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Ask HN: Small product, single founder success stories?
327 points by thunga 1858 days ago | hide | past | web | 151 comments | favorite
I have read some small product, single founder success stories on HN over the last few years. Can you share some stories/links even though it has been shared before on an unrelated thread?

On HN, patio11, edw519, peldi & jacques have all shared success stories before. I am interested to know more.

EDIT : By success, I mean happiness in life & financial independence to do interesting things in life.

I'm the single founder of Bignoggins Productions. I do sports apps for mobile devices. My apps have been pretty successful, reaching as high as #32 overall paid on iPhone and #60 overall paid on iPad. Been full time for about 9 months now. Made 75K last year, and on track for 250K+ this year. Almost all profit as my overhead is insanely low. Currently traveling the world with my wife while working on apps (our travel blog is http://www.shenventure.com). In fact, I'm writing this from an airbnb in Venice right now and headed to Milan tommorrow.

You're living the dream man. Awesome.

Only thing not in the equation is children.

Not everyone wants children, and for those who do, traveling the world might be a better learning experience than sitting in a classroom. If homeschooling is an option at home, I don't see why it couldn't be an option abroad. I would love for my kids (when I have them) to be able to learn about England while living there, or learn about art while visiting museums across Europe.

Traveling with babies isn't as hard as it seems.

My wife and now-two-year-old and I mostly live in the French countryside now, but travel together frequently to Malaysia, the US, UK, and around Europe (for various reasons, sometimes work, sometimes family, sometimes fun... though alas that's less often than we'd like).

We got the baby a passport before she could even sit up (the photo was tricky), and as long as we just plan a little better than we would with just adults, it's not hard.

A few things helped an awful lot, for anyone considering this.

Nurse instead of using formula/bottles/sterilizers/warming up/etc..

Buy a good carrying sling and learn to tie it; strollers are a PITA in so many places and ways.

Put time into associating peeing/etc. with a noise or word. Long before a baby is potty-trained, you can still save tons of diapers by holding them over toilets frequently and letting them go.

Let the baby sleep in your bed. It's hard for little ones to adjust to different sleeping environments -- in our case, changing to a new bed half-way around the world still looks almost the same, because her parents are still there just like always.

YMMV (all kids are different, I imagine; I've only parented one so far!) but this has worked great for us, and our daughter enjoys the new places and people. And she can already swear in at least 4 different languages....

well, i'm goingt to travel southamerica (i'm from europe) with girlfriend, kid, mac (and a thrieving consulting business) for 8 months - starting in two months. so it's possible, i's just that you have to be extra tough (this and no drinking, as your child wakes up too soon)

Was that a misspelled ,r, or ,e,? :-)

Don't let that be an excuse (I'm trying not to :-) ). There are plenty of travel bloggers out there with kids. They've all found ways to make it work.

http://unstoppablefamily.com/ is one example

This is true -- on the other hand, some jobs simply require more dedicated time in front of a computer screen than blogging does.

Bloggers can do a lot with a little notebook -- even if a child is drawing on the right side of the page while the blogger writes on the left side -- in ways that aren't possible for someone doing software development, for example (my world).

Coding while interacting with a baby/toddler/child doesn't generally work well. We've navigated our way through to agreement on what my daughter can do safely while Daddy is working (and sometimes I take breaks from coding so she can do a bit of typing as well... she loves doing whatever I'm doing, of course). But I still do quite a lot of my work while she's asleep, or while my wife has her and I can disappear for a bit.

Trying to get serious work done in any kind of large blocks is significantly harder than before; possible, but harder. I'm still glad we have her -- it's well worth the trade-offs, for me, but the fact that it's possible doesn't mean it's not hard.

I was just going to write that when I read your comment... :D I guess we all look to do that. To create value while living your life.

Pretty interesting story. Have you considered writing a blog post to document your story? That would be a nice read.

+1 Always love to hear about (real) app success stories, and folks who have found a way to make it a sustainable business (and not just the one hit wonders of 3 years ago)

Do you pay yahoo for access to their Fantasy/Sports API?

Yahoo Sports has a free API. They currently do not have a commercial license option. I use it myself and I hope other fantasy sites follow their lead.

Learn more here: http://developer.yahoo.com/fantasysports/

The API seems geared toward getting data for an existing Yahoo fantasy league/team/players, but can you get arbitrary sports game stats and player statuses out of it, or is it only useful if your application's users are Yahoo Fantasy Sports users?

It's only for Yahoo Fantasy Sports users. It does not have sports data in general. You'd have to find another stat provider like STATS Inc for something like that.

I'm not sure there is a way around it. You can try asking in their forums, Sean is the go-to guy behind the API and is very helpful.

Thanks. I think they have some rate limits in place. How do you get around it if you have a lot of users?

That is awesome. I'm hoping for a similar post in 6 months! Congrats on living the dream!

that's the life i want to live. just make sure not to forget paying your taxes

Would you elaborate on how you promote your app? Is it solely through word of mouth and the app store itself, or through blogs, paid search, etc?

Grew organically and was featured on some media outlets (PCMag, HuffPost, LifeHacker, etc) as a result.

I'm a solo founder and have been working on Sifter (http://sifterapp.com) for going on 4 years now. It's been live for about 3 of those years, and I've been full-time for a little over a year. My salary is about 80% of what I was making working full-time elsewhere, maybe a little lower when you factor in health insurance, but the work is exponentially more fulfilling. I do my best to share my thoughts on the ups and downs on my blog. (http://garrettdimon.com)

I technically have what some people might consider a co-founder, but he's more of an investor/advisor as I've been the only person that's involved day-to-day.

I also created a presentation recently that summarized what the experience has been like and what we've done right or wrong for our situation. (http://bootstrapping.sifterapp.com)

Finally, I'd also recommend Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard as a good source. He discusses a little bit of his experience on the Pinboard blog. (http://blog.pinboard.in/)

Really enjoyed the bootstrapping deck, Garrett. Thanks for that. Would love to hear about your dev and technology stack evolution.

I am the single founder of Electric Function, Inc. (http://www.electricfunction.com). We have a few software products: Hero (http://www.heroframework.com - an open source PHP CMS and web app framework built on CodeIgniter), OpenGateway (PHP billing engine for many gateways), Membrr (subscription billing plugin for ExpressionEngine), and EE Donations (donation plugin for ExpressionEngine).

I wrote the code, designed the websites, wrote the documentation, and once supported all of the products myself. Some took weeks, others took years (Hero, formerly Caribou CMS), but I'm very happy with where they are at now. We have our niche - e-commerce and recurring billing for small business - and it's been growing well.

I humbly consider it a success because, at 23 years old, I've been able to delegate the everyday stuff to a hired developer/support tech, take a nice salary, and do my PhD in Cognitive Psychology!

Good to hear a new name in the CI CMS list, will try it. It's a good thing that after all these works you continued your study too.

@brockf - I'm putting together a list of Startup Success stories, and your story sounds like one people might be interested in. Would you be willing to write a quick summary of your experiences? You can reply here or email me at bryan.parker24@gmail.com.

I'm the sole founder, developer, marketer, and everything-else-guy for http://www.scribophile.com and http://writerfolio.com.

They've funded my travels across the world for the past few years. Right now I'm living in Germany with my German girlfriend whom I met in Australia.

Scribophile has since become one of the largest writers communities online, and we're about to have our 100,000th critique written (sometime in the next 5 days if usage numbers stay average). There's been over 35.2 million words of critique written on the site.

I'm not making a million bucks and companies aren't knocking down the door in a rush to buy me out, but so far I've managed to pay off my student loans, save a little cash, and not worry too much about where my next rent payment will come from.

A budding journalist friend of mine has been looking for a place to put her writing portfolio and she hasn't been happy with blogging/squarespace/etc.. I just sent her writerfolio.com, I hope she likes it and signs up :)

Scribophile sounded interesting, but I left when I found out that I need an account to actually see anything. You even have a free user tier, so WTF?

You don't have to take my word for this either. Some basic (free) analytics can give you a ballpark estimate of how often this is happening. It's probably a non-negligible ratio of your incoming new viewers.

Turns out that most writers who post their work in public are horribly scared of it being stolen. There's also a myth about something called 'first publishing rights' that persists despite my best efforts to eradicate. Long story short, the site is completely hidden from the general public because the writers who use it prefer their work to be visible only to other members.

FWIW, it used to be visible to the public for a long time, and I would constantly get complaints from my members.

I continually forget that customer service is 80% dealing with crazy people.

As a coder who writes, seeing someone having success with building writer tools makes me happy, since that's the path I see myself going down at some point.

Some previous "Ask HN" threads which have details of single founder businesses include :

Ask HN: How much recurring income do you generate, and from what? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2567487

Ask HN: Anyone making a living from just 1 app? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1772199

Ask HN: Inspirational money making web apps made by hackers. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1764682

I'm a solo founder, spend most of my time running http://www.w3counter.com and http://www.w3roi.com. I also have a number of other sites I don't routinely talk about because they're competition-sensitive, and some past products that have been successful and sold, like "WP Review Site", a WordPress plugin that earned me over a quarter million in the year and a half I sold it. I started building webapps/services for a living in earnest in 2004 as a college freshman to pay my way through two degrees, finished that last year and bought myself a new car and a new house this year. It's going well, though the poor economy has hurt some of my customers and me by proxy.

WPReviewSite is responsible for about 1/2 my income in the first year I became a full-time affiliate. Thanks for making that :)

Really? That's great. A shame the new owner didn't maintain the affiliate program, he's throwing away money.

Yeah, but some people can just be dumb all they like. I used the software for my own sites for a while before making my own ruby/rack CMS but I wasn't an affiliate.

I ended up going that route to stop trying to frankenstein WordPress into doing things it wasn't meant to do. WPReviewSite did help me get started though :)

I am a single founder and running Indefero http://www.indefero.net (code hosting, project managemnt) I consider it a success. Maybe not a million user success, but at my level a success as together with my consulting business, I pay myself a good salary since 2008 and enjoy what I am doing.

The real question is: what would be a success for you? If you want to do something, when would be the point where you could say: Success! If you can really answer this question, the path to reach this point is not that complicated, but the question is hard to answer and you will change your mind quite often (at least, this was/is my case).

I'm the solo founder of an MMO guild hosting company (5 years and counting as of this past May), which was doing quite well years ago ($90k+/year), but is now much less busy. The site: http://www.dkpsystem.com.

Honestly, I blame the fact that I've had almost the opposite mentality as the 37 Signals guys, where I've added most of the features my customers ask for, thus making the system more complicated than it should be. But then again, I feel guilty taking some of those features away were I to do such.

That said, it still provides a meager living for limited work (10 hours a month or so) while I work on my up-and-coming projects: Sports league management websites (http://www.BracketPal.com). I'm targeting bar-league volleyball initially. As an avid beach volleyball player, this is my new calling. And it's giving me the ability to work with businesses who won't balk at higher figures (unlike my MMO customers who will balk at anything above $10/mo), and cold-calling, though I still get a little bit of the "sweats" before each call, I end up enjoying the conversation.

My results so far are looking very positive for this upcoming spring.

How have your cold calls been going? I'm curious about targeting some niche industries but feel I'd be wasting my time with cold calls.

Cold calling has been surprisingly fruitful. I'm getting about a 70% success rate for setting up an in-person meeting. Granted, all have been in the Milwaukee area, so setting up a meeting is more "personal" than the next logical step, which will be trying to set up remote meetings with a screen-cap demo. That might be much more difficult. For now, when I start calling places about 50-100 miles away, I'll give them the option to do a tele-meeting, otherwise, I'll gladly drive down there.

Followup (since I thought I had already posted this and it's too late to edit):

Feel free to toss me an email at gumm@sigma-star.com or something. I'm curious how it goes with your project and the cold-calling.

I was one of the first appstore millionaires via my app Trism... I wrote it in my offhours before the appstore launched. Story here -> http://bit.ly/psyMBf

Lots to say on the subject. Press is disorienting. Friends do change. Noone can tell you what the value of your idea is. Best thing you can do with your time in the spotlight is make good connections and learn the importance of good relationships.

I remember seeing your Apple developer video (an year later) and then checking out your blog, and finding out that it was rather dormant. I thought you were only enjoying your newly earned wealth, and did not care about work or anything else. Good to know it was a learning experience as well; friends do change and it's pretty weird to find old pals to react the new success.

It sure would feel good to say 'first app store millionaires', I hope you make many more with your next thing.

Edit: Thought the Apple video was an year older than it was.

I was one of the first appstore millionaires

Oh, man. It must feel good to say it.

I remember writing about you back in the Industry Standard days. You inspired me to step away from journalism and start developing my own apps (and probably zillions of others).

Awesome man! Congrats on finding your path.

I'm a single founder (Haystack Software). I wrote/write Arq (online backup to S3). I consider it a success because it pays my bills. A huge side benefit is it gets me into conversations with folks who tell me their business pain. I'm working on products to solve those pains as well.

I was (and still am) hugely inspired by DHH's presentation at Startup School 08 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY

Having those conversations with the folks with the business pains is golden.

I want to switch my current development job, among other things, because I don't get to interact with the customers having the business problems, and I want to solve them (not to mention it's where the money is, but I honestly like solving business problems too).

Being empowered to solve them should be gratifying too.

Thanks for sharing.

Great product that keeps getting better and better. Glad to hear that it's supporting you properly.

I started Blogthings.com (a personality quiz site) in 2004 by myself, and I've never had a job while working in it. It makes enough money for both my husband and I to live off of, and we split the work on it, which ends up just being a few hours a week (no more than 10). I spend my free time working on my programming / math and figuring out what's next.

I ran a similar quiz-site for a while before flipping it a couple of years ago. It had heavy integration with facebook, and well was rather spammy (I know I might go to hell).

I just visited your website, I was wondering whether you manually create all the quizzes, or whether you have started outsourcing it seeing that you have been at it since the beginning of time?

Also, I am assuming that all your revenue at this point is from the ads on the website?

Kudos to both of you!

Thanks! I write them all myself, but I use a lot self-written software at this point to streamline the writing process. And yes, 100% ad based. Adsense actually probably pays us the most we could get for our traffic with the least amount of intrusion.

wow that's great. An inspiring story. I am doing a similar casual location based quiz/queries site and soon a mobile app with findero.us and I am pretty excited about it. Whether it becomes a success story like yours or not, but I got to learn a lot out of it. I hope my passion pays off.

About 3 years ago I wrote an online payroll system (http://smallpayroll.ca) for people that hire a nanny. I have 3 young kids, there was a year where we couldn't get any childcare, and I realized there was a big problem with having to pay the nanny in a compliant manner that I could solve with a web app.

The application didn't bring in a whole bunch of money but it caught the eye of some other companies. I recently sold my company to another startup and am working on it full time.

"Financial independence" no, but I'm 35, mortgage free, and am working from home at a job that I love. And if things go well there's a bunch more money in it for me.

Single Founder of P212121 (http://store.p212121.com/) bringing together great priced scientific research and supplies.

Background story: I was a full time PhD student in chemistry and unfortunately our group was running out of funding. I ended up spending weeks searching for deals on the supplies we needed. This process took a long time since there are hundreds companies and literally millions of chemicals. The result was a disturbingly huge spreadsheet comparing all the prices (lucky the process has evolved since).

The word spread to other labs and soon had people asking me for the best prices on products they used. This led to the next step of creating a site where people could just buy them based on the list. The sales increased and resulted in being able to attain discounts from manufactures based on volume.

I'll throw my hat into the ring. After a decade of working in the digital agency world, I left a well paying job at an agency in Los Angeles to start my own studio in early 2009. Because I was fortunate enough to have amazing connections I managed to land large projects with UFC, Picnik (now Google), Microsoft, Volcom and others. I was running the studio solo and operating as the creative director while I outsourced various roles. The business was off to a great start financially, but the time required was insane. It was full of 100+ hour weeks and frequent "I know it's Friday, but can you have something ready to show us on Monday?" emails.

During a gap in between two client projects in May 2010 I got an email from a designer at Tumblr asking if I would be interested in selling premium themes on their platform. As an experiment I took a few weeks to design, develop and launch a theme. Instantly I realized this would be a great supplement to the client work. After launching the third theme, it hit me that with just a bit more work it could replace all the income from all the client accounts I had. By October 2010 I officially stopped taking on clients and the theme sales revenue surpassed the client services revenue.

Officially I opened up shop as Style Hatch - http://stylehatch.co. Earlier this year I was able to hire my first full-time employee as a director of customer experience, and now I'm looking to hire a designer and developer. As of right now we still only have Tumblr themes for sale, but we're working on a few new platforms to launch for in the next few month.

For the first time I was able to truly control the amount of time that I wanted to put into the business, as opposed to being controlled by client schedules. With two young kids I have taken advantage of the success by taking plenty of half-days off to go to swim lessons, head to the beach, or just being there. This summer was also the first time that I was able to take a two week vacation and completely unplug from email and work.

I've been a successful duo-founder (my wife is my business partner) for 3.5 years now. We started in affiliate marketing and have slowly added agency services and now software (we founded a newer company for that with a few business partners).

I've been working for myself full-time ever since we started and income is great. The last two years have been well in to the six figures and growth is excellent, allowing us to live comfortably here in San Diego with a great house. However, there are a few pitfalls to the marketing business...

Primarily, we found that affiliate marketing, while high-margin in theory, is so extremely competitive and dirty that your entire livelihood hangs by a thread. Google can slap your site, search algorithm changes can sandbox you and unscrupulous affiliates can and will copy your entire site wholesale and use it to compete directly with you. Google, the affiliate networks they use and ISP's will do absolutely nothing (one of the reasons for my ire with all of them as far as SEO/PPC goes) which made us resort to retaining legal counsel to slam people as soon as it crops up.

Our entire growth on the affiliate side has been Facebook and Mobile where our margins are often 300-400% as opposed to the slimmer 60-100% margins on AdWords. However, being in such a competitive and bleeding-edge field has meant that our agency clients get the benefit of that experience. We can often muscle a new client into highly a competitive segment and get them profiting quickly; we live the mindset of "if it doesn't make money, don't do it".

We ended up making our newer software company with a few co-founders because our overall growth there is better, margins are great, security is better and we have assets. You can't easily sell an affiliate web site, but you can build a software company that is very appealing to sell.

It has been a hell of an experience and I'm considering writing a series about it once we release our new app. Hopefully can bring the benefit of our blood/sweat/tears-and-such to the rest of HN :)

Would you mind posting some links to your marketing and product companies?

I did Etude by myself, which was recently acquired: http://steinway.com/news/press-releases/steinway-sons-debuts...

nice app. can I ask what the price range of the acquisition was? Always wondered what apps go for when they are sold.

Would love to know as well! Was looking for this exact information a few days ago.

Grats on the sale - always good to see a great app developer have a good exit :)

I'm a single founder who have run Iconfinder.com alone from 2007 until 2011, where I got a new business partner. The site reached 1,7 M monthly visits and gives me almost a full income. I won't define it as success since I haven't reached my goal yet, but I guess it shows you can build a large website alone.

How do you make your income on iconfinder? When I search for icons, the ads display below the results--I won't see them if the icon I'm looking for is in the top few rows. What percentage of income comes from merch?

All income are from ads - so far :-) I have some plans to get other revenue streams.

I hate ads my self, so I try to minimize the screen real estate used for them.

Sweet. I've used iconfinder.com over the years. Its now a default stop when searching an icon. Seems to be getting better everytime i visit too. Keep up the good work!

Thanks man!

Impressive! Its a great idea and a very functional and helpful site. If you break 1,7 M monthly visits, I'd call that a success. :)


I've used IconFinder lately. Nice work.

I use it all the time. Very useful.

I am the single founder of One Day, One Job http://www.onedayonejob.com/ I'm not quite ready to consider it a success, but it is profitable enough to cover my living expenses. I recently hired some part-timers to help me grow it into something bigger.

I did an interview with The Startup Foundry a few months ago that is way too long but does a good job of telling my story: http://thestartupfoundry.com/2011/03/02/one-day-one-job-how-...

Nice job with your success so far. How did you manage to grab and interview with thestartupfoundry?

I met a guy at a startup related meet up here in Chicago. I shared my story, and he liked it. It turned out that he was doing some writing for The Startup Foundry, and he said that he'd love to interview me (I had pitched TSF before and received no response).

E-mail is great, but face to face interaction has always been way more effective for me.

Thanks a lot for the reply. Tips like this go a long way obviously. :)

I'm totally going to advertise on your site :D

Here's our media kit: http://www.onedayonejob.com/media-kit/

You can e-mail me from the sidebar on the site.

I don't know if apps count in your mind, but Matt Rix's huge success with Trainyard (http://struct.ca/2010/the-story-so-far/) and Andreas Illiger's mega-hit iPhone game Tiny Wings are both good examples of one person doing a soup-to-nuts app (graphics, audio, programming, marketing) and hitting the jackpot with it.

Not a founder, just a dude. But I've built Dayta, Color Stream, Gumroad, and more by myself. Dayta has a few hundred thousand downloads (many paid), as does Color Stream. I made enough in around six months to sustain me for the next 2-3 years. I'm now going full-time with Gumroad.

Awesome job. Regarding Color Stream, is this intentional?

> NOTICE: This domain name expired on 08/13/2011 and is pending renewal or deletion.

It got acquired by Colourlovers.

Single "founder" - just a kid who writes apps, but I've written enough Android apps that I don't have to work a real job as they pay the bills. I could be making a lot more but spend most of my time working on non-profit projects.

I'm working on a web 'startup' now that launched about a month ago, but it's not profitable yet, although I'm still moving it past MVP and I've received some good feedback.

You should do it. Think of something that you would love to use and make the hell out of it. Passive income _rules_.

I am curious to know how well you are doing with your Android sales as I am looking to release an Android app soon. Is Android as hard to monetize as people say? Did you dual launch your apps on iPhone and Android? Are your apps paid or ad supported or both? How are you marketing your apps? Thanks in advance

I've never had any trouble monetizing Android, but I've never known anything else. I only do Android, not iPhone. Although I did just get a mac..

My apps are paid, ranging from 2.99 to 4.99. Some hits, some misses. I don't do any marketing whatsoever.

Thanks Mizza this helps

You should check out The Micropreneur Academy: http://www.micropreneur.com/ Many, many single founders there.

People in Vietnam pay everything by cash. And they love US products. So I integrated my online bookstore w/ Amazon, enabling the Vietnamese to search and buy any book on Amazon in VND (aka the Dong). It is not a lot of money but its very fulfilling seeing my Amazon account and the books people order. Plus it enables me to travel. I m in NYC now but will go to Vietnam in winter. Surf is up in that part of the world :)

I have been brainstorming something similar for a different country and vertical, and I am seeking for some ideas. Do do have an email?

you can contact me at nguyenhdat at gmail dot com

There are very many such stories, but most of the people are not very fond of writing (the examples above are people with a lot of written output).

If you get to know some of the people personally you will find a lot of successes.

Built, sold, and just reacquired fleaflicker alone. Have ambitious plans to grow. If you're an NYC hacker and want to build and scale a fantasy sports application to take on ESPN, Yahoo, and the NFL, contact me!

We should talk. I am going to head over to fleaflicker and try to find a contact email. :)

Awesome, Ori at fleaflicker, contact me directly.

My friend Angie created some great products and new life for herself when she started http://www.byrdandbelle.com after being laid off in the last economic bump. I agree with Loic - what is your definition of "success" though? Angie and I disscussed that exact topic over lunch this week.

A bit late to the party, but... I'm the single founder behind Jitbit Software (website: http://www.jitbit.com/) tho, I'm in the process of bringing in a co-founder, since it's really getting out of control, I can't live like that any more.

I do both web-based apps (bestselling one is "Jitbit Helpdesk") and traditional apps for Windows (bestselling is Macro Recorder), just look at the web-site.

I started almost 6 years ago and WORKED REALLY FREAKING HARD, no secret here. I literally had no sleep for weeks. After 3 years I quit my job and went full time. Last year (2010) was $210k in profits. Also, 2010 was the first year I brought in more remote devs and support people since it was getting really hard...

We have kids so no continuous travelling for us (every kid needs a home, with his own room, his own bed + teddybear)... But we can choose to live in any place we want (we chose London).

I 've been living off facebook apps since 2008. Upside: life free of commitments. Downside: Too much free time. Right now, i 'm doing a PhD course.

Interesting. Are you making money off your own facebook apps or by writing facebook apps for others?

Own. Given the speed with which you can test new ideas on the platform, i don't see why anyone would want to work on the cheap making apps for others.

What kind of apps? Games, mostly?

Games. Nothing else sells on facebook. Seriously, don't even try it :)

I'd love to hear more about your apps if you're comfortable with sharing the information.

Background: I've been working for a couple of months on a Facebook Page app called FanBldr.com and I've found it fairly difficult to operate.. it's hard to get feedback from users, Facebook is always updating the platform, and I'm not even sure what percentage of my users will upgrade to paying once I drop the paywall bomb. I find traditional web app development easier to manage and operate in the long term.

I am on hold for G+ or the next social platform. Facebook has decided to screw developers after they signed the Zynga deal that guarantees for them 30% of zynga's revenue (I won't be surprised if at some point facebook buys Zynga and closes the platform)

OAuth is all I use, i keep facebook integration to the absolute minimum. Working as an external website means it's completely portable. Minor changes are needed to turn it to a G+ application.

Also living off Facebook apps from 07. Biggest downside is having too much free time and working alone. Right now im studying for the MCAT

Would you mind giving some income information? Like a rough approximate or something? The viability of this strategy is something I'm very interested in.

It all depends on the number of users and the nature of your app. Typically 1-2% of users buy virtual goods, and eCPM from ads is pretty decent for US/Aus/EU/Ca audience. Aim for an addictive experience and the users will come.

I am a single founder of http://www.fantasysp.com , a fantasy sports news aggregator. Shows real-time player trends and allows you to sync and manage multiple fantasy teams from ESPN,CBSSports,Yahoo! etc. It is completely bootstrapped with zero outside funding. Relies on advertisements and user subscriptions for money.

I cannot live off FantasySP completely, though it certainly more than pays for itself to the tune of a few thousand per month. I currently do have a day job for a startup company. However, this month my site got more pageviews than my day job.

So successful? Yes, to some degree but not like the other folks here. There are still mountains to climb.

I'm the single founder of http://www.supersaas.com, an appointment scheduling system. Made enough money last year to add an extra floor to my house as an office, so I can still say I work from home. Kids are downstairs with a nanny, so I get to see them whenever I go for coffee. Loving every minute of it. Growth is still exponential, I now have representatives in 6 countries. It's a plain vanilla rails+MySql app, and I had not programmed anything for over a decade before starting on it (I was a CS major in the eighties), investment was just my time since expenses are still negligible.

I'm the solo founder of PrintFriendly.com

Two years ago I applied to YC, and was turned down in the interview process. They asked, "how is PrintFriendly going to make a billion dollars"? I'm still trying to answer that (or at least a more modest version of the question).

Today PrintFriendly revenue is about $10k/mo, 1.2M visits/mo, and slow but steady growth.

I'm happy with the results, delighted actually. However, I'm not travelling the world, or working from a beach. I work hard everyday and reinveste the capital, to try and build a stable/strong/significant organization.

Cool idea and it looks really useful for printing out online tutorials/guides without all the ads/cruft - saw on your webpage that it's free so what's your revenue model?

If you poke around a bit more:

* The display is ad-free, but there are ads added at print time. (There are numerous competitors out there which will do this without the ads.)

* There's a $6/mo subscription for sites who want to do a "clean print" button with branding and no ads.

Can you give us an insight on how you drive revenue? Is it possible to connect offline?

I am a single founder and from 2001 to 2009 I lived and traveled the world 11 months a year thanks to an online accommodation reservation business. Now some 20 people joined me and we are building a new version called http://www.adormo.com/ which should let them work online and travel too. I never made big money but I consider it a huge success: my aim was to see the world and I did. If I can help other people do the same it will be a double success :)

I am a founder of http://pipi818.com -- a real-time web picture digging engine -- an entertainment website to help people find out what's the current hottest or controversial pictures/topics within China's "big intranet world". (syn to Chinese twitter - weibo). Selling advertisement seems to be the only profit way(business model). Don't know if anyone has any experience about how to expand the income for this kind of web app

I'm the sole founder of Oxbridge Notes, http://www.oxbridgenotes.co.uk. I describe my job as "hacker, founder and janitor". I do it all - graphic design, programming, server administration, customer service, seo and online marketing. As someone who doesn't mind working alone and loves learning new disciplines, I couldn't be happier taking on all these roles.

I set up the site a year and a half ago out of desperation after a previous project had failed. I asked myself "what do I have that I could sell n times?". The answer: my old notes (revision notes compiled by myself, not lecture handouts) and essays from Oxford law school. I combined my knowledge of law with my knowledge of programming and found a suitable niche. There were many competitors but none of them had the overlap of skills I had, and so I had a huge advantage.

Last year the project made ~$25k profit, and this year I hope to reach $50k, with an investment of about five hours per week. (The initial time investment was huge, but it is in maintenance mode now.)

I recently began offering notes in other subjects. If you happend to have typed-up revision guides from college, I can offer you a chunky commission on every sale: http://www.oxbridgenotes.co.uk/sell_notes

For anyone familiar with real time strategy games like Command and Conquer or Starcraft, Oxbridge Notes is the turret guarding my base. It gives me the minimal income I need to survive, giving me the chance to leverage my time by taking on riskier but potentially more rewarding ventures.

I founded and ran http://serpIQ.com by myself up until about last month, when I added a business partner from previous projects to the company to handle customer service and marketing efforts. It's an SEO Competition Analysis tool built on Rails, it's been a fun project :)

Project has been live for about 4 months, and provides me with full time comfortable income and him a decent secondary income for now (he's not full time yet).

I'd phrase it more like "single founder evolving towards success" with my own application, http://www.simplediagrams.com, which is earning about 2K a month.

Like many of you I designed, developed and marketed the app myself. (Although I've just recently hired some help for coding.) Biggest challenge is just to find more time to work on it, since I have other work that takes precedence.

Peldi and Rob Walling are big inspirations.

I'm a solo founder at Scribie.com. My first venture was a embedded startup which failed and we closed it down in 2008. I decided to go it solo and released a free Skype recording app called CallGraph. It was based on some of the work I had done in my failed startup. The idea was follow the Freemium model and make money off paid services. One of the services was audio transcription and that took off. In that process I discovered transcription was a big pain and decided to develop a system which takes out as much pain as possible out of it and works reliably. The result is Scribie.com.

I've been living off Scribie for the past two years and it's been fun. It pays my bills and I've learnt a hell lot--didn't know anything about web development when I started--and I consider it a success. There's a lot to do still and I hope I'll be able to grow it into a big business some day.

Very nice idea! I have one technical question - do you also use some speech-to-text software, or is it 100% human labor? I believe the utilization of such software (even if it gives crude results) can be of great use to a service like yours.

Right now it's all done manually. I experimented with CMU Sphinx II when I started but results were poor. The main problem was actually the recording quality, eg. background noises, people talking over each other etc. I plan to revisit it once again and try. Maybe things have improved.

half the price of SpeakerText and 3 times the speed? sounds awesome, I'll definitely be keeping this one in mind :)

I run a tutoring service http://graduatetutor.com/ and am loving it. It aint software or apps so Ive got to manage it more actively. One issue I must admit in a service business is that it is not as easily salable as software or apps.

I don't have anything to add as an example but I want to say I really found this thread inspiring.

i met the guy who wrote the AroundMe iphone app last week. Top 15 overall downloaded app and i think over 30M searches a month. Hes running it all on his own since 2008, just his wife doing support stuff. Very humble and cool guy aswell!

Was that on HackFWD build07 event in Berlin? He did a presentation there last Saturday.

I think he mentioned 30M installations. Also, 15% conversion rate from ad-supported free to ad-free premium version of the app. Also, Apple featured him in a TV commercial.

Also, very humble guy. People basically had to pull the conv. rate info and the fact that Apple featured his app out of him. Massive respect.

yep that was at the HackFWD event in Berlin ;) I think it was 30M installations and 35M searches per month, very impressive.

I'm the sole founder of http://www.fused.com -- a hosting provider based out of Toronto. Up until recently I managed 100% of my company while on persistent road trips & traveling :)

We host ~5,000+ sites at last count, and are quickly working our way towards $1mm per annum. We hit $1mm earned total as of a few months ago.

My most recent feat was the birt of my first adorable little gal, and the wife & I are extremely happy to settle down for a few years until she's at a ripe age to show the world. In the meantime we'll make sure we settle somewhere warm :)

Not mine, but a friend of mine, whom I share a similar passion for Photography besides technology, is very happy in life with decent income from his humble solution to backup Flickr Photos.

He lives here in Bangalore, India and his monthly income from the sales of his software is very very good. The software itself sells on its own, do not need much maintenance and it just works.

Bulkr - http://clipyourphotos.com/bulkr/

Disclaimer: I'm helping him spread more awareness about his awesome software and if you ever felt the need to buy, it sells for 50% through my website.

I'm a single founder of http://mmo-mumble.com, a voice chat hosting service aimed at MMO gamers. I've been running the service for 2.5 years, and I'm up to about 900 paying customers. It's not a full-time job yet, but it's kept me afloat through other revenue problems, so I consider it a resounding success.

I recently got a very positive review for my new take on to-do:


Not quite success yet, but we (aka "I") have traction. And have built something that people want :).

I'd suggest keynotopia.com. I just re-read the article in the Hacker News Monthly magazine (Startup Stories, which is for free I think). According to the founder it makes him around $5000 - $10000 per month.

One year in, http://trackjumper.com is doing well. The only downside is that working alone has reduced the speed with which I can improve the project.

I've created 3 apps for the Mac App Store. I'm not too sure if its a success since I'm making about 5k/month in sales and I'm still keeping my day job. I guess its just more disposable income.

What apps did you build if you do not mind me asking?

my co-founder in my current startup has one. he is an australian and was making 150k/year out of college, but hated it. moved to eastern europe, made a staff management system and makes 1k/month now (like 6-8 months into it), but that is enough to live and travel all around europe and the U.S with a few hours a month of work.

iPhone developer, writing travel guides, starting to branch out into android. Managed to quit my job last year, traveling the world this year. http://phlogy.com.

Founded of StartUpLift[http://startuplift.com] at the beginning of this year. Has been growing slowly but steadily. Revenue around $2k/mo. Recently introduced "Recurring Buzz/Feedback" subscription model that lets companies get featured, introduce their service/product to others and get feedback on a monthly basis. Also planning on adding "Startup/Small Business Deals" so that startups can offer deals to each other.

Vanity fair galore... a very interesting at that though :)

I am a single founder, made around $10 million in pure profits in the last 8 years from relatively few internet projects/products. The interesting thing is i am not even a professional developer (but can write simple scripts and understand technology)

Could you provide more details on your projects?

I like my anonymity so cannot give more details, hope you understand :)

Those are impressive figures - can you share more?

I'm betting its a consultancy that fills up IT positions in big companies.....the hiring business is one of the easiest ways to make money!

@freemarketteddy, mine is just a one man shop doing inhouse internet only projects not a consultancy.

Hmm, people downvote me because i don't want to share the details?

The whole point of this thread is to share the details. Coming in and saying "oh yeah, I also make a ton of money, but I can't tell you how" doesn't really do anything for the conversation. Even if it's minor details like the fantasy sports guy that uses the Yahoo API, that's contributing to the conversation.

Okay, Let me try to be a bit more specific :)

In the start it was mostly SEO mini sites then its more PPC arbitrage and then when search marketing got tough i started creating sites that depend on word of mouth/viral traffic. At my peak i was making $400k per month!

BTB, Most people with my kind of track record start to develop their personal brand and become a "Make money online Guru" and start sellimg systems and ebooks. But that life is not for me :)

Is mobile search a good platform to target now or would you stick to desktop pcs?

I don't have much experience with mobile, so i am not qualified to answer this

Yeah, so in other words he's either in this discussion purely to brag, or he's lying. So in other words he contributes nothing at all to the discussion. Moving along..

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