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Ask HN: What has been your least profitable side/weekend project to date?
57 points by latch on July 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments



I had half-coded an apartment manager for landlords for e.g. collecting rents, doing maintenance, and the like, prior to realizing a) Paypal fees were untenable for rent collection, b) I wasn't going to get into a regulated industry while part-time, and c) I had no way to sell into the space. So I shot that idea in the head prior to launch. (I still use the domain for an HTTP proxy.)

Then later I started work on WidgetBakery. You know widgets, those lovely little embeddable Javascript/etc code pieces that you create so other people can promote your website for you? I thought it would be cool if you could do that without being able to program, so that e.g. a laundromat or plumber could have their own widgets, thus getting them qualified traffic and improving their SEO. I did not talk to any laundromats or plumbers prior to coding it, naturally. When I finally started talking to people after half-building it, I realized that all of my customers were going to be black hat SEOs in seedy industries (payday loans and the like), and that it was highly likely Big Daddy G would nuke my site from orbit within a matter of weeks or months from launch.

So, that's a few months of dev time and a few thousand dollars of investment (VPSes, designer time, etc) that I won't get back.

Appointment Reminder also has been lagging expectations, but I still have hopes (and better, a plan) for that one. Sadly, immigration issues are a bit of a tax on my time/focus this month. (Severity: Deportation bugs tend to get worked on first, what can I say...)


So, that's a few months of dev time and a few thousand dollars of investment (VPSes, designer time, etc) that I won't get back.

Was this before services like Heroku and Google App Engine existed? The free tiers make failing much less painful.

Edit: One of my failed apps, http://app.reminderbear.com is still in existence thanks to Google App Engine. It has about 10 or 15 happy users that can keep using the service forever. It only costs me $10/year for the domain name.


I do not optimize my development practices for "least cost in event of project failure", principally because the maximum cost in event of project failure is not a meaningful hardship for me at this point in my life.


I love hearing about the failures of others like this. Not in a point-and-laugh way, but in that happens-to-all-of-us way. I have so many of them it's embarrassing.


http://jsonip.com

I was thinking about sticking ads in as a property on the JSON object, but that'll double the bandwidth of the response size. =)


FWIW, I built something like this for myself years ago because I needed to know when my ip changed. I locked it down so I'd be the only one able to use it. When I first saw jsonip.com, I kicked myself.

The brilliance of jsonip.com isn't really the service, it's the vision that it should be free and world-readable.


I saw your project on reddit - really nicely done. But I can't think of a way to monetize it either.

Maybe make a landing page with some ads?


I made Idyllic Past[1], a webapp that emails you a weekly comment from your Hacker News and Reddit accounts. The eventual goal was to catalog all the things the user liked on the internet and present random items to him by email.

I was hoping to capitalize on nostalgia by running ads in the emails.

Unfortunately, I got only 3 signups. The post I made on HN was completely ignored (only about 20 people visited the link), and the post I made on Reddit ended up with a net score of 0.

Oh well, lesson learned -- gauge interest on a proof of concept before spending the time to build a full product.

[1] http://www.idyllicpast.com


My iPhone app Freakr: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/freakr/id434088944?ls=1&m...

An app that game out of a drunken discussion with some gay friends about how to establish boundaries with a random hookup. I mostly made it as a gag, but I guess it does solve a real world problem. Irony is that it is the least profitable (free, adless), but has more user engagement than anything else I've made and it hasn't been out a week yet :-P


With an improved design, I could see straight teens running with that for giggles as well and it going viral within schools. Get some ads in there!


I made a game. It's like astroids.... but you blow up ads. It's called Adstroids. The big idea here was for people to to get hit by the ad and you would then be sent to their site.

http://adstroids.com


http://birthdaysudoku.com - personalised sudoku puzzles.

I've never made any money from it, but I get a kick out of knowing that people in far-away places are using something I've made.


I have a tendency of not monetizing weekend projects. Perhaps I should?

http://colorblendy.com/ I did during a SHDH meetup with @limedaring, then couple months later during another weekend I released v2 with colorpickers on the Google Chrome store for free too: http://bit.ly/chrome-colorblendy

Another weekend I dug up an old game I wrote in an afternoon at school in Python called pytron. My roommates and I spent hours playing it—turned out it was quite fun with multiple players. I ported the game in an couple afternoons to JavaScript, called it LineRage: http://bit.ly/linerage-chrome

I still have "monetize this" on the TODO list for both of these. Was thinking of releasing a "pro" version of Colorblendy with CSS parsing and a saving feature. Also a campaign version with a bunch of levels of LineRage for $1.99 or somesuch. Someday.


mogade.com sucks down about $170/month in hosting costs. 2 $35 web servers, 2 $50 db servers (all for redundancy). (i use the hardware for other things too)

It has been my best learning project (what gave me the knowledge to write mongly.com and the little mongodb book). It's also solid Rails experience which is important for me given that I want to transition out of .NET.

Closing in on 500 000 scores store (it's 1 score per user per game, so it gives you an idea of how many unique users). Around 100 games use it (all WP7)


Mine was http://tripcost.co.uk - I built it about 4 years ago, back when I thought I could do everything, hence the horrible design and questionable HTML.

It was featured on a fairly well know UK TV show (working lunch on BBC2) which got me loads of hits, so I thought I was made. Of course the traffic dropped off in a couple of days, and in the 4ish years it's been live I've earned a total of $100 in Google Ads.

I learned from it though, now I buy design, I've improved my front end programming skills, and I know that you have to keep working on something to keep the hits coming.

I've also learned that making money from ads is very hard, as you need a serious hit count to make any money.


I'm not surprised that you made so little - the ads displayed are useless, frankly. It's always a pain with AdWords with a site like this - somehow you need to include enough keywords about your service so that the ads displayed'll be relevant. Admittedly, I'm viewing your site from Warsaw in Poland, but I'd hope to see more relevant ads than "Raft Trips Under $100" - I'm sure if AdWords was displaying, I don't know, "Save Your Fuel Costs!"-type ads, you'd have made decent money by now.


True, the ads could be more targeted. I do get ones on there for things like red diesel which is fairly relevant.

But even with better ads I wouldn't make much as I only average about 50 hits a day. I think there's a bit of potential in the site, it just needs a re-design, the car database cleaning up (HUGE amount of work there), and some promotion.

I'd like to have another go at it, but currently all my free time is devoted to BugMuncher.


the car database cleaning up (HUGE amount of work there)

I can only imagine! FYI, I tried BMW E36 - which is the 3 series, and it listed old 5-series instead. But I really don't envy you that task ;)

I really like BugMuncher, BTW - just please hire someone to make the Feedback button a bit prettier :)


I hadn't made a website in years so to get back into it I built two client-aide only sites with jquery. I'm a terrible designer so, bear with me :)

- http://www.drinkpacer.com - select your target level of drunkenness and track your drinking. It keeps you on pace using very estimated math.

- http://www.draw140.com - this was to be like Paint but for twitter. Unfortunately Unicode rendering differences between clients and platforms makes what you see not usually match what your followers see.

I don't consider either of these a failure though, I learnt a lot.. In the case of Unicode, a lot more than I ever wanted to :)


hah! the first one is completely useless. You should totally make an iOS version....I bet anything you could make money at 0.99$ (assuming it hasn't already been done).

The second one is pretty neat. It needs some polish, but I can't help but think that could actually be somewhat useful.

Good work!


Thank you very much! Maybe drinkpacer can be my "hello world" once I finally delve into iOS programming or any other platform.

My friends keep pushing me to pivot it into a game but I don't think it's a good idea liability-wise...


http://searchco.de/

Never made a cent off it. Not that I have tried (to be honest). I am still working in it though, so one day perhaps. I find it useful though, so that's the main thing.

http://www.chunews.com/

Never made a cent of this either, and the hosting costs are quite large for what is essentially a smaller version of TailRank (if you remember that).

Lastly, I made a "My Twitter Butler" clone with a website and the lot back in the Twitter frenzy. Never sold a single copy. I guess I lost $10 for the domain name and 8 hours of my time to implement it. I was hoping to sell one copy and break even on my direct costs.


searchco.de is rather cool! maybe if you would use a sans-serif or even monospaced font, it'll be even cooler. Also the example on the frontpage (something about SQL) leaved me helpless.


Thanks. I'll convert it to a monospaced font now.


I wish I could reply to everyone on this thread, but I'm more interested in what they did to market these services ? If you do absolutely as little as possible to get people to use your services, any endeavor will be an unprofitable one.


Mostly I post it on reddit.com - this is kinda hit or miss. Either the first 5 people have a good day and upvote/leave a nice comment, or they'll ignore it for eternity. As I am scared of re-posting on reddit, that's it ...

With http://gamesuggest.net/ I actually tried some SEO (on-site, no tricks) - that failed miserably.


In terms of least revenue, that would probably be my webcomic, http://www.zoitz.com/ , which has had millions of views but for which the only revenue has come from a small textbook licensing deal.

In terms of greatest loss, that would be my photo deblurring tool, http://www.blurity.com/ , which is suffering from my failure to achieve product-market fit. It's had some revenue, but its need for a powerful server has kept it in the red.


The comic was cute. It's a shame you gave it up. I always thought that kinda stuff was a lot of work though (I've read some thoughts on this from Gary Larson). Seems like the kinda thing you need to keep up regularly to ever grow.

Kinda makes me think that a "syndication platform" for we comics might not be a horrible idea.


http://campaignbar.com - which I'll be relaunching properly in the next few weeks.

Marketing plan consisted of posting links to various sites... and that's about it. No wonder that I haven't had a single user pay for it. Honestly it's been a painful loss - a good 30-40 hours of development (yay Firefox addons! I'm now relaunching with Chrome) and spending around $40 on themes. So, it's been a complete and utter loss so far.

That said, I now have a marketing plan and high hopes :)


http://www.cupcalculator.com - World Cup Results calculator - I made $20 from Adsense in about a month, which more than covers hosting on nearlyfreespeech... however google won't send you your money until you've made $100. So if I put the time into it to update it for each world cup, I'll eventually get my $100 in 2026, at which point I'll have spent approximately $160 on domains and hosting.


All of them:

http://gamesuggest.net/

http://saibotd.com/redditmag/

https://market.android.com/developer?pub=saibotd

http://saibotd.com/advancedgifplayer.html

I am actually not in it for the money, but some of these projects have zero (0) active users and that's kinda sad for me.


I ran snapsta.com for a year along with a friend. It was a websnapping service, which eventually we got bored of, but had good fun writing it. And then Lenny(http://lennified.appspot.com), a mail alert service that uses gmail feed and Twitter to send out sms alerts wherever supported. Oops its currently broken (oauth url issues)

Never made a cent out of any of these.


http://picmos.me - Online tool to create photo mosaics using your facebook photos. I'd spent considerable amount of time building it. I'm using linode 512 plan to host the application which is costing me ~$20 per month and the domain costed me ~$10. I enjoyed building the product but failed to attract users and haven't made a single penny yet.


Funnily enough, I had exactly the same idea. Your site looks good, and I think has a lot of potential, it's just very hard to promote FB apps, such a crowded market.


http://smsmyride.com/

http://cueyoutube.com/

http://pimpmysalary.com/

I've never made money from them, nor have any of them gained significant popularity (although pimpmysalary.com is actually receiving an entry every 3 mins. Or so - maybe that's my breakthrough success!!)


I had something vaguely like smsmyride (called regomail) that was web messaging between number plates (a 'rego', amongst Australians). Obviously, there is a massive chicken and egg problem.


"Obviously, there is a massive chicken and egg problem"

Yeah tell me about it! I got written up on lifehacker[1] and I received quite a few emails and comments (some on the page and some not) basically saying "but it won't work unless everyone signs up!!1".

The funny thing is that if everyone who said that to me had told their friends, the chicken/egg problem would probably have been sold.

My standard response when people tell me something I've built has a chicken/egg problem is "right, so how many people have YOU told about it?"

[1]http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2009/09/sms-my-ride-lets-you-wa...


FWIW, I ditched regomail. It didn't even make enough to cover the domain renewal.

You could enter your rego to check for messages. To try and boost pick-up, for anyone checking an empty inbox, I auto-added a randomised and semi-believable message. Not sure if it helped much, but obviously not enough.

Slightly related, I also started building a little web site for people to track cars they'd owned and driven with a view to building relationships between past and new owners for the hell of it. "I wonder what happen to that '74 Civic I traded with that girl for three bottles of wine?" Domain drove.com.au was free when I checked. Took me half a day to build most of the site but by then the domain had been taken and so I bailed - stupid.


Pimpmysalary is a cool idea for a site, I've just added mine to it!

My only criticism is that while I like a good clean design like that, it could definitely be a lot more appealing to the eye.

Hope it takes off for you.


Two come to mind

A thought a day app that just completely tanked. It only gives you 1 thought a day - most others seem to be every possible thought you could want at any time. Mine just didn't catch on. C'est la vie.

Then there was the site-flipping attempt that just didn't work out at all - the content was all dream and alt/complementary therapy related. Just didn't hit the spot apparently.


http://www.topchan.tv was just released about 2 months ago and have never made a dime. The hosting is for free for now so the net is $0. But I have never really wanted to charge for it. It's more for building for myself, and see if others find it useful.


similar to youtube leanback http://www.youtube.com/leanback


http://mmabuzzsaw.com/

Aggregators don't make money!


Oh that is awesome. I've wanted something like that.

Sorry it doesn't make money!


http://knottablenecklaces.com makes me about enough to cover costs and google ads. I'm not sure if this counts around here since it's not a software product.


http://workola.com and/or http://clock.workola.com

I'm a non technical founder, so this is just a script I purchased online and put behind one of my domain names. Just needed to get the feet wet and go through the process of releasing an app. It's got 100+ users so I'll get back to promoting it once/if I can attract a technical co-founder. Just launched http://fishtaank.com so we'll see how this one goes...


receiving.it -- a free site to keep track of lists. The idea was that it could start for stuff like Christmas presents and perhaps one day morph out to be a generic receiving service for small businesses.

Fun little project. The stretch goals were writing my first app in F#/Unbuntu/AWS, so it's not like the effort was wasted. I find the best thing to do with any project is to have a solid set of secondary goals that you can reach no matter how the original project turns out. (I've also found out that it's critical to keep projects small.)


www.drunkenweb.com - Didn't intend to make money off it (project for fun to learn python and play with css3/html5), but I hooked up amazon associates w/ targeted ads. Made ~$6 in 11 months :-)


http://www.tmemo.me

A reminder service for power Twitter users. Didn't get enough hits to generate any Ad revenue.


My iPad app PicTour that turns the device into an automated picture frame. Turns out nobody wants that - sales have been abysmal!


All of them.


me too :(


The one that I haven't released yet.


Still un-released tamagatchi engine that will probably never make a cent!


My idea to create a Massive multiplayer Masturbation Simulator. I found myself stuck in private beta for weeks.


non of them - weekend projects are about experience first, money second - what does work, what doesn't work - how much effort is it? every project that does not just stay in "idea space" is a huge win. and an infinite amount more valueable than any great billion dollar idea that is still stuck in someones head.

said that: checkout http://replycam.com - i learned that any technology that you cant easily iterate a (project) killer (in this case the flash webcam booth app)


I took the Murmur3 hash function and ported it to C, adding documentation as I went. After all, even the greatest technical achievement can be held back by lack of basic documentation. It's a great hash function, very fast and well-behaved, but to date this project has brought me neither wealth nor fame. Of course, it's only been online since earlier this afternoon. If you need to hash something, for whatever reason, I hope this will be useful to you:

https://github.com/PeterScott/murmur3


Any of a number of un-monetizable blogs :)


All my time wasted meticulously trolling too many sites to count.


www.laundryqueue.com - resources management tool. This is how I learned Ruby on Rails, but still have no idea how to gain users.


tried to do something with my domain womencantdrive.com when fml came out but nothing ever happened of it. Now it's down


Every. Single. One. But I don't care!


all of them?




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