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Ask HN: Anyone on HN running a web startup with 50K+ a year net profit?
103 points by riskish on Mar 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments



I was 19 and in my first year of college when I finished my last contract programming job and started working for myself. I launched my first product with a $10 domain name and $17 web template for the site design. It made well over 50K in net profit its first year. I paid my way through college without debt, and run several profitable web apps now.

There are others on HN with similar stories. I recommend checking out the profiles of commentors. A lot of people have their sites in their bios so you can see what they've built.


I would love to have a chat with you about your experience, if you don't mind that is?


great story and great advice.


Definitely more than 50k/year net and growing at a nice pace. I'm a single founder, worked on my SaaS product nights and weekends, and been live almost a year and a half. Also, just quit my day job a couple of weeks ago so I can do what I love full time. My product: http://www.bidsketch.com


That is a nice product that fits in the category of something I had no idea I needed until I saw it.


Thanks; this is one of the challenges I run into with marketing and trying to find traffic sources. I've had good success with word of mouth, integrations and giving away free templates for users feeling the type of pain my product solves.


Great looking site. Very clean design and user friendly.


wow, extremely slick. Are you using any specific UI/design framework to tools to create such a polished look/feel? Or totally coded from scratch?


Thanks! Everything from scratch; no UI/design framework used.


Yes, quite a bit more than 50K/year, but we're only a web startup in the sense that we sell all our products via the web. Our 2 main products are an updater suite for Windows apps (http://wyday.com/wybuild/ ) and licensing & online activation for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X apps (http://wyday.com/limelm/ ).

In short, we make development tools.


Completely unrelated to the thread, but this is exactly what I've been looking for.


Woo, wyBuild! :)


Nope. I'm broke. Thanks for the reminder.


My two startups, SmartFlix.com and HeavyInk.com, both clear this hurdle.


What kind of physical infrastructure to you have to handle all those physical goods (comic books and DVDs)?

PS, I really like SmartFlix.com. What a great concept!


I would also like to know the answer to this question.


why not use online video distribution like http://karsa.co.uk


SmartFlix is great. We subscribe and I'm happy to run into one of the creators here. Congrats.


By sometime next month we will break $50k for this year alone. We have some more work to do on two B2B license contracts to get our next couple of installment payments. We should be launching our B2C pay product by next month as well. So far, customers have donated $15k in the last year, so we expect to clear minimum 4x that much this year in recurring subscriptions.

The site in question (http://ridewithgps.com) is a niche site for cyclists, or anyone who wants a way to track their workouts using GPS. Garmin has a large line of fitness related GPS computers with wireless heartrate, pedal speed and instantaneous power output sensors, so the log files are fun to play with :)

It took three years of work, but I now have a real (small!) regular salary...


How do you compete with MapMyRun? Everyone I know uses that...


We don't suck as much. Have you ever used their sites? It's like someone loaded up every bad fad diet ad into a shotgun and pointed it at your face.

We get several messages a day from people along these lines - here is an example from yesterday I just pulled from our suggestions/comment submission system: "I love your site. After spending frustrating hours with Map My Ride, your site is so easy. And, even better is the Cue Sheet. Thank you."


Please post this thread again in a few months. Fingers crossed!


Yup. Single man hobby project turned profitable product. Niche SaaS, took about 10 months to clear the 50k hurdle, but I've done almost no marketing for it either.


Was previously but sold the last startup. Currently working on another startup but haven't launched yet.


Started two years ago 19K first year.

Still have few more months in the second year,already passed the 50K+ mark.


Yes, including after pay + benefits for 2 FT founders (+ ~4 contractors). Started FT without profit or product 5 years ago. Bootstrapped. 1st hit profitability ~2 years after starting. Advertising biz model. Biggest hurdle was cold-starting growth with limited marketing budget.

I think that hits most of the questions I've seen in the thread.


For those of you who have reached this milestone:

1) What type of business model did you use? (SaaS, ecommerce, etc.)

2) How long did it take to get there after launching?

3) What was the biggest hurdle you faced in getting there?

4) How many people were working with you?


Although I'm not quite at that point yet (very close)...

1) SaaS w/ monthly subscription

2) I'm about 8 months in and monthly revenue has finally ramped up to a point where, if I were to make this much each month, profits would be well over $50k

3) The biggest hurdle has been customer acquisition. The first chunk of customers I got through a deal when starting the company. The rest have been a struggle. Managing marketing efforts while still hacking all day is a lot of work. I also have no real internet marketing experience. One other hurdle has been dealing with a deadbeat co-founder.

4) I started with one co-founder but he has since gotten a job and I have quit mine. I'm working 100% full time on the startup and he hasn't contributed more than an hour in the past 4 or 5 months, so it's pretty much just me.


How did you figure out your pricing scheme and did you suspect people might need and pay for this before actually building it?


I got kind of lucky here because my company grew out of the failure of my old employer. They basically ran out of money and sold themselves to a very large company. That company didn't want a subset of the users, so we offered to purchase them. I just used the same pricing scheme as my old employer did to make the transition for the old users as palatable as possible to increase the amount of people that stayed on through the migration from my old company to my new company. It worked fairly well as close to 80% stayed on.


Niche SaaS & service hybrid product for a finance niche cleared that in 45 days. Have done slight pivots to retain a sustainable and healthy growth clip.


would you mind elaborating on the niche/product? URL?


I'm also interested.


I would also like to add - how many of you started with 0 profit when you went full time doing it?


No, I wish someone would help me learn how to do all this stuff. I'm not sure where I could begin with even doing a "web startup"

I'd need a lot of programming knowledge and I was not blessed with a computer when I grew up like a lot of you.


I am.


Yes, since 2002 :-)


It depends on when a startup stops being a startup.


The answer is obviously and indisputely, "Yes."

So it would be better to frame your question in a way which got the results in which you are actually interested.

Do you want to know which niches are being served by HN users? Ask. Do you want to know how to use SEO to turn your 10k net profit business into a 50k net profit business? Ask. Do you want to know if the majority of HN is starving wanna-bes? Ask.

This question in an exceptionally poor proxy for your real question.


I'd like to edit my Q now, but I can't. :)


Well how about you ask it again in a reply and we all upvote it so that everyone sees it?


The reason I asked is I asked a similar question a while ago, regarding "HN founders taking the leap from full-time to startup" and a lot of great responses about projects were posted, so I was hoping for a little inspiration for the most part and to see what new projects people are working on / succeeding with.


Well I'm currently full-time and I have had a hobby horse company slowly building up for the past year. It currently makes about £36k GBP in profit per annum, which means it's close to the point that with a tight belt I could jump.

The hardest thing for me isn't spotting or monetising the opportunity, but in balancing everything for a reasonable quality of life without burning myself out. That and discovering and handling the minefield that is running your own company and figuring our the finances, taxing, invoicing and asset management.

My company does community websites, forums and the like. I chose to start with areas I'm most interested in, but have avoided areas where there isn't an after-sales market. I aim making the lions-share of the revenue from affiliate schemes such as the eBay Partner Network, Amazon, and then Affiliate Window has a lot of companies running schemes specific to the communities I'm running.

I don't push the affiliates... I just aim to build the communities up to the point that enough conversation produces the links to used or new items that then produces revenue.

Once a community is successful, I look for another.

What I've discovered is that revenue earnings relate to purchase price of items, and that you can make significant money in high-value items sold through eBay. I would now recommend people look at cars, motor-homes, boats, etc sold through eBay, and then build affiliate based communities around those. Which means building communities who love and use those things, and affiliate earnings is a natural by-product of letting those people communicate.

There is a lot of money in affiliates with a low entry barrier so long as you can attract the people who will click on the links, and if you happen to have also attracted people who would post the links (you can auto-rewrite server-side to include the affiliate element) then you have a winner.

So that's what I do in my spare time (30 minutes per day), and it's wildly successful given the effort invested (I'm using off-the-shelf forum software).

I could even make this my job full-time, except I personally need more stimulus than just running a farm of community forums.

Also... beware the politics. If you can stick to a same-sex topic where people are unlikely to sleep with each other, you'll get a lot less politics.


How do you get it started? Do you have to learn something about the market and start posting your own content?


It's a community forum, so you need to have something to say and to know that the gap you're targeting exists.

In two parts this simply means:

1) You had better be interested in the topic

2) Check which other sites already exist and position yourself accordingly

My most successful forum is LFGSS http://www.lfgss.com/ , which is London Fixed-gear and Single-speed... a cycling forum which luckily caught a trend before it got big. The positioning on that was that whilst other cycling forums do exist, others failed to recognise that cycling is a local activity and that cycling itself splits into various tribes and that even local activities only have appeal to one tribe. I love cycling, and I was riding fixed, so once I recognised that I could just start the London forum I was pretty much done.

To launch it I just went on to sites like bikeforums.net and announced in the most applicable place that I was starting something I hoped would appeal to the niche I'd highlighted. About 15 people signed up on day 1, just enough to have conversations between each other... and with about an hour a day invested in chatting and going on the odd ride I get it to the point of getting 30 > 50 new users every day and am now somewhere over 25,000 members with over half of them actively using the site each month and a unique visitor count (Google Analytics) of 250,000 per month.

My other forums aren't doing as well, but all produce revenue and the platform is already paid for by LFGSS.

It took me a while to work out the revenue model (get users first!), but once worked out they're doing fine.

Seriously though... I would look at eBay and find high value items (above $1,000 USD average) and ask myself which of those is something I'm interested in and could invest in for the near future (as in... treat as a hobby). Then create the site, and instead of thinking about the revenue and site, become a user and just contribute as you would if you were a user. The money follows that.


I really had a good laugh at your last comment (same-sex topics) - although I guess that was serious, right?


Yeah it was serious.

I did a music forum that was pretty successful, but a third of people slept with each other and then bore grudges for the experience (it must've been bad) and that spilled back on to the site.

You don't want to spend your time trying getting adults to behave like adults (though technically that was the problem itself).


Net profit is after salaries. I assume that what you are looking for is startups with enough revenue to pay an employee the equivalent of an entry level development job.


>> Do you want to know if the majority of HN is starving wanna-bes? Ask.

I assumed this was the point of the question because it focuses on net profit but you're right, there's not much to add to the answer that could be helpful to others. Also, I answered as a single founder which is different than a team of people saying they just cleared 50k/year from a net profit per person perspective. But because of the way the question was phrased, I'm not sure if that matters here.


Yes, although we're now almost five, so not so much of a startup any more - although we are entirely self-funded (not through a lack of investment offers, just that we don't want/need it). Profits each year were $60k, 100, 30 (heavy re-investment), 180, and this year's on track to be our first million dollar year.


Well, the answer is obviously "yes". I'm not sure what kind of elaboration you're looking for, here.

To be fair, though, we're a few too many years in to really be called a startup any longer.




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