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How I generated incomes as a web developer without working as a freelancer (medium.com/the-developers-journey)
321 points by mehdi-farsi 2 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 184 comments





Web developer's love of programming is what wins them (potentially) fantastic salaries in regular work; it's also what cripples their attempts to diversify their income.

Time and time again, I see programmer friends investing 6+ months of their time getting an "MVP" out the door. Instead they should be applying their problem-solving skills to figuring out how to test their market hypothesis an order of magnitude more quickly. For my business, that meant a plain HTML website — no JS, no backend — and a PayPal button. (If you care to hear the full story, I have a video and transcript here: https://www.semicolonandsons.com/episode/MVP-&-Origin-Story)


I’ve heard this a couple times but it still makes no sense to me. How do you test your product hypothesis without a product? You’re essentially testing the viability of an idea with what you’re proposing, which is vastly different than having an actual product with features that you can iterate on when given feedback.

I think for very niche categories, a landing page might be the only thing you need but I honestly believe that if you’re pitching a product with features, people want to see that product, not a page with text.


It's a false dichotomy. In the real world you can't fully test your product hypothesis before building anything, but you also can't build a complete product before testing the market.

Instead, it needs to be an iterative process. Build a little bit of product, tease it to the market, gauge interest, engage with customers, adjust trajectory as necessary, and continue to iterate.

Testing your business hypthesis before building anything is prone to generating false signal. Some times your customers don't realize they need what you're building until they see it and use it. Many times your customers will praise an idea, right up until you ask them to use it or pay for it.

A good example might be the recruiting company started by a famous HN commenter around 2015 that tried to use programming games as a recruiting filter. The idea received huge amounts of praise on HN and large numbers of waiting list signups before they released anything. The demand and hypothesis appeared to be validated. Then they switched to the other extreme, building enormously complex systems for years without actually selling anything to their customers. Eventually they shut down because they realized the market didn't actually want what they were building. The initial signal was misleading, but going heads-down to build a product according to the initial signal was also misleading. A better approach would have been to start recruiting up front and slowly iterate on improving it with programming games, rather than going off in the weeds to build a product that no one actually wanted.


> Some times your customers don't realize they need what you're building until they see it and use it.

This.

That's one big part of testing the hypothesis that I feel a lot of people (including mentoring organizations) really don't get.

In an ideal scenario you've clearly identified a problem and can accurately gauge the validity of your solution by just talking about it with prospects, as they can easily relate. I'll label this approach the "Let's-imagine" validation.

In other situations though, target customers aren't even aware that they have a problem (maybe the problem is not immediately apparent) and it can be difficult for them to understand your value proposition, since they've "very successfully been using Excel for that for the past 20 years". You still need to somehow relay that there's a reality where things are significantly better than in the status quo. In some such circles, relying on simple conversations or mock-ups can at best prove very difficult (people won't give you time to wander in fuzzy hypotheticals), or at worst be plain misleading (they will dismiss your idea as irrelevant). In situations where you can't rely on your prospects' imagination, you need to bring proof and the mvp plays a more important role. I'll label this the "Show-me" validation.

"Let's-imagine" and "show-me" are not absolutes. They're on a spectrum, but it seems that the advice to validate by talking to customers is being taken to some dogmatic extremes sometimes. It's something for founders to be aware of when they receive canned advice. Regarding your own solution, you need to be smart to identify where on the above range you fall.


If target customers are not aware of a problem and think excel is the way to go, how, even with a product do you get as far as to show it to them? And then what?

> the recruiting company started by a famous HN commenter around 2015

... started by 2 famous HN commenters. Why did you chose not to name these HN commenters?


This is not true. There are many many mockup tools that you can use to test without building anything. It's a good way to separate the technology decisions from the business decisions.

Mockups are part of the iterative process. Building a mockup to test is part of what I was describing.

The point is that you can't simply make a mockup, assume it proves your hypothesis, and then go heads-down building the exact product shown in the mockups for 6-24 months and expect great results. Instead, you need to iterate both the mockups and the product in parallel, engaging with the market along the way.

As in the example I provided, sometimes customers will claim to love your mockups but then decline to pay for the product when it arrives. It's one of the first things every product manager learns in the real world.

> It's a good way to separate the technology decisions from the business decisions.

Trying to separate technology from the business decisions is a mistake. At the start of the process, you need technology, product, sales, and business to be tightly intertwined.

Dividing the labor and sending different roles in different directions is a mistake at an early stage company. You need to get everyone working together to iterate over and over again.


I don't mean a hard separation in terms of roles, but I agree with your general sentiment. The reality, in my experience with startups, is that an MVP is built by an engineer or a couple of engineers and it's launched as quickly as possible to get market validation. The thought is usually along the lines of "we'll launch it, get feedback from customers, and then quickly iterate." The reality is usually that the MVP is launched and the company is stuck supporting that MVP and the company is afraid to make changes because they got a customer to give them money (enough perceived validation) and they're stuck supporting the MVP they've just launched instead of iterating. I've seen it so many times that I refer to it as "the MVP trap".

Also, User research can be done in a way to account for the fact that users will say they love something, but actually never use it. I've done it many times.

All of these things that you've mentioned should be done in tandem, but in practice, that's pretty rare. The good thing is that it creates market opportunities for other companies. Amazon is a more extreme example, but it's basically the business model of AWS. Another example is Terraform. HashiCorp has done a poor job of keeping up with user needs so there are add-ons or straight up replacements coming out of the woodwork to fill the feature and experience gaps that have been around in TF for years and years. You will see more competitors to TF and other HC products coming up for exactly this reason. They aren't even the close to the most glaring example, but just the first thing that came to mind.


I believe you are entirely correct: it is testing an idea rather than testing and iterating on features. That's the point: people who love programming might skip directly to testing features without testing the idea. Testing the idea is essential and can be done 10x faster and cheaper than testing the first feature.

Okay, let's take Roblox as an example since they're about to IPO. They've clearly made an incredible product and built a developer ecosystem around it.

When they were starting several years ago, how would have tested "the idea"?


Instead of asking, "How do I test Roblox?", I'd ask:

"Is my idea testable with the time/runway I have?"

Assuming the context of a solo dev that just wants to make money: info products, simple apis, or simple apps should be easier to test.

I think that doing lots of small projects and launching them is probably better than working on "the one thing" - until one of them becomes "the one thing". This gives you more opportunity to test ideas and test marketing (which is probably more important than your idea). The canonical example of this is probably Pieter Levels [1].

Let's call this the "Test with Teeny MVP" [2] method as a opposed to the "Test with Landing Page" method. Important note - I suspect that testing with a teeny MVP is easier than a landing page when you don't have an audience. Interesting tweet on that from Rob Walling [3]:

"Out of nearly 1600 applicants to @tinyseedfund we chose 23 exceptional companies to fund. Of those 23, one (maybe two if you stretch) built an audience before launching their SaaS.

Audience helps, but so much less in SaaS. I've been beating this drum since 2012."

[1]: https://levels.io/12-startups-12-months/

[2]: I'm sure that someone will point out that "Teeny" is redundant here. :)

[3]: https://twitter.com/robwalling/status/1306591312498405376


> Instead of asking, "How do I test Roblox?", I'd ask:

> "Is my idea testable with the time/runway I have?"

I'm already ramen profitable with what I'm doing. The vast majority of my ideas are not ideas for new businesses, though a few are.

The idea I'm testing in this thread is, "looking at successful businesses, how would rigid Lean Startup practices have worked in their early days?"

Tinyseed isn't terribly interesting to me in this context since they have a very narrow SaaS focus, none of them have had an IPO and Rob has a large podcast he uses to promote the companies. It's a great strategy on his part, but it makes it much harder to figure to know how much the success of companies they invest in is due to their ideas.

Something similar could be said of Jason Calicanis's launch.co, though I bet it will have some massive wins in the next few years.


They could have put out a site with videos of the product and experience akin to what Nikola did with their trucks.

Vaporware is an extremely common tactic in sales.


Lots of market research, surveys, and analysis of market trends. And then you build and hope that analysis translates to customers.

Most people here have the right intention on testing your idea/concept before building, but they forget the world is 100x more competitive than it was 10 years ago. All the low hanging fruit ideas are gone. Yes you can obviously test some ideas easily but most of them were executed already.

To succeed now, you need to tackle the “high hanging” fruit ideas/problems and a lot of those simply involve more complexity/building and are not as easily testable via a prototype. Instead you need to invest more into market research before you build a huge chunk of it (while continually doing more market research along the way)


Roblox's history actually goes back decades. In 1989 Dave Baszucki cofounded Knowledge Revolution and created Interactive Physics, an educational physics simulator. Seeing how students used the software inspired him to cofound Roblox in 2004.

That's just survivorship bias though. A lot more ready-coded ideas fail which means a lot more wasted time (if making money is the point). I agree that not all ideas can be tested that way, some ideas just have to be experienced. For the ones that can be tested in their idea phase, it seems like a good way to prevent doing too much when the interest just isn't there. At the same time you'll probably miss out on some ideas that need a bit of a runway first, but you're minimizing for downside risk instead of maximizing for upside potential.

How is my question survivorship bias?

Other than the sense that any question asked is one of a multitude of candidate questions that "survived" the decision process and made it out into the world, I don't see how asking how a company's "idea" may have been tested is survivorship bias.


You are right, that sentence and the one after that are irrelevant. My mistake!

No worries!

I mean, you just make up features and ask customers if they want them before writing a line of code. Check out https://buffer.com/resources/idea-to-paying-customers-in-7-w... from buffer.com for an example.

It was literally the landing and pricing pages first, functionality came a few weeks later and only after people were clicking on the (non-functional) pricing plans because they wanted to buy the product.


I can't get over how much of a dick move that sounds haha. Hey you like this product? You want this do you? Sike it doesn't exist give me your email address lol

How do you translate product efficacy by an anonymous person clicking a buy link on a pricing page? All you are doing is gauging this ephemeral, uninformed click which has no direct correlation to what the product will actually _do_.

It seems more of a crap shoot to gauge interest off of random clicks on a buy page versus having an actual product with actual user feedback that is actionable.


Well, obviously. But there is more to it than just those two in isolation. First off, one anonymous person clicking a link is just noise. But if you have hundreds clicking a link per day that gives you a much better indication you might be onto something.

Further, how much time do you spend on making a basic landing and pricing page? Two hours? Four maybe? The original comment was talking about programmers working for 6+ months on a MVP product before showing it to people. You could launch hundreds of landing pages in that time, only limited by how many ideas you have. Even though the chance of a "hit" per landing page is probably lower, the sheer volume can more than make up for it. The landing plus pricing page model also immediately informs you how much people are actually willing to spend on it, which (if higher than zero) is a much higher indicator for product success than "I think this is a super cool feature".

Finally, I notice that you are talking about "product efficacy" while the original comment is interested in making money. The two are related but not the same, since there are tons of crappy products making a boatload of profit (comcast anyone?) and also tons of great products that struggle to make money (see the ongoing troubles of open source developers on this very forum). Either goal is fine, but optimizing for one while thinking you are then also optimizing for the other is a recipe for disappointment.


Buffer was created in a different time/year in history. It was created when social media management was in the infancy and there were very few tools that did what they did (I know because I created a marketing product around the same time as them)

Now there are way less of those ideas available. And the ones that are available can’t be tested with a simple landing page.


At the end of the road, you still have to make a landing page showcasing what your product does, what problem it solves and why people should sign up. Usually that landing page doesn't actually have any features, just shows people what features they will get.

So build the landing page first. Showcase the features you are going to build and see if you can get people to sign up.


This is right up there with the "to gain users, build a product that users like by talking to users" paradox.

It seems strange to me that you would build without already having a problem to solve.

Not GP, but here's my 2c:

> How do you test your product hypothesis without a product?

You can't. Actually... it depends on how you define a product. The way I think of it is: a product is merely a vehicle for the added value. With that understanding it becomes easier to decouple the value from the actual product. Therefore the MVP is no longer a stripped down version of the product but rather the simplest tool you can build to provide [that] value.


I think I read about it in Eric Ries 'Lean Startup' or so. He narrated his experience of building a product, making a signup page for that product. Nobody pressed the sign-up button. In this case the signup page with the button (and then transfering to 'get notified when it is ready') would have been enough.

I did a little focus group work years ago. Companies pay people to listen to a pitch or watch a demo and give them feedback.

Exactly! Single page websites with a call to action!

Its always entertaining getting some 23 year old programmer on later after the project has made some traction, and they are like “noooo this code is so bad, what, jquery!? An old version of jquery at that!?” because I’ve been copying my same landing page template for 8 years.

it is so just like the meme because I’m like “haha money printer go brrr”

translation: I just made a million dollars who gives af. turn your ideas into money, it has nothing to do with the stack you used, whatever level of discipline you’ve honed or anything.


> they are like “noooo this code is so bad, what, jquery!? An old version of jquery at that!?”

I've spent a lot of time mentoring junior developers.

They don't really care that you or your product are using jQuery. They've been told that using anything but the latest frameworks and technologies is a death sentence for their career. They aren't interested in making your money printer go brrr for you. They're interested in pivoting to that next higher paying job somewhere else with a resume full of React and ES6 and websockets and other complicated technologies.

It's a difficult mindset to overcome. I try to emphasize that shipping product is better than simply knowing the right technologies.


The problem isn't the developers, it's the industry. If developers are having to learn the latest frameworks to climb the career ladder, it's because companies have built all these sites with crazy inverted-pyramid tech stacks and need to hire people with ever more narrow skills to maintain them. The developers are just adapting rationally to the market.

right, and it is a continuing problem if you are not Junior anyway, I get rejected for jobs if I don't have the correct combination frameworks, to such an extent that I worry to take a job with a framework that I see as having a poor future. If I do 2 years of Angular, am I then stuck in Angular forever, as it dwindles away (based on Google Trends and my feeling for its future).

Same here, it is very rational.

But recruiters and technical interviewers should be more cognizant of the cross communicability of skills and concepts

Yeah yeah we get that every hiring manager wants someone that “can hit the ground running” and yet they’ve had the job posting up for 6 months when they should have had a 2 week orientation


Oh yes 100%.

There are times when I go work for other people and you really do need to be able to play buzzword bingo or pass a time trial using specific frameworks, or even repairing a project with that framework.

They still don’t simulate the real world so I don’t interview others like that.

Devs that work for me often are entrepreneurial in the sense that they are going out of their way to contract or moonlight, so it always entertaining how separated they are from the business acumen.


What field are your products in?

SaaS

...

Why the “...” ? It seemed like a decent enough answer.

How much tax did you have to pay on that?

In US the highest combination is around 55%, you have to reduce it from 55% to 0%

Typical strategies are using leverage - borrowing - and spending on more business growth stuff. You deduct more than you earned and also deduct the interest payments.

The mere use of a business entity gets you a 20% tax deduction up to $120,000 (unincorporated sole proprietors can get this too, just easier to challenge and audit to fail) and then you can pump another $57,000 into a solo 401k.

An S-Corp designation can somewhat mitigate the self employment taxes.

You can also try paying people in shares/membership interests, parts of specific revenue streams or other noncash things (like free access to your service), so that you can keep your cash position while still making tax deductions.

Just dont run for office, or do, I dont care. Tax code is very understandable to me, it is just a reading comprehension issue.


Or make a prototype in Figma and use that to validate the hypothesis. Significantly less time and commitment.

Figma is no faster than HTML/CSS to make a simple landing page for a lot of devs. Not because they are slow at Figma, but because they are fast at HTML/CSS.

I agree with this and it's definitely true for me. The downside is usually that once you have working code, it's just too tempting to launch it as-is. Why wouldn't you if it's working or even close to working and you can launch it and start making money off of it? The best part of a Figma prototype is that you can't launch it and nothing about it is permanent. Really you don't even need Figma, you could use MS Paint or Whimsical or Miro or whatever. The point is that it helps to remove the temptation and incentive to "validate" and ship asap.

A landing page != a prototype.

A landing page ~= a prototype.

Are you advocating for that alternative syntax for "not equals to", or did you have some other point?

That means almost/approximately equal to.

It also means “not equal to” in at least one common programming language: https://www.lua.org/pil/3.2.html

And usually, “approximately equal to” is expressed in this way: “n = ~3”.

Which is why I asked.

If that is what they meant, then I strongly disagree. A landing page is nowhere near a prototype. A landing page could be an advertisement for a prototype, but not a prototype.


It is posts like this that make me feel a bit mediocre. I have labored for two years on my blog (https://letterstoanewdeveloper.com/), written guest posts, given talks, and written a book. But I have nowhere near 1000 subscribers and my book announcement list was far under 100 folks.

I wonder whether I am not focused enough, don't deliver enough value, targetted the wrong audience, or picked the wrong marketing platform (blog instead of medium, traditionally published book instead of ebook).

Maybe I'm not committed enough--the idea of recording 5 screencasts a weekend for 7 weeks feels like a gargantuan effort.

Anyway, thanks to the OP for sharing his journey. It is interesting to see how often people move toward teaching as a higher leverage income stream. That is the foundation of Amy Hoy's philosophy (more here: https://stackingthebricks.com/why-you-should-do-a-tiny-produ... )


I think that luck is just a much bigger factor than people think.

A while back, I wrote a blog post and posted it to HN. Looked up the best time to post, labored over the wording in the title, everything. It got like three views and disappeared quickly into nirvana.

I was super discouraged and didn't feel like writing more about this topic (probably dumb after just one post but hey that's how I felt).

Then, a few days later, some random person re-posted my blog post to HN. This time it exploded and landed on the front page, giving me a couple hundred subscribers alone. Until now I have no idea why the difference was so huge.

This experience taught me that luck is just insanely important. Not sure how this conclusion helps though.


On HN it all comes down to having 5 people upvoting your post in the first 30 minutes, so of course there is a lot of luck in here.

The rule I follow when I want to publish one post is this one:

- Publish it one time first and see if you get at least 2 upvotes

- If you got them, try again to post it the next day at 9am (sf time)

- If still not successful try again in 3 days

If you dont get those 5 guys interested in your post in 30 minutes you will never get the frontpage, when you are on the frontpage, then there will be enough people seeing it and deciding if it should stay on the frontpage

On HN there are also a lot of emphasis on the title, and clickbait helps a lot also (look at this current post)

(I manage this [1] newsletter of 'HN blogposts which went unnoticed' and very often a post is linked in the newsletter and then a few days after that reaches the frontpage, because it gets re-posted or included in the second pool chance)

[1] https://hnblogs.substack.com


>clickbait helps a lot also

I do like to point out that there are bad examples. Titles that misrepresent content or low quality listicle stuff + "You won't believe #2!"

But headlines have been trying to entice people to read stories since before there were clicks to bait. I know a lot of people here think headlines should be basically boring but that's not how publications outside of journals etc. have ever operated.


I disagree, I posted my Show HN thread [0] on a Sunday, got only 1 upvote in 36 hours, but then it started getting traction. I am not sure what happened, but you can still get on the front page even if you don't get upvotes immediately after submission.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24746921



Thanks for the info, that's really interesting, I assumed something like this happened but I didn't know about this system.

The moderators will repost Show HNs that didn't get traction to try to help them out.

Great insight. Are your rules based on analysis (which would be a fun project!) or experience/instinct?

It's experience from having a few posts reaching the frontpage and seeing how contents published on the newsletter finally reach or not the frontpage

>I was super discouraged and didn't feel like writing more about this topic...This time it exploded and landed on the front page

I read something along the lines "Doing is often better than thinking of doing" somewhere and made it kinda my personal motto. Little things add up and you never know when the momentum builds and things start to feel better. I failed to get donations for my tutorials for about a year. Then I tried out converting them to a book. First one didn't give me much financial benefit but the second one did well enough. After 2 years and 7 books, I have sustainable income for the first time since leaving my job 6 years ago.

I have more ideas than I can ever implement, but I try to note them down and work on what I can. 2 hits out of 10 is still better than 0 hits out of 0 attempts. Those hits need luck too, as you mention. Seeing my idea come alive is immensely satisfying too.


Surely the right lesson to take would be to try something like posting links several times? To paraphrase, even if success always comes from accident, there are always ways to make yourself more accident-prone.

This reminds me of the all time classic Chesky quote:

If you launch and no one notices, launch again

https://twitter.com/bchesky/status/312438036929576962?lang=e...


I post things several times to HN. Other communities (lobste.rs, reddit) frown on this more, but HN seems just fine with it (as long as you aren't obnoxious).

I've definitely seen articles I posted (not necessarily mine) get reposted and have wildly different visibility.

It's also a fun excuse to go trolling through your back catalog of writing and see what is worth posting today.


> This experience taught me that luck is just insanely important. Not sure how this conclusion helps though.

Other than being a consolation when you work hard. Which isn't to be discounted.

Thanks for sharing your story.

I will say that I've had a couple of posts on the front page of HN or r/programming and still only get single digit subscribers. So maybe that does point to an issue with the content.

Which then brings up the bigger question of "what is my goal"? If I'm happy writing what I do and don't need a bigger audience, should I just keep doing what I'm doing (and accept the current results)?


It's not just HN. I write for a number of online pubs/sites. Sometimes I'll write something that I think is particularly clever/insightful/useful and it gets relatively few pageviews and no engagement. Then I'll knock something out in a couple hours that I think is fine but pretty-cookie cutter and it gets 10x or more the engagement.

Paraphrasing an Elton John quote: "People think it's easy for me to know what will be a hit because I've had so many. The truth is I've written songs I was sure would be a hit and nobody ended up listening to. I've also written songs that I didn't think would do anything and I even hesitated to include on the album and they turned out to be my biggest hits."

I have noticed with HN, there are waves of content on subjects, a topic on something interesting is posted and then over the next few days related posts will popup and the audience who is already interest from the initial post that blew up is primed to read more.

I'm not sure you can engineer one of these waves, but you can jump on one when it appears perhaps.


I've definitely jumped on waves via comments, rather than posts. Sometimes having the first comment on a highly ranked post leads to significant traffic, as well as insight.

But that's helpful to think about waves of posts too.


Having a post to repost on HN is a prerequisite to "being lucky".. luck favors the prepared and all that.

Jim Carey gave a commencement speech that went viral a couple years ago, he said the same thing most successful people say (deeply paraphrased here): You have to work really hard and go for it. However, working hard is a necessary condition but it's not a sufficient condition. For every Jim Carey there are countless failed comedians who worked just as hard. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it, but we labor under the delusion that the free market always rewards hard work and if you don't reach your goals it's because you didn't work hard enough. Of course you can't reach hard goals without working hard, but working hard doesn't always get you there. You can do everything right and still not catch a break.

4000 years of civilization and we're back to jungle life

Free market !== Equitable market

Dan, I think the sales of the book might be stimied by the price point. $37 is a bit steep.

I would put a book cover in the right sidebar of your wordpress site too to give a bit more visuals. Possibly also redesign the hero area to give it more pop. You're also not prompting for a newsletter signup anywhere.

Happy to give you a few minutes of loom or zoom feedback if you think it would be helpful to optimize the site better since your content is already good, its your marketing that could use some help.


> Dan, I think the sales of the book might be stimied by the price point. $37 is a bit steep.

Agree! I don't have much control over pricing (traditional publisher) but I should probably raise the issue with them and see if there's anything I can do.

Thanks for the offer of feedback! Let me take what you've already given and see what I can do. I see you have contact info in your profile so will reach out after I've implemented it.


That can definitely be a downside of a traditional publisher. It's even more the case when you're not really trying to make money with a book but are using it as a more reputational thing.

Yes. I had previously published an ebook through leanpub and wanted the traditional publisher experience. The jury's still out, but it definitely has downsides.

The biggest win for me is that, rightly or wrongly, a fair number of people have a higher opinion of books that come through a traditional publisher. A publisher also provides editing services and so forth but, in my experience, they're pretty lightweight. I'm actually doing a new edition of one of my books right now and I'm finding more copyedit misses than should be the case.

You may well make more money depending upon the sales. But, to be honest, what I make off the book is so trivial compared to what I make indirectly by having written the book that it doesn't really matter to me.

Deadlines are both a blessing and a curse--especially for the original book. On the one hand, they probably forced me to go heads down when I might have been inclined to work on other things. On the other hand, you sometimes have to do those other things too.


I am working with a platform that has limitations but I did try to make the email list easier to sign up for. I also added the form right on the page, instead of requiring a click. I feel like more customization would probably require a platform change or upgrade, so I'll think about that.

Thanks again for your feedback.


How often do you publish? I was also a bit surprised that the blog just skimmed over what I think is the most important part: how to build an audience.

It sounds like "I wasn't a good writer, but I just wrote 50 articles and improved and now I had tens of thousands of readers a month"

I am skeptical that it was all about quality. If his first article had been the best article ever it's still unlikely he'd have found an audience/get noticed. So maybe it's about the frequency of posting? I think it'd be worth reflecting on this more, how did his readership grow in that early period? Were there any inflection points? Etc


For the first 1.5 years, twice a week. Lately it's once a week (on Monday). Some of my posts, esp the early ones, were short (1 minute reads).

I think that leveraging a platform like medium or dev.to can really help. I republish some content there and especially if you get picked up by one of the "magazines" it can put you in front of a different audience. This belief is based on a large part on research rather than firsthand experience, though.


Summarizing my experience: I have published a single article with the goal of better understanding the subjects and be able to correctly teach it (ofc a side income would be nice as well). Wanted to provide more value than what existed and posted in my own blog (powered by Telescope.ac), Substack, Medium, Dev.to and HackerNoon (sent for approval and got approved). Medium editors liked it and recommended it in the frontpage and their newsletters and "The Startup" magazine invited me to publish the story as theirs as well. And, as your belief, it suddenly "exploded": https://i.imgur.com/JHIoUIy.png

Too bad the post received a somewhat bad criticism and my moral went down to keep writing at the time. I will get back to it someday for sure.


Would be glad to read your posts!

Agreed, please share a link.

Thank you both! A Friend Link without Paywall :) https://medium.com/swlh/why-you-shouldnt-use-offset-and-limi... Let me know if you have any suggestions on it, would love to know about them!

One of the things I've learned is literally don't "impose" anything to your readers. What I've written is mainly cited by big sources (and I have included the sources in the article!), but people rather prefer to point the finger if they do not agree with you.

I believe the article title is a bit "imposing" on the reader, but so do are all the other "click-baity" titles we see everywhere, and in this case I am able to prove my point of view, being it through an explanation or a PoC that I do provide as well. But people are mean :)


Hey there, I had a look at your website and if I could provide some small feedback? Add an image here or there in your blog posts! You could start with free (but nice) photos from unplash or similar. You clearly have a lot of great content, but there's no initial visual "hook" to get me interested. Hope this helps and keep it up!

Went through and added photos to the last 15 or so posts, and will continue to work my way back, using pixabay.com for photos available for commercial purposes.

Thanks again for the suggestion!


Awesome, thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it.

In life, we tend to sometimes believe that once we have done great work and even shown great work, that the bright lights of Vegas will come illuminate us like the sun illuminates the earth. What a painful and unproductive belief!!! What became obvious to me from observations in my career, life and others is that you must intentionally choose who you show your work to. Who sees your work is incredibly important. Always remember WYSYWC.

The paragraph above is what I wrote in my article in https://leveragethoughts.substack.com/p/cracking-the-who-you...

Don't give up.


That really resonates. I used to think it was about doing great work, but a few failed startups wrung that belief out of me. Doing great work is necessary but not sufficient. As you say, who sees it matters.

Thanks for the encouragement.


You're welcome.

It is the title. I havent read further. Nobody wants to be thought of as 'the new' aka green behind the ears one. Change the title to 'letters to the experienced developer', slight adjustment of text (although mentoring applies as wall; and what is good for the new one is good for the seasoned), 3. grab the cash.

Thanks for the feedback. I haven't heard that before, but maybe that's because folks were hesitant to say "your baby is ugly"? I'll think about this.

Could be out of politeness, but could also be they dont see it. People might read it and think it is really a good book for the target audience (which it probably is); they probably dont see themselves as the target audience. Also they read the whole book and maybe it was great for them, and their feedback was honest. My claim is the people who would benefit from it wont get past the title, but I have no idea how to validate this idea.

I think part of it is also that one can leverage past platform/network effects too. Someone who has 5000 friends on facebook or 2000 twitter followers has a jump start over the one starting with less than 100. I think past success builds up to the next success. Build a smallish audience for the first book, leverage that and build a larger one for the next if that makes sense.

Don't blame yourself entirely, It's not about you being medicore, although after 2 years work on a project that's not meeting your goals something's amiss. Ideally you validate the market and your place in it early on, for instance by hitting the front page of HN/a subreddit or something like that with one of your articles every so often. If your hit rate is too low your market probably is too small or you're not giving them content they want (even though it may be high quality content that they need...). At some point you change what you're doing, change your goals or move on.

Medium does give you exposure and a potential income. Sadly I am not much of a blogger but if I were to start doing it I would probably go with medium.

It's the old tradeoff of giving up control for reach.

Is it really giving you reach though? It's probably giving you some discoverability, albeit with something of a paywall. That said, I've never been a big Medium fan although I used to mirror some posts to it. But, then, my goals are different from someone trying to build a business and I mostly write on some sites that do a fair bit of organic promotion.

Amy's philosophy is to learn how to sell first with an easy-to-make product, not move toward teaching.

It's quite clear from the linked article too.


The easy to make product is an info product (rather than a business, for example).

I'd consider that teaching.

Sorry if I was unclear, I didn't mean "teaching" in the classroom or webinar sense, I should have used the word "educate".


The open secret is that, if you want a following on the major platforms that use recommendation engines for follow suggestions, you have to pay for your first N thousand so you can trick the recommendation engine into giving you access to everyone else. Everyone and their brother is doing organic content and SEO and all that jazz. You either cheat or don't play.

I accidentally ended up buying followers on Twitter. My wife writes sci-fi novels and I was looking for options to help market the books. At the same time, I was building a software product and trying things out for myself. Amazon had just released their "promotions" platform. One of the things you can do is a sweepstakes give-away. You pick an item on Amazon, set a max number of copies you'll give away, and set proportion of how many people will get the thing if they follow some call to action, and set a length of time. Just wanting to see how it worked, I thought I'd give away some Google Cardboards for people to follow my VR-oriented account on Twitter. I set it to 10 copies for a week, thinking it'd be super low effort and just give me a concept of scale of effort before putting real effort into a "campaign". I think it would have cost me $150 total, if the whole lot had been given away. I expected that maybe I'd get 20 new followers out of it, folks interested in VR since I picked an item I thought would only be desirable if you were interested in VR.

I completely underestimated people's lust for free shit. A week later, 5 had been given away and now I had 3000 throwaway accounts following me on Twitter, where I previously only had about 150 (most of whom were acquaintances). Super low quality, not a single person was there for my content. It was easy to tell; their accounts were full of retweets for other giveaways, they had no other content, and their profiles were empty or talked about being a stay-at-home mom. I was mortified. I thought I was at the door of getting banned.

But something weird happened after. Legit followers started slowly trickling in. Eventually, I had an additional 500 followers, through no new effort on my own. I was still posting the same content, and the promotion was over. Where I couldn't get the needle to move before, suddenly it felt like it was working all on its own.

I eventually got rid of the fake followers. If you block someone on Twitter, it force unfollows your account for them. I then undid the block, just in case there were limits to how many people you could block or if I accidently swept up a friend in my dragnet. It took a solid week of spending an hour a day, force-unfollowing people.

I have a job that I love now (working in VR, I'm the head of the department), so I'm not trying to side-hustle anymore. And life is much better now. I still get a few legit followers every month, but I'm not putting any effort in other than posting what I want to talk about. The clear pay-to-win aspect of Twitter is not something that interests me. I never wanted to buy followers. I thought I was being smart about just getting my name in front of interested people and then they'd decide if they wanted to follow me or not. But that's not how it works. You're getting the randomized masses, and they are clicking through promos too fast to consider even the item that is being given away. But that is apparently necessary, if you're not already some kind of celebrity.


Thanks for sharing that tactic.

"On weird trick to fuck over your Twitter timeline forever"

First, congrats on launching the book. That's a huge achievement and you should be proud! It's also great that you've kept on it for 2 years, and published a lot of posts.

So the question is why hasn't it "worked" yet. There are TONS of new developers entering the field. The audience definitely exists, and they do hang out online.

I took Amy & Alex's 30x500 class a few years ago and it was a big factor in getting my blog + business (https://daveceddia.com) off the ground, so my ears perked up when you mentioned Amy!

I think you've got it right that she advocates for creating a tiny infoproduct first, but the emphasis is on tiny, less on education. Other tiny things are icon packs, or templates, or themes, etc. Small, quick-to-create, one-time-purchase products. Goal is to learn the entire build + market + launch cycle with low risk (vs building software for 6+ months that nobody wants). Once you get your footing with all of it, you can move up bigger/riskier products, if you want.

They also advocate that the content you create should deliver some kind of fix for a problem the reader has. Give the reader a win. Also, ideally, quickly helps the reader decide "this is for me". The easiest way to do that is to make it clear you understand their struggle.

I think this is where some of your posts could use tweaking. The "Write good commit messages" article, for instance, starts with "Take the time to write good commit messages." It's advice, yes, but is it for me specifically?

Contrast this with a title like "How to Write Better Commit Messages" and opening with "It's time to commit your code, and you need a commit message. What should you say? How long should it be? Should it describe every little detail? Or is shorter better? In this letter we'll look at some examples of bad commit messages and how to write better ones."

You mentioned that your email list hasn't grown much too. It's hard to figure out how to sign up though! There's a small sidebar link "Sign up to receive posts via email" and the "Subscribe to new posts" header link, but the copy isn't terribly compelling. Few people will go out of their way to click a link to sign up (as you've noticed!). You could probably improve signups quite a bit by writing more compelling copy and including those signup forms within the articles. I'd also remove the required field "how many years have you been a dev", it's just extra friction. Feel free to ask them that question in the welcome email though, it'd be a good way to connect.

Last strategy I'll mention is that hanging out in communities with your audience is a great way to learn what they struggle with, help them where they are (with comments/replies/tweets/etc), and occasionally, sometimes, share a link to something of yours if it's relevant. Goal is to be helpful and build a reputation, not just to share stuff.

Happy to chat more about this stuff any time.


Thanks so much for the feedback. I think you're spot on that some of the more abstract stuff would be more compelling if it was more concrete and tactical.

I'll also revise the email signups a bit, that's helpful too.


I've seen this pattern across hundreds of founder interviews I've analyzed. [1] First, they start building some kind of "media brand". Here, the OP started blogging on Medium & guest blogged for a ROR startup blog. He got to ~30k views/month across all of his articles (probably 99% of the came through them ranking in search). He then used that audience, linked to his new e-learning platform on some of them, and easily got to 1000 new signups.

This reminds me of Ghost.org (they're currently making $250k+/mo [2]) and how John O'Nolan (the founder) got started:

"My blog had a few thousand subscribers who were the first to be notified when I wrote the original idea post. That post had an email signup form which generated about 30k subscribers interested in finding out if it would ever become a reality, and those 30k people were the first to find out when the Kickstarter campaign launched." source: [2]

Many devs who want to eventually start their own SaaS/mobile app overlook this. Build an audience via blogging/tweeting/writing and then use that audience to launch/test your "startup". This way you won't have to go and "beg" people to cover you (via emailing/spamming publications, journalists, other influencers and so on.) The other reason that this seems to work is because information can be (in many cases) easier to promote/get coverage for than some black-box, software-based tool you've made (the exception here is the so-called "engineering as marketing", where people make a small/useful/straightforward tool that people get an immediate value from.)

[1] https://firstpayingusers.com [2] https://www.indiehackers.com/interview/how-john-onolan-grew-...


It seems like a good idea for eventually exiting too. If you’re open about revenues and customer base, i mean it depends where the profit centre ends up but it’s no bad thing for finding possible buyers to be transparent on the journey.

It's what I like to call finding the audience for your work. The author of the post as you rightly pointed out built an audience from the Ruby world.

This article https://leveragethoughts.substack.com/p/cracking-the-who-you... is one of the best on this topic.


Neat!

Shitty medium links!!! What I see every time I click.

"How to read this story — and everything else on Medium. Not every story on Medium is free, like this one. Become a member to get unlimited access and support the voices you want to hear more from."


    javascript:void(open('http://archive.today/?run=1&url='+encodeURIComponent(document.location)))

1000 thank you dear stranger this is most useful tip I have seen today :)

I had that, then I opened the same link in incognito and it displayed the post, failing that I'd just rotate my VPN IP and incognito again.


Well, blog writing is clearly an income source for the author, so no surprises there. Although we could argue about how much of a good or bad idea is to publish something behind a paywall on HN which clearly has the intention of reaching as much people as possible...

For a time I was using Medium to mirror some of my more general interest posts because I had the impression that some readers took things on Medium as being somehow more authoritative than on a personal blog. But even given a somewhat porous paywall, I don't want to expose people to get more of this sort of thing than I need to.

I see the Cloudflare captcha page.

I'm a freelance developer and make all of my money via blogging. 80% ghostwriting and 20% with my real name.

It's an okay income, not as much as consulting.

I'm also working on some courses to generate passive income, but I don't like that kind of work. It's so much up front before you can relase the stuff.

Still looking for something that pays as much as consulting but doesn't take much more work than blogging.


Wow, didn't know the word "ghostwriting" until now. You write some technical materials that way? I guess there is not much way to have an recurring income from that. Are you allowed to publish/reuse any of such creation under your real name later?

No, I'm not.

It's a bit of a grey area, I guess.

For me it's good because it's flexible work. Also, I'm payed to learn about new technology, which is nice.


> courses to generate passive income,

pardon me but it sounds like a potential for future ponzi schemes :)


A Ponzi scheme is where one guy pays his early entrants with later entrants money. A Pyramid scheme is where entrants pay money to earn the right to take money from later entrants which they attract.

I agree, this course sounds like a _pyramid_ scheme.

Sorry to bother you, but I'm a total pedant about this; everyone keeps explaining that the terms are used interchangeably by most people but I still think we oughta be specific in the type of scams we're calling out.


Probably?

I don't know.

I did a course on React and React-Native and some people told me they got a dev job with these courses. So I guess they weren't a ponzi scheme, haha.


I could only see people making more courses on how to make a passive in come, followed by more of the same ... you know.

A course on react seems a lot more productivity friendly


The courses generated a passive income, but they taught another topic (programming)

If you wouldn't mind, I'd love to see some numbers, as in how many organic visitors a month would convert into a meaningful sum at the end of the month.

Oh, I don't make any money with ads.

The ruby community always seemed to be unusually gregarious and extroverted. This is of course my impression over the years, and anecdotal but I really doubt a similar effort directed at (any) other community would be as successful. That’s all IMO, I could not imagine java developers being as supportive for example!

The author is a spammer.

I banned this guy from Lobste.rs for endlessly posting terrible, thin retreads of Ruby docs and idiotically vague motivation porn. He had zero interaction with any other post and nothing mattered to him except that posting a link got him a few clicks: https://lobste.rs/threads/mehdi-farsi#c_attzu3 When asked to participate normally he posted some comments randomly like "very interesting topic." (no longer visible on this page)


Very interesting insight, thank you for throwing back the curtain.

Edit: Check the authors submissions here as well. Non-stop spam, though little traction in terms of upboats.


The author seems to enjoy his structure, but organizing my day into 30-minute chunks would drive me insane. I have a hard time getting anything done if I have a meeting on my calendar that I know is going to stop me in 2 hours.

I share with you my structure. This doesn't mean that it's the recipe to success. I feel comfortable with this. If I have a 1-hour meeting, then I make two more 30mn sessions during the night. Anyway, You must find a structure that fit to your personality to maintain your level of commitment in the long-term.

I'm the same. If I know there's something I have to do at a specific hour, I can rarely start working on a new task knowing that I will stop soon. When I work on something I prefer it to be deep work that can last as long as it needs.

Are you into deep work? I made a website where you can track your sessions + data, would love to get your feedback.

trywinston.com


Pretty inspiring!

Although I'd say the odds of succeeding are highly in favour of citizens in a country that is supported by Stripe.


You can do credit catd payments in pretty much any country. Just not via Stripe.

You can, if the tool you're using happens to support non-Stripe monetization or you hack your own way into supporting something else.

Stripe-exclusive integrations I can think of on top of my head: Medium, GitHub Sponsors, Substack, Ghost CMS.


I don't think the problem is getting paid, but producing quality content that people will want to pay you for.

“How to make money writing low quality blog spam”

I spent almost 3 months just to configure webpack for my frontend projects, next is 1/2 week just to get authentication done.

So, to me, it's not what's the "best" way to do thing, it's the what you used to do matter.

As soon as i accomplised boring tasks, my next projects go smoothly, and more importantly, i feel more productive for my own work, too.


Why on earth did you spend 3 MONTHS configuring webpack? Could you not have forked an existing project that achieved similar to what you needed?

Same with authentication to be honest ...

I would be curious to know more about what was required of your webpack configuration that justifies this timeframe.


> So I decided to create Fun Facts about Ruby — volume 1. This volume contains 30 cards.[...] My goal is now to release a new volume per trimester.

I can't help but wonder how sustainable this is. How many truly "fun" facts can you list before you run out of steam?


A lot, I guess! As I discover new things everyday in Ruby. And with Ruby 3 that'll be released at the end of the year.. But I agree that I won't go to the volume 20 hehe,

Even worse, who’s buying them for $4 each?

I myself is a developer and been running a blog for four years so what you are doing is not a rocket science. I earned via guest posts, affiliates and Ads. I could not write an ebook yet as I am not so focused atm.

Having to download an app or having to login to read a post is a waste of time, will gladly read on a self hosted blog or anything more user friendly.

Worse—it wants $5/month from me now. I don't know why people bother with Medium. They can't be making much money from it. Is it really worth the cost of people not being able to read your content?

I guess that depends on many factors. It's not that difficult to earn a few hundred dollars a month by writing on Medium. For engineers living in SF, probably not worth the time. For software engineers living in Portugal earning ~1200$ a month, probably worth the time.

OffTopic: How come HN did not print medium.com only and prints medium.com/the-developers-journey?

It makes sense, as it identifies the specific (medium-hosted) blog as the source, rather than just the hosting platform.

I think this is a new feature (at least, I haven't noticed it before), and seems to apply to some other domains as well, such as twitter.com and github.com.


This is a fairly recent change on “platform” sites like Medium, Twitter, and GitHub. It’s quite nice for browsing the history, in my opinion. I like how HN keeps getting minor improvements like these without a big redesign.

Props to you, that's inspiring. On the other hand, if I have to be completely honest, I can't wrap my mind around why would anyone pay for what are you doing, let alone so many people. There is so much free resources on Internet on popular topics (such as Ruby/RoR in this case), that I simply don't understand how people can pay for something like this (I didn't read your articles, but if you churned out 30 articles in 50 days then I dare to make a bold claim they aren't world-changing, or presenting something that wasn't already there). Just as I will never comprehend how sane person can regulary read tabloids. But as I said, I admire you and would gladly be in your position, well done.

>I can't wrap my mind around why would anyone pay for what are you doing, let alone so many people

Your mental model of the world is not the mental model everyone has of the world. Your quoted sentence above comes from the result on one thinking their way of the world is the only way. This is surprisingly common in a number of intelligent people. The result of this is that it prevents them from creating products.

One person might pay because the course provides a structured way to learn a topiC. Another person might pay because by paying, they are more likely to learn the subject.


> I can't wrap my mind around why would anyone pay for what are you doing, let alone so many people.

Support is one thing.

Let's say you have a $100 course where you build something real in the end. Not only do you get fully working code (which could easily save you 100+ hours of dev time) but you also get direct access to the author to ask questions. At least that's what I do in my own courses (I offer (24/7 - sleeping hours) support).

Sure the fully working code that gets continuous updates is nice on its own but think how expensive it would be if you wanted to hire someone to do 1 on 1 help with you as you learn something new from various blog posts and scattered Youtube videos. You could easily spend $100-200 an hour for that and it would be less effective because the person you're paying likely didn't write the material you're learning from.

For a lot of folks $100 is well worth saving an endless amount of nights of furiously Googling around on how to troubleshoot things. Especially if they have a family or are trying to ship whatever they want to build as soon as possible.

With enough persistence you might be able to battle through that on your own, especially if it's a well explored technology that's been around for a long time but we all have limited time. If you value spending 50 hours of your own time instead of spending $100 then you're right, you're probably not the target audience for buying courses.


This is very well articulated but don't forget that another big reason is simply buying a new start/commitment to learning something.

If I see a course on SQL, sure I could get all that content for free, but I am more likely to commit if I paid something for it, and I know that, and I'll convince myself it's a good investment because it's curated etc even if I ultimately end up using a lot of free resources anyway to do my learning.


Yep paying does help to move things forward.

The only exception to that is domain names of course.


what you describing now becomes low paid work.

1) make a course 2) constantly put in hours supporting it.


It's not too bad. I support over 30,000+ people and handling email and forum support is one of the least time consuming parts of my business.

Building a community is sticky. It's the same reason people trust opinions from people rather than some anon on the internet.

It's not world changing but it definitely is to his users.


I can't speak to this particular case but there's something to be said for a subject matter expert systematically pulling a bunch of information together in one place.

Another example in my case is guidebooks. Sure, a lot of the information is online. But paying $15 for something that lays out the travel information with nice maps and organizes it has paid for itself if I save one hour or points me to a better restaurant.


I pay people or donate willingly, to encourage them to continue writing. I buy books and pay for movies so the authors can keep making them. It's possibly more rare that people are looking to find ways out of paying. The developer here must have made compelling content, well done on them for their efforts.

Seems like you’re not far from the truth: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24813732

Thank you for your honest feedback!

Nice! Congrats and thanks for sharing, really inspiring.

thank you for the time you took to read my blogpost.

do you timeblock or use pomodoro or task list?

The good old way: notepad and pen.

Requires an account to read.

Do people make much of a revenue from posting their articles on Medium? I don't get the appeal if you want to "share" a story but actually a good part of your potential readership either can't read it, or hate Medium enough that they won't even open the link.

Just seems simpler to post on a Gist or anywhere really. But maybe I'm missing something and people are actually earning some money from posting on Medium.


You can. Especially from those already paying up for medium and don’t have the paywall. That’s the audience you use medium to reach.

A good part of the potential audience does read the article and does not hate medium. Otherwise, their business would have crashed and burned long ago. This is market validation.

This is the blind spot people are talking about. That’s why market validation with minimal effort pays off so much. Stop just assuming, start testing your assumptions.


From article:

> Two months later (and after generating ~$3000 with my paid blogposts), my publication was generating an estimated 30 000 views per months.


I understood that to mean his paid blog posts for that company that hired him, not medium.


You have access to 3 member stories per month as a non-member. Otherwise, you must subscribe to read them.

Or change up address?

You can just clear your cookies for Medium (or just always block them).

Open the article in incognito window

I think it works on an anonymous window

Can't read medium on mobile now?!

Works on my phone... but I do have a few addons and an older version of firefox mobile

Thank you for sharing. I wish you great success in the future too!

Thanks a lot!



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