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Going full time on my SaaS after 13 years (mattmazur.com)
842 points by matt1 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 226 comments

Hi Matt, thanks for sharing. Just a proof of my staying power, I saw your Preceden post on HN; and paid for a license 13 years ago promptly your v0.1 and I am still here. https://i.imgur.com/ejUm3Gh.png

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!)

Wow, you got on one of those $19 for life plans that I initially offered, that's wild!

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.

Congrats on 13 years. I started selling my (desktop) software in 2005 and am still going.

>don't offer lifetime plans

Yep! https://successfulsoftware.net/2008/09/08/should-i-give-free...

Could tie them to the life of your dog or so. Be upfront about age and health of it and perhaps your creativity scores a few customers on that plan.

Congrats, Andy.

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.

> PS for any aspiring entrepreneurs: don't offer lifetime plans, and definitely not for $19, lol.

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.

PS for any aspiring entrepreneurs: don't offer lifetime plans, and definitely not for $19, lol.

And for those aspiring to find the lifetime plans by startups, go look through offers on AppSumo.

Can you talk more about your trading bot? I've also done something similar the last year, mainly systematic trading and cross-sectional system.

Did it make money?

>(maybe in 2 years for at least 10K, rite??)

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?

A raise, no. A new salary at a new job, absolutely.

Which is odd in and by itself. Whenever you have a review with me as your employee and we discuss salary, consider this as a from-scratch negotiation. Just as if I just had quit, left the company, and now somebody new (me) showed up at the doorstep, about whom you have from a very trusted source super-reliable info about their capabilities, work ethics, etc. How much would you pay that person? If the answer results in "10K more than you today" then that's the raise I'm expecting. Anything lower is trying to trick/cheat me and banking on momentum/laziness on my end. Which ultimately would be quite offensive. So, just offer me that money and explain why. (Same goes for salary reduction, obviously. Better that than building a grudge and then suddenly firing me.)

Some companies have internal policies that set hard limits on the increase an existing employee can receive per year. Those obviously do not apply to a new hire, so the salary negotiations are expected at that time. This has been the reasoning for the "if you want a raise, get a new job" concept that I have always understood.

That's indeed part of it. Another part is that working at another company usually gives you new perspectives and you learn more. So having been in a lot if companies and in turn having seen a lot of different approaches counts towards your experience, which also justifies a higher salary.

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.

I read this as tongue-in-cheek.

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 was keying in on rite vs right, right?

> To get to the bottom-line, I never got that promotion, am still renting and still haven't gotten married!

i felt this so hard. similarish boat. how do we unstick ourselves?

> and I proceeded to play on company-time in my cubicle the rest of the day

> To get to the bottom-line, I never got that promotion

To state the obvious .. these two are likely related.

Good on you; We need more examples highlighted of entrepreneurs leading the slow-burn (in a good way) types of ventures. Not every business activity fits the go-big-or-go-home Zuckerberg-esque meteoric rise archetype that the Techcrunch-led hype media attracts eyeballs for portraying.

> We need more examples highlighted of entrepreneurs leading the slow-burn (in a good way) types of ventures.

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.

Yeah it’s interesting reading the old pg essays where he says, VCs suck but they are a necessary evil. After all, racking reliable servers will cost at least 20k, paying a PR firm so that there’s a chance anyone will hear about your site will cost at least 20k etc etc

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.

Your perspective is refreshing. I realized I was in a rut seeing the opposite perspective, that costs via things like SOC2 compliance were driving up barriers to lifestyle like businesses.

It has gotten much cheaper to host stuff, but I really wonder if marketing costs have fallen as well. You can certainly find cheap or free avenues (like HN) to tell people about your product, but it can be lost in the sea of information. Good marketing to the best subset of potential customers is essential in getting anything off the ground. That can be expensive especially if you are an engineer with very little marketing experience.

My take is that marketing now can have very little out-of-pocket cost, but a massively increased time cost because you are now constantly engaging with people, making new posts, answering questions, exploring new avenues, etc.

> I really wonder if marketing costs have fallen as well

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.

getting noticed by the right people cost-effectively is hard. Anything that makes it easier for you to get attention will also potentially make it easier for everyone else. So it will always be hard.

> you can get users / customers for free on social media

Mostly you can't, especially if you're a b2b SaaS.

If you're b2b, you only need one client to be profitable. Or so they say.

You only need one special client to be profitable. You might need to go through many other clients before you meet them.

LinkedIn has been wonderful for me.

There was plenty of inexpensive hosting when Facebook launched. You could run several tiny PHP/MySQL web apps on a single shared hosting account for <$10/mo, and Linode had recently launched, offering a VPS starting at $20/mo.

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!


Even back then, you did not have to grow as fast as VC made you think. It was a choice by Zuck to grow fast and take a lot of investment, he did not have to grow that fast.

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: https://www.fbcoverup.com/docs/cyberhijack/2005-10-26-Zucker...

If your strategy involves needing to take advantage of network effects, growing as fast as possible seems like a requirement. It is a winner take all dynamic.

> If your strategy involved needing to take advantage of network effects, growing as fast as possible seems like a requirement.

Not necessarily. Most businesses with network effects (including Facebook) follow the "come for the tool, stay for the network" approach.

Right, but in any given group of people, the first people won't stick around to become the network unless they have reason to believe their network will shortly span their entire group -- i.e. grows fast.

This has been the case for over a decade. I've launched my first startup 11 years ago. I've used Linode and we've spent something like $20/month on hosting. (This has increased to around $80-$160 IIRC when we got funded, mostly due to the increased storage needs. We were a music startup and while S3 was pretty cheap back then too, it was easier to have everything on Linode at first. I.e. with enough funding, time was more expensive than storage.)

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.


product-market fit


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

It's not just SaaS or web based products that fall into this category. There are plenty of applications and systems that run stand-alone on a disconnected computer that can add real value and may take many years to develop for a sole engineer.

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 did something similar with Blazorise, a personal project of mine, https://blazorise.com/. It started as a hobby project. After some time it grew too large that it took most of my time, not to mention the time I could spend with my wife and son. Things changed during the Covid when I was laid off. Then I started freelancing for a while, and last year I finally took a big step and went full-time with Blazorise. Switched to dual licensing, where larger enterprises must purchase a commercial license. It is working, and hopefully, it will continue to work. Or otherwise, my wife will rage on me :/

It's tough though. I've been slow-burning on a side project for two years.

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.

I'm in the same boat. Been working on www.bannerbox.io for 2 years, no customers, no revenue. Marketing is important to the success of any project. This year I plan on focusing at least 50% of my time creating content; mostly blog posts and sharing my journey so far. With persistence any idea should work out.

If that is the case, I would personally throw in the towel.

My project has zero revenue, but thousands of users and many people use it daily. That's what keeps me going.

Do you enjoy it?

Some times. I'm adding a lot of features this year to learn next.js. So far, I like that. The legacy stuff I don't want to touch. Ha!


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.

Usually if that happens they expand the market, not kill you.

Congrats on making it, Matt.

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.

I haven't been able to work remotely so I'm genuinely curious how that has affected you. Can you provide any examples out of curiosity... I'm assuming they're quite innocuous.

Appreciate the heads up here. I've been working remotely since I left the Air Force a decade ago so it won't be much of a change, though it is going to be interesting to see how my schedule changes now that I now don't have to juggle contracting anymore. Any other suggestions are welcome!

This is my experience exactly but I was remote from work during covid, with a newborn in the other room and no one in the house was sleeping. Took awhile but things got better. Just in time, we have another on the way.

How long apart they spaced? Are you worried about handling two kids under 3-4?

That's absolutely amazing to see you stick with it for such a long time to get to the point of being self supporting. Very nice, and heartfelt congratulations.

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.

> see a write-up of the lessons learned over the years

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.

This looks like a very nicely polished marketing website and SaaS product. If the creator would be open to sharing, I'd be curious to hear more about whether he's engaged contractors or firms to help with specific types of design over the years. Any lessons learned on that front?

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.

My design skills are alright (see the 2019 screenshot in the post), but it took hiring a designer a few years ago to take it to the next level (see the site today). I found him on Tailwind Discord and have been very fortunate to work with him.

In retrospect I should have found someone much sooner given how important aesthetics are for a visualization tool like Preceden.

Makes sense. Would you be able to share a bit more about how you started off with the designer?

(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.)

I was lucky to find someone who can both design well and implement the changes in the codebase (using Tailwind CSS which I'd highly recommend). You can obviously have two separate people (one to design, one to implement), but if you can find someone who can do both it will simplify things.

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.

It sounds like selecting Tailwind helped to make clear the specific skills you were looking to hire for and at what level you'd be working together. Good to know. Thanks for sharing.

The Precedent’s designer here. When I wrote my “for hire” ads, my bullet points were these:

· Typography-based design system with Figma · Robust CSS with Tailwind CSS · Straightforward JavaScript with Alpine.js or Stimulus

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.

Thanks for sharing.

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?

We’ll usually start with a task based on an hourly rate, not a fixed cost.

*Preceden’s (not PrecedenT’s) :D

Matt, this is simply an awesome story. It’s surprisingly common that people take years to get to the point where they can go full-time.

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.

Thanks for saying so! And yes, for every bootstrapped startup that sees a rocket ship trajectory and makes headlines, there are probably 100 that are struggling to grow. Would love to read more about those journeys.

It sounds a lot like many (most?) small/medium companies that take a decade of work to find their footing. You typically don't see them on the front page of HN though.

Honestly I totally agree. Matt, your determination in seeing this through, and the dedication for 13 (!!) years is wildly inspiring in this, and it gives me hope for some of my SaaS dreams.

Thank you! Best of luck!

Hey Matt,

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[1] Preceden. You upgraded my account while I was toying with few ideas and using it to plan timelines.

Nice stumbling on it again there.

1. https://mattmazur.com/2016/01/04/building-a-startup-in-45-mi...

I still have our email exchange from back in 2016 - I hope you were able to successfully leverage the eCommerce boom in India that you mentioned. Thanks for saying hey!

Unfortunately, mine didn't work out but the team I led was able to help a well-known brand in India scale one of their ecommerce initiative. I took a 4-member team, and spent about 3 months to help them 3x (I think 4x) their sales powered by the frictionless and sub-minute checkout process, etc.

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.


now that's how community engagement is done. bloody good marketing.

This is super inspiring.

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.

> 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.

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 should have said this in the post, but even if your startup doesn't take off, the skills you learn along the way are very valuable and will make you better at all of your future jobs.

I hope things work out for you and that they don't take as long as they did for me :).

Calling it a "startup" at this point feels like a wild exaggeration, I have a user account system and a landing page so far.

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!

This is inspiring, if anyone came to me with a SaaS idea to sell a timeline maker with premium plan $19/month I'd tell them to think of something else. At first blush, its too much a one off need, too cheap to have margin on marketing/sales, and there are free competitors.

To build what I just described into supporting a family fulltime is amazing.

> At first blush, its too much a one off need, too cheap to have margin on marketing/sales, and there are free competitors.

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 :).

You must know a thing or two about SEO! Do you have maybe top tips or actions to take to rank up? I've this side project with a handful of customers happy to pay $60 a month, paid marketing never worked, I really really should spend some time on the weekends improving SEO

Congrats Matt! Very cool to see.

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[2] 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 [2], which contained far too much fiddling with SQLite time functions, entirely my mistake in ruining an otherwise great basic SQL test!

[1] https://www.preceden.com/timelines/868890-obscure-sports?s=e... [2] https://mattmazur.com/2018/11/12/analyzing-89-responses-to-a...

Glad you found that SQL screener interview question helpful and sorry if the date/time manipulation made it more complex than it needed to be :).

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: help@preceden.com. Regardless, good luck with your visualization, it's a fascinating use case.

Thanks, I think the gant format might be too restricting in the end, but I'll see how far I can get.

Hey Matt, Your product fits perfectly a feature we're building and we'd love to use it.

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 !

There's no API at the moment to programmatically build your timeline, but that might be something I add down the road.

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.

already upvoted it.

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 .

Noted - thanks for the nudge to work on it!

Hey Matt, I can't develop cool looking apps like this. I'm envious.

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!

Great points - thanks for suggesting that approach!

Great to see success stories from SaaS. Can you just share how did you attract first visitors, and subscribers when you first launched the web?

I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask about this as I was very naive at that point in my journey. Launching Preceden was literally posting on HackerNews and hoping for the best.

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

If I read it correctly, Microconf Connect is for _SaaS_ founders only.

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 wouldn’t “easily grow 2x” if we served every type of software entrepreneur.

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).

Hey, thnx for the reply, I'm already a member at Microconf Slack :)

Congrats on going full-time!

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.

Glad you found Lean Domain Search useful!

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).

Hi Matt,

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.

Not Matt, but I have a similar situation (3 kids, FT job, side project). My side project has been running for a few years now, but I am able to be pretty productive on it.

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.


In Preceden's early days, I didn't have any kids, so could work on some nights and weekends and it was no issue. When we started having kids and I was still full time, I greatly reduced much time I had to work on side projects. That eventually led me to switching to a contractor role with reduced hours because it was too hard to juggle a full time job, a SaaS, multiple kids, and my sanity.

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.

The moment I clicked your article and saw Preceden, I realized this is exactly what, I didn't know, I needed because some online coding competitions require you to submit a timeline.

Hope it's a good fit for the competitions! You can create timelines with up to 10 events for free, so it should be more than enough for that purpose.

congrats, and a great story. Inspiring to see you stick with it for so long while dealing with the competing priorities of a young family.

If only there was a timeline tool that could easily create an appealing, succinct graphic of the Preceden story. ;)

Missed opportunity right there :)

Big congratulations! Always happy to see indies-with-kids get beyond ramen profitability to a sustainable income!

Thanks! I read something here on HN recently about how representation matters: essentially that it's important that people are aware of what others in similar circumstances are up to. I hope this post finds some other long-term side-project solo-founder parent SaaS bootstrappers and encourages them to keep going.

How has the recent Google Sheets timeline feature release impacted you?


Hard to know. Probably not much.

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.

> I made a lot of rookie mistakes over the years that limited Preceden’s growth including not focusing on a specific niche, not spending enough time marketing, not talking to enough customers, trying to do too much myself, and just in general picking a difficult product and business to build (something I didn’t give any thought to initially).

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!

Thanks! I will say though, people should give up sometimes. I gave up on a bunch of the other projects I started that time, and there's an argument that I should have given up on Preceden too and found an easier business to start.

On that happy note, I wish you all the best with Sqwok. May growth come easier to your business than it has to Preceden.

> and found an easier business to start.

That's true, then again hindsight is 20/20!

"Side projects promoted to full-time" would make for an excellent Ask HN topic.

Very cool to see you on HN Matt!

I know Matt from the data world where his SQL Style Guide[0] was always at odds with the one we maintained at GitLab[1]. :-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!

[0] https://github.com/mattm/sql-style-guide [1] https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/business-technology/data-t...

One of these days y'all will switch over to lowercase SQL keywords, you'll see ;)


This is pretty inspiring. I had a startup and system in 2005 that was so ahead of its time that many of its features still haven't been implemented by its contemporary competitors, it's tough when I think about it.

It's never to late to start something new. In a decade you'll wish you did.

You love to see it. Matt is a great example of someone who has bootstrapped and built a strong business while mitigating risk for his personal life. Much of the start up dogma tells you this isn't possible, but it is.

It's come a long way since the days of our old Orlando Tech meetups :)

Interesting looking project! Good luck with going full time.

Under "Advanced Features for Power Users" it should read: "you'll have everything you need to create _a_ professional timeline, roadmap, or Gantt chart."

Deploying a change to fix the typo now - thank you for pointing it out!

In case any founders out there are wondering if a Hacker News post drives actual revenues, I needed to make a timeline today, remembered this, signed up, hit the limit and bought an account.

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.


Thanks for the kind words Scott and also for your detailed feedback over email - much appreciated!

I love this story and I wish you all the best. It goes to show that everybody has their own pace and journey.

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)

Congrats on starting the newsletter and for your progress!

Here's a link to his site for anyone interested: https://thursdaydigest.com/

This is great to hear, congrats.

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?

This was my life the last few years :D.

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.

Oh yeah you bet. Same here. For me, it was doubly true because I made the leap during the Pandemic lock-down and it was an enormous relief to get out of the zoom-meeting hellscape that my life had became. (I was a middle-manager).

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

Thanks for sharing and best of luck with your business's growth in 2023!

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.

Yeah they have a timeline component that we use. It’s nice but a bit sluggish when there are too many rows.

Matt, Thanks for writing this. I’ve also had a long, slow ramp up with my saas (8 years) and it’s great to read stories/experiences like this.

You should consider doing a 'Show HN', it would be very nice to read how you got to where you are today.

Hi Matt, how do you find the $xx/month (billed annually) verses the monthly cost impacts conversion?

As a consumer I loathe the billed annual option.

I love annual plans when they can offer savings over paying monthly.

Preceden's annual plans are discounted 60% (!) vs the monthly plans, so it's an attractive option for users who need Preceden for longer projects.

I wish you had replied to my original question. I am quite curious. You must have worked out that a 60% discount, or a 66% penalty from the perspective of monthly users, is more profitable for you.

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?

With Preceden, people tend to fall into two groups: those that need it for a short term project and won't use it again, and those that need it for a longer term project.

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.

Congratulations Matt! How did you arrive at the threshold for working on this full-time? Are you sharing ARR/MRR values at this time?

Could you share this information as a percentage of your monthly expenses?

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.

Here's a similar thread about my decision to go full time: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=34248481

I'm not and don't plan to share revenue numbers. Not much benefit.

I don't want to spread negativity here but such success stories from indie hackers or side projects always remind me that most of them don't make any money: https://scrapingfish.com/blog/indie-hackers-revenue

Marketing is a VERY different skill from building, and can take years to master. As someone who has built several side projects that landed in the "didn't make any money" bucket, it's easy to fall for the "build it and they will come" mental trap. I am starting the journey of learning marketing now, but I have a lot of optimism, as I am learning all sorts of things that don't work, and looking forward to trying the things that people say do work.

One thing that helped me was when I was full time at Automattic, I intentionally started using my engineering skills to help the marketing team, and eventually was able to switch completely over to the marketing team to help with landing pages, analytics, attribution, data, etc. I was able to learn a lot about marketing through that experience and it helped me get a lot more savvy about it for Preceden (though it still doesn't come naturally to me). You don't have to go that route though - the Microconf videos are excellent sources of marketing advice - but if you can immerse yourself in that world in your full time job, it will go a long way.

Love the advice! I made a targeted team move last year to help my side project, but didn't even consider marketing. I might have to see whats available.

Love it when I hear stories like this one. Love Microstartups at the same time as well. No mess no fuss, no funding drama. Good luck OP!


>As the sole breadwinner in our household with 4 young kids, I was not comfortable going full time and merely being ramen profitable or anything close to it.

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.

Thanks! It was not an easy decision even after getting Preceden to where I wanted it to be financially.

Awesome work! It takes a lot of guts to go out on your own and bet on yourself. I did that over two years ago and I'll never regret it - the amount of time I get to spend with my kids is incredible, and serving customers that use and love the tools you build is a great feeling.

Thanks, I'm looking forward to the extra time with the family as well!

And since you didn't share your startup, I'll do it for ya: https://closet.tools/

Ha, thanks. My customers aren't here, only the people who will create a copycat this weekend

Hopefully more than a weekend ;)

I find stories like yours much more inspiring that the overnight successes. Thanks for sharing and I wish you well going forward.

Over this time, what have your most successful marketing/customer acquisition strategies been? How has this changed?

Content marketing and SEO have proved the most successful. For example, this list of timeline makers ranks well for various search terms and brings in a lot of new users: https://www.preceden.com/timeline-makers.

I've tried a lot of other things like paid spend, but could never get the economics to work. Maybe one day!

I'm curious about how you juggled entrepreneurship and active deployment. Were there any interesting challenges, or did you ever meet someone doing similar things? Did you feel the need to hide what you were doing from your CO?

You may have seen the old post about that experience, but here's a link in case not: https://mattmazur.com/2016/01/04/building-a-startup-in-45-mi...

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.

Hey Matt,

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?

Initially my intent was to go from full time employee to a ~16 hours/week contractor so I could spend the rest of my time on Preceden, but I wound up also picking up contracting work with my former employer (Automattic) and found myself working 30+ hours/week contracting. So much for focusing on Preceden.

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.

Congratulations Matt. Would love to learn more about the lessons/tips you learned in the past 8 years.

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?

I'll write a lessons learned post in the future, thanks for suggesting it.

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.

Love the story! Breath of fresh air and a similar trajectory I would like to take for my own startup.

The slow burn is real and making meaningful connections to customers is important for consistent revenue in the long term.

Thanks! And yes, without the right SaaS metrics, it can take a very long time to grow to a meaningful amount of revenue. I'd recommend anyone interested in starting a SaaS to get familiar with the economics and relevant metrics before building a product.

Congratulations! Your story is very inspiring, your product is amazing and i wish you best of luck. I will follow your path, just today got my first paying subscription purchased for my SaaS.

Congrats to you to as well then!

That's awesome! Very inspiring

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 :)

The free plans include Preceden branding on some export formats (like PDFs) which serves as a marketing channel because anyone they share the PDF with will see the timeline is created with Preceden and some will go on to check it out and become customers. Both paid plans remove the Preceden branding, which is one reason users might choose to upgrade.

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.

Ahhh, ok! Makes sense, thanks!

FYI- on your Preceden website menu, the “Use Cases” and “Resources” tabs don’t open up on DuckDuckGo on my iPhone. However, it does pop up properly on Chrome on my iPhone.

Will check it out - thank you.

Congrats and thanks for sharing, as an aspiring SaaS bootstrapper and father there’s plenty of headwinds so nice to see people sharing their stories piloting through them.

Thanks for saying so!

LeanDomainSearch has found me so many good product/domain names over the years. Thank you so much for creating it, and best of luck to you with going full time!

Kudos to Automattic and Matt Mullenweg for keeping it running 10 years after its acquisition!

Hey Matt,

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!

jMockups... now that's a name I haven't heard in a while! And one of those lesson learned: don't name products like that :).

More about that tool and other lessons learned for anyone interested: https://mattmazur.com/2016/07/08/a-long-overdue-lean-designs...

Greetings from Ukraine!

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!

Congrats, Matt. I've enjoyed watching your journey for the past decade and am very excited that you're able to go FT on Preceden.

Thanks Rob! I have you, Mike, Sherry, and the Microconf community to thank in large part for showing me that this route is possible. I also have a copy of Start Small Stay Small, The Single Founder, and Keeping Your Sh*t Together on my bookshelf next to me (all highly recommended for anyone here interested in this approach to building a software business).


Congratulations on the step and all the best in your journey. An idea could be to do an update after a year on how its going.

Can do!

That's brilliant, well done. Also, I have been looking for a better tool to make GANTT charts!

Hope Preceden is a good fit! It doesn't have all the bells and whistles as other Gantt chart tools, but that's exactly why a lot of people like it.

Congratulations Matt! I love reading blog posts like this, did you do all the marketing yourself?

Mostly, yes, though I've worked with a few contractors over the years to help with specific things.

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.

I was just looking the Preceden site today. It looks like a nice timeline program. Good luck!

Appreciate it!

Awesome!! Good luck. I hope this makes you even happier and have a higher quality of life!

Very inspiring! Not a hint of survivor bias.Long ramp of SAAS death ramp beckons!

Hey, I am a leandomainsearch user. Thanks for building.

You bet!

Very inspiring! I hope to get there in a few years too!

Best of luck!

Congrats Matt, this is awesome news!

Learn GPT is brilliant. Thank you for this.

It's coming along!

Nice one Matt, grats and hope it goes well!

Congrats. It's very inspiring story.

Appreciate it!

Great to see this!




You are a hero.

Best of luck


Very cool!

Congratulations to sticking to it for such a long time. Given sufficient time any startup can work. The more you know the more competitive you are the better the product.

Thank you!

A product built by an ex-soldier who was part of an occupying force that committed countless war crimes? No thank you.

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?

I don't think blaming the individual soldier is ever a fair choice. Most folks in the army aren't there by first or even second choice. the amount of pro military military people is shockingly low.

to say it another way:

veterans should never be ashamed they are veterans, the government and voters should be ashamed they're creating veterans.

Didn’t downvote you, but i assume that yes, most people here are able to understand that human life is complex, and that we should congratulate people whenever they’re doing something good.

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.

I disagree that we should congratulate anyone whenever they do something good, no matter what they did in the past.

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?

Was a soldier who was posted to Iraq morally inferior to a colleague who didn't get posted?

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?

You're able to safely post that stupid comment because of soldiers and Pax Americana.

What does the iraq or afghan war have to do with pax americana? Was 2003 iraq a real threat to the global empire?

Where in my post did I say that?

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.

So he can absolutely criticize or even boycott soldiers that invaded iraq, because they have 0 to do with pax americana, and did nothing to protect the 1A and the constitution anyways. I don't get how your comment makes sense otherwise

What’s stupid about it?

Because of the latter half of my sentence you ignored.

It's easy to highroad everyone when you sit back reaping the benefits of what others have done.

I’m not high roading anyone, I’m merely saying I prefer products not built by war criminals. I certainly don’t reap any benefits from what Matt and his fellow soldiers did in Iraq during their illegal war, and even if I did - does that mean I can’t talk about it?

Please lookup the definition of high roading.

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.

Soldiers sent to war are not automatically war criminals, whether or not the war was legitimate. Your blanket statement suggests that a mechanic, chef, or nurse who was sent to Iraq was a war criminal. You are just wrong.

I think you calling someone a war criminal is way outside of what is legitimate on this forum.

Yes. I am not in a position to judge individual Russian or US military members without quite a bit more context.

I didn't downvote you but I think equating the Russian attack on Ukraine with the American war on Iraq is probably what earned you the downvotes. Especially because you seem to equate the too based on the extent and number of war crimes. Committing war crimes seems to be the norm, even an expectation in the Russian army. These also seem being denied and never investigated while they are pretty well documented. This doesn't seem to be the case with the US army. (Yes, they did happen, but they seem to happen at a much lower rate, more isolated cases and some of them actually get investigated officially and the perpetrators get sentenced.)

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.

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