise in the white pages as doing custom software development. You'll get plenty of businesses contacting you ready to pay money to solve all sorts of problems not currently addressed by off the shelf solutions. Very rarely are they actually willing to pay anywhere near the total cost to build it, but enough to make building it worth it to you if you can get a couple other customers on board.
I deal with stone factories/quarries everyday (but mostly in Brazil and India)!
Let me know if you're still interested in this space.
But my impression of the author was that they are well off already and is just trying to have fun while also possibly earning money down the road. In other words, they are trying to follow their passion.
Even if he's not explicit about it, every lifestyle decision I'm getting from these blog posts is that OP has effectively F.I.R.E'd and these projects are mostly for fun.
I'm curious why you use this wording. It comes of as slightly brash, and to many, suggests that you shouldn't worry about costs. In my experience have to be "penny wise, pound foolish" making reasonable efforts to manage cost.
You can pile on loads of tech debt which matters little at this scale (e.g. your CI/CD example), but when you are small the costs can bite hard. You quickly limit your choices and end up spending time looking for funding, if you don't have some sort of reasonable constraint.
Can you elaborate on this? Is it just because of the inconsistency in revenue or is there some technical challenge I haven't considered?
I'm currently developing a usage-based API SaaS as a solo developer so this in particular really piqued my curiosity.
I perceived an almost audible crack from how hard this statement hits it out of the park.
I applaud your decision, effort, and perseverance. I admire your risk taking and having skin in the game. Trying to make it out on your own.
People forget the journey is not just about the money. It's about learning, growing and bringing your ideas to life. Being an artist, and expressing yourself through products.
Keep on going my friend. There's no doubt you'll get there.
I think you and I see it similarly that there's satisfaction in growing and learning even if the money part hasn't fallen into place.
It isn't easy but you should be able to clobber $5/hour. Two questions which my customers have never asked me:
- What school did you go to?
- What country do you live in / are a citizen of...
Can you rephrase this criticism in a way that meaningfully contributes to the discussion? All I see is your personal judgementalism directed at someone's phrasing.
Seriously though, I didn't have that reaction. We each bring our own individual expression to everything we do, that's not sad or cringey at all. The author is looking for a way to use his unique gifts in a way that is satisfying and valuable. The problem he solves and the way he solves it will be unique to him. Or in other words, "expressing himself through his products."
Creating a business is a creative act. It involves logic and rationality as much as intuition and imagination.
I do think it's an expression of yourself, you're packing all you've learned into something that you think will be valuable to other people. Your personality is reflected in your product, so is your voice.
Ultimately it's up to the creator to treat their business however they seem best. If you want to be all about profits, good for you. If you want to explore ideas, try things and enjoy the creative process while slowly building revenue, also good.
Yes, because this applies to virtually every human endeavor (even though I find tech types have a tendency to discount the former in areas outside their expertise).
The thesis of this old post is the counterpoint:
Discussion from my first annual update last year: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19054150
I was following you story since your first post two years ago. I just want to say that to succeed you need to sell something. As a software developers we can scale something (move from 1 to N, in terms of tech), but you need to find initial niche (from 0 to 1).
I think that main success (as a business person) that you have is an audience reach that you had (almost every developer feels that things that you are described in your initial post). So why don't you try to play with your audience? Man, 2 years ago, when you posted you story of quitting, I was sitting in Yandex office at Moscow, and a lot of colleagues were talking about you and you story. Isn't that cool?
I am not a real entrepreneur, but I really advice you to use your strengths (audience reach, mastery in writing, etc) along with you software development skills to find point of growth.
Thanks for sharing and good luck!
>Man, 2 years ago, when you posted you story of quitting, I was sitting in Yandex office at Moscow, and a lot of colleagues were talking about you and you story. Isn't that cool?
Definitely, that is really cool. That was one of the most fun parts of publishing that piece. I didn't expect it to be that interesting to people outside my circle of tech friends, but it was surprising to hear that it resonated with people in different countries and different industries.
>I really advice you to use your strengths (audience reach, mastery in writing, etc) along with you software development skills to find point of growth.
I've thought about this, especially when I first quit, but I could never think of a way to make money from my writing in a way that felt exciting to me. I think I just get more excited about building a product or service, but I do keep searching for ways to use my writing to complement my non-writing businesses.
By chance was it you that released the Rooster app? Apologies if it wasn't but I remember reading a blog post about an app that would text you in the morning or something and I could have sworn it was your blog. The post had a link to the app that I clicked on but little did I know that the app had been shut down and the URL was scooped up by a less appropriate website. I was greeted with a very NSFW web page while at work haha.
Having checked Zestful's page out, I got a suggestion for you. How about building a client lib ready for developers for at least a few mainstream languages? This should be rather easily achievable if you type in the Swagger specs to your API. That allows you to generate (Swagger codegen) those libs with possibly just minimal tweaking left on your part.
>Having checked Zestful's page out, I got a suggestion for you. How about building a client lib ready for developers for at least a few mainstream languages? This should be rather easily achievable if you type in the Swagger specs to your API. That allows you to generate (Swagger codegen) those libs with possibly just minimal tweaking left on your part.
This is something I've thought about. I'd really like to have a PyPI package that you can just pip install and it parses ingredients using the free tier, then prompts you to enter a license key when you reach the limit.
Zestful's hard for me because I could spend a year pursuing all of the ideas I have for it, but historically, feature ideas I come up with myself haven't attracted new customers. I set a rule for myself to not implement any new features until a paying customer requests it, and customers haven't mentioned wanting language-specific libraries. I talked a bit more about that in my August 2019 retrospective:
I haven't looked into Swagger much, so I'll check that out and see if I can create language bindings more easily than I thought.
I understand your rule, but I don't think it should be that strict.
I mean wasn't Stripe known to become so successful exactly because of easiness of use, in other words a good user experience for developers with simple ready-made libraries. Making a new payment gateway is hardly innovative by itself after all.
However, writing Swagger API specs for your future projects while you develop them might make you more productive, plus you do get that code generation for free on top of it. Depending on what language you work with, it may come essentially for free or with non-marginal effort.
I'm interested how the "raising prices to avoid feature requests from people who wouldn't become a customer anyway" worked.
I have built something for a friend of mine who is now my first customer. The tool solves a niche problem some of his peers struggle with too.
When building it, I tried to make the data models as generic as possible so that other businesses would be able to use the tool with a minimum of effort from my side.
Of course, I still foresee a lot of feature requests. How do/did you know zestful had the right basic functionality and feature-set for it to be useful to customers?
In other words, how did you separate the must-have features from the nice-to-have ones (knowing that a must-have for a particular person could very well be a nice-to-have for the market)?
To preface, I'm definitely not an expert at this problem, because Zestful still only has a handful of customers, but I can tell you what was helpful for me.
It is really hard to separate the nice-to-haves from the must-haves. Some customers will present their nice-to-haves as if they're must haves because they suspect that if they don't make it sound like a condition of buying, you'll never implement it, but they might buy anyway. Or they'd never buy regardless.
One of the features that I think I correctly took on this year was linking Zestful's ingredients to USDA entries. A lot of customers either explicitly asked for that feature or for something similar. Later large customers cited that feature as something that made them choose Zestful, so I'm glad I added it. I think the signal there was the high proportion of customers asking for it.
I think it is powerful to offer to implement that feature based on pre-payment of X months of service. It might drive away customers who don't feel comfortable letting you hold their money, but if your time continues getting burned by customers who request features and don't follow through, it's a good technique to keep in your back pocket.
Doing your own products is definitely the way to go for sustainability. Just one big one or a few have to work. Focusing on products is nice as you don't have to work for clients but instead customers more which can be more rewarding and freeing. Having only a big client or a few end up dictating direction and freedom to pursue ideas.
Overall the experience on the business, marketing and promotions side is very helpful in all aspects of life.
I have been freelancing/contracting/product developing for 8 years full-time off of trying it for a year or two and have had to take clients/contracts here and there. This helps while you are building up products where needed. Though it isn't all bad doing contracts it can take time away but also help you, sometimes you learn about new problems and thus solutions that can become products when dealing with clients and unique industry problems. These problems can be hard to find if you aren't going through some of the pain points related to them.
I will say most products do take multiple years to make it so fail quickly and press the gas on momentum and projects that you lean towards or are more interesting. Pay attention mostly to external product user experience and presentation at this stage.
Good luck on your adventure and may your travels be rewarding personally and financially fruitful.
Assuming you still need to make income at some point, how long would you go before you decided it was time to go work for someone else? Three years? Four years?
BTW: I'm more interested in how you self-reflect on your entrepreneurial abilities. How do you make decisions around that? How do you prevent yourself from falling in love with your work if it's not going to make money?
>Just starting to have income near the two year mark is what I assume would happen.
Yeah, I'm encouraged by Cory Zue's progress. He's a couple years ahead of me, but I'm sort of matching up with his first few years of income:
>Assuming you still need to make income at some point, how long would you go before you decided it was time to go work for someone else? Three years? Four years?
Good question. At this point, I feel like I could do this indefinitely, even if I roughly broke even. The things that would change are if my life circumstances change and I need the money (e.g., having children, a catastrophic health event for me or someone in my family).
>BTW: I'm more interested in how you self-reflect on your entrepreneurial abilities. How do you make decisions around that? How do you prevent yourself from falling in love with your work if it's not going to make money?
I've found it helpful to set goals and hold myself accountable for achieving them. I do enjoy writing software for software's sake, but a lot of my satisfaction in being a solo dev comes from improving my skills on the business side. Given that, I'm probably not in danger of reaching complacency - failing to earn money would mean I'm not growing in the way that I want, so I wouldn't be satisfied with that.
>Most people eat Beyond Burgers with ketchup and a bun, but those are hard to fit into a keto diet, so you might have to get creative. Consider crumbling your Beyond Burger over a salad with fresh tomatoes and a keto-friendly salad dressing. Or try out one of these delicious keto burger recipes.
Have you considered consulting or remote dev for 2-3 months a year? - that could easily enable you to hit your targets.
I've seen a bit of negativity about this being a waste of time since you're not making equivalent money to old job. For those people: This isn’t any different from spending time earning a degree by returning to full-time study. And your attempts are growing. The compound interest from these investments in time and effort will help you regardless. Even if you fail on every business at first you'll still get so much experience and momentum you can't help but do better next time. And I doubt any will actually fail: each will have an element that wasn't good enough but still capable of being tweaked to fix it. Even if you don't fix it, you've still learnt something in the attempt.
> I abandoned the site in April but came back four months later after realizing that it had grown by itself without me.
As a salaried employee, you aren't actually building anything that accretes value to yourself in that way. You don't show up for work for 4 months and you'll likely be fired. Obviously it never works out forever, but the value you build when striking out on your own has a much longer potency than getting paid in cash and stock.
I have a use for Zestful, and the price is good. But playing around, it seems good at the easy stuff (but I can do the easy stuff myself) it's not so good at the hard stuff.
For example the string "3/4 cup risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli"
It identifies the unit and quantity fair enough, and it's right when it says "Risotto rice" is the product. But then it says "Arborio or Carnaroli" is a preparation method. I can totally see WHY it says that. But I'm not sure that's correct.
At your price point though, I might still use it. Ultimatley to parse everything I need to parse it would be a lot cheaper than spending even an hour writing it myself. But that was my first thoughts playing around with it.
>For example the string "3/4 cup risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli"
>It identifies the unit and quantity fair enough, and it's right when it says "Risotto rice" is the product. But then it says "Arborio or Carnaroli" is a preparation method. I can totally see WHY it says that. But I'm not sure that's correct.
Yeah, I'm constantly improving the model, but there will always be cases it gets wrong. For most of my customers, that's a mostly fine result, because very few of the clients actually use the preparation note field. Most care only about the quantity, unit, product, and USDA fields.
I'll fix the bad result on the risotto example, but it's definitely a game of whack-a-mole. There are so many variations and corner cases that it'll never be 100%.
>At your price point though, I might still use it. Ultimatley to parse everything I need to parse it would be a lot cheaper than spending even an hour writing it myself. But that was my first thoughts playing around with it.
Haha, maybe I should raise my prices. But seriously, I'd be happy to have you as a customer. If you'd like to chat more about about your use case, shoot me an email at email@example.com.
Just got to call you out on your own article. lol
In addition to prep notes, there's also text that most clients consider garbage. For example, "2 cups sugar, I use Sweetums brand!" the brand preference is garbage.
And then there are tokens like "pound" that could mean different things in different contexts (e.g., "1 pound flour", "1 chicken breast - pound till flattened", "2 cups pound cake mixture").
The app only had a couple of hundred recipes so we wound up just having someone manually translate every ingredient for every recipe into a common structure in a spreadsheet.
Anyhow, thanks so much for these posts, I quit my job a few months ago to work on a few projects of my own and I've really enjoyed reading your updates. Looking forward to more in the future.
Yeah, that's a little like how I fell into Zestful. Very early into my adventure, I made a keto recipe search engine and wanted to handle ingredients properly. It started with regexes then spiraled into machine learning.
Simple solution: for your 'Preparation' just say 'Preparation or additional options' and the additional preparation can contain swap out products that later you can identify by brand name or common marketing name.
So when it says '"Risotto rice" is the product and the "Arborio or Carnaroli" is a preparation method. Changing that to 'Preparation method and additional options' then later parsing potential products helps it a bit.
My non-lawyer reading of the internet’s opinions suggest that you need to discuss it with your company, or possibly edit your employment contract before signing, but the latter seems a bad suggestion if you’re afraid of not getting a job. I’ve also read that these kinds of clauses can even apply several months after you terminate at your day job, which suggests that you can’t even start on the product until months after you’ve left.
All of that makes me unlikely to try to build a business in tech, since I would never have the capital to take such a long break away from a company, nor to build a product for a long time before it’s profitable without having a day job to support me.
So this means that an employer can argue they own software that you build:
- On a company-issued computer
- Using contacts you garnered through work
- On company time (this is complicated for salary employees, but definitely applies to time in the office, or standard business hours when you are expected to be working)
- Work collaborated on with other co-workers
Now I should clarify, I am not a lawyer. None of this is legal advice, yada yada...
But generally you can work on side projects and skirt around intellectual property clauses as long as you make sure to distinguish work time and work resources from your personal projects. The biggest thing is to avoid doing it while at work (or when expected to be actively working if you are remote), and avoid using a company computer or piggybacking off company resources (for example making a sub-account in your employer's CI/CD tool to run tests for your software).
So make sure you have seperate accounts for everything, avoid doing it on company time, and use a personal computer (not a work-issued computer) and you should be absolutely fine with working on a side project.
A simple example of this that I like to point out to people in tech to help them understand that an employer doesn't inherently own your soul, is picture yourself starting a Pizza Hut franchise (convenience store, or anything equivalent) strictly on your own time and dime entirely outside of work. Does your employer get to own that business, get to take it away from you, just because you work for them 9 to 5? Nope and it sounds particularly absurd when you frame it with something more traditional. Or imagine starting a real-estate renovation business, where you renovate houses in your own spare time; same thing, does IBM get to own your house renovation business just because you pull 9-5 for them? Hell no they don't.
The only serious risk difference re starting tech businesses (vs other traditional businesses) while working in tech is in cases of competitive issues if you start something directly in the employer's wheelhouse. Then you better lawyer up well ahead of time and navigate it very carefully.
> I’ve also read that these kinds of clauses can even apply several months after you terminate at your day job, which suggests that you can’t even start on the product until months after you’ve left.
These would be non-compete clauses, illegal in California but legal in many other states. Your employer doesn't own any IP you create once they stop paying you, but if you are bound by a non-compete you'll need to be more careful.
So for example if your employer makes inventory management software for coffee shops, and you decide to make an inventory management tool for grocery stores... then your employer will easily own your creation.
On the other hand if you work for a search engine platform (ie Google), and you invent an API tool that parses recipes, and you did it all on your personal laptop and personal time, then you should be fine.
By not signing those things, plain and simple. I have never signed an employment contract and I never will.
Do you ever feel issues with motivation when you don't see growth as quickly as you'd like?
>Do you ever feel issues with motivation when you don't see growth as quickly as you'd like?
Good question. For me, the more dominant feeling is frustration when I do something that I expect will bring growth, and then there's no measurable effect. That happened over and over again with Is It Keto. It was especially tough because the site's growth depends so heavily on Google, and there seems to be a lag time of weeks or months before Google reacts to certain changes or decides certain pages are worth putting at the #1 slot for related queries. It was tough to make a site change or publish a new post and think, "Okay, I guess I'll just wait 6-8 weeks to see what Google thinks of this."
In my experience, APIs are generally slow, unreliable, and tend to change without notice.
I don't understand what advantage an API has, except making it easier for the developer to charge based on usage.
Do people really buy APIs like this? Am I missing something?
Finally, an API over a library means the maintainer of said API has an opportunity to harvest data about usage. Perhaps they use this to motivate new features, or perhaps they can monetize this data on the side.
I seriously doubt these decisions have any connection to technical requirements; it's all business.
The big advantages for the customer of a managed API are:
* No costs of installing or upgrading
* It's language independent
I agree that it's lower risk to rely on a library that you have locally, but none of my customers have ever requested that. I do offer a self-hosted plan, and a few customers have inquired about that, but they lose interest when I tell them it costs 10% more than a managed plan.
All of Zestful's commercial competitors are managed APIs as well, so I don't think customers view a locally-installed library as critical.
Although it's wildly inefficient, a SAAS offering solves those problems.
I don't know how profitable the business is, but if the problem is popular enough it should be possible to make money?
Also, when you are selling to businesses, piracy isn't that big of an issue.
The plan is for my income to increase over time. The benefit of launching businesses is that each time, I learn skills to increase my chances of success in the next attempt.
Only as a launchpad for another job or consulting gigs, no? What if he wants to work solo?
Not really. This just proves that corporate life isn't the most profitable option for the OP. You just can't make sweeping statements like this based on a single anecdote.
I'll offer this to other "corporate" folk out there. I was self-employed since late 2010 until I recently (last month) joined a mid-stage startup. During my last year of self-employment I took home ~$400k in cash, and lots more in early-stage stock, and worked maybe 15-20 hours per week. There are very few corporate jobs that would even come close to that balance of take-home pay and work-life balance.
I am now working for a decent 6-figure income and EXTREMELY happy with the stability and 40-50 hour work weeks...in comparison to the ABSOLUTE GRIND I went through trying to help that startup get off the ground - this is a godsend.
Your scenario is VERY UNLIKELY IMO.
My first job was at a startup that crashed and burned, and what I took from that experience was that the only financially responsible way to work with startups as an engineer is to work on a lot of them to spread out the risk, or be a founder. There's just no other way unless you're comfortable with a ton of risk.
Like I said in my post above, this "success" didn't come overnight; I spent many years grinding with the business development, upping my development skills, and putting myself out there. It was not easy.
You are at a certain point in the cycle. At somepoint you may move to creating your own startup (maybe not because you had a negative experience earlier).
It's just the circle of life.
Didn't have either of those before.
Also, if I get canned, I can find another job...there is a LOT of work out there for what I do...
TBH, I just got bored. All of the inefficient aspect of my work got slowly eliminated over the years due to process improvements, which meant that only the most unpleasant, manual aspects were left over (read: legal, negotiation, business development, etc.).
80% of my income was consulting related. I tried to branch off into making a SaaS and "failed" (which I'm still kind of excited about but have no time to pursue), but I did succeed in making an App Store portfolio which brings in decent profit.
can you share what you did consult on? To me consulting is very mysterious as it's a very generic term but I'm always amazed by people earning 250K-500K due to "consulting". Is it easy to do or more like being in the right place/right time/right skillset?
Totally. I'm a generalist software engineer with a specialty in early stage startup tech. In addition to actually writing the code, setting up infrastructure (AWS and all that), and anything explicitly code or "DevOps" related, I also helped clients understand the development process, advised them on product, worked with designers, etc.
I agree that consulting is kind of a nebulous term, but if you ask me, it's essentially shorthand for "solving problems that people have that they can't (or don't want to) solve themselves". The problems that clients came to me with were all related to getting a startup off the ground from the technical side.
Slowly but surely, I found a niche in working with smart, non-technical founders who want to start startups. Turns out that most good programmers willfully ignore that market (for good reason, it's really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff).
I've been programming in some way or another since the mid-90s, not old hat by any measure, but AWS and the "cloud" was hardly present when I really started getting my hands dirty with web programming during the early/mid-2000s.
I knew people making that in the mid-1990's in the IT end of biotech in California and also Switzerland. I would assume that something similar to "computer people" salary increases has happened to consulting rates too, on the higher end.
Never made anything near that myself consulting, but even when I was doing that kind of work (around 2000-ish) I knew people who were differently motivated than I was, in San Francisco, making more than those numbers and working less than I did.
The trick was they worked on the business first, whereas I was always working on the product first (which wasn't even my product, of course). So for instance I might spend all night coding in order to make something shine (hello startups!) and be wiped out from it the next day, but these other type of people would see that as a massive anti-pattern and route around it contractually.
For instance I knew one consultant who only flew business class - it was in her contract - and billed every hour from taxi pick-up to drop-off if not more whenever she had to go to a meeting outside driving distance. She read documentation on the flights.
Of course I ended up working for one such person for a while, because the sort of heads-down nerdy coder with no stomach to fight about money is ideal for farming out some of your more time-consuming work. :-)
You've lost me here. Are those ealry-stage stock of yourself, giving you were self-employed? Or you made side jobs with cash+stock payments?
Clarified here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22202222
None the less some of us just aren't cut out for the corporate life. I'd pick poverty over the lack of autonomy, petit politics and meaningless work any day.
That said I understand risk tolerances and it not being everyone's cup of tea but saying everyone should be a corporate employee ignores an entire set of priorities people tend to have besides stability and money.
When it's just you, and your entire livelihood depends on sucking up to big fish to get that one payday that will float you for the next few months while you find another big fish, the boundaries between work and home dissolve. You feel a constant stress to get projects done and you even lay awake at night terrified of what happens if your next big fish doesn't materialize. Your performance in any one task decreases because you have to wear every hat. You're a good programmer, but are you a good businessman? Advertiser? Hustler? Lawyer? Can you afford a team? Will do you everything yourself?
If you're still a kid, don't have debts, don't own property, don't have a family, don't have any roots, the risk/reward and excitement of this chaotic and generally financially ruinous lifestyle could be good or even make you happy.
But for many people, the stress of putting your family, your investments, your retirement and ultimately your future on the line is one of the most unhappy things possible.
I don't think there is anything wrong with doing your 8 hours to make a living, and then taking the next 8 hours to enrich your life -- not for profit, but for health. Exercise, learning and growing, cooking and entertaining, starting a family, investing in life and happiness outside of coding... it's just notoriously difficult to do these things as an entrepreneur, and all the "big successes" as a rule (with exceptions) are "16 hour workers", as in, 100% of useful waking hours spent on the job.
Sure some people overwork but that isn't unique to running a business, you will find those people in big companies as well.
Also my experience was that having a family, owning a property and being rooted in my location gave me the support I needed to succeed.
It also takes a while to realize that working more than 8/hrs a day is not sustainable. You'll be less productive in the long term. So really even as a self employed individual it's better to work less than a full time job imho.
"No one ever changed the world at 40 hours a week"
"80 hours minimum, with peaks at 100 hours"
A 100 hour week would be 16.6 hours for 6 days and 1 day off, or 14.25 hour days with no days off
The idea that entrepreneurs need to work more than 40 hours a week to be successful is as old as our industry, and I'd go so far as to say that those casually working a schedule that looks more like a salaried position are probably "consultants" and aren't really entrepreneurs trying to build something or change something
But I've worked at many startups and ok 50 hours would be common. As they say, one pregnancy takes one person 9 months. You can't do it in 4.5 with two people (or by working harder).
Would you also put your kids in poverty? It's not a simple when you think beyond yourself.
This isn't a given. Plenty of (particularly large) companies will inflict this on you, but it's also very possible to work at a company and have autonomy and do meaningful work.
We are talking about programmers here. Unless there are unique circumstances that sort of poverty is off the table.
I've done this before and I would do it again. I wish I had something profound to add but I don't. Working in a corporate environment is just incredibly grating.
Also "being poor" is generally not the fault of the poor person. Accepting a job however, is the fault of the employed person.
Poverty doesn’t liberate you, it restricts you, and not just in the workplace, but in your entire life. Want to go on a trip or eat fancy food? Too bad you can’t, because you don’t have money and you’re broke poor. Want to get a great career? Too bad, you got to work at fast food joint because you can’t afford the education. Want kids? Nope you can’t afford it so keep it in your pants, and women don’t want to get serious with some broke dude anyway.
There is no way you’d choose poverty. There is little advantage to being poor in society that punishes being poor.
First, if you do rake in corporate money, and don't spend it all, you'll have a nest egg which gives you so much more choice in how you live the rest of your life.
Second, if you don't have a nest egg - yeah you can't just gamble that you'll build software-as-a-service and instantly be making enough money to live. As he said, people assumed he'd use freelance to make up the difference. He didn't, but it is an option. Now freelance/contracting can be nearly as corporate as a full-time office job, and it isn't as stable an income, but it can pay really well.
For many software engineers three months of full-time contracting could pay for a year's worth of expenses. (Assuming you make choices that align with that goal.) This would let you spend a great deal more time focusing on your business goals, and give you some freedom to fail some of the time.
I'm doing contracting work for multiple different customers, long-term project, and I generate 100-200k of revenue on a yearly basis from that. That leaves me with slightly higher salary than if I'd work for a boss, but I have tonnes, and tonnes more freedom and time for my kids. It's just not possible to scale that past 300k/yr, because there's only so much time you can sell.
Once you have a product, you can scale it through the roof, since a digital product, if set up well, has negligible costs, will allow you to earn way more, but only if you find something that people want bad enough to pay for and a large enough group to pay for it. Loads and loads of people have the skills required to build a product, but not a lot have the right idea and marketing to go along with it to make it a success.
In general, the way it's worked for me is if I have multiple potential new gigs, I ask for more money. When the next gig comes along, that's my new baseline. Over the last 6 years that's helped moved the hourly rate to a number I wouldn't have asked for upfront. I hate to say no to customers too, so sometimes end up working 60-70 hour weeks in bursts. It's worth it though, because when things get quiet, I can go snowboarding for a week without asking a boss for permission...
My hourly rate is €85 currently, which is a lot for the small to medium size businesses I work for. Hiking up that rate would meen I would have to work for larger companies, which I don’t want to.
I work from my own office, and get to spend loads of time with my family; if I’d start to work for bigger companies, I’d have to work on-site and loose a lot of time in transit and make it a lot more difficult to dictate the working hours on a day to day basis.
With everything going on this year: Brexit, US elections, impeachment, corona virus, etc... it’s entirely possible this years returns could be negative.
My point is that when you get to the point where your savings is high enough your money works for you at a level that makes it possible to live off of alone.
If the S&P is looking flat then you could rollover some of it to a high dividend REIT that pays 10-15% too.
You know the business cycle is peaking when people think you can easily throw their money into some investment paying 15%...no problem!
Can you explain how a public investment - any public investment - can continuously generate those kinds of returns without taking on massive amounts of risk?
Let me guess...you thought 2013 was the top?
If it doesn't work out, it's not like he lost the knowledge, he can still easily get a job anywhere. Probably even a bump from the startup experience.
for most of history everyone worked for themselves. one could argue the modern day corporate structure is completely unnatural and doesn't fit (most) everyone.