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Ask HN: Are you working on any side projects that make "small/passive" income?
177 points by riskish on March 23, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 167 comments
If so, what are they and how long did it take to make your first dollar?

A couple years ago I created a small international proxy service.

The service was targeted at advertisers who wanted to advertise in other countries but didn't have an easy way to see international ads or landing pages from competitors(most landing pages in this niche were geotargeted and would redirect based on your IP). It probably took less than 10-15 hours to hack together in PHP.

I didn't have a freemium model or anything like that, I knew that this service had some value to some people and priced it at $50/month.

I never took this seriously as a major project/startup, and so the only promotion I did were a couple of forum posts in the Buy/Sell/Trade sections of relevant forums. In retrospect, it could have been much more successful had I taken the time to drive paid traffic to it. I remember the customer lifetime value was north of $300, and conversion rates were very respectable.

The service wasn't positioned as a tool for anonymity/illegal acts(we explicitly stated we kept logs), so I was able to avoid the problem of chargebacks common to such services.

Because of that, unlike other proxies that had to take payment in complex, nonreversible forms like Western Union, I could take PayPal payments and automatically provision an account on checkout. After you signed up, you would instantly be given unique IPs for the countries you selected that you could just plug into your browser. This ease of use was a key factor in the service's success.

It ended up making between $600-$1000 a month pretty consistently only a couple months after launch. Eventually, I got tired of dealing with support issues and sold the site on Flippa for a healthy revenue multiple.

The coup de grace: I was approached by several of the people who didn't win the auction but were still interested in the site. I ended up selling a few white-label versions of my (very simplistic) software for $1000 each.

Friendly French note: "coup de grace" actually means the last blow that achieved to kill something. From your story, it sounds more like it was the cherry on top.

Or "la cerise sur le gâteau", if you prefer :)

So you sold the original site on Flippa and then also sold essentially the same code again to other people? Wasn't that against the terms of sale to the Flippa buyer?

No, the buyer didn't mind. He was buying the site more for the revenue/traction rather than te technology. It's actually very common to create a script and sell both developed sites based on it as well as the script itself.

That's great. Good work on finding an opportunity and acting fast on it.

The coup de grace: I was approached by several of the people who didn't win the auction but were still interested in the site. I ended up selling a few white-label versions of my (very simplistic) software for $1000 each.

Note to self, if I ever buy a site on Flippa, make sure to get a con-compete too.

Even if they sign it, I wouldn't expect most sellers there to honor it. When I last looked at flippa many of the sites were obvious clones of each other.

1. Build a template of a simple site

2. Create 10000 instances of it & SEO them one at a time

3. Resell to suckers with too much money.

4. Profit!

I spent a lot of time searching for a service exactly like this and considered building one myself. Does it still exist?

In case anyone is reading this thread and becoming pessimistic about their chances of achieving passive income, I'd like to note that there is a clear sampling bias: folks that have found profitable niches are less likely to share their projects for fear of attracting competition. I suspect that choosing a good niche is pretty important when it comes to passive-income type projects. It looks like the most profitable project so far in the thread is il's, and he sold his site on flippa, so competition is now someone else's problem.

Just to test this out, if anyone is staying quiet about their project for fear of attracting competition, could they please reply to this comment and say so? Don't worry, your silence is totally understandable :)

(The sampling bias will probably still remain somewhat due to folks have their projects linked to from their profiles and not wanting to remove them.)

My most profitable side project actually plays in an extremely competitive space but I usually stay quiet about it because it's boring, extremely uncool, and borders on sleazy. Anyways, I wrote it in a weekend and it makes me about $400/month.

Boring AND sleazy. Now I'm intrigued.

It's stripping for blind people.

That doesn't sound boring or sleazy to me.

Similarly, a lot of folks I know dabble in 'adult' orientated side-businesses.

Most people won't be up-front about working in that space publicly.

I assume this is affiliate marketing and not content creation?

Almost always based on either affiliate marketing or just sourced content. Source is cheap and common, and the same, tired adult content model still works: Horny guy, cock in hand, still whips out credit card. It's an aging model, but there's always margin on the dance floor.

Do you use AdWords for PPC traffic? Is that allowed by Google?

> Just to test this out, if anyone is staying quiet about their project for fear of attracting competition, could they please reply to this comment and say so?

Um, now that you've asked, the most important part of any secret is knowing the existence of a secret (or phrased otherwise: you don't ask questions about stuff you don't know the existence of).

So: no, you can't really control for this sampling bias.

But thanks for asking, we're fine :)

Like someone mentioned, I don't want to increase my competition, so I'm not going to get into the details, but I'll say that I started doing consulting after work in 2007 to bootstrap my own project. I had absolutely no business background.

In 2008 I spent $7000 that I had made off consulting and 8 months of my free time to build my first project. It was a miserable failure. I've made about $80 off of it, so I'm still down about $6920... 3 years later.

In 2009 I built my second attempt. This time I spent about $1000 building it and it took me about 4 months to build it. I've made about $150 off that one, so I still lost money, but much less than the first time.

In 2010 I made my third attempt. This one I built at no cost, and 2 weeks of my free time. To date this one has made over $20,000.

I'm now in the 5th year since I first started on this journey and for the first time, I wrote myself a profit check last month.

Hang in there. You'll figure it out if you keep trying.

Any advice on what changed through time? More focused attempts, better grasp of the demand, or just more productive programming?

I've been programming for a long time, so I don't think it had anything to do with productive programming. In fact, each attempt was less work than the previous.

The thing that I didn't understand is that being successful in business has very little to do with having an original idea. You're much better off just looking at how other people are making money and becoming their competitor or improving upon what they are doing. 99% of successful businesses work this way. This may seem obvious to a lot of people, but I kept spinning my wheels trying to invent something instead of doing market research and building something that I know people need or want.

Most innovation happens this way. Get some existing idea, develop on it and market/sell it off as a better alternative. Seems simple. If only.

"If only" - totally agree.

Just building something people need/want, or improving upon what works, is a deceptively simple generalization. It boils down to execution, and that's where our originality still comes into play.

I agree as well. I wasn't suggesting that's all it takes, but rather, that was the missing ingredient for me. I think different people are missing different ingredients to success, and that was the one that I was missing.

So I assume that your third attempt based on "becoming their competitor or improving upon" strategy.

If so, how difficult was it (or how long did it take) to get organic traffic/customers through google, etc. Since I would think your competitors were more "established" in the pagerank, seo etc.

Basically, I'm just wondering how hard is it to get traction against entrenched players. Even if your product were superior, you still need to draw traffic to sell and prove it.

It actually happened immediately. I only have one real competitor, and my product is superior, and I still haven't overtaken them. That's part of what I learned from this. They were making enough that if I just took 5% of their income I could still make a lot of money. Sometimes being #2 is OK.

I have had a very similar experience.

First 1 I spent 12 months developing and only generated a few hundred dollars.

Few more in between all not generating much interest.

One took a few weeks of dev time and a bit coming out of it, still big potential there so I will pursue it, it just involves getting out to more businesses.

The most recent one built in a day to test the waters. Lots of positive feedback, 1 more day to polish the site (ie. make it look pretty) and now a large company is getting on board and lots of small businesses jumping in. (2 days work total) Obviously I have a lot more days of dev to keep expanding it.

I think the actual thing you learn is don't reinvent the wheel, just do something better than everyone else. And second start VERY simple, then build. Otherwise the app is too complex to get a quick and rapid user base who will then spend the time to use your app more.

Yes. This is exactly what I did. Seems to be a common formula.

What type of costs added up to $7k for your first attempt? Did you use outsource'd talent?

Yes I did outsource. It was a huge website with a lot of bells and whistles (this was my first mistake)... At the time, I was a C++ guy trying to get into the web, so I hired an outsourced designer and then hired a php guy in India to implement it.

What ended up happening by the end is that I fired the php guy for trying to sell my code to another company and then I rewrote most of the site myself since by then I was proficient in php/mysql and the code that was written was so inefficient that google crawling the site was crushing it. Lots of lessons learned in there.

As my Android apps started becoming more popular, I started seeing piracy of my apps skyrocket. At the time, Google didn't have their application licensing system in place, so I built my own. With the licensing system in place for my apps, I was also free to distribute and sell my application binary on my own, without fear of it being pirated.

After seeing piracy drop dramatically and talking with other Android developers with the same problems, I decided to build a site around it and sell my system to other developers.

It took me about 2 weeks to build www.androidlicenser.com and I saw my first $40/month subscription within 5 days. It still brings in about $500/month consistently. Google has since come out with their own licensing system, but it suffers from the limitation of it only working for apps purchased through the Android Market which, in a world with many Android Markets, isn't good enough.

What happens if someone bypasses your client library in the APK file? Also, will the application fail to launch if it cannot reach androidlicenser.com (or wherever it goes) to verify the user when the app is launched?

As always, the APK needs to be obfuscated to prevent hackers from decompiling the code and bypassing the client library.

If internet connection is unavailable or androidlicenser.com is unreachable, it is completely upto the developer to determine what to do next. My best practice recommendation is to allow the user to continue to use the application.

Looks like a useful too in android dev arsenal with Amazon Appstore launching..is there some type of blog post, etc as I would like to do some type of post for ChicagoAndroid.com which I am a member of..

You can learn more about AndroidLicenser at blog.androidlicenser.com

These are some good posts to start at:



Not typical HN fare, but the wife and I started a business together that has (almost) nothing to do with the interwebs. It's a photography business.. We started it about 3+ years ago, and in most senses it's done quite well. She's been able to quit her day-job. It's what HN folks would call a 'lifestyle' business, I guess. You know, cause we're not rich.

I have to say, it's pretty rad. Software startups don't have a monopoly on giving you experience in doing branding, marketing, sales, running ad-campaigns, taxes, and just all manner of things that go into running a business.

I'd like to hear more about this. I've been thinking of getting more into photography myself. It seems like wedding photography is a bad idea as it's way overdone. I was thinking architecture or portrait photography. What did you all end up doing?

Wedding. Yeah, it's totally overdone.. but there's a ton of opportunity there. Tens of thousands of weddings every year in a major metro area, and as a wedfog depending on how you price yourself you're usually looking for around 30 (we try not to shoot more than 24 or so).

Another huge advantage wedfog has over commercial if you're getting into it while you've got a 9-5 is the hours. You shoot on Saturdays, and edit at nights. It's still grueling to do while you've got another gig (the year before my wife quit we shot about 20 weddings, which each take 6-8hrs to shoot and 20-40 hours to edit)... but it can be done.

Many other genres are going to be difficult to start doing seriously if you have a 9-5... the business models are all different. Much more to say than fits in a comment. I've been meaning to write some stuff up, but meanwhile feel free to drop me a line and I'm happy to share anything you'd like to know. famousactress [at] gmail

I think an avatar photo business would be a good idea. Think of all the twitter users with resized photos of themselves that are unflattering, cryptic, or just plain bad.

Hey, my friend sent me this. I have such a business. Actually, I'm a photographer and I ran a special for the month of March, $100 "blogger headshots". It's a quick 20 or so minute session. I narrow down my picks to four images. I present them to the client sized at 1000 px. Folks then had the option to buy high resolution photos for $25 each if they wanted them for something else.

Normally a headshot session with me costs $250, lasts an hour, and includes multiple locations and clothing changes. A client would receive a few dozen shots, high resolution, on a disk. This is appropriate for actors and authors picking a photo, but unnecessary for bloggers or people who just want decent avatars for linkedin, facebook, twitter, etc.

OH! You can also market this to people who need photos for online dating.

It was stunningly successful. I was able to take a slow time of year and churn out a lot of business. Because it is a special, it got written up in blogs and people Twittered it a lot.

So I say go for it! Just make sure you can deliver with quality headshots.

When I travel to SF (where the startup I work for is based), I often end up shooting headshots for folks who have talks to give, or need bio photos, etc. Someone could definitely corner the PA/SF entrepreneur headshot market, without much trouble I think.

The trick with headshots is enough finding people (close to you) willing to pay enough money to make it worthwhile. That usually means actors, authors, or executives.. but I'm sure increasingly wide-eyed young startup kids and software developers make the Bay Area an interesting target.

There was a story a while back about two guys who set up a badge printing service at SF trade shows. Something similar could be done for the headshot biz.

I agree! I work at a finance startup (sadly no equity) and went from learning accounts from scratch, to financial models to handling Biz Dev, sales, hiring, corp communication, and on and on. Its great fun!

S/W startups definitely don't have a monopoly on it, plus other types of startups make you face very different sets of problems than the ones generally/commonly discussed on HN.

My most recent venture started out as a side project and is now becoming my main focus. It is a simple Twitter App which makes it easy to share more on Twitter whilst annoying your followers less (by helping you to avoid tweeting 5 links in a row within minutes).

It took 7 weeks for me to take it from idea to launching the MVP (during most of the build period I had people using the service).

I had my first paying customer 4 days after launch. It has now been running for just under 4 months and I am making $315/mo, though that number is rising almost every day (it is a freemium service with a free plan and paid plans priced $5/mo and $30/mo).

I am likely to reach ramen profitability within a few months and will focus fully on it.

I blogged about how I took it from idea to first paying customer, which may be of interest - http://blog.bufferapp.com/post/3328167762/idea-to-paying-cus...

Hey great to hear MVP works I was beginning to doubt the model :-)

I've had an application running in Second Life for the last 5-6 years to facilitate people making machinima. I haven't changed the price since it launched, at around $6 USD. When it first launched (also when SL was much more popular), I was selling several hundred dollars a month.

I still pull in $30-$50 a month on it, but I don't do much to promote it anymore. Linden Lab has really fucked up over the years and the quality of their software (the environment my app runs in) has gotten considerably worse. Its sad to say that my machinima app ran better 5 years ago than it does today, and multiple re-writes over the years has proven it impossible to go any further with the it.

Alternatively, I just put my first app up in the App Store last night. Its waiting for approval. I'm going to keep launching small utility apps and see where it goes.

I also did a stint in SecondLife, trying to build web-enabled in-world products and/or build web services that would take Linden dollars for payment. Probably made $600 in revenue.

It was my Artix Phase.

I help run a hotdog stand in NYC with my uncle in the summer on the weekends for fun and (ridiculous) profit.

Isn't the permit/city licence insanely expensive? Is it still profitable after that?

On a similar note, I was looking at the difference in fruit prices between 'whole' fruits and sliced portions in super markets the other day and started daydreaming about selling portions of pineapple on warm summer days, much like an ice cream stand but with pineapple. I think the markup is similar to hotdogs - can you share how many customers you serve in a typical hour?

ridiculous? Could you elaborate? It would be an interesting piece of info.

At the moment I make most of my non-day-job income from my two blogs [1][2], and Any New Books? [3]. All together they make me over $5000 on a good month. The two blogs didn't make money initially because I wasn't interested in monetizing them when I started years ago. ANB made its first dollar on day one.

[1] http://programmingzen.com

[2] http://math-blog.com

[3] http://anynewbooks.com

How are the blogs creating passive income? I guess you're spending quite some time creating/editing content, don't you?

The majority of my blog income is from existing content. If I stop posting for a month or so, as I have in the past, about 90% of the revenue will still be there. I'm currently posting about one post per week for each blog, and this relaxed pace is enough to increase the revenue of my blogs. If I stopped blogging altogether, it would probably take years before my revenue figures would be hugely impacted. That's passive enough for me.

10% is a huge impact if you depend on the money. And you're likely to lose 10% every month if you stopped blogging, not just the first month.

10% is a lot but given that we are talking about extra money, it wouldn't impact me. If I stopped blogging, the blogs would progressively earn less and less for sure, but the majority of the income comes from posts that are from several months to several years old. So no, they wouldn't lose 10% revenue per month.

The gist of what I'm saying is that the majority of the revenue (which we may define as the baseline) is, for all intents and purposes, passive income akin to having self-published an ebook or an app in the past.

Besides, even if we disagree on the definition, the original question was about "small/passive" income. The OP clearly wanted to know about extra income on the side, more than limiting the field to 100%, strictly passive income sources.

if you don't mind my asking, how did you go about promoting anynewbooks? looks very interesting.

It was mostly word of mouth and inbound marketing. I also reached out to plenty of book bloggers in the early days of the site.

Does a blog reviewing music count?

Though I started in 2008, I didn't really make any attempts at monetizing until late 2009 and started with Adsense, then linked all the albums reviewed to two online stores that sell the CDs in question. All told, it took me maybe 3 months to make my first dollar and even longer for affiliate commissions to come in. I didn't make my first sale until maybe February 2010.

Obviously this isn't a product-based project, so it's not representative of the webapp stuff that others are producing.


If you're using Wordpress, try one of the Twitter integration plugins. You can choose hashtags when creating a new blog entry and it will be auto-posted to a Twitter account. You should see a bump in traffic after each post.


I've actually been doing manual updates to my personal twitter account after each post with a blurb about the latest article. Each tweet is customized rather than a generic auto-update message. I'm just not sure whether this is the best way of going about it or if I should take your suggestion and completely automate it. Maybe create a separate twitter account and do both?

> Maybe create a separate twitter account and do both?

No reason not to. :)

I had a few blogs (well, "autoblogs") go from $5-6/day on 400-500 unique visitors to $10-12 after installing and configuring Twitter Tools. A human touch generally results in higher yield than automation with most marketing stuff, though.

> A human touch generally results in higher yield than automation with most marketing stuff, though.

Do you think that's because readers recognize it as being "more human" and are more interested, or because humans are better at making copy than automation, or a combination of the two?

Probably more of a combination of the two. Automated posts are pretty obvious, even to the less technically inclined. Lots of people will use something like "spyntax" (stuff like "This is {awesome|cool}, {take a look|check it out}!") to generate reusable copy, but it still generally feels fake. That's about the extent of human touch most people will give things if their goal is complete automation.

If you're writing posts/excerpts/replies manually, it's way more authentic and believable. Language is obviously super important in marketing (especially online), and it's one area where computers still have lots of improvement to make.

I run a e-commerce website, selling tools for grafting produced by a company my wifes family own:


I started by buying a few samples to sell on e-bay to see if there was a market. So I guess you could say I started making money right away. The problem with trying to replicate my business, is finding the right product to sell. I was lucky that I saw they had this item, and I figured that there would be a market online for it. Trying to find a new product to sell and establishing links with the manufacturer would take some time. You would also need to contend with issues of minimum order size.

I guess you could call it a partial success. Currently its bringing in about $300 per month. I want to increase my revenue, but it hard to know what to focus on. The other problem is it has somewhat of a high overhead - we need to spend time shipping products, etc.

For my new side projects, I'm thinking of doing something digital, that can be handled entirely online.

I have tried selling photos to a stock photo service. I spent many hours tagging photos, waiting for them to work through the approval process, etc. After many months of letting my photos sit, I have yet to sell one.

Next I am looking at writing some Smartphone apps. We will see how that goes ...

There was an Eastern European dude that used to submit his monthly sales reports to HN. He made quite a bit of money from stock photography. The catch ? Most of his stock photos were not still life, but people in different life settings - this must be the kind that sells the best. I'm sure it helped that his young blond girlfriend was a frequent subject :)

Yeah, I read his posts - its what inspired me to have give it a try. That and somebody who posted on HN, saying they had a passive income stream from selling their holiday photos as stock.

'Staged' photos of people in various situations do sell better. People are always looking for photos that illustrate different abstract concepts, such as "income protection" or "brown nosing with the boss".

In my case though, I was looking to make some money of the photos I already had, which apparently were not that suited for stock. I don't doubt that if I invested time taking photos that were betters suited, I could make a little money. But from my early experience it would seem that too much effort was required for too little pay off.

To throw out some totally made up numbers, it was like; for every hour of effort invested in my grafting tool site, I could increase my monthly income by $2. For every hour invested in stock I could increase my monthly income by $0.10 . It quickly became obvious where I should spend my time :-)

I would guess that for anybody who can code, the numbers would likely prove similar. Therefore I would not recommend stock photography to the HN crowd.

I've been on that site a few times looking for grafting tools for a permaculture hobby project. Does your wife's family have any mechanized grafting (for bench grafting) or expanded product line? Nice Magento work, by the way!

Wow, it’s a small world! I've tried to convince them to make bench grafters, but unfortunately they feel the market is too small and won’t pay for their R&D costs. They are more interested in making tools where they can get an order of 1 million pieces, to sell at Wallmart.

I work in the tree fruit and small fruit industry. I'd like to carry this conversation further--would you send me your email--mine's in my profile.

I was surprised that just putting an adsense unit on the side of my personal blog (4k hits/month) manages to generate $25/month.

It's a highly technical blog, mainly documenting my personal electronics projects, but covers pretty much anything I want it to, which rather limits my readership. Having a more cohesive, single subject would certainly raise the glass ceiling on readership.

I don't know about you, but I don't think $25/mo is worth cheapening my blog by plastering tasteless ads on it. I'd have to be pulling significant income from it before I would even consider putting ads on my blog.


Text ads, top banner and bottom of right bar. $300 a year; as a college student, yeah, that's worth it.

I reloaded your blog after disabling adblock and barely noticed the ad. I don't blame you for keeping it there.

Why don't you have any ads on your C Programming Tips site? I'd be interested in the number of hits that gets compared to your blog.

The C site does has ads, actually. Far right, right under the Contact Us link.

Hits in last 31 days (5 month running CTR avg):

http://kennethfinnegan.blogspot.com/ - 4,574 0.33%CTR

http://ctips.pbwiki.com/ - 544 0.14%CTR

http://www.ducttape.pbwiki.com - 1,073 0.14%CTR

http://kwf.dyndns.org:5821/ - 164 (Mostly script kiddies attacking my Chumby) 0.86%CTR

The C tips site was a half-finished project. There was a lot more work to be done and I never promoted it.

And yes, all of them are very stale unformatted html pages. Web development isn't my interest or skill, and plain pages like those have never bothered me. Most of it is useful notes to myself, which I think others will find useful.

The Duct Tape site actually pays much better than my blog per page view, bringing in 2-3 cents per 1k, where the blog almost never brings in anything per 1k, but the blog pays $0.30-$1.50 per click, where the tape site only brings in 5-15 cents per click, so the blog brings in about 95%, the tape site the next 5%, and the C site brings in 2 cents on a good month.

Damn bro, Looks like you just stepped out of the 1970's Microsoft pic. Bro hit up my site for a makeover at alphamal.es

I never understood this, what sort of "alpha" male goes on the internet and looks for advice from other people on how to be a man?

The first step in being a real man is not looking to others on how to be a man. (Or at least finding a mentor with true character, not Maxim magazine articles and other garbage)

I still think your site has a great potential for an audience though, I fell for the same sort of BS when I was a freshman in college. Took me a couple years to undo the stupidity I had come to believe about what being a "man" really meant.

Really? Just from my head shot? I think the best you could do was "Damn bro, you need a hair cut, and I hate your brand new glasses"

But being rude wasn't even the point though, was it? This is really just blogspam...

Umm, then don't put ads on your blog? Wow.

That's $300/year. Why would you throw it away?

This was on HN recently: http://www.sebastianmarshall.com/we-dont-get-out-of-bed-for-...

TL;DR: the cost of that extra 82 cents a day is having your site cheapened by advertising that you don't necessarily control and that negatively impacts your credibility. If the spare change isn't going to make a big difference, the perception that you don't need the money is of more value.

My side project involves recognition of captchas; it is a pretty tough one-time time investment to create a recognizer, involving machine learning, image manipulation and statistics, but as payment is on a per-captcha basis, the income after that is passive income. I started with this a few years ago, and after two weeks of obsessive-compulsive hacking, my first dollars started flowing in. All in all it now gets me something like $2000 per month.

Are your customers spammers? I'm having some trouble thinking of a legitimate use for this service...

Nope, they are not spammers, the captchas are not for creating accounts; it has another use. But obviously I cannot go into details about my customers here.

Fair enough, good luck!

it may be the sites themselves doing "pentest" on their own captchas

Charging by the captcha doesn't make much sense if that's what they are doing, though...

What fraction of your customers are anything other than spammers?

Link me, I would like to become a customer.

I don't have public a site up for the project. But we could get in touch through mail, my mail is miathan.6<at>gmail.com .

I published an ebook (http://www.branchrock.com) and it's been selling. Since I'll never run out of stock and it's priced as an impulse buy, I expect that it'll continue to earn passively. I got my first dollar on the first day I started selling.

I plan to continue writing books, both non-fiction and fiction, and I expect that they'll all help bring in passive income.

Just a suggestion - perhaps you place a sample of the book on your page? A paragraph or two, just so people can see what they are getting. Also it would be good to know how long it is.

Thanks! I'll think about how to integrate everything nicely during the blackout. Not going to change anything now since I don't want to get caught with my pants down.

Edit: I put a one-page sample on Lulu if you're curious.

Am I the only one to be offended by someone blatantly trying to profit from this unfortunate disaster while bodies are still being pulled from the ruins?

If the revenue was being donated, I'd understand, but to do it for profit, and to brag about it here...

How do you advertise? This sounds like a great idea but I'd be interested what your strategy is to get eyes on the books, since this can often be so much effort as to not be a passive income anymore.

Word-of-mouth, Facebook page, Twitter, various online communities I'm a part of. Part of the challenge is being "always on" and believing in my product (my book) and passing that belief on to other people. The way to look at it, I think, is that every person I don't mention it to ends up being a potentially lost sale.

I'm also looking into advertising on Something Awful. I'm exploring Facebook ads, but I'm not sure how good they would be. Google Adsense would be nice, but I was banned from the Adsense/Adwords service some time ago for some reason and Google has been especially unhelpful about responding to anything about any of their services.

> various online communities I'm a part of

Personally, I found out about your book yesterday, after reading your comment about videos without captions in the code school thread.

have you considered listing in the Amazon kindle? it's not too hard to do.

It should already be listed in the Kindle if you search, since it's on Amazon.

About a year ago I built a number of micro niche sites aimed specifically at generating adwords income for high ppc terms. They weren't especially pretty but they were a good exercise and more than paid for themselves.

At the point I sold them (22 sites) they were generating about $190 a month in adsense revenue, all this from me buying 'keyword in domain' urls, having a relatively good eye for writing seo copy and building some inbound links.

I sold the lot on flippa for just over $1k, so I suppose it made me about ~$300/mo for a year. I know of some individuals who have over 1,000 domains running (across some of the most random niches you would just laugh at!) so I think it's a pretty decent passive business for them.

I built (literally) a couple of these a few years ago while learning about SEO and never did anything else with them. At their best, they were making something like $300 per month (combined). With the last Google algo update the rankings are pretty much screwed and these sites now make something like $20/mo.

I also know some people with hundreds or thousands of these kind of sites and I can assure you they're not happy.

Building a business that depends on Google's algo to be profitable doesn't make any sense to me.

EDIT: When I say it doesn't make sense to me I'm talking about side-projects where the goal is passive income. If you're going at it full-swing and plan on pivoting as required then it can absolutely be a genuine business model.

you could do better. i have an identical business with exactly 23 sites that averages about $900/mo and rising.

I am acutely aware of how well some people can do but I just didn't have the time to do more back linking / articles, so for me I was more than happy with the return.

I actually live off the passive income (I've been an affiliate full-time for almost 4 years). While it has been quite a ride and I can't really share my most profitable sites/tools (without my wife - who is also my business partner - getting me back for it), I will say that it can be a good thing. That said, it is also an extremely competitive business. It is very easy to generate $50/month off a little blog, but generating $10,000/month takes a lot more out of you and carries far more risk.

If you've got something that is growing or doing well already, see if you can grow it - when there is little competition in whatever segment it is an opportunity not to be missed. They are rare.

a few years ago (well, the weekend after my second son was born and i thought: hey, i need more money) i created http://www.facesaerch.com/, basically an alternative interface to googles image search with face filter turned on. the initial version took me 2 days (my son slept the most of the time anyways).

i did some basic SEO stuff (i.e. alt tags for images, a sitemap XML, an auto expanding index) and got some coverage for it on various sites (lifehacker, ...) which was quite easy because everybody loves searching for themselves.

the site is still hosted on a 1 EUR webspace / month and during its best time it had about 54.000 visits a day.

as for the business case: on a site with only images, people click on (google) ads. don't know why, they just do it. so the money was good.

google was ok for it for quite some time (hey, they even covered it on a google code showcase blog) but well i kept pushing the boundaries so i got a penalty (again and again).

now i got about 5000 visits a day from baidu and bing, but it's hard to grow these traffic sources (well that's true for bing, for baidu its mostly the language barrier). it was fun while it lasted, now i just don't care anymore. i keep it around (even though some people would like to buy it) as i might transform it into a real product sometime.

so what the bottom line: building a (SEO) sideproject for passive income is possible, but don't bet on it that it will last forever. oh yeah, maybe also: images + ads = awesome conversion

I have a network of several crowdsourced humor sites that make a decent profit (~2k) every month between them-- they include unrelatedcaptions.com, mylifeisbro.com, and averagetextsfromlastnight.com. I sold the flagship site - mylifeisaverage.com - since it demanded too much time and I had other projects I wanted to focus on.

Licensing for the paid iPhone application for mylifeisbro.com (I didn't develop it) also brings in about a grand each month.

It took about a month or so to make my first dollar from the first site I launched "mylifeisg.com" (now defunct)

Once there was a user base to pitch new projects to, the other dollars became easier to make.

I have a game on the iOS app store.


It brings in $100+ per month. I'm pretty happy with it.

For cryin' out loud, I've got to get my act together and learn Mac/iOS development.

How do you advertise it? Or just SEO?

I have a small WP7 application I submitted around launch, I'd done Silverlight development before so it was pretty easy to jump in. I built it over about six weeks of occasional evenings and started selling pretty much immediately. I've released my downloads and sales figures for the first three months.

The App: http://compiledexperience.com/windows-phone-7/to-do

The Numbers: http://compiledexperience.com/blog/posts/a-windows-phone-7-a...

Not entirely sure this fits the bill, but I've leased out one of my former lead developer to a client, when our consulting business got rammed. He's is offshore, and the client is in Europe. Right now I do individual consultancy, and then get a form of passive income from leasing the developer out. I make around 700 USD a month, with effort limited to sending out the invoice.

Former lead developer? Do you bill on his behalf (similar to an agent) and the $700 is the markup? I'm curious as to how you're able to keep billing for a former developer.

No, he is still paid a monthly salary by my company. The client that he works for, is then billed monthly for his salary plus the markup.

so basically, you're a pimp

Sans the feathers and hat

I have an old project (http://sudokugarden.de/) where I built a website about Sudoku back at University when I was bored. I consider it feature complete, and have stopped to actively promote or develop it for two or three years now. I still make 1.5k to 2k per year in advertising (mostly CEO text links - adsense prices in that segement are too low to be profitable, and I don't want to bother the visitors too much. People who sign in for free don't see any adds). I made my first dollars a few month after the launch, when my adsense account finally reached the threshold for the first payment.

I'm now working on a project where I want to collect semantic relations between books (sequels, prequels, translations into other languages etc.). It's not launched yet, so no income so far. It will have affiliate links to book stores. See https://github.com/moritz/quelology if you are interested in details.

If you consider blogging to be a side project, I do make a small amount as passive income. It definitely doesn't compare with web apps or services in terms of coolness, but money is money, right?

In addition to money, it's also likely a focused audience that could be diverted into other potential monetisation vectors you come up with. Ideas are the easy part, getting traffic to them is the hard part.

Yes, I launched a piece of software to build your own social network. It took several days to make my first dollar, and I made $1300 in revenue and about $1000 in profit for the first month.


Then I made my code free.

Just curious, why would you make it free if you could have continued to make money off of it?

I made it free to get a lot of users using it, and then I'm going to charge for the 2.0 version.

best of luck, think this through carefully. I had some software that had some 3-4m downloads for free. We later put out a pay-for version, the conversion rate was quite low (as expected) but netted some okay money for starving kids just out of college.

I've have/had many side projects that make small side income.

1. A tshirt site. This one is a step above cafepress. I designed all my tshirts but also had them printed on really nice alternative apparel shirts and people bought them.

2. A photo sharing widget that integrated w/ Flickr and SmugMug that people would embed into their blog/website. I put Adwords on the site.

3. A hot or not site for twitter with ads on the site. This still surprisingly generates more traffic than all my other sites combined.

4. A social media dashboard site w/ some decent analytics. This was geared towards marketing and pr firms.

5. Put up a Youtube review of the Iron Gym Pullup bar that did really well SEO wise and got rev share from Google/Youtube. I get a check from Google every 6 months or so.

6. An instant book search site - http://Shelfluv.com - got a few dollars from affiliate sales.

7. An iPad app that shows inspirational business quotes.

I have some trading models and financial tools that I license. They're currently generating about $200/month, but I'm expecting that to increase within a year. I'm also working on an iPhone game with two of my roommates right now that I'm hoping will bring in a couple hundred a month, but that's just a dream at the moment.

The tools probably took around 80 hours. The models probably are hard to say because a lot of discovery was done over time; actually implementing them only took a weekend. The iPhone app is probably going to take around 40 hours, but it's as much a learning experience and labor of love as it is an effort to make serious money.

I'm starting to focus on looking for passive income, though. I am entering a PhD program in the Fall, so an extra ~$1000/mo will make a huge difference in standard of living.

While I was unemployed, I did conversions of sites to WordPress themes. I was fast enough at it that I could devote most of my time to other endeavors. Since I didn't do content creation for my domain, SEO was out of the question, so all my traffic came through AdWords. With well targeted keywords, my CPA was ~$20, and the average client took 5-10 hours of work, since they'd often want content migrations, too. It took a week until I made my first dollar, and for the few months I did it, I brought in ~$700 a week, while never taking up more 20-25 hours a week, while also doing more committed, serious freelance jobs. I dropped it, though, when I got a full time job, though I'd probably pick it up again if I found easy to work with subcontractors.

I finally jumped into ios development. Not really on the side since it's been my main focus lately. I went from not knowing any ios stuff to launching my first app in a week. I'm about to put my third app on the app store. I'm not making much money but there's a ton of potential.

I make between $500 and $1000 a month off 8centsms.com - but we can't send to the US :) Should really plug in Twilio or something one of these days ...

Yes, I tried my hands on "hardware" stuff, specifically iPad cases.

http://millswyn.com/ http://worqbench.posterous.com/

Have a few sales. Not complaining.

i wrote an iOS card game that makes me about 300 bucks a month. i do almost no maintenance on it anymore. it would probably do a whole lot better if it had any kind of marketing behind it, but it's not really in my nature.

> it would probably do a whole lot better if it had any kind of marketing behind it, but it's not really in my nature.

I've read quite some remarks like that here and in other places, and I've said it about some pages of mine too.

Maybe it would be a good idea to build a marketplace where developers and marketing people can get together, and share the additional profit that the additional marketing generates.

If anybody wants to take up that idea, I'd be happy to be your first customer. Currently I'm just working on other projects (see another reply from me in this thread, for example), so I won't do it myself any time soon.

> Maybe it would be a good idea to build a marketplace where > developers and marketing people can get together, and share > the additional profit that the additional marketing generates.

Sounds like something someone could pick up as a side-project and maybe even earn some passive income. :)

This also reminds me of an old Steve Pavlina Dexterity software article (no link as I think he took them offline).

The gist of the article was that when he moved from writing new games, to marketing his existing ones (and other people's), he actually saw his income increase.

Yes please! This is something that I've wanted for a lo g. Long time.

Isn't that similar to a basic affiliate program, but maybe on the micro transaction scale?

I started a company this January based of a product I saw in a book that I knew would become incredibly popular. It brought it in quite substantial income for the following 2 months, and I sold it in the third :-).

I do this quite often!

Cool. Could you give more details? Not about the particular site(though that helps), but how do you sell sites often? Do you sell it in places like flippa?

I find Flippa and similar sites to be much too much hassle. I just work my network and ask if anyone would be interested / if they would know anyone that might e interested. Theres usually a match :)

I used to have a site that was set up for pancake day, stuff to do on pancake day, about a couple of hundred different pancake recipes and so on. Every year I'd make about £200 in advertising revenue, which would pay for the hosting for other projects, some general shenanigans and (of course) my pancake day. My plan was to do something similar for other temporally-targeted holidays but valentines day was extremely competitive and easter was too big. In the end I swapped the site for a friend's laptop.

I'm a fairly eager, though passive, Hacker News reader and it seemed that a lot of startups were getting the message about what exactly they do a little jumbled: I imagine it's their own entrepreneurial excitement bouncing around with their own understanding of what they know they do, and so presume others will, to.

So I setup a service (http://www.pearwords.com) to help startups get their message across to sites like Hacker News, The Startup Foundry, TechCrunch, etc, and, to use on their own websites to give customers a "two-second summary".

We hit profitability in our first 24 hours and we've have had a steady stream of customers since (some of whom are working on some really cool stuff -- communities like HN really are fully of some brilliant people). We've spent zero-dollars on advertising and have only posted a couple of comments (literally two) around on sites where people might be interested.

I attribute our success so far to: being very specific in what we do; high-quality work; being very quick; a clean website; and being cheap, though I think we could charge a fair bit more with little impact on orders -- we're just keeping it low for launch time while we really ramp up.

I'm developing a penny auction website for local market http://www.lelanggokil.com/. The auctions are not even started yet and I'm already getting money (albeit small). But I'm still at loss since the marketing cost (FB Ad and AdWords) outweigh the profit (I spent about $40/day for the last 2 weeks).

The website actually acts as a proof of concept as I plan to white-label it (that's why the stuff being auctioned are not expensive). But if the PoC works, I will focus on it.

My problems so far: - Credit card and PayPal are very rare, I must rely on manual work (user banks in, I check my bank account balance, I approve/reject) - Negative sentiment against penny auction - Customer support (manual work)

To be honest, this is my first non-consulting real personal project (that is, a product, spends money, gets money). So even if this project fails, I still learn from it and reuse a lot of its software parts.

What's your email address?

if you don't mind, can you drop your email in http://www.lelanggokil.com/do/feedback

it'll be automatically forwarded to me. please ignore the language (it's Bahasa). my website is i18n ready, but i'm just too lazy to make English version (only less than 20% Indonesians speak English).

OK. Sent it. :)

I just bought a few domains recently and thought, "Why haven't I done this sooner?"

It's still hard working on these things with a full time job, but I'm hoping one of them will come through and I can start a business of my own. I used to freelance, but got tired of it pretty fast. A small business would be nice.

I run a few wallpaper sites which make profit on the domain registration fee (eg http://geekwallpapers.com ) and also the adverts on my blog make me some pocket money :)

The blog I've been growing for six years, the wallpaper sites are pretty much instantly profitable for me. But we are talking about £40 per year. So like I said, profit on the domain name, probably not profitable when you take into account time spent developing them.

http://www.StatusCrap.com http://www.TodaysBigDouche.com http://www.Whack-a-Deal.com

Status Crap took about a year to make some income (currently gets about 250,000 page views a month and growing between 10-40% each month). I've been trying to launch side projects since I was 17 though haha!

I have two side project sites that make about $500/month, mostly from LinkWorth links, but some from AdSense was well.

LinkWorth is nice because you an make decent money without any traffic. You need to have the right niche, a modicum of pagerank, and it helps to pay the small fee to promote your site. It also takes a long time to sell the links. My first one took 3 weeks.

But the last few months have seen a decline. Perhaps people aren't buying links as much any more.

I'd been working on a bug tracker as a side project for almost a year (strictly as an off-hours hobby type thing) but as I got closer to an (awesome :)) working product we decided to turn it into the real thing. Thus my 'day job' employer (now co-founders of the new company) were the first customer. In fact, we've been quietly sitting on it for a while, maybe it's time to post an Ask HN...

I made a website that finds where to buy tracks from DJ tracklists. Had to wait a couple of months for it's first £1 as I had no efficient way to drive traffic to is (the CPA from PPC was way too steep). It makes a few quid a month and pays for itself. Funnily enough it generates affiliate commission from Amazon, and that pays for the hosting on EC2...

i have a lyrics site that earns 100usd every year thru adsense. it runs on zendframework(tried others but zf wins by a huge margin in caching on shared hosting). the income has paid for my blog, domain names, my brothers site, and a couple of beers.

Yup. A call filtering application with the ability to filter off unimportant calls from family and friends and allow urgent calls from these people through.

Took about 2 weeks to get the first sale. Now it is selling at a rate of 1 copy a day

Are those running on your name or do you guys created a company?

I've registered a business without creating a full scale company (which limits maximal income, but I'm far from that limit anyway). Don't know if that's a German oddity, or available everywhere.

Yes, but it's not yet up and running. It's on its prototype stage. I'm planning too to deploy it as a free service. Don't know yet if I'm gonna monetize it or not.

Hardware. I have a small device that reads digital sensors and outputs data via RS232 serial. Made first dollar (actually about $100 of them) with first sale.

I posted about it awhile ago, but http://www.dotcomroulette.com still makes me a few dollars

I have not updated my blog ZacharyBurt.com this month but it has already generated $8.84 in commissions from Amazon affiliate links. It generated $1.96 in its first month of operation, when it drew 1,035 pageviews.

Very small, very passive side project. http://goo.gl/tPPJz

Wrote it for my own use as a better "alternative" to browse for Kindle books after too much frustration with Amazon's site for browsing about.

Since it works via affiliate fees, between friends and family I easily made my first dollar in the first hour of going "live" with it.

A few dollars come in here and there. A passive, side, small project for sure. But I still add stuff during the weekend.

Currently putting together some adsense sites. Looks very promising.

Just launched my Guy's Lifestyle site. Q&A and advice from Alphas. Expect it to be HUGE bros. I will be building it up in my spare time.


Is that really Wandi on your site?

And fill out your "About" page. That's always one the first sections I look at.

look bros I'm glad my post is way on the bottom. At least it won't get lost in the mix. Most people read the first post and then scroll alll the way down to the bottom. I checked analytics and alot of you stopped by. I don't have ads, so doesn't matter either way. Thanks for visiting my site though, I know there's a market for it!


Why was this down-voted? a request was made for people with successful/profitable passive income sources to chime in. I believe the author responded to that.

The OP added clarification after I posted my answer to the original Yes/No question. I was the first to comment so it now looks as if I didn't read the full question. That said, my reply hardly added to the conversation and I regret it.

While the answer is technically correct, its not very useful. If this entire thread just consisted of just Yes and No answers there would not be much value in it.

I see your point. I was keeping in mind this comment - "Just to test this out, if anyone is staying quiet about their project for fear of attracting competition, could they please reply to this comment and say so? Don't worry, your silence is totally understandable :)" http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2358309

After reading that comment, I felt a simple yes/no answer seemed a viable answer (at least to me). I agree though, that this response would detract from the general trend and usefulness. (Although getting a neg score seems a bit harsh). Thanks for the response.

Agreed, the conversation further up even specifically requests people who have done it, but don't want to give their idea away.

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