I had bought a license purely on a whim as I was browsing HN on company-time. I was in 20's, bored and ambitious with no concrete plans and I proceeded to play on company-time in my cubicle the rest of the day and planned out my life plan on Preceden instead of working, like the timeline for when I should get my next promotion (maybe in 2 years for at least 10K, rite??), when I should buy my 1st house etc (maybe a fix upper? duplex so I can rent it out?), when I should get married etc (in 5 years). I showed my entire life plan to my co-workers whom all laughed at me b/c (a) I planned everything out in my life, and (b) I paid for a $19 license to plot out my life plan.
To get to the bottom-line, I never got that promotion, am still renting and still haven't gotten married! So definitely you who got my $19 license fees and my co-workers got the last laugh!
(But like you I kept on and off workin' my side-hustles since 2010 even when it seemed entire hopeless - which was building a trading bot; and like anything in life after so many false starts, it eventually started becoming consistent and compounded; and my capital gains from trading has been significantly greater than my W-2 as a SWE for the last 3 years. So much has changed on HN since 2010: crypto, Web3, new JS frameworks that pop up every year, unicorns; but the only thing that has paid off at least for me - it seems is sticking to something and showing up for it every day for 13 years and counting... thanks again for sharing!)
It's great to hear you got some use out of the tool and hopefully continue to do so. I look forward to your next life update in 13 years when Preceden makes the HackerNews homepage again :).
PS for any aspiring entrepreneurs: don't offer lifetime plans, and definitely not for $19, lol.
>don't offer lifetime plans
I have been reading Andy's blog for some years now. Though the main focus is on his own products and his product development experiments and experiences, many of the posts have good advice for those wanting to create their own products for sale. There are also some interesting interviews with other product creators.
To be fair though, the chances of your service still being around and GP still getting value from it 13y later were pretty slim weren't they? After all, you listed some other SaaS products shutdown in the interim in OP, did any of those have lifetime [of the product] plans?
Of course, I do realise non-recurring sales (coupled with the non-recurring sales not continuing, growth in users slowing) hurts those chances itself.
And for those aspiring to find the lifetime plans by startups, go look through offers on AppSumo.
grabbing the wheel and jerking hard left on the conversation, but this comment struck me as funny.
rite?? like getting a 10K raise in 2 years is a rite of passage that we should all be expecting to happen to all of us, right?
I actually got a 10k raise in one company, but only because I really didn't earn enough before.
When I quit a year later anyway for another job (which offered me another 14k raise), my employer made a counter-offer of 30k. I did not take it, but at least it gave me a perspective how much I apparently was really worth to them.
The author was amused at his younger self’s naïveté and entitlement in assuming such a raise was a given and planning it on a timeline app.
So I think you are actually in agreement.
i felt this so hard. similarish boat. how do we unstick ourselves?
> To get to the bottom-line, I never got that promotion
To state the obvious .. these two are likely related.
There will be a lot more example of this in the coming years because the costs of keeping a pre-PMF webapp online have basically fallen to zero. Whereas when Zuckerberg started Facebook, if it didn't take off right away then you had no choice but to shut it down.
When you hear VCs and other folks cast doubt on the ability of anything that doesn't immediately capture lightning in a bottle to succeed in the long term, they are incorrectly pattern matching to a trend from the past that just happened to be an artifact of the economics of that time period.
Now basically every PaaS has a free or cheap (<$50/mo) tier, tons of helpful tools with free or cheap tiers, you can get users / customers for free on social media and probably more effectively than traditional ads / PR coverage.
It’s not strictly true because some projects use GPUs for ML , sometimes there’s some technical rot if you don’t upgrade your stack a bit, market change could make you irrelevant etc
But in general there’s a lot of products that can simmer and slowly iterate for a long time as long as founder keeps chipping away as evidenced here.
The overall cost of building a product and getting a product to PMF is higher, but the main cost is time. That's why it can be advantageous to just work on something for ten years rather than going out, raising a bunch of money, and shutting down two years later.
Mostly you can't, especially if you're a b2b SaaS.
I recently migrated a little web app that has been online since before Facebook existed, away from the $5/mo shared hosting it had lived on since 2006.
My family’s dialup connection even came with free web hosting that ran Perl back in the 90s!
This is Zuck's interview in 2005 in Stanford:
>So, I mean when you’re 16 running a site and your core people are the kitchen table, your operating expenses are relatively low.
>[...] we just kept our operating expenses low so far and by doing that we’ve been able to stay cash flow positive for basically the entire system’s company
>[...] we decided that it was ok to go a few months in cash flow negative while [...] like you know, using like $100,000, not like millions. So, um and then but, now were back. We do a lot of page views.
See page 26:
Not necessarily. Most businesses with network effects (including Facebook) follow the "come for the tool, stay for the network" approach.
A bit more than a year later it went bust but I hoped I could still keep it alive, make it financially viable. I scaled back the infrastructure so costs would be below $30/mo again.
Like I mentioned in another comment, the Microconf community is a fantastic resource for learning how to build this type of business: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=34248246
I have a data management system that I have been working on for many years. It is core technology that could eventually be used in a SaaS or web based model, but for now it runs on a single computer with no dependencies to the Internet (other than to download the beta software at https://www.Didgets.com).
Many of the features (file system imports, database tables, quick analytics, logging framework, indexing service, etc.) have come about one weekend or a series of evenings at a time.
Congrats to Matt for sticking with it for so long.
I'm unsure if I need to be patient and keep working on it. Or cut my losses and put my time and effort into something else.
My project has zero revenue, but thousands of users and many people use it daily. That's what keeps me going.
But if you ever happen to invent a product category that turns out to be a huge untapped market, the gatekeepers-that-be (Google, Facebook, Apple et al.) will try to enter it as well and stomp you.
Even if you don't, still, they collect their rent on everything we do online nowadays.
I quit my job to focus on the side hustle full-time back at the start of 2020 (back when we all thought it was going to be like any other year).
The hardest and most stressful part by far was renegotiating boundaries with my wife. Being physically around one another all the time, and having no set hours is a recipe for relationship woes. Having our first kid during the lockdowns (we're in Melbourne, AU) didn't help either.
Almost 3 years later, life is great, but for a time there it was the worst it had ever been. Make sure to take the time to negotiate boundaries, as all problems become work problems when you run your own business.
It would be great to see a write-up of the lessons learned over the years, especially those early ones that limited your growth and also of interest would be your views around the long term effect of eco-system and language choices.
It would make for a long blog post and no doubt one I'd have to continue updating, hah. I will write it at some point though, thanks for suggesting it.
And thank you for all your thoughtful comments on HackerNews over its history as well as the posts on your blog. You're brilliant and this community is a better place because of your participation in it.
Looking forward to seeing that blog post and if you want a proofreader count me in, email in profile. For every fifty fly-by-night and gone again operations there is one of yours and those are much more valuable lessons than most.
I know there are many services that claim they'll sell you a "custom" logo for $100 or whatever... but assembling a nicely polished marketing site and product that look good together usually isn't as simple as that.
In retrospect I should have found someone much sooner given how important aesthetics are for a visualization tool like Preceden.
(Background: I'm asking because our SaaS business is at a point where we know it's ready for more polish for both marketing site and web app, but are unclear how much we should budget and whether we should go "all in" by hiring a designer who takes everything as far as CSS, or start with a couple targeted improvements that would be lower risk/budget first.)
For Preceden, we kind of just went page by page converting the old design over to Tailwind, making improvements along the way, and gradually ripping out all of the old CSS that had accumulated over a decade of me working on it. As I built out new features he would help with the design, but he spent the majority of his time improving the existing design.
· Typography-based design system with Figma
· Robust CSS with Tailwind CSS
I also noted that my preferred back-end language and framework were Ruby and Rails (on which Preceden is built).
So being clear, specific, and knowing some solid technologies and design/code tactics helped me find someone like Matt, who has been a very good collaborator these past few years.
It was posted on Haker News (Ask HN: Freelancer? Seeking freelancer?), Reddit (r/forhire
r/DesignJobs r/freelance_forhire), and Tailwind Discord.
I am curious to hear how you start with new clients like this. Do you identify one task to do together with a very well defined scope and a fixed cost? Do you just get started on an hourly basis and whether it's working well together?
I find your story far more relatable than the “I started a SaaS and reached tons of revenue in one year - and you can too!” stories we are plagued with.
This is awesome. Congratulations and best of luck. I remember using it and we communicated (email), about your time in Iraq and how your built Preceden. You upgraded my account while I was toying with few ideas and using it to plan timelines.
Nice stumbling on it again there.
One of our team wrote few articles about it. Link below which includes a lot of dead links and I need to figure out how to log into Medium and change the details, the redirects etc.
I just started working on a side project that I hope can one day be worth something. I'm also the sole breadwinner of a household with 2 (soon to be 3) kids and a wife depending on me, so it's really inspiring to see that the dream really can happen, even if it takes a decade plus to realize.
Even if my thing never takes off, it's a tool I've wanted for a long time, so I'm motivated to keep going even if it never makes a penny.
Congratulations, wishing you lots of continued success.
This is what motivates me! Humorously, I keep getting pulled back to building the features I want instead of actually getting the thing in front of people :)
I hope things work out for you and that they don't take as long as they did for me :).
My current goal is to dedicate the same amount of time to the idea that I spent playing Factorio last year (about 160 hours by Steam's reckoning). At the end of that I will, if nothing else, have learned a lot about Phoenix, which feels like a good bet regardless of any wild dreams of sustaining an income from the other.
Either way though, thanks for the encouragement!
To build what I just described into supporting a family fulltime is amazing.
You are not wrong on any of these points which is partly why it took so long.
If I could take a time machine back in time and give my younger self advice, I would tell myself not to try to start a timeline maker business :).
A question. I'm trying to find a tool to visualise and document the evolution of obscure sports (purely because I find the interactions fascinating). It seems that your tool might be the perfect fit, especially the "writing" examples. I was wondering if it would be possible to visualise something along the lines of a quasi-directed graph. Nodes being specific instances of the inception of a "new" sport (hence the date requirement), and edges being the influence on other spots. Multiple edges for each node are possible, and all sports will have a start date and some an end date. I tried with a basic POC but it seems the issue is that the nodes run without an end date, which breaks the dependency visualisation.
One comment. Once logged in I wasn't easily able to get back to the landing page, which had some useful info around visualisation types that I wanted to review.
And a note. I've apologised to a few people who I subjected to a variation on your SQL screener interview question , which contained far too much fiddling with SQLite time functions, entirely my mistake in ruining an otherwise great basic SQL test!
Regarding the visualization capabilities: I would change the shape of the events from a line to a solid bar. When you combine that with the connections (which you're already using) it will look more like a directed graph like you're interested in. End dates are optional for events, so you should be able to get by with or without it. Happy to discuss more over email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regardless, good luck with your visualization, it's a fascinating use case.
But it needs to be programmatically accessible in react (js lib)
and of course it needs to function very smoothly with large number of events.
Good luck going full time I see a need in this exact space !
Here's the relevant post on Preceden's public roadmap if you care to give it an upvote: https://roadmap.preceden.com/b/y0ge5xve/feature-ideas/api
Hope it winds up being a good fit even without an API.
unfortunately it won't work without the APIs because it needs to be part of our product and there the data is constantly being updated dynamically by different actors / processes .
What I can tell you is that sales people at big software companies never say 'No it can't do that' as an initial conversation. They would say something like, 'I'm sure it could do that. Let's set up a call to get your requirements straight'. He might only need a subset of your features, and the api needed could be trivial. He might have a $moneyisnoobject Corp waiting to pay.
I mean you are completely within your rights to push away non-core users if you want.... but you know when a saas price page has Free, Basic and Enterprise teirs, and the Enterprise one has 'please call' next to it? That is because the price for customization is too embarrassing for both parties to make public!
I would encourage you to join Microconf Connect, a Slack community of software entrepreneurs, where topics like this are discussed often: https://microconf.com/connect. Many of the old Microconf conference presentations are also on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MicroConf
This excludes all small software shops and single-man ops that do conventional desktop software. The community would easily grow 2x if the SaaS restriction is removed.
We used to cater to all software: mobile apps, desktop, WordPress, etc. and we still have many folks in the community who are non-SaaS. But the focus on SaaS was a spark that dramatically increased growth as it allowed us to optimize everything we offer (content, community, masterminds) on the specific problems SaaS folks face.
We don’t restrict folks who can join based on the type of software, so “restriction” is not the right word to use there. It’s just a focus.
And it was a great choice, allowing us to be the best in the world at what we do (rather than serving a broader market, poorly).
I remember using Lean Domain Search in the past and that it was in fact "lean" and pretty well made, super fast and easy to use.
As for Preceden, how did you come up with the idea, and where do customers come from? That there are enough users of a tool like this to support you sounds amazing -- and I hope I don't sound dismissive: envious would be a better word!
Testimonials are actually pretty inspiring, but one has to scroll to find them; maybe a link at the top of the page would help one see them faster?
It makes one wonder how many other functions are waiting to be "webified" like this.
Regarding the idea for Preceden: it was a combination of seeing a lot of coworkers struggling to create timelines while I was in the Air Force plus an interest in visualizing the life stories of some family members.
And for better or worse, that's why it's a general purpose timeline maker tool, not one focused just on project managers or just on genealogy or any of the other myriad of use cases people find for it. In retrospect though, I should have focused because it would have simplified a lot of things (copywriting, features, marketing, and much more).
Congrats on making it! I'd never heard of your projects but will give them a serious look now.
How did you go about managing work/side-work/life balance with 4 kids? I really struggle with just 1 and a half.
First, I wake up early, and make sure the side project is the first thing I do every day. There's a book "the richest man in Babylon" and one of the ideas is "pay yourself first". I take that principle to my side project. I work on the side project first thing in the morning, to ensure I give it my best. I still want to learn and deliver good work at my FT job, but I've always ensured that from a time perspective I've paid into the side project first, because I believe thats the best long term career investment. Unfortunately, yes, this means that you need to set an alarm, but I enjoy the work, so I don't feel like I'm dragging myself out of bed.
That leads me to my second point which is make sure you enjoy the side project. I've worked on multiple and the biggest mistake I've made is building something I didn't need or want. I built a few projects because they were technically interesting, not because I really needed them. For SAAS you might not necessarily directly need or enjoy the tool you build, but you better enjoy building it, and enabling others to use it! If not, it will be difficult to keep up motivation when things get tough.
I never worked on Preceden when I should have been working on my full time job, and tried not to work on it much when I should have been spending time with my family. Definitely figure out your priorities and work with your spouse to come up with some ground rules that help you make it work long term.
If only there was a timeline tool that could easily create an appealing, succinct graphic of the Preceden story. ;)
Many other tools have built-in timeline functionality including most project management tools. But they're not able to go deep on the features and tend to look pretty ugly. Because Preceden focuses on timelines, we're able to go deep and provide a better experience. For many people, that's what they want out of a timeline maker tool.
This really resonates with me. I've been building a new social app, that's taken awhile to build, and I've faced the same challenges along the way.
It'd be real easy to give up on a project before it's really found pmf. To keep going, to believe in it and not give up is encouraging. Great to hear your story!
On that happy note, I wish you all the best with Sqwok. May growth come easier to your business than it has to Preceden.
That's true, then again hindsight is 20/20!
I know Matt from the data world where his SQL Style Guide was always at odds with the one we maintained at GitLab. :-D
Posts like this are great to show folks just how long it can take to do things. I love his story and am eager to watch Preceden grow!
Under "Advanced Features for Power Users" it should read: "you'll have everything you need to create _a_ professional timeline, roadmap, or Gantt chart."
PS - This is the best timeline tool I've ever used. I used it to chart out my career history and it was damn useful.
I feel like a lot of people are happy in their work even without a side gig, but it's kind of not cool to say.
I'm totally happy with my role and couldn't be happier and more committed to my current job.
The beautiful thing is that I have my own pace as well on a side gig. After 10 years of thinking and planning I just started on one faithful day with a HN comment 23 weeks ago.
Today my weekly newsletter for remote working parents has 23 newsletter sends and over 100 subscribers (muscle)
Here's a link to his site for anyone interested: https://thursdaydigest.com/
I took about 6.5 years to do that same journey (and having a kid), and one problem I had was that the goalposts kept shifting on me, partly because a slowly growing side-income is easy to get accustomed to so even when I got to where my startup was able to pay me as much as my day job, it felt more like I had doubled my salary, not replaced it. Did you struggle with that at all?
Eventually just had to go for it and give up the extra income.
It's not clear it was the best decision financially (though it may wind up being so), but it felt like the best decision for my soul, if that makes sense.
It is hard because I also did not ask my wife/family to take a big hit and instead figured I would burn through cash for 2-3 years while I either grew the business or, eventually, did something else. At the time my portfolio was doing great, tons of crypto gains, real wealth effect, and then basically 4 months after leaving my job the top was in and it's been nothing but declining values. Nevertheless, the business has grown, and as far as I can tell, in 2023, we will break even as a family, and then be out of this crunch. I do wish I could have refinanced my mortgage at 2% but nobody would touch me because I didn't have a regular w2 income from a non-affiliated company.
Wish you the best man! I do have timelines in my product and I would pay a modest fee (maybe... 1k a year?) to license a library that was better than what I currently use which is fullcalendar
Also, regarding FullCalendar, if you need an actual calendar then Preceden won't be a good fit for you. But if you're OK with a horizontal timeline, it might work well. Worth checking out IMHO.
As a consumer I loathe the billed annual option.
I suspect the reason is people paying annually, using it for a month, then not using it again. Or forgetting to cancel an annual plan. In short, the old school gym membership model.
Is that right or are there other factors that play into the pricing?
The monthly plans are there to give people who need it for a short project an affordable way to use it for a short period of time without any long term commitment.
And the annual plans are there for the people who need it long term.
Preceden sends receipts for both monthly and annual charges, and reminder emails for the annual ones. Don't get too many refund requests or chargebacks because of this.
I'm pulling the trigger on this after 17 years in business and our ARR covered 50% of our anticipated annual expenses last year.
We also grew by 100% last year, all while on coast with $0 spent in marketing.
The time we spend on the products, when added up over time, the most valuable time we spend, so we have cut expenses and plowed away revenue to help us make this launch this year.
The goal is to meet 100% of anticipated annual expenses in net ARR by the end of this year and it feels very doable.
After 17 years, I'm also shy to discuss details because it's taken dozens, if not hundreds of attempts to find something that worked. Started in 2005.
I'm not and don't plan to share revenue numbers. Not much benefit.
It takes a lot of balls and willpower to take this plunge. I wish you a lot of success and hope you make it. I'm also the sole breadwinner of my home and it's a lot of responsibility.
And since you didn't share your startup, I'll do it for ya: https://closet.tools/
Over this time, what have your most successful marketing/customer acquisition strategies been? How has this changed?
I've tried a lot of other things like paid spend, but could never get the economics to work. Maybe one day!
I never hid the fact I was working on side businesses, but also didn't go out of my way to tell coworkers. Don't think my CO's knew about it. I knew a few other officers who had side businesses, though not in the software space.
Firstly, congratulations! This is very inspiring and I love the pragmatic approach to starting a startup. You wrote about converting to a contractor with Help Scout from being a full-time employee. How did it help you free-up your time?
Eventually I stopped contracting at Automattic and gradually reduced my hours at Help Scout until it made sense for me to go full time on Preceden. I'm fortunate both Help Scout and Automattic were open to me contracting as it made this transition much easier than it would have been otherwise.
Is your primary reason to go full-time based on reaching a financial target or is it because you have more ideas for future now?
The decision to go full time now stemmed from a combination of factors: partly financial milestones, partly not having enough time in the day to focus on the things I want to work on, partly burnout (consulting + bootstrapping a SaaS takes a toll long term), partly just ready to enter a new season of my life, partly because I'm excited about the recent developments in AI want want more time to explore that space, partly because I think Preceden still has a ton of room for growth, just to name a few. For every person these factors will be different.
The slow burn is real and making meaningful connections to customers is important for consistent revenue in the long term.
Out of curiosity, I see that the $16 pack gets you your own logo and branding. Is that kind of vanity something people actually ask for? Always sound weird to me :)
Regarding adding a custom logo, that's mostly a need of professionals in larger businesses (think project managers at Fortune 500 companies), so having that on the top paid plan encourages those type of users to upgrade to that plan vs the cheaper one.
Not sure if you remember me but we talked about Lean Designs many years back (back then it was called jMockups). Excited to this next step for you! Congrats and good luck!
More about that tool and other lessons learned for anyone interested: https://mattmazur.com/2016/07/08/a-long-overdue-lean-designs...
Must admit, 13 years ago, I was not so respectful for ex-military doing business.
But after all we seen, You are great, keep moving!
Preceden has been sitting at the top of page 2 for "timeline maker" and related terms on Google for about a decade which is... fun.
Question for other HN users - would you use a product built by an officer of the Russian army who was part of the war in Ukraine?
Edit: Those downvoting me, did I say anything that is not true?
to say it another way:
veterans should never be ashamed they are veterans, the government and voters should be ashamed they're creating veterans.
Most people are, fortunately, also able to distinguish between a soldier, his army policy, and the regime ruling over that army at a given time.
Would you blindly congratulate a participant in the Bucha massacre on the launch of their new app?
Would you congratulate a former ISIS member?
Surely even the most amoral person on HN would draw the line somewhere?
I mean, neither was her choice? Soldiers go where they are sent.
Or do you think people shouldn't join the armed forces of a country in case a future regime deploys them in a way they disagree with?
If you do want to see my response about the endless wars:
But comment you replied to is about the 1A and the military that makes that possible.
It's easy to highroad everyone when you sit back reaping the benefits of what others have done.
But yes, you certainly can talk about your misguided views! And people can call out your misguided views as well!
All because of the 1A which is protected from outside forces with the strength of the US military.
Soldiers have little to do with policies such as the endless Middle East wars.
Your moral crusade should be aimed at the defense contractors and their congress buddies.
It's not the soldiers choosing proxy wars in Ukraine or the Middle East, it's congress.
I think you calling someone a war criminal is way outside of what is legitimate on this forum.
And then let's not forget that the American war in Iraq (and Afghanistan) has been ironically labelled as "democracy export" for a reason. Yes, it didn't work, yes it was probably a bad idea from the start, but at least it wasn't "autocracy export". Which the war on Ukraine is. The goal of the Russian leadership (read: Putin) has been to remove the democratically elected Ukrainian leadership and install a puppet government. This is a bit harder to support than the US narrative of toppling a dictatorship and help the people to start a democracy. (Again, even if the latter was doomed to fail.)
Sure, the Russian soldiers and society were also sold a nice (horror) story about the Ukrainian leadership (or maybe Ukrainians in general) being 'nazi'. You can hear in some captured phone calls from the early days of the war that the soldiers try to explain to their relatives that there are no 'nazis' there just normal people.
On I side note, I would use a product built by a Russian soldier who participated in the war if he made it clear that he didn't want to participate and didn't commit (or maybe even opposed/prevented committing) war crimes.