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Apps I pay for as a bootstrapped business (patwalls.co)
394 points by patwalls on Feb 11, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 130 comments

I’m going to be cynical and applaud the author at one of the most effective S.E.O. efforts I have seen lately: including his own app on a list of effective and well-curated apps for startups.

This is a great point. A good move by the author. Add some value, but extract some value as well.

Here is the process for everyone. Insert your tool in #2

1) Create post about the tools you use 2) Include Webase [1] 3) Watch traffic roll in! :-)

[1] https://www.webase.com

That is brilliant. Here is a list of 10 experts in their field. #5 Self.

If everybody does this then I guess it's up to Google to compute the consensus among those lists.

A very old content marketing formula made somewhat famous again years ago by Buffer App (Buffer.com)—#8 on this list.

Disclosure: I was (briefly) VP Mktg at Buffer. While there I pushed more for creating evergreen content than tool lists


I think it's unethical. It's very similar to all of the paid content garbage that's saturated Google over the last few years.

Is his app really the best option in that product space?

I know most people around here will applaud the effort as clever, but I think it's the type of tactic that's ruining the internet. Nothing gets published without some marketing related alterior motive.

I think it is 100% defensible if they put out a "this is my app" disclaimer, and I personally don't fault anyone for not including that as long as they aren't lying about it. Getting anyone to try a product is hard. If you put in effort to research, organize, share and promote useful domain knowledge and I find the rest of your advice useful, you have provided a decent resume for the app.

Yes, people are always selling you something and that is annoying, but I would much rather an honest post with a small self-serving ad than the alternative which seems to be a top 10 list written by a freelancer for $5 and ranked by referral payouts. Well-researched articles written for no reason are few and far between.

> Is his app really the best option in that product space?

Does it have to be the best? Is the best for you? or for the consumer segment he targeted? Who's judging?

> I think it's unethical. It's very similar to all of the paid content garbage that's saturated Google over the last few years.

Do you prefer cold-call? Door-too-door salesman? One of your subscriber emails slip it in?

> Nothing gets published without some marketing related alterior motive.

Why is this ruining the internet? 99% of the content is about the SaaS he used to run his businesses and one of them happened to be "X" that he mentioned down the list. He disclose it and he's nothing more than dog-fooding his own stuff.

This is MILESSSS better than anything else out there.

By your litmus-test, YCombinator (and hackernews) have some marketing related ulterior motives as well.

>Is his app really the best option in that product space?

He didn't say it was the best. He said he pays for it and uses it. Nothing wrong with dogfooding. I'd be worried if he wasn't using it. And he offers a full disclaimer.

"All The Apps That I Pay For"

Do cynical people applaud? This is more of a woke economist perspective.

If you feel trapped in Heroku or Netlify and you have a somewhat technical background I wrote an article recently on how to escape them using a DO droplet and Nginx. $200 a month seems high to me for what it is.


I'd like to switch platforms but I'm SO fast and comfortable with Heroku.

Change costs for me might be high. I'd rather spend time on marketing / features that could get me 3 more customers/month to make up for it...

I learned Heroku at my coding boot camp and they have made thousands of $$ off of me since...

Agreed, I've been using Heroku about 8 years now for my solo SaaS business. The most I've ever done in dev-ops is restarting a server and upgrading postgres versions. However, paying around $800/mo, I do fantasize sometimes on switching to AWS. Honestly I wouldn't even know where to start, and likely not a good use of time. For Heroku, I'd like to see HTTP/2 support, automated wildcard certs, and another Performance dyno option.

If you want an in-between I'm a huge fan of DigitalOcean. Fantastic documentation, better support in my experience, all in all more welcoming to the 'middle-guy.' Totally understand that it's probably not a great use of your time to switch over if your margins can afford 800/mo with ease.

DigitalOcean certainly is great, I'm using it too, but it's still far more work running your stuff there vs Heroku.

Start with Dokku

$200/mo sounds like a lot, but you have to realize your solution also incurs some serious operational/mental costs esp when you have more than one project. Where every successive project you develop does thing slightly different as you improve, and every time you ssh into a given project server you go `cat ~/README.md` to remember all the idiosyncrasies with this specific project and its deployment. And you still don't have a solution for things like logging and piping logs to a service like PaperTrail. And your deploys have downtime, and if you have a zero-downtime solution you will likely have to debug it here and there, or figure out why your rollback broke.

How many people running their own DO droplet even have a convenient way

One of the main perks of Heroku that makes it worth the cost imo is having a standard way to do everything whether you have one or 100 projects. You certainly don't have to go all the way in either, you can use Heroku just for your app servers and then host the rest of your infra on AWS like your DB (RDS).

Dokku is a great self-hosted alternative as well.

I am very glad that I started with and maintain simple servers that act simply as computers connected to the internet. I understand more clearly how it works and can make more informed decisions on when and why more managed services can benefit me.

@patwalls a note regarding Sendgrid. As a user of their free tier (for a freelance job) I was recently bitten by a shared IP that was put on a block list, probably due to abuse by another Sendgrid user.

Support does not migrate accounts on the shared IP pool to another IP, basically leaving me unable to send email for days.

Might be worth upgrading to their Pro plan ($90/mo). This gets you your own dedicated IP so this won't bite you in the future.

Dedicated IPs can be worse for low senders, as there's no other legitimate volume coming through outside of your own, so you need to build and maintain your own reputation entirely.

Ideal solution would be a provider that only allows trusted people on shared IPs. Generally a non-free provider will be best for that.

This is why you pay for their services. Companies like SendGrid, MailChimp, AWS, etc, know how to best mitigate this and have relationships a single person can't have. They do a lot on their platforms to prevent abuse.

how is building and maintaining your own reputation a problem for low volume sender?

If you don’t build a reputation your emails won’t get delivered. New IPs have no reputation, so your users will suffer.

I’m using Mailgun on the free plan with some small orgs, got bit by the shared ip thing.

A quick note to their support and they switched the free plan to a new ip. Zero hassle.

> Sendgrid. As a user of their free tier (for a freelance job) I was recently bitten by a shared IP that was put on a block list, probably due to abuse by another Sendgrid user. Support does not migrate accounts on the shared IP pool to another IP, basically leaving me unable to send email for days.

Same problem here with SendGrid, very annoying. Answer of the SendGrid support:

> I have looped in our Compliance team to start the delisting process. I am unable to provide you with an exact ETA for when this will be complete

After days it's still not resolved, and emails still bounce for all recipients at Hotmail.

The only solution seems to be the $90/mo plan with dedicated IP... Pretty expensive for < 5,000 emails per month.

I had the same issue recently as well and have since started using Postmark successfully.

Since you use Stripe you receive directly money from customers (100K USD annually according to https://patwalls.co/2019-going-full-time-as-a-founder ) without an intermediary to handle VAT / GST

how do you handle VAT / GST globally ? Are your customers restricted to some locations ? Do you file VAT / GST return only for a few states ?

Just a comment on the site, why is the text so big? I had to zoom out to 60% to make reading comfortable on a laptop.

That's weird, I've never ever heard someone complain that a font was too big to be comfortable to read before. Do you have any sense what about it makes it more uncomfortable for you? Small fonts are easy to explain.

I've reached an age where I have trouble reading small fonts, and often zoom the web page to be readable. In fact, I have HN permanently set to 125%.

Yet even I thought the font was too big in this one. I _didn't_ have to shrink the text to be more readable but I had to scroll more than usual.

I can second that. It looks fine on mobile, but awful on my work Macbook. Head's up to the author, you might want to check your CSS.

I tallied up everything and he spends about $18,348/year. Assuming he's making enough of a profit, his expenses seem worth it.

   Upwork (~$1000/month): Freelancers.
  I especially use Upwork because I don't have
  to think about all the billing stuff and time tracking, etc.

The same for me, and they take a cut both sides (3% or 50 USD / month + 3% fees USD/EUR on my side and 5 to 10% on the freelancer side). I was wondering if there was an alternative to upwork for those who only need it for its automatic billing system + time tracking + weekly summary + screenshots of work (don't need to research for new talents).

I guess time tracking tool could enter this market

I've tended to avoid Upwork, because it seems onerous on Freelancers, and also seems to result in the commoditization of freelancers. Working with that kind of talent can be burdensome. The best results require you to be ultra specific in your requests. I guess I'd prefer spending a bit more on Smart people... but those guys aren't on Upwork.

There's everything on upwork ! Really good workers, bad people (lying about their schedule, deliverable, making up false excuses and insulting you) and average freelancers. If you are looking for someone remotely for a few well-defined small tasks upwork is really good to start with

Where are they?

I would quit if I was forced to install that.

This is in response to Upwork. If you’re not on Upwork this isn’t relevant.

Upwork charges 20% of the first $500, 10% of the first $10,000, and then 5% onwards. Limits are per freelancer, client pair.

If you're spending >$10,000 on an individual freelancer it seems it might make more sense to hire someone?

(Getting started working with ~$500 webdev contracts on Upwork recently so very familiar with these numbers)

I would pay for that if it's cheaper and my freelancers were OK with it.

I think another benefit of using Upwork for this is the hours get logged on their Upwork profile which makes them more "active" and preferred in the Upwork algo?

Yeah right ! That's why I was thinking that freelancers would be OK to stay a few months on upwork (and improve their profile) and if you want to hire them more long term they'll be OK to switch and avoid the high fees

upwork has a non-circumvention clause with a minimal $3500 fee to break (it pretty much always scales to be not worth breaking).

As to "how will they catch us" it would seem to fairly obvious from the freelancers schedule

They are not necessarily enforceable. It's probably just to scare the freelancers. Once upwork makes contact between freelancer and employers there's nothing they can do to really prevent them from talking between each others and agreeing on working on a new contract.

(also I've been told this clause is only for the 2 first years.. ?)

given high hourly rates for engineers - what does $1000 buy you?

for 80 USD/hour, more than 12 hours of work :) ?

This list would be a lot more interesting if he disclosed what his business actually was...

I run starterstory.com and trypigeon.co.

Awesome, thanks for replying!

"Starterstory" is mentioned twice on the blog post.

Great list. I'm seeing $1529/month + stripe fees (probably 2.9%). Most of that is Upwork and Heroku.

I'd be curious to see what the other side is as well.

I like this list as a list of services that I would like to write, maybe improve on and undercut. :)

As Upwork is both the single largest spend and actually larger than all the others combined, I'd be curious about an additional breakdown of costs for what types of services are being purchased through the platform.

hi Pat! I'd love to subscribe to your blog, but couldn't find an RSS feed. Could you add one? Thanks!

My wife has a consulting business, so forwarded your practical list of service to her.

I built this daily journal thing a few months ago, just been hacking on it. Not too much of a blog but just to keep myself writing every day and putting my ideas down.

Thinking about ways to keep people updated, but I want to keep it minimal with no CTAs or email list. RSS is easy to add.

Open to suggestions.

Looks like the site is built from a somewhat hobbyist-class (although quite impressive and open source) CMS:



I would as well echo support for adding RSS capabilities here.

I would be interested to hear why you use Sendgrid and Klaviyo? Is that just legacy transaction emails or are there features you can't accomplish with one or the other?

I use Klaviyo to send a weekly newsletter to my lists, drip sequence after signup, or one-off marketing emails.

I use SendGrid for when users sign up, reset password, etc.

Anyone used Streak and Pigeon? Curious to hear thoughts?

I'm curious whether Upwork actually makes $1000 per month in fees from author's business. That'd be quite impressive, meaning upwards from $10k per month on contractor-related expenses (assuming Upwork takes at least 10%).

Alternatively, this could mean that actual contractor bills add up to about $1000 per month total, including Upwork fees.

This is a good summary of The monthly investment for even a one-person side project.

Do you also use an accounting tool like QuickBooks or Xero?

No, just spreadsheets for now, but I do pay for a tax accountant. I will add that right now.

what is wip.chat, the homepage is useless.

Maker of WIP here. You're right. The homepage doesn't make a lot of sense to new (potential) users.

Our focus has been on increasing the product for our existing members, but eventually we'll be improving the homepage/etc for people not yet familiar with the service.

A producthunt simile it seems.

WIP came out long before Product Hunt started doing something similar.

Okay. I meant no judgement on lineage or merit, but producthunt is the relative frame of reference that I think most people on HN would understand.

Can you clarify on your point, though? PH has been around since at least 2013. The .chat TLD didn't go live until 2015, and that specific domain was registered is late 2017. Do you mean a specific features like todo or something?

Both sites are ostensibly primarily motivated by self-promotion, usually under the guise of some sort of public productivity tools.

Hi there. Maker of BetaList and WIP here. I think there are two things being conflated.

BetaList (startup discovery platform) was created before Product Hunt, and WIP (our community for makers) is an offshoot of that. Product Hunt eventually launched a similar service.

FWIW, I have to strongly disagree that WIP is primarily motivated for self-promotion. It's really more like a virtual co-working spaces where we all share what we're working on (hence the name), exchange feedback, keep each other accountable, etc.

BetaList and Product Hunt are indeed partly about self-promotion and partly about discovery.

In the end I subscribed to so many digital services that I made a tool for collecting email receipts for bookkeeping...

If you think it's worth one more subscription to cut down the work bookkeeping for all the other subscriptions, then check out receiptrunner.com

There's something to this. I recently changed my credit card number due to some fraud activity. Since the change there has been a number of services I no longer use, but that I had completely forgot about popping up asking me to update my info.

If you use American Express, they actually update things for you, or continue accepting the old number for specific recurring billings where they don't have the system in place to update the number.

You can partially solve this with something like privacy.com. That's what I'm using after cancelling my credit card (lost) and getting a new number.

macOS has a cool built-in feature for collecting receipts: Go to "File > Print..." and then in the lower left pulldown that says "PDF", select "Save to Web Receipts", it will save a PDF to a folder called "Web Receipts" in your "Documents" folder. Works for both website receipts and email receipts.

That was a very nice breakdown of costs for a side project. Thanks for sharing this!

Interestingly you're paying people to do on Upwork about what I priced out for the absolute cheapest ERP/CRM software to run my own business.

Haha! What ERP are you using, if you don't mind me asking?

Also, I wrote a little bit about my approach to freelancers, may give you some more context on that $1k/month: https://www.starterstory.com/hire-freelancers

Starter story spam

I've read mixed reviews about Upwork (low quality work, people not being paid etc). What are better alternatives to find freelancers?

I've been a freelance full-stack developer for the past 1.5 years. I never bothered trying out Upwork, because I had the impression the price competition there was insane, so I can't comment on the experience there. But I've been on Toptal for the past year and it's been an overall great experience. Not only have I not had an issue being paid, but Toptal actually guarantees my invoice payments: basically there's a clause that states that I can expect a payment from Toptal within a few days after the invoice due date, regardless of whether or not the client actually paid the invoice.

In which situations would freelancers not be paid ? I feel like once the employer accepts the contract it his responsibility to stop it if the work is not done (so the employer will always be paid for the hours he submitted)

Helpful list, and a good reminder for everyone to check their own lists. Would have loved to see a "total" :)

That was a very nice report about ongoing costs involved in the one-man business

I think Mailbrew is overrated if you have a good twitter feed.

What I love about Mailbrew is I can specify things like:

- send me X top tweets from X user in last month

- send me all tweets with the words "XYZ"

And for the obvious reasons it keeps me off twitter and less subject to their addictive design/UI.

You should post these on yourstack.com so it’s easier to aggregate and comment on. The product hunt team just released that. I hadn’t heard of Wip but am keen to see if there is any value in joining it. Thanks

Thank you! I feel like building the right thing. :)

$1529...you're welcome.

Side note, but why on earth is the body text set to 35 px?!

I need to zoom my browser down to 50% (a quarter of the pixel area) just to make it readable.

This trend of gargantuan body text in blogs has been going on for a while, but this is the worst I've ever seen.

When the size of each letter is something like six times the area of letters in my computer's menu bar, something is seriously wrong.

Is it unreasonable to expect body text on the web to be roughly the same size as the body text used in my computer's menus and dialogs? Obviously those should already be set to the ideal legible size, so what is with these blogs deciding to choose mega-sized letters instead??

Agreed. I prefer that default text be left default size. On some device I may set the default size higher for ease of reading (ex hidpi screens), but let me decide that... not the website.

It actually looks fine on my mobile.

An overreaction to the earlier, and still more common, trend of setting body text too small? (take the very website you're on, for example)

Agreed. I built this Daily Journal app and just been hacking on it for the last couple months. I'll bring the text size down a bit soon.

Made it smaller. Lmk if that looks better?

The beauty of web clients is that you can control the font size if it looks bad on your device.

I don't think it's possible on mobile. Yesterday I found myself needing to adjust the font size on rateyourmusic.com's responsive site, and it wasn't possible. On a desktop it's as simple as "CTRL +" but that doesn't exist on mobile browsers.

Fennec Textwrap addon for Firefox on Android will slightly improve pinch zoom text reflow.

It’s quite easy on iOS Safari. Top left “aA” icon, then pick your zoom.

I already do, for what is the average body text size across mainstream sites.

There's nothing beautiful about individual blogs choosing text sizes wildly outside of the mainstream, so that I have to adjust my zoom on them individually. That's just an annoyance.

I personally love this trend. It's one of the first sites I've been on in a while that I didn't have to bump up everything to a readable size.

Serious question: why don't you increase the size of text on your OS as a whole? Or browser default zoom at a minimum? If you're having to bump up the size individually on most sites, it seems like the problem is that your computer is misconfigured, no?

Regardless, the point is that it's important for body text sizes to be roughly consistent across sites, so that you can find the zoom level that's right for you and stick with it, rather than have to adjust it for each new site.


My biggest concern is being dependent on these systems, the systems changing, and it breaking the process.

I have the mentality of self hosting and diy, cheap, better understanding, and imo more reliable.

Most these services have a learning curve anyway. Are the services really worth it?

The mentality of DIY and self hosting is the default for most hackers, and in my opinion its the number 1 thing holding back most engineers who build businesses.

I have a buddy who’s an amazing engineer, he takes pride in doing everything himself and spent years building a platform from the ground up. Elegant, fully automated, built in his favorite languages and frameworks. 3 years in it makes 50k a year.

I have another buddy who is non-technical, 2 years ago he built an ugly, janky platform off Wordpress and some plugins in a month. He does nothing himself, outsources everything. His business does $4mil a year.

One of the problems that a lot of engineers have is failing to recognize that their time has a cost. Spending 4 extra hours of your own time setting up a mail server that will cost you $5/month to run instead of paying $10 per month for Office 365 or some other service is not really saving you money because that initial 4 hours of labor is time you could've spent doing other things for the business. It's not free time.

I find it really helps to put a dollar value on an hour of my time. In that context, if 1 hour of my time is worth $75 and I've spent 4 hours setting up this mail server, I've spent $300 on my labor in addition to the $60/year for the cost of the server. Obviously this doesn't work in all cases but it really helps me determine when it's worth it for me to spend my time doing something and when it's better to outsource it.

Counter points-

There is no telling if it will actually save time. You could be messing with configurations, have to learn their docs, etc... Or future migration could be expensive in both time and money.

The cost savings can/do exist. Especially as things scale or last a long time.

Custom is more configurable.

People overestimate their time worth? Sure you can theoretically work for 75$/hr, but can you get overtime/additional revenue that easily?

What is your value add? If it's software, I might suggest custom is best because that's your business. If you mash a bunch of software suppliers together, you become a middle man. I'm not saying that doesn't work, but I've seen companies go back and forth on this.

Another classic mistake is worrying about scaling issues and future configurability or migration when you don't even have a proven business yet.

There's a 95% chance your business won't last long enough to reach any scaling or migration issues. Tackle those problems when they start surfacing.

> There is no telling if it will actually save time. You could be messing with configurations, have to learn their docs, etc... Or future migration could be expensive in both time and money.

Sure. Every situation is different. This isn't meant to be universal. There absolutely are cases where rolling your own may be more efficient. However, my argument wasn't that existing solutions are no effort, just that they are often less effort than trying to do something completely custom or self managed.

Regarding future migrations, the same can be said in the opposite direction as well. You may get to a point where you need to migrate away from your custom solution to something more standard and you'll face similar time/money issues.

> Custom is more configurable.

Sometimes this is the case and sometimes it's not. Sometimes custom is very narrowly focused and as new use cases emerge requires significant rework.

> People overestimate their time worth? Sure you can theoretically work for 75$/hr, but can you get overtime/additional revenue that easily?

The number will vary for everyone. $75 may be too high for some and too low for others. If you're an attorney sacrificing billable time to do something administrative that could be outsourced, $75 may be low. The idea is to tie an actual realistic number to the value of your time.

> What is your value add? If it's software, I might suggest custom is best because that's your business. If you mash a bunch of software suppliers together, you become a middle man. I'm not saying that doesn't work, but I've seen companies go back and forth on this.

In software, I think it's important to know what your product is and to focus on your core competencies. I've seen lots of engineers decide that they need to build something from scratch that doesn't directly relate to their product. Could you build your own credit card processing system? Sure, but unless your business is credit card processing, it probably makes more sense to use something like Stripe. The same goes for lots of different aspects of your product and business.

I'm simply suggesting that you have a limited amount of time in each day and you should do what you can to get the most value out of that time. Don't ignore the value of your time and sacrifice it needlessly.

I was discussing lack of space in our office with my boss and how difficult it'd be to add extra people should we suddenly have such a need.He replied: these are nice problems to have. Same with scalability of your software: if you get to the point where it's an issue, you just hire much smater people with some of that momey you've been making so far and they'll solve it all.

> There is no telling if it will actually save time. You could be messing with configurations, have to learn their docs, etc... Or future migration could be expensive in both time and money.

This refers to self-hosted / diy tools: you have to do them all up-front. Most SaaS don't require configs or deep-learning compare to FOSS. Self-Hosted/DIY tools also require future migration. Especially when the self-hosted/DIY tools did not capture future requirements due to limited vision.

> Custom is more configurable

Technically SaaS provides API which allows folks to stitch up a few SaaS-es to automate their workflow if needs be.

I'd love to be the guy who outsources everything, but I don't have much cash to spend on these. Especially for someone based out of developing economies; $10 here and $25 there for a handful of SaaS services quickly builds up to 15-30% of your take home salary.

FWIW if buddy #1 lives in an area where 50k/year is enough, I would say it's still better off than most of the hacker-types, which also do this, but in their free time. At least he got to build a business around his hobby.

But I do understand the point you're trying to make. Obsessing over doing it yourself and perpetuating the NIH syndrome does more harm than good. There is a lot more chance that one's business will go out by their doing compared to going out because one of the services they depended on went out.

One is an engineer, the other is a businessman (salesman and fund raiser).

One is someone that over engineer, the other know where to put time and money to maximize returns.

Both are imaginary thou.

> Are the services really worth it?


> self hosting and diy, cheap, better understanding, and imo more reliable.

What is the cost to get something that has a better uptime than the SLA's of the services you are replacing?

Focus on getting to paying customers. After that, you'll see where your time is better off spent.

Example: I just signed up for a trial for Stripe Sigma. I was going to build my own basic BI using their API. Instead it costs my business ~$10/mo at our size. Now I can spend what would have been time to build, test, deploy that service, to instead just answer the business questions I had.

The problem is no using a service and having it briefly be unavailable. The problem is that you use a service, get reliant on it, and then they 10x their price, remove key features, and then go out of business.

At that point, if you then build your own, you're still ahead.

Well, you could also be outsourcing your "build, test, deploy" to someone else and save even more time!

Actually, it would take me more time to write the spec, than it would be to just sign up for sigma.

It's the perennial Build vs. Buy debate.

The tradeoff of buying is that yes, you are at the will of the service provider, but the alternative is taking on all the technical debt of building your own services. For most, $N/month is cheaper than putting the maintenance hours in, even if it means needing to find another service provider if one is changing.

How much they pay for Klayvio? I want to quit Mailchimp

Curious, what don't you like about Mailchimp?

The pricing or the tiered features available. If there is a cheaper one I am curious about it

Find someone with a college email address and sign up for Github Student Developer Pack. SendGrid for free (15k/month sends) as well as 150/year in AWS credit for 4 years if you continue to have access to the student email.

That does not seem like good advice for someone running a business.

and how much would he have to pay to said college student to have access to his email account for 4 years?

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