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I wrote a SaaS product because the internet made me believe it'd make me rich (stetsonblake.com)
408 points by stets on May 28, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 257 comments

This is a pretty good atticle, and the product is actually quite solid (maybe a tad overpriced), but this right here is a rookie mistake:

> In January, 2019 I launched to HackerNews and some subreddits ...

Really? That's a "launch" these days? At least scrounge up a few hundred bucks and throw up some Facebook ads. Reddit and Hacker News have some of the most cynical and thrifty readers out there. Networking and getting the word out is half the battle. With such little effort put into the launch, OP could have been selling a dollar for fifty cents and no one would've cared.

This plus the mention of ProductHunt makes me think they fell into the trap of marketing to their fellow creators rather than their audience. That's a common mistake plenty of people make when building anything. Game developers market their games on game development forums, website owners market their sites on web development/webmaster forums, authors market on writing forums, etc.

They then forget that the typical person there is an industry peer or competitor rather than a customer, and that the chances of selling them on their product is slim to none.

I see this advice a lot, but I never really understood what the alternative is. If your product has a specific niche, maybe there are some forums or subreddits dedicated to it, sure. But if it's a game? Some are designed for a niche audience, but most really aren't.

Another thing is that most of the forums/subreddits these days have strict rules against self-promotion.

And I'm not saying that you're wrong - I'm just wondering what do you think is the right way to do things.

The main things to keep in mind are that:

There are far less creators than there are people that merely consume/enjoy/use that kind of content/art/product/service

and that

Most people who are creators aren't going to be in your target audience, and hence won't buy/use it.

Hence by marketing to other creators, you end up marketing to a subset of a subset of your product/game's total audience.

As for how you should market?

Well, in a mix of ways. Paid ads, getting journalists/media outlets/influencers to cover your work, posting on social media, doing various attention grabbing marketing campaigns, etc.

Plus using communities that are likely to be interested in the game.

Of course, as you say, the latter have rules against self promotion.

But here's the thing. Those rules are not 100% set in stone absolute.

They're about stopping drive by advertisers, not just anyone with anything to promote at any time in history. That's how the communities I run work for instance, with the assumption being that if someone shows a real interest in the community and subject, we'll allow them to share their work.

So you ideally want to be a longtime contributor on any community you want to market your work on. Have (as they say), less than 10% of your posts as ads for your work.

Hope that helps.

Great post! This perfectly complements my reply and expands on how to get your “widget” out there.

Wish you could save posts on HN because this is a gem!

You can! Click the link for the post(X hours ago), and hit favorite.

Whoa nice, thanks for the heads up! I thought it was only available for threads.

> I see this advice a lot, but I never really understood what the alternative is.

How obvious the distinction is depends on your product.

Imagine I'm a robot maker making a robot vacuum cleaner. The kind of publicity that can get me into "Hackaday" probably comes to me a lot more naturally than the kind of publicity that gets me into "Good Housekeeping"

But I should be aiming for the latter, assuming my target market is "homeowners" rather than "robot enthusiasts"

Of course, for other products the distinction might be less obvious; if I'm making an IDE my users and my peers are probably fairly similar groups.

> But if it's a game? Some are designed for a niche audience, but most really aren't.

Even if it isn't designed for a niche, you can still start by marketing to one. Or to a demographic, and advertise to media that targets that demographic.

Can you give an example?

Because if you're talking about ads, many people (even in this post) are saying that they just don't work for small projects.

fell into the trap of marketing to their fellow creators rather than their audience

That's a great way to describe it.

This comment is gold dust, if I had known that 25 years ago...

> Really? That's a "launch" these days? At least scrounge up a few hundred bucks and throw up some Facebook ads. Reddit and Hacker News have some of the most cynical and thrifty readers out there. Networking and getting the word out is half the battle. With such little effort put into the launch, OP could have been selling a dollar for fifty cents and no one would've cared.

Eh, I tried exactly this for a "thought bubble" project I had. Figured a landing page and $200 on ads would be the best way to gauge demand before writing any code.

Seemed like a great success - 50 or so e-mail signups, time to roll up my sleeves and start building! Until I looked closer and realized that every single signup was from a clearly fraudulent address. There's absolutely zero chance that they all just happened to be female, nicely formatted [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com addresses.

Using ads to dip your toe in the water might have worked ten years ago, but there's just way too much fraud nowadays. I think you're better off finding your first ten users manually and asking very nicely for their time and feedback.

That was a few years ago, but I launched my app on the Play Store recently and noticed the exact same pattern. Definitely fake, too, because accounts were created in Firebase without user profiles (i.e. the app was never launched). I assume there are bot farms scanning new releases for certain packages (e.g. Firebase) and creating fake accounts.

I know there’s a lot of this, but what is the angle? Who is running the bot farms to click on Facebook ads and sign up for random services? And what are they hoping to achieve?

My wild assumption is that bot farms need to look like regular users, and therefore keep clicking on things even when they're off the clock. If Facebook has caught up on click farms that click on links but do nothing afterwards, I would assume that filling in some random data goes a long way to make bots harder to spot once your actual clients show up.

When you set up an ad on Facebook (and many other ad services), you can define a "conversion" (I'm more familiar with how google calls them, I'm not sure if that's what facebook calls it.). You can read about it here: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/1722022. Then, you can set a target "Cost Per Action", which factors into your bids and therefore how much you spend on advertising and where you advertise. That's why if you're doing ad fraud, you'd want to take it all the way through to whichever action "counts".

That has to be it! That's the only explanation I've heard that really makes sense.

Yes, heard this theory before, think this makes the most sense

This kind of fraud benefits Facebook's competitors in the ad space by increasing the cost per customer acquired.

If someone clicks, signs up, and never pays, the conversion rate on the ad looks worse, and Facebook's targeting looks less valuable.

Facebook serves ads on other apps thru their Facebook Audience Network.

Kill competition? Boost Facebook stock price?

Bummer. Yeah, my idea was more along the lines of find my audience hanging out online and gently, subtly mention my product. Niche specific subreddits, forums (they still exist), Slack rooms, creating YouTube videos and others work pretty okay for initial traction for free.

I get so frustrated marketing like this. I've put weeks of my life into FOSS projects just to post them on reddit and have them immediately deleted because "self promotion".

If I can't post my FOSS to the linux subreddit then what in the world am I allowed to post?

> If I can't post my FOSS to the linux subreddit then what in the world am I allowed to post?

There is not enough information in your comment to judge correctly, but I would like to point out that it's not black and white.

You know what I hate about Hacker News lately? The green accounts that show up, post a link to their product (sometimes even making it to the front page), do not reply to comments, and exist only to keep spamming their own links. I also saw a post gain 16 upvotes even though they forgot to post the actual content.

If you regularly contribute to the linux subreddit, participate in discussions, and post interesting links from non-affiliated sources then yes, being deleted for "self promotion" sounds unfair. But if you only go there to promote your project then I'd also side with the mods.

The thing is that most of these submissions go nowhere on HN. So, what is actually the problem? Lousy submissions don’t get upvoted and no one is bothered. The problem on Reddit is that even legitimate submissions are taken down by nay-sayers despite being positive and getting legitimate upvotes, while submissions of links that lead to big companies’ websites don’t get nearly the same level of scrutiny.

It seems the best way these days is to get creative - Write a blog post that is interesting to the target audience and mention your product as an aside.

Exactly like this HN submission did.

Well, that largely depends on the subreddit and the context.

Always read the wiki before posting. When in doubt, ask moderators if they're OK with self-promotion.

Self-promotion doesn't mean you spam links left and right. Try to provide value first, and maybe at the end of your post/comment, link to your website.

My open source repo was inspired by conversations in the subreddit, and open source software doesn't do much besides provide value.

This is what happens when you direct link.

Ie FB ad - conversion.

Instead you want a showy FB ad that takes them to a landing page that looks like your website (native) to build trust, maybe have them answer some questions to get qualified etc. There's numerous ways to filter out "bad traffic".

Can you give an example?

I tried Facebook ads a year or two ago and got nothing but clicks from click farms in places like Pakistan. The volume of click farm fraud in online ads is staggering. It's totally worthless unless you are an expert at avoiding this and are paying close attention.

Do you know why they do that? I understand for ads (maybe your ads are shown at their property, so they get a cut). But what's with Firebase/Google Play?

Honestly, I have no clue. I've wondered if they're probing for unsecured Firebase database (for an encryption/ransom attack), or alternatively trying to generate enough seemingly legitimate activity for their "profiles" so the bots don't get detected at a later date.

> There's absolutely zero chance that they all just happened to be female, nicely formatted [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com addresses.

That is my email address: [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com

I'm not female though.

yea but if you got 50 inquiries from random people on the Internet interested in your product would you expect all or even most of them to be in the exact format firstname.lastname@gmail?

I'd expect most or even all of them to be from gmail but I'd be skeptical if they all followed the same naming convention, whether its first.last or something else.

That alone is at least mildly suspicious but it doesn't prove its not legitimate. However in this case he also used other data points to make that determination.

> There's absolutely zero chance that they all just happened to be female, nicely formatted [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com addresses.

That makes you fraudulent these days? Man, my wife and I are screwed.

I’m not saying the email format alone means they were fake.

I’m saying that they were fake because all of them were formatted like that, registering within hours of being made available on the Play Store/AdWords, with zero external links and the app never actually being launched.

The odds are almost nil that they were legitimate users. It’s incredibly easy to spot, the email signups after the initial launch are far more “natural”, even those sharing the same format.

That’s clearly not what the parent post is suggesting. E-mail addresses on this format don’t make up 100% of all e-mail addresses in existence, so it’s suspicious when they make up 100% of your signups.

You are female then? The author used the word "all" also.

Have you heard of... lesbians?

Apparently, you also need to be female; I am going to assume your wife is, but are you?

I told him that too. People put too much emphasis on “Launch Day”, when really Launch Day should be day one and every day after. Never stop promoting and publicly “Launching” new features. Also too many people launching to Hacker News, Product Hunt, and Reddit where their peers hangout instead of places where their customers hangout.

100% agree with you. I recently sort of "launched". Product is still in development but I wanted to start getting the word out. I posted on ProductHunt, shared on Facebook and was waiting to blow up... nothing happened.

I got more visitors from briefly mentioning my site on a comment here on HN than from ads and PH.

Anyway, after a week of sulking that I wasn't the next Facebook overnight I buckled down and continued working with more long term vision. Growing a userbase takes time, 99% of the time.

The best indie launch I've seen was the initial launch of Balsamiq.

It was played off as "meh" by Peldi but it was masterful. I had launched a product 2 years before and until then, I couldn't understand what I did wrong.

I obsessed over what he did. Every single thing. Trying to find where he got "lucky". There was no luck.

Peldi is just super friendly and a superhero with customer support. I believe that played a big role in the beginning, and perhaps later.

I knew Peldi from the Flash days. Met him once or twice in SFO, and he has an infectious smile and was super friendly.

Once, one of our team was showing me Balsamiq and they all liked it. I tried and it was super easy to use. I went to buy the license or I went to ask how to buy it, and Peldi replied back, something in the lines of, "Free for you buddy. You did enough for the community, this is the least I can do." That was also the time when I realized Peldi was behind Balsamiq.

I had had various interactions with him, not just about Balsamiq but asking him stupid questions, advice, and networking introductions.

They are still a pretty damn awesome company. Gave me a bit of free credit and a shirt for tweeting about them. I'm wearing it in my tweet about this post making front page :-)


Brajeshwar! It's good to come across you on the internet again, it's been a while! I hope you're doing great, and thanks for the kind words.

That's a nice story! In my opinion, customer service/etc was irrelevant early on.

Can I get some insight into this? What did Balsamiq do? I'm not familiar.

It was an early wire framing tool for prototyping UIs. The clever bit (that seems obvious now) was that it looked intentionally rough so that clients would focus on the overall UI layout instead of the minor details. It was a great app.

Ehm...why all the past tense? We still ARE very much around...we just had our best year yet [1], and are on track to do even better. Don't count us out just yet! :)

[1] https://blog.balsamiq.com/looking-back-2019/

Ok Peldi, now don't make me a liar. It wasn't luck. Double it in 3 years :-)

That sounds stressful! ;) We're not here for growth, but for longevity. I aim for 2% year on year growth, but for 100+ years. :)

Excellent. Whatever works for you man, you are my hero.

That's funny because the actual value proposition of using Balsamiq to create apps is that they themselves are intentionally rough. So it looks like the founders used Balsamiq to create and pitch Balsamiq. Very cool example of dogfooding.

hard to really say, most of the stuff will be bitrotted.

But, he networked VERY hard.

He was all over various Flex dev spaces, IIRC. Not only was Balsamiq written in Flex, we were all building the kinds of things it was perfectly suited for, too.

Is it in here? I just Google searched it, but the article is too big for me to read at the moment.


This is probably a good start.

Geez @cheez ;) thanks for the kind words. I do still believe there was a fair amount of luck involved, but I'm glad my writing was useful to you.

You're welcome. I still use Mockups :-)

As for luck, you made your own luck. Congrats on your success!

Gotta do things that don't scale, chief. Granted, instead of just making some generic Show HN and posting to reddit, it could be a worthwhile to privately PM users who comment and seem quite interested.

You could also just go to some old posts (HN or reddit) that are relevant to your product and reach out to anyone who seems ideal customer.

It's easier said than done, but hey, now you (hopefully) have some initial users, all for $0.

Actually the YC startup school says you should not pay for customers initially. Paid ads come to a later stage.

Its not particularly useful to just parrot the information without also including their justification; not all of us take YC mantras as the gospel.

Did they give you a reasoning for this guidance?

You don't know your LTV, churn rate, or even if you have product market fit at the beginning so paid acquisition is sort a gamble. I think YC soundly advises that you get your initial customers in ways that are less scaleable and get to know them a bit before you turn on the firehose.

I have not attended the Startup School, but I imagine there's a lot of value in personally recruiting your first 20 or 50 customers. You get to talk directly to them; you get a chance (not easy, though!) to find out the real reason they stopped using it, etc.

I imagine you can talk to people that see your ads too.

Going after your customers looks great (honestly, I have zero successful experiences either way), but it is really hard for people that have a day job.

Yeah, you're probably not wrong. TBH, I used to not be a fan of FB ads because I thought paid ads were evil or something. I still haven't really used them but I've got some other projects I'm about to use them for.

In my opinion, Facebook is so full of bots and hacked accounts, buying ads there is like pouring money down a drain. Unless, of course, you are an expert at filtering those out through super specific audience restrictions.

Reddit, on the other hand, is similarly priced and I got a lot more real users from them.

Are facebook ads really viable forna SaaS product? How should a lone founder organize a better launch than the OP?

I've only had one successful "ramp-up" to launch with a project that eventually didn't go anywhere[1], but here's what I did. For context, this was in the eSports/gaming space. I had an Excel sheet with ~500 game journalists and I emailed every. Single. One of them. With a semi-personalized email. I ended up being interviewed by Vice, Polygon, PCGamer, RedBull, and about a dozen others. I started also emailing podcasters and Twitch personalities and went on a few of these shows as well. I also was invited and attented an eSports Summit in London where I spoke on a panel (I had to spring for my flights and hotel). I networked like crazy there as well. Again, the project didn't quite go anywhere, but I was getting nibbles from a few investors.

In any case, that's the closest I've gotten and I've learned to appreciate the hustle. It was also, for me, much more difficult than the actual coding/building. Although it was neat gaining a bit of "clout," it was repetitive, monotone, and extremely draining.

[1] www.gameref.io

Good for you - sorry to hear it didn't get very far, but it's a great experience to go through that "hustle" as you say.

As a quick thought: who was/is your customer? It wasn't quickly apparent from your site. Is it game devs? Or game dev studios? Or platform owners? The hustle you did was actually great, but may have yielded more positive momentum if directed at potential customers.

That way, you get product feedback and also test the waters on pricing/revenue. Journalists have their place, but it's really PR and getting the general word out. Defining a customer profile, and having direct sales more-or-less figured out generally comes first before press pushes.

Awesome story. Automate a little bit of that away and find out how to engineer it.

In general, paid ads can easily become too expensive because they have bad ctr, low engagement, and lots of spam mixed in.

So unless your average customer spends $100+ with you, it will most likely not work. A common trick is to offer upfront paid annual plans, to convert $10 monthly into $120 now.

Maybe...maybe not. I'm not a paid ads expert but how much poor conversion can be blamed on a genuinely bad ad?

The trick with FB ads for non-impulse buys is to write great content that build trust. The FB ads should be a clickbait headline that resonate with your target customers. Try to get them to sign up for a drip email sequence based on their goals (not your tool). Email them and remarket them on FB until they are in the mood to buy.

I think /this/ is where a lot of creators/creatives fail, hard. They work through the steps to bring the minimum viable product to market and have the steps to get a finished product to market once the launch has been handled. All of that has gone through their mind, as that is the major hurdle from their perspective. It's the "build a better mouse trap" scenario. A huge portion of success in today's market is the marketing and the launch, which is handled by a different form of person (or, more often, team of people). A small developer puts themselves at a major disadvantage by not, at least, looking into a small online marketing company.

agreed. making the product is just the beginning. sales is the hard part. figuring that out myself with a kettlebell bell app i made and here’s the plug because i can’t help myself: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/simple-and-sinister/id15132753...

This is bad advice. Spending money on SEM before you have any product validation is a waste of money.

HN readers are probably the most likely to copy and reproduce your product then spend 5x more on marketing and drive you out.

In true cynical form: Unless you are trying to either sell products to developers or are working on getting into ycombinator it seems like a terrible idea to pitch your idea here, the main benefit seems to be identifying competitors.

Then again, dropbox.

Nobody's going to copy your product and outspend you on ads. Mostly because you have things the wrong way around; you spend on ads after you understand who you're marketing to and why. If your product already has that messaging nailed then you'll succeed regardless of where it's posted, and ad spend irrelevant. (You do it once you have the cash to accelerate the product adoption.)

For me, spending in marketing doesn’t mean paying ads on facebook or alternatives. It is spending energy in refining communication strategy: refine interface into candy looking and easy to grab fruits, lowering entry barrier, increase visibility, pin point target audience and provide a simple, direct and clear message with a call to action.

To be fair, I would re-phrase the author's thought as

"I wrote an SaaS product because I believed it would get me rich and I went and scoured the internet for a well that echos my thoughts"

The author speaks about exactly one example, that,I guess I can say inspired him to get going with his idea.

No, The internet did not convince him. He convinced himself using the internet to find evidence for a conclusion he already reached.

If you rephrased his thought like that you would take all humour out of it; humour being clearly the intent of his chosen phrasing.

Maybe I am wrong, but the article doesn't come off as satirical.

The title is just intended as a good-natured dig at his own experience (I made literally TENS of dollars) drawing on the gullible-get-rich-quick trope, nothing more.

Ohh ok. But I cannot edit / remove my original post, it has too many votes. :-D


The Internet is the place where one can always find well that echos one's thoughts. I wonder if that is the reason our society has become so polar. It's not even limited to specific country, this can be observed throughout the world.

I think you would find it enlightening to read a history of radio, notably but only talk radio, or if you can't find one, write it. And before there was radio, many or most newspapers had a particular axe to grind.

Confirmation bias?

I thought this was a pretty good article that didn't over-sensationalize SaaS products, while still explaining how they can lead to success.

It sucks that the OP's website didn't "blow up", but then again, most micro-SaaS's are not meant to go viral like that.

One point I would add is that there should be more promotion other than just posting on HN + PH. If that's where your launch stops, you may not be realizing your full potential.

Another little nitpick; The domain they used (EarlyBrd.io) was kinda weird due to the unconventional spelling. Yes, you don't need a dot com, but it should still be something you can mention in conversation and have the other party instantly understand & be able to spell, without you spelling it out for them.

Lastly, why does everyone here seem to care more about post titles than actual posts nowadays?

I've come to the conclusion that if you want to be a successful indie SaaS developer nowadays, it's better to start off as a marketing/sales person than as a developer. So many small SaaS products suffer from the same problem: no traffic, no customers, no market mindshare. The dev is definitely not the problem. The marketing is.

Thanks for your comments. I am OP :-)

My site went down for a bit while this is front-paged, but is back up now. Definitely I think it could be more of a success if I put more effort in (duh?).

Definitely there is a need to promote across multiple channels and ideally own your audience/create your own content because then you have traffic generation on demand.

The name is weird, I shipped anyways. earlybird.com and earlybrd.com were not free. I have spelled it out many times. It's annoying and sucks.

Hire people on upwork to promote it for you and when you've connected with them sell them the same tool for their own needs.

Inception! Love it.

Love the commitment to shipment, an inspiration to us all. I also liked the post title and thought it was fun but also made it clear what to expect.

Have you thought about whether you could expand the service to provide more value (and get paid more) by freelancers or considered other avenues where you could turn "RSS + notifications" into another business with a minimum of effort (other job sites, auction listings, it seems like there could be a lot)?

Thank you! Inspired that I inspired you because I used to read this type of thing and thought I'd never do anything like it. I've thought about expanding to additional freelancing sites but have not thought about the RSS+notifications thing. I still have something eating away at me that it's just an "RSS feed reader" but maybe I'm wrong about that entirely.

Just do this but for other job sites and aggregate. You seem to know Pieter Levels from your Make book reference, and I'm not sure if Remote Ok has an RSS feed or Slack notifications but this could be a pretty useful feature for that.

Also add categories and keywords to filter by for Upwork jobs if you haven't already. Contact Upwork users directly and message them about your product. Do things that don't scale as they say. I'd say contact maybe 500 people and see the response and subsequent sales. You could also contact marketers so they can post their jobs on your platform perhaps. There are many ways for future development it seems to me.

You can email me if you want more advice, I run a SaaS as well (https://getartemis.app) and I do some of these marketing tips I talk about.

I actually thought it was sort of a pun playing with the fact it could be understood as Early Bird or Early Board. And that sounds pretty neat to my non native English :D

> Lastly, why does everyone here seem to care more about post titles than actual posts nowadays?

The point of a title is to provide some kind of summary or teasing of what the posts talks about. If you try to guess the content of the article from the title you will fail here.

I don't want to criticize the content of this post, but we have this kind of content very often on the homepage, so it is not like we would have missed a super interesting thing

Hrm, you identified your target market within the first tens of words: freelancers working on UpWork.

But you launched on HackerNews. Why didn’t you seek out communities that freelance, especially on UpWork? That’s where you plug your product, after becoming a valuable member of the community.

And becoming a valuable member of that community IS something you can do: you can give free advice on winning UpWork jobs, how to increase chances, etc.

I did indeed later launch to Upwork specific communities. Subreddits and Facebook groups.

> Don't hire people for stupid things. Adobe cloud is 20 bucks a month, read a few books, watch a few videos and make simple designs yourself. If your thing takes off, you can always hire for better later.

This resonates so much. My company hires and outsources for the most stupid things, like, we need to change colors on a design file or move some buttons around? Let's go on Upwork or through our address book, write a RFQ, have a meeting to evaluate the quotes, set up payment and contract, then in two or three weeks the "refresh" is done.

I mean, just open Figma or whatever tool and do it yourself. Or ask a colleague for 20 minutes of help. It doesn't take Van Gogh to pair two colours and fonts.

OTOH, I am not great at creating graphics and find that throwing $11ea to 1-4 contractors on fiverr and picking the best of what comes in the next morning is a pretty solid use of time and money.

For the $240/yr Adobe CC might cost me, I get better results and lower stress than trying to DIY it.

And even if that doesn't work out, you'll have a lot more domain knowledge than you did before, so if you do hire someone else you'll be able to work with them easier, understand the work they're doing, and have a better chance of noticing if you're being taken for a ride.

It is OK to contract things out, it is not OK that every time that requires RFQ and the lengthy process.

But then how do PM's (or scrum masters) justify their 6 figure salary?


Your company might value your work 100x what they pay you, so they dont want you to do something they can get for 10x what they pay you... For example when you have the plumber, electrician, etc over, you dont ask her to bake you cookies, even though they might be very good at baking cookies.

Find a color wheel or coolors.co.

Picking colors is pretty easy now

Countrepoint: Played with coolors.co now and I would rather want someone who knows what he is doing picking them. Also, there is more to picking colors then color wheel.

People seem to have forgotten or not realize that SaaS is just a sales model to sell a $2,400 software product for $100 on a payment plan without requiring manager approval. If you can't find anybody who will pay you $2,400 for this product, then you won't be able to build a business selling it for $100/month.

You're right and wrong. It can be that but I think SaaS can be nice because it puts some responsibility on the service provider to update things and add features. Or maybe we are moving to an MRR world and everyone is evil...

The fundamental concept that is missing from this post is that it's not the billing method that determines the success of the business, it's the value you bring to your customers. The service provider isn't going to update anything if they shut down 6 months after launch.


I don't think it's quite 1-1 like that anymore.

I have not had any success on Upwork.

100% of the “leads” I got there were scams.

Not 75%, not even 99%. 100%. Not one single honest job. Some were requests for me to participate in scams, but I don’t roll that way.

I’m sure that my experience was unique, and that my profile must have had some “scam flag,” so I won’t write off the platform in its entirety.

I heard good things about the site from friends, but every single person that extolled its virtues had used it to find contractors. Not one had used it to find work. The couple of people that I know that used it to seek work had experiences similar to mine, and nothing good to say about it.

But that is small-sample anecdotal data. Not something that I would say should be used to provide any meaningful recommendations or reviews.

But for me, the site is worthless. I was pretty appalled at the brazenness of some of the approaches. No one seemed to be worried that I would refer them to the FBI, so I guess I don’t come across as a snitch; just a chump.

A couple of years ago, I decided to “refactor” myself back to full-time engineering.

My ultimate goal was to specialize in Swift development (what I do, now).

Until then, all my work was part-time, on open-source projects; equal parts PHP server stuff, and Swift apps.

So the first thing I did, as a “self-training” project, was design and build a multipurpose, secure application SaaS backend, in PHP, because I didn’t want to waste time learning up on my JavaScript, which I planned to abandon. This was just the first-stage booster.

This was what I wrote: https://riftvalleysoftware.com/work/open-source-projects/#ba...

It’s not something that folks are interested in, probably because it was written in PHP, and doesn’t really tick many boxes on a “Buzzword Bingo” card, but it accomplished its purpose.

I’ll be happy to never write PHP again, but I’m glad it was there for the experience.

And I nuked my Upwork account months ago.

My wife is a very successful marketer on upwork. However, she's been on the platform for maybe even 10 years now, way back when it was odesk and elance. She has flawless work history and over a hundred clients - and she told me that recently the number of job invitations she gets are way down and that the 90%+ of the invitations are very fishy. My guess is that platform is now so popular that the quality of its audience is very low on average.

What kind of marketing does your wife do and can you send me her Upwork profile? I’m looking for some extra help for my company. Email in profile.

She does SEM in 6 languages (Google/Bing Ads, FB PPC), helps with SEO, regularly finds broken things on clients' sites, deals with developers etc. I'll send you her profile link privately.

PHP is still big in the publishing business.

WordPress alone is bigger than HN would lead you to believe. Lots of business runs on PHP. And not just running Drupal from inertia; Laravel is a new shiny thing.

And there's a reason for that, it's so simple but it works. Get a shared hosting for $3/mo, add WordPress to it by uploading a zip with cPanel and you're done. It's cheap, you never touch a line of code, there are premade resources for most niches (themes/fully fledged apps and platforms) and tutorials on how to do even the most basic things.

This works great for small business owners, web agencies and professionals (which is the majority of the people who actually need a website). When self-hosting you also have a sense of ownership and power (and you actually have them) compared to using dedicated platforms such as Shopify, Medium or Wix.

Can confirm. PHP/WP is easily 70% of my business. Virtually all of the affiliate/SEO business runs on WP, and so do basically all individual company websites. And they all need help.

I've spent over 50k over the years on Upwork working a heap of great freelancers. Once you get into it and learn to sift through the legit profiles vs the dodgy it becomes very useful. And it's great to get to work with folks around the world

Cool, but you sound like you have used it to hire folks; not find work.

It seems that it really is a great platform to hire people; just maybe not so good, if you want to be hired.

As someone who got hired through it for years I can confirm this:

> learn to sift through the legit profiles vs the dodgy

It's also important to get longer term projects through it (either a client that brings you repeat work or short-medium term hourly contracts). It has got more and more difficult over the years imo as the various freelance sites merged and you had more crap to sift through.

Thanks for that. I couldn't believe that my experience was the norm, as the site couldn't stay in business.

I'm not kidding, though. Every. Single. Contact. that I had was "dodgy."

I really must have had something in my profile that attracted them. I don't know what it could have been. I use a similar approach in all my endeavors, but that site responded quite differently.

I remember one that was pretty scary. They kept trying to get me to meet them in rather remote places, like commuter parking lots, or hiking parks. They also tried to find out where I lived (which, TBH, isn't difficult. I own a house, and don't use an LLC to obfuscate ownership).

I come across as fairly open and credulous, but I have dealt with serious hardcases almost my entire life. The alarm klaxon was going off like crazy on that one.

Another data point: I also found multiple jobs with multiple clients through Upwork. I even built a transpiler for the most recent client, which is the coolest thing I've ever done.

> Solve a real need and research it prior to building. Either build something tiny and get feedback or get feedback before you even start building!

I've run into the situation of people eagerly telling you they want something, but when it comes time to pay for it they vanish.

Read The Mom Test for a quick overview of how to avoid this problem.

It's nice to see a more "normal" anecdote about this process. Usually you only see the SaaS equivalent of unicorns.

Thanks :-) Semi-failures are interesting as well

„Just ship it“ does not mean spending 9 months(!) building something that should have been a no-code MVP built in 2 weeks max.

I get the sentiment, but this was the first project of this kind for the author. I think "just ship it" sometimes means "get it done despite all the doubts".

This was my first SaaS project ever. A friend and I later wrote a bitly clone in one overnight pie programming session with Laravel. Sure, ideally you launch your stuff in 2 weeks but when you’ve never done it and you think it sucks, it might take 9 months. Just make sure it doesn’t take 9 months twice.

I agree 9 months is way too long but do you think you could build it in 2 weeks with no-code ?

I can see an experienced developer doing that in 2 weeks with little code, but no code ? If so, can you tell me what kind of products would you use ? I'm interested for some personal projects.

The problem we have is market saturation of basically everything. The winners take it all. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I'd probably just learn a trade, like electrician, bricklayer or plumber. They don't seem to run out of work.

I'm not sure I understand. If you're a programmer, that's a trade and there's work out there.

Lots of people can write an app. At the end of the day you either have to get lucky with organic traction or be a little less lucky but be a relatively skilled marketer that has a good command of how to convert paid traffic.

I'd argue organic traction can also be engineered. You are mostly correct though. It's a skill that can be improved on for sure.

Fascinating. So, you don't think the quality of the product itself matters much?

Product definitely matters to a degree, but being able to sell people on it (ie. convince someone they need it) is a more important skill. That's obviously an insanely broad generalization, but so is me saying lots of people can write an app.

You could argue that in a lot of domains you barely even need an app at all that requires more than wiring up google sheets to zapier or some such if you can cleverly package it up and target the right audience with it.

SaaS products are merely an exercise in problem solving for people/businesses and there's a lot of ways you can usually solve these sorts of problems without needing to be super technical with it. At that point your bottleneck will always end up being acquiring and converting traffic.

Your product has to work and solve a real need. It isn't that hard to figure out how to create an app. Communicating how that product creates value for customers, marketing it and doing all of the rest of the grunt work is the hard, difficult bit.

>>It isn't that hard to figure out how to create an app.

I think this totally depends on the app, and the problem domain. CRUD apps? Sure, those have very low barrier to entry. But they aren't the only type of app out there.

Sure -- definitely true. But you can cover a TON of ground for b2b applications with basic CRUD operations.

“build and they will come”, a fallacy everyone falls into

Some products are inherently difficult to monetize. I wouldn't give up yet, but another approach is to make the product free and use it as lead-gen for something else (an affiliate product, your own product in a separate niche, or even ads)

if you corner the market for the free product it can bring a lot of valuable traffic.

I love your idea of using a free product as a marketing tool.

Are there any resources/case studies to validate: "if you corner the market for the free product it can bring a lot of valuable traffic."

Plentyoffish.com broke Google's Adsense payout system - the monthly checks were too large to process!

(#1 dating site, monetized with Google ads. Ugly. Markus Frind later sold it for $575 million.)


That’s one I somehow haven’t been suggested at all since doing this. Definitely some room to create an ebook or other thing and sell it on the “backend”

I was following this same path until yesterday, when I gave up. I have the mock-ups and all the notes with me, but I won't go ahead because I know it would be too much of an effort. Web dev has become rocket science for those who started in this business in the late 90's, at least IMHO.

Hey, this isn't true at all. Reading up documentation/resources, watching youtube tutorials, and even sometimes banging your head against the wall is a normal part of the software development process. Don't let the frustrations get to you. You mentioned the 90s but boy were people jerks back then (from the horror stories I read). I think today is probably the best time to be working on software with so many open source tools in addition to collaborative and helpful people you'll come across. As far as tooling goes, just keep a simple. Aim for a simple MVP. DB? Go mysql. Frontend? Choose a templating engine like EJS and css. Backend? Node/Express ecosystem would be my go to. Push it to Github. Host it on Netlify. There are some fantastic tutorials around the net to get this far. Everything else like monitoring tools, security, testing, containers are secondary to the initial MVP you can build.

This is good advice. Tech doesn't really matter. Yes, things will suck. But don't introduce complexity until you're absolutely sure it needs to be or that it will help you save time later on.

I've worked/consulted at quite a few places where the code quality ranged from mediocre to abysmal. These companies were launched pretty much by people with an "X for Idiots" book on their lap or who hired their teenage nephew/best mate from college to do the coding.

And yet, these companies did quite well, became quite successful and profitable businesses in their niche - and when they did hit the hard limits of technical debt, they had the money to hire professionals. Unfortunately there are limits to what professionals can do with just-about-working spaghetti code and bizarre database schemas, when you can't just throw away and rewrite software that's powering a growing business that needs more new features than it needs a cleaner codebase, but nonetheless they got much further than many SaaS companies started by developers with well thought out architecture, beautiful code and the latest tech stack.

The reason they were successful is that the founders lived and breathed their niche and understood the problems and their customers. They saw opportunities as well as risks and blind alleys. The tech was just a means to that end, not the end in of itself. That said, before people say "the tech doesn't matter", I think that had they the technical skills to match their domain knowledge and connections, they would have been far more successful and would not have hit those hard limits that slowed them down and perhaps prevented them from expanding further and seizing on new opportunities. It's interesting that some of the real "unicorns" of the last few decades have had founders/leaders with strong technical chops - your Gates and Zuckerbergs. They might not have been the best in their field, but they had that relatively rare combo of technical ability and business sense.

> As far as tooling goes, just keep a simple. Aim for a simple MVP. DB? Go mysql. Frontend? Choose a templating engine like EJS and css. Backend? Node/Express ecosystem would be my go to. Push it to Github. Host it on Netlify.

I think what OP was referring to is that what you describe is, ironically, the antithesis of "simple."

Your "simple" solution requires knowledge of 5 separate frameworks/services, and having an understanding of the philosophy underpinning them and the alternatives to be confident those tools will be sufficient for your use case.

And like you said, that doesn't even include monitoring, security, testing, etc. etc.

And don't even get me started on all the tools you'll need to actually get users to visit your site after you build it (transactional email, marketing email, analytics, social media scheduling, SEO and its toolchain like Ahrefs and moz, etc).

Keep it simple. Just learn these 27 different things. Simple!

> Your "simple" solution requires knowledge of 5 separate frameworks/services, and having an understanding of the philosophy underpinning them and the alternatives to be confident those tools will be sufficient for your use case.

Yes, spot on.

I’ve seen an actively-developed b2b product written in PHP as recently as two years ago, among the leaders in its niche. Fairly boring HTML with a light dusting of JS. Know what? It was refreshingly responsive and snappy and didn’t do any weird shit. Felt like, if not the 90s, the early 2000s.

> Web dev has become rocket science for those who started in this business in the late 90's

Nonsense! I've been around since the 90s too and let me tell you - you don't need any of the trendy new crap to make a successful app. You don't need a single page JS app except in very specific circumstances. You don't need microservices or serverless or map/reduce or Cassandra or NoSQL or nodejs or ML or any of it.

Ignore all that noise, go pick up "Agile Web Development with Rails 6" and just do it. Haters gonna hate but if it's good enough for github it's very probably good enough for you.

As someone who also started in the 90's I think I understand what you mean. It used to be: write HTML -> upload via FTP -> done.

Therefore I think you should start with PHP. Write PHP -> upload -> done.

If PHP is unpopular advice, maybe this is even more unpopular: you might want to check out the ProcessWire CMS. Yes, this is a CMS, but since the front-end and back-end are separated it can be used as framework for a lot of things. It has a lot of (free) addons, like support for Twig, making developing even complex systems very simple.

And ofcourse you can use frameworks like Symfony and Laravel.

But to get rid of the rocket science I believe PHP is the way to go because it makes deployments so much easier.

And if the time comes your product is a success you can always hire rocket scientists who can help you to move on.

PHP is great :)

HTML from the 90s will still run on today's browsers. Just because everyone is overcomplicating things doesn't mean you have to. If you have a great product it doesn't matter much what you use to build it.

>Web dev has become rocket science for those who started in this business in the late 90's

Curious about what more contemporary stuff you've experimented with vs. what you're comfortable with. The pop cycle is real.

For instance, one of yesterday's top posts was about htmx, which is cool enough, but it's one of those things that's very opinionated about bundling content, presentation, and behavior, and which advocates for hypertext over consumer-neutral serialization formats. All of that was de rigueur not so long ago, and then heresy in the '00s. Yet, it works, and you can drop in it and get it working in like 2 minutes.

I feel the same way as I suppose you do about a lot of popular toolchains for web work. Babel and webpack are beasts and definitely do remind me of some of the performance art-level stuff with autoconf and make.

I work on some of this stuff in my spare time. Always happy to hear anecdotes.

Check out BannerBear [0]. Made with Ruby on Rails by this guy [1]. Pieter Levels uses jquery and a single large php file for NomadList [2].

I think there's a pretty solid group of people using "old" tech to build modern interfaces.

A lot of justification for things like React is around project management for teams. For an indie developer, there are simpler things like Unpoly, Stimulus/Turbolinks, jQuery, AlpineJS, and Intercooler/HTMX.

Give it a shot!

[0] https://www.bannerbear.com/

[1] https://twitter.com/yongfook

[2] https://nomadlist.com/

You can still build it with whatever you want to. User's don't care if you used React through a GraphQL API talking to Microservices that sits on an instantly scaleable AWS infrastructure. These are technologies designed to solve problems that Really Big Companies have, and that most of us bootstrapping a SaaS do not.

Don't be worried about "Scale" either, seriously. VC funded unicorns care about scale because they have million dollar budgets going into advertising, the reality for most bootstrapped SaaS and even mid-sized businesses is that a simple dedicated host is going to serve you well. Depends on the type of business I suppose, but if you need quick bursting scale then you'll probably know it.

The bleeding edge is a mess. You want to pick only the things you absolutely need from it, and if you can't figure out what it is you need, you don't need anything but what you've got and life is good. Many of these technologies come at a cost to overall complexity, and for big companies they will have enough developers to specialize in all the different technologies going on.

When I'm working with clients we can often use some new fangled technologies to help in really specific areas. But the vast, vast, vast majority of clients just need you to send their user a gosh darn web page and process some forms. Render your template, cache the thing and send it over. Instant low latency web experience, hoo-ray we're all happy.

to echo sibling comments: build your thing with 90's era frontend tech. A fancy UI is unlikely to be your differentiating feature. As long as it does its job, you can fix it later if it becomes successful -- hire a js expert at that point and re-do the frontend.

Get after it! It's not too late and you don't need the latest *js to make something valuable. The effort can be worth it!

Vue.js was part of the architecture -- no kidding! But hey, thanks for the encouragement.

Fuck vue.js. Launch your thing. EarlyBrd only used jinja2 templates with Flask. Now I'm migrating to laravel and only use Blade templates. Prove your thing out first because most users don't really care unless you're making some kind of real-time data analytics bs (in which case inqtel or other prob wants to send you some money)

What did you find were the downsides of developing a product in Flask vs. Laravel?

Curious as I've been debating about which direction to steer a friend who is a designer trying their build their own product. He's played around with python, and liked it, so I was going to suggest flask (since most of online tutorials start there).

But I've also heard good things about PHP/Laravel for beginners.

I would recommend Laravel or even Rails for a beginner over Flask. Again, with Flask I was re-writing and implementing things I didn't need to. Like hashing passwords. Or building user scaffolding. Flask fans will argue that you can do all of these. Yes...but you probably are grabbing some module and reading the docs and then messing around with it for a while. My forgotten email system in flask was a celery task running in a sidecar container and using an additional redis container for queueing and grabbing that job. In laravel that looks more like one command. `php artisan ui vue --auth`. Maybe there is a better way but I found myself struggling for a lot. Yes I didn't need to use psycopg2 and make nasty raw SQL calls because SQLAlchemy exists. SQLAlchemy isn't built in though. Django has a lot of these features and much of flask's attractiveness is in being light-weight so I guess it makes sense. Today, I'd say for solo-founders, try out Laravel > Rails > Django > Flask > everything else

Great work. I'm curious though. Why Flask and not Django? Seems like you wanted a heavyweight after all.

You could almost still run PHP scripts from those days. The same basic architecture works you just gotta study the new DB access methods that use prepared statements instead of string concatenation/interpolation.

If you used Perl, mod_perl exists and CGI.pm is available in CPAN. The CGI protocol is as viable as it ever was (though of course there are new and improved alternatives).

There are a bunch of minimal stylesheets out there that get you some mobile compatibility, and no IE 6/early Firefox nightmares, so your code can actually be simpler than ever.

Someone should make a contest to revive older tech like perl and make a profitable product from it. Use the oldest tech and see who can make the most valuable product

FYI: Perl has one of the most powerful and modern web frameworks, Mojolicious, and one of the best web form libraries, called CGI::FormBuilder.

Besides that, Perl allows forward references and has moderately strong type checking. And mod_perl is the best-performing language accelerator.

I cringe whenever I have to downgrade to Python.

I cringe whenever I have to use a language accelerator.

Early 2000s: Remember when everyone wanted to try to build a business on the idea that "internet + non-technical-business = $$$$$" ?

Early 2020s: Remember when everyone wanted to try to build a business on the idea that "internet + some software a random person might pay $5 for = $$$$$" ?

Writing the software is the easy part of SaaS.

You're right. But that doesn't make it easy :P

I think a lot of devs think that project management, business sense and marketing (basically everything but development) are easier. I used to think that too. Until I had to start thinking about business strategies, sharing my product and understanding my customers...

If only I could install packages for that kind of stuff IRL.

But you can install packages for that, too. It’s just that you’ve used the wrong terminology. Instead of “install”, it’s called “pay”, and instead of “packages”, it’s “professionals”.

Toward that...

>Go for B2B if you can. Freelancers aren't rich.

You might not love the b2b sales cycle either. Even if you get a whale of a client, you're gonna negotiate hard, probably fork your product for it, and get paid in 180 days if you're lucky.

OP here -- feeling that hard right now. I have another side gig (maybe I'll write about it soon). Working with a company that does ~300mm in revenue and date from contract sent to signed was around 45 days. I was blown away. still haven't been paid either. Hoping I'm embedded after this.

That's heavily dependent on who we are talking about. A solo founder with 20 years of marketing experience but zero programming experience won't find writing the software to be the easy part.

one million percent true.

I'm struck by two things as I mull over how I'll monetize my own SaaS app that I've started ideating.

Firstly, the author says to rather sell to businesses than to individuals. Fine.

Secondly, one of his links (https://makebook.io/) says monetize by asking users for money, and makes a point of saying don't use ads anywhere.

But if my product is aimed at consumers, why not monetize with ads if it's notoriously difficult to get users to pay 5 or 10 bucks?

Advertising doesn't become viable until you're getting 50K+ visitors a month, and in a niche where people will actually click ads. And even then, if it's an unprofitable niche (like say, home cooking), you'd have to multiply that by 10X to reach a good six figure income.

By viable, I mean making more money than you would working as a software engineer in a big city.

Because $10 is roughly 10,000 ad views (unless you have a specific high demand audience that people find hard to reach somewhere else then you get paid more per view).

A typical user will not view 10,000 ads on your app/site in their lifetime.

> Ferreira spent less time doing labour-intensive web design and more time searching for the cold fusion of internet marketing: "passive income."

— Corey Pein: How to get rich quick in Silicon Valley (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/17/get-rich-quick-...)

This: "Don't charge 5-10 bucks for your product. It's not really worth it and the customers who pay that are generally cheap-asses anyway."

That ^!

Learned it the hard way myself.

Grats on shipping! Highly recommend testing positioning this as a B2B product for monitoring companies that I could use as sales leads. For example it would be great to get alerted from all the diff job boards when different companies are trying to hire for what our product solves, similar to how Reilly is using your product.

Solid idea. I think he mentioned that to me and I didn't take it in fully that other people could monitor WHAT people on Upwork wanted without wanting to work for them.

Is there any "SaaS as a Service" that can be used to put up a MVP of your SaaS idea?

Basically a whitebox SaaS open source that you can use? I only know of KongHQ but that's a SaaS marketplace, I don't think that's a good idea because with that you are treated as a vendor (no control of your users/ecosystem).

There are a few templates and things if you google 'saas boilerplate'. Most I've found are specific to languages and require a lot of setup. It's an ok idea, just needs to be executed correctly. Laravel really handles a lot of this well and they even developed a paid boilerplate that claims to do billing and other things easily https://spark.laravel.com/

thank you, I will check it out.

congratulations! that was quite an adventure you went on and it might feel discouraging now but you are essentially set up for success the next time you start a business.

just keep those lessons in mind and if you don’t make those mistakes again, i think you will get to ramen profitability at least.

I have a few other projects generating some revenue but nothing SaaS just yet. My exp doing this will definitely help in the future

It looks as though this (https://earlybrd.io/) is down. I was headed there to sign up since I see this as very useful after reading the blog post. I use Upwork at times myself.

> Go for B2B if you can. Freelancers aren't rich.

I don't understand this... can anyone explain?

B2B vs B2C aren't two starkly different things - it's a spectrum between them.

Freelancers are a notoriously difficult market to sell to as they perceive every dollar spent as coming out of their wallet.

Compare that to a large enterprise company where the person making the buying decision is going to take home the same salary at the end of the week whatever the decision ends up being.

Even among freelancers, those who use upwork are probably far more strapped for cash.

large enterprise companies can be reasonably challenging to sell things too, but for a whole range of different reasons ( not in sales, do work at an enterprise that will take 18 months to arrive at a decision that it is acceptable to start using a different vendor's monitoring tool )

It's easier to sell to one client for 10000, then it is to sell to 10000 clients for 1.

In my startup we're currently courting a company and if we get the deal we'll have all our costs covered + enough for another engineer + some leftover profit.

I believe they're suggesting - in line with the point about not charging $5-$10 - that you should not build lower value SaaS products for eg freelancers (with the author implying that customer group doesn't have much money to spend). And that you should instead target larger business customers that will pay more.

"Sell to businesses, not individuals. Businesses have deeper pockets than individuals"

B2B means selling to other businesses instead of to individuals.


Thanks for sharing it , really cool one, but

> Framework / Language really doesn't matter that much. Choose what you're comfortable with, "even if it's php."

I think modern php is able to manage almost anything, starting from facebook as well.

Yep! Php ain't all that bad. I'm migrating earlybrd to laravel soon and enjoy it a lot. just poking a bit of fun because nerds like to hate on php.

I have never used Laravel, but I am an avid user of Flask. In fact my current project is built in it. Do you mind expanding on why you're transitioning?

I hope you don't mind me saying, but it sounds like you didn't have the best setup (i.e.: > raw SQL queries with psycopg2). With a couple of packages your environment and dev process would be a lot smoother.

Flask is great and could work fine. I just found that Laravel was easy enough to scaffold things out a lot easier (like user auth). I'm new to web app dev as well and have found MVC and other framework concepts making more since as I develop more in Laravel. SQL queries worked fine for me but a lot of people disagree with doing things that way. In contrast, though, eloquent is much simpler once you learn.

Nice article, fun to read!

I think solo-founders should try hard to find a simple and efficient tech stack - including hosting. Why use containers and EC2 when you could just use a PaaS like Pythonanywhere and be done with it?

I love PA, but I wouldn't say that using them is "being done with it". Containers are pretty useful for all sorts.

It's mostly familiarity. I was working on AWS as an infra guy and doing a lot of docker stuff. Python anywhere looks cool but I still wanna manage my servers. I'd prob go digitalocean or similar if launching today. (with my containers ofc)

> Reilly uses EarlyBrd to find folks who need help with Ubiquiti Wi-Fi gear and tell them about Hostifi.

This should be on your home page. It made me want to buy your product.

He is on my testimonials but we’ll be getting a refresh soon :-)

I enjoyed the article.

I'll point out that you've got links to about 12 different external tools, but 0 links to the SaaS product you're talking about...

Thanks! Yeah, I messed up. I wrote this in about an hour and posted it a few places not expecting the traffic I got!

If growth is slow, how about spending more money on marketing? Hire a part-time online marketing specialist and give them money to spend on ads.

Nice article and have to agree:

> Go for B2B if you can. Freelancers aren't rich.

Even if freelancers have money they seem to spend less.

I like (and agree with) the learnings. I don't understand why the cynic(?) tone at the beginning.

how do ya mean? I don't put out a lot of content so any feedback is good.

Fun article - thanks.

The reference to Flask being a pain in the arse made me chuckle. I am a hobbyist python author and have been using Flask for years, doing exactly what you wrote about, with awkward front-end templates and handwritten SQL queries and the rest.

I did some basic tutorials on Vue a few weeks ago and it was absolutely mind-blowingly straightforward in comparison!

Excuse my naive question but how do the 2 compare? Flask == backend, Vue == frontend. Am I missing something here?

You can use Flask to render your friend-end HTML and handle form submissions. JavaScript doesn’t have to be involved at all.

You can also render your friend end using JS and interact with services written in Flask.


Has SaaS become a washed-out gold rush at this point, like the app stores?

Nah, what makes you think that?

Good article. Glad to see people doing what they enjoy in the it world


How much did it cost you to launch? Did you manage to turn a profit?

Hardly anything. $5/mo or so for a VPS, my time and energy. Maybe $100 in programming courses. I made TENS of dollars.

I think everybody has to learn this lesson. Treat it like a learning experience and you haven't lost anything but time hopefully. Earlybrd.io is currently down and I wanted to check it out. Hug of death.

Yeah, I am getting pwned pretty hard. Thanks for your kind words -- putting up a temp page now

But why is the OP's website down? I get 403.

Just redirected to a temporary signup...tl;dr is that I was doing some funny stuff with Flask in a docker container...

One of the better clickbait titles I've come across on HN

Copywriting is one tool of many in a bootstrapper's arsenal.

is there any reason that my company blocked this website for "copyright infringement" ?

SaaS is awesome. I too want to build one.

Editorialized title (even if OP is the author). Should be: "Thoughts on Learning To Design, Build and Launch A SaaS"

Note that author changed the title on the website to match what they submitted here after discussion.


Correct. I stand by this decision.

No problem at all - just pointing out the context of my comment

Sure, blame the internet, rather than yourself

the internet is the reason I wrote it. My failures are my own :-) thanks though

Hmmmm maybe I should retract my previous comment then

Going to be down voted for that but after all those discussions of HN readers it is disappointing to see that click-bait titles works the same here than everywhere else

Well site guidelines say to submit the original title, not a clickbait alteration. Mods are good about enforcing that.

Forgive me -- I really didn't know. I've updated the destination article's title.

Wait 1 minute for author to update the original title to the click-bait version

Done, actually. I just thought it was a good title, did not mean to mislead or direct to something that wasn't relevant.

Maybe it's changed, but the title I see doesn't feel clickbait-y. It actually made me think the author was going to have completely failed; I'm glad to see there was some modest success.

Thanks :-) I think my success is about equal to my work. It is hard to work on something when you're unsure if it will succeed.

They work even better here I would say, people just eat them up. The shorter and more ambiguous the title, the better. No description necessary and you can link straight to a press release.

Qoute: "In the Fall of 2017 I'd done a ton of freelancing on the (garbage) website Upwork. Upwork is a bit of a grind. User's can search for a skill they'd like to freelance in ( Cisco Networking, Python programming, Painting Dogs, whatever) and apply for job's via proposals. The crappy thing about Upwork is that once a job is posted, the heat is on to apply. The longer you let the job sit, the more likely that other freelancers will apply for it and get the work. Being early was an extreme advantage, even if you are the best.

After googling around a bit, I found that Upwork had no way for user's to get alerts on new jobs, even though many user's requested it. "Hmmm, I thought, a market need". There were, though, countless forum posts and low-quality YouTube videos explaining how to set up alerts via IFTTT and Upwork's RSS feeds feature. "

As a long time Upwork freelancer (12 years now) - short answer would be that you're not cut for freelancer's market. Long answer is harder to stomach, so skip next paragraph:

1 - Being early is disadvantage actually. Being early means your bid gets dumped in job poster's email along with the others. You want to be 1st (hard to be and you'll never have the guarantee even with a fast notification) or let it sit for 24 hours.

2 - Rant about not having notifications then answering yourself about using RSS. If RSS is hard for you to make it work then I'll have to wonder about the rest of your skills as programmer. Personally I didn't like any RSS feed apps out there so I wrote my own, customized to my needs. You could've done the same, instead you made a Saas out of it thinking you'll strike gold.

1 - maybe you’re right, I don’t know. Freelancers can find success on Upwork but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a garbage website 2 - I don’t think I ever said RSS was hard to make work. My app is essentially a feed reader. I am also a shit developer, covered that one already Thank you for reading and your feedback, though!

That garbage site is providing opportunities for millions of developers and clients, and personally feeding my family for over a decade. I tried freelancer.com, rentacoder.com, elance.com (before merging with odesk and the 2 of them becoming what is today's upwork), fiverr, peopleperhour and toptal. Of them all upwork is the best. Maybe you can make a better one, huh?

where is dang when you need him, eh?

I don't know who dang is. The site is fine but their ToS is atrocious. Have you read it? Freelancers are expected to pay $3000 USD to take a client off of Upwork. This doesn't refer to initial work being done on the platform. If you do work for a client and get a call back, Upwork expects you to work through Upwork. I'm sure that few do this but WHAT. They recently changed ToS so maybe it is different now... I'm also not a big fan of the dog-eat-dog nature of the site, which my tool ironically encourages. I'm glad it works for you. I don't want to be a freelancer, I want to make tools/SaaS products.

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