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The 10k Bootstrap Challenge (bootstrapchallenge.com)
200 points by alexandros on May 16, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 78 comments

I'm a big fan of bootstrapping, allow me to add my own data point. I was the typical bored-at-BigCo guy but was afraid to completely jump into startups full time (I have a family). I decided to bootstrap my startup (mobile app) at the beginning of 2010, while working full time for 6 months. 6 months after that I quit my job full time as the income from the startup surpassed my SV engineering salary (made 75K in 6 months). In 2011, I traveled the world for 7 months with my wife while making my 2nd app, and my income went up to 340K. This year, I'm pretty much working ~20 hrs a week and I'm on track to hit at least 600K (already did 300K YTD). No full time employees, no VCs, no board, minimal expenses (macbook + iphone), no hassle.

I have friends and relatives who have done YC, gone the whole fundraising route, etc. Some who are fairly successful, but I wouldn't trade places with them in a second. I'm not saying bootstrapping is better, but if you are like me (risk averse and lazy) then it is definitely a legitimate option.

Oh the paradox...The thought of bootstrapping being for the lazy and risk averse.

it's for the risk averse because you can bootstrap and keep your job. it's for the lazy because your limited time forces you to attack much smaller problems and make compromises, which im my opinion is a GOOD thing.

Congrats on living the dream!

Slightly off the main topic but how much marketing and development is required to achieve the type of figures you are talking about? Typically there seems to be a massive amount of money spent on promoting an app into the top 100 list.

If you knew nothing about mobile apps today - where would you start? (Or would you start at all?)

I haven't spent any money and barely any time on marketing. Development I did all the coding myself and eventually hired a graphic designer part time. The thing is I'm not usually on the Top 100 list (or even Top 300 for that matter), I just charge more for my apps (my price points are $3, $5, $8). That's the best kept secret of the app store. Sure the Top 100 apps make a ton of money, but there is a growing class of niche apps that can make just as much money by charging more and catering to a smaller niche audience.

My advice is to not create the next Angry Birds, but try and find a niche that is underserved and create a great app and charge as much as you can get away with. And get a great designer too, that's the best ROI I can think of.

I think it's very smart, and not just for the risk-averse and lazy... starting small and earning your first stripes as an entrepreneur may prove to be a solid stepping stone to pursue bigger ventures in the future, I think. And now that you're financially independent, you won't have to worry about money holding you back. Gabriel Weinberg (DuckDuckGo founder), Ben Milne (Dwolla founder), Nat Turner (Invite Media founder), the list goes on... were all proven bootstrapped entrepreneurs before they worked on their first venture-backed startup.

Congrats on your success, do you recommend any good books or resources for bootstrapping/marketing apps?

I'm a big fan of Rob Walling's book/blog.

pretty much followed Rob's advice to the T

good to know! thanks

This is so awesome! Congrats to you for this amazing accomplishment. I'll try my best to be in that same situation!

I'm at stage 1 of your story at the moment, I'm part developing / outsourcing dev from my contracting earnings and hoping to launch in the next 3mths, I'm then heading off around Central & South America for the next 3 to try and push it on part time whilst also enjoying new cultures.

Thanks for being a great inspiration.

Thank you for being an inspiration.

Congrats man, I hope to be writing a post like yours in the next 6-18 months.

More power to ya Jerry. That's the lifestyle I'm working toward myself.

thanks Tim!

Hi Jerry, you mentioned earlier that your android version makes about 75% of its iPhone equivalent. Is this still the case now?

no it's dropped substantially. now it's about 10%

Congrats! Mind sharing what kind of apps you made?

Its in my HN profile


I did this about a year ago. It took me about 2 months to get self sustaining and 6 months to reach my previous salary. Been thinking about writing it up, maybe I should go ahead and do it.

Good luck, living off income from things you make is a great thing.

Since so many asked for it I decided to knock it out. Here's my story - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3982830

Thanks for sharing. Awesome. Any advice for us dreamers? Can it be repeated?

Give it a shot. Look at bignoggins advice above. Go for smaller niches instead of trying to be angry birds. There are lots of very useful things that can be done on a phone or tablet. Make something useful that somebody is likely to type into the search on the app store. It can definitely be repeated.

Also, don't worry about there already being an app that does that. There are 600k+ apps. It's been done. But you can find a niche where the best app isn't that great, or at least where you can do it a little better. Make a great app, and make it look great. Don't try submitting things that look terrible. They will get lost in the noise at this point.

What tools do you recommend to start?

Yes please! I've been trying to crack this particular nut for nigh on half a decade and still haven't made much headway, so it would be great to read about how you managed it.

Please do. Sounds like it could be very helpful.

Would love to hear about it! Do you blog?

Would love to hear about it and how it has changed your life.

Yes...please do!

I need all the encouragement I can get.

please, do it

Please share. I will even pay for such sharing.

Hey guys! Thanks for the support. You caught me pretty early in the process, so not terribly much to show just yet, but I hope you'll stick around for the ride.

If you're curious, the first product I'm trying to make profitable (and the one whose numbers I reference in the video) is at http://whattowrite.org

But, as I say, the stats on it are pretty bleak at the moment (I need to improve the funnel performance by ~1000%). I may end up spending 2 weeks invalidating it and then move on to greener pastures.

Regarding the amount of money and number of months it gives me, I chose the amount (10k) in order to give myself 4 months, rather than the other way around. 4 months feels about right. If I could live happily on £1k per month, I would have made it the £4k bootstrap challenge ;)

Thanks again!

Good concept.

What is the writers site built with andhow will it generate revenue?

Are you adopting a lean startup approach?

Good luck.

Django/jquery/sendgrid, I have no idea (yet!), and yes. On the first idea the main stuff I'm pulling from lean is analytics, but if this one doesn't work out I'll do more custdev and in-person stuff as appropriate.

Cool. Really like how the form filling flows.

Will wait to see how you monetise this. I suspect there are some serious writers/bloggers out there looking for inspiration and willing to pay?

Affiliate marketing bro. I make six figures doing it. Not saying it's a great long term solution but in your situation you could turn a profit quite quickly potentially. Just look around at various affiliate programs and see if you can come up with a solution to add value to the customer experience. Maybe just a simple price comparison site. Then drive traffic to it, paid works well as long as you can do it profitably. If you can turn a profit on an Adwords advertising campaign you may well be on your way to a tidy income.

Interesting idea.

Tiny typo. It should be 'live' not 'life'.

"So I'm betting £10k that I can build a portfolio of products which is profitable enough to life off before running out of money."

should be

"So I'm betting £10k that I can build a portfolio of products which is profitable enough to live off before running out of money."

People love start-up stories and case studies, this will be a real-time version, I'm off to make some popcorn, best of luck!

From the title, I thought this was a challenge to write a bootstrap loader in 10 kilobytes.

I'm two thirds through a very similar process. I quit my job in late Dec 2011 and temporarily moved myself and my girlfriend in with my folks.

5 months, 1 pivot and ~£8K later I'm almost ready to release a public beta. With a bit of luck, this will happen before the end of June. I've then got a further 6 months left in the budget to feed us until the site (hopefully!) starts bringing in enough money to live off. Failing that, it's back to salaried employment (if any one will have me...)!

I'm very curious about this guy's background. He seems to have experience in product development, marketing and customer acquisition.

Having said that... I'm not sure how long ~16k USD (10k GBP) lasts in London but here (Boston) that would not give too many months of runway. Not using consulting for at least a short time he is giving himself a small window for success.

I wish him the best of luck but his approach does seem a bit aggressive.

Also, this means he needs about £2.5k/month to live.

Building a product based business that goes from making £0 to profiting £2.5k/month in 4 months is definitely an interesting challenge.

This is one of those stories that you wish you could skip to the last chapter so you can see how the book ends.

Living in London was quite expensive for me. He estimates four months:

"All my expenses come from the £10k but I can only make money from products (e.g. no consulting). London is expensive, so this gives me about 4 months."

Spending £2.5k/month to live in London? In your experience, how accurate does that sound?

Sounds about right, the London Living Wage (a suggested but not mandatory minimum wage for living in London) works out at just under £400 per week, so maybe £5k to live on, the remaining £5k for other expenses, etc.

Bear in mind it's not £2.5k/month for living expenses: it's £2.5k per month for all expenses: including building the product, etc etc.

That is living an fairly decent life. You could scrape on £1k a month if you really wanted to.

This is what I do, rent and bills is around £800 a month, and can live quite well on another £300 to £400, and that includes going out.

I spent 5 years living like that at my first couple companies. These days, however, my life is no longer organised in a way where that's viable. So 2-2.5k it is. If I was in a real pinch, I could temporarily get to 1.5k, but I feel like 4 months is about the right period of time for this anyway.

That's about me, post-tax for the past two years I think. Would go a lot further if I were single, but we can afford to rent a decent-sized 2-bedroom flat in a nice area without having to pinch pennies.

It's fairly common to pay at least £1k/month for a one bedroom flat in central London.

According to this video [1] he knows a little programming.

[1]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0mfw69iQEI&feature=chann...

Living in the upper midwest US, 16k USD would probably give me a 16-month window. That's for a 1-bedroom apartment @ ~$500/month. Living in a 3-Bed w/ 2 other roommates would take it down to ~$300.

Brutal winters, though..

I'm doing something similar in Portland and it's about ~$500/month with roommates. So I figure the same: my $12k will be a 12 month window.

Our winters are lovely, as long as you don't mind a little wet.

I get lazy when I have that much time. Have tried it! :)

I may well be trying to do something similar in a year, so I look forward to seeing how you do! Good luck.

Same for me, good luck!

Let me know when you guys get started. If I'm in a position to help, I will!

In case anyone not aware, check out the Facebook group HN - Monthly Launchpad:


It's a network of HN'ers launching side projects and bootstrapped companies.

This is really interesting. I'm giving myself 6 months to get _something_ out there (I'm not sure what exactly, yet) or a job in a tech related field.

If it doesn't work, I'll have to start applying for jobs related to my degree (teaching).

Reminds me of Joe Stump's entrepreneur goal- to figure out how to make $30 a month from 1000 people.

The key is having focus and a goal in mind. If one can stick to the plan then they are already ahead of the game.

Z-index your footer to 9999. YouTube video covers it up on iPad. Also the white form field on the left sidebar overruns into the text. I'm on an iPad so not sure how desktop version differs.

I am doing similar thing, I quit my job in Oct 2011 and making iPhone apps. Made 4 apps so far but just earning $10/day from it. But its a lot of fun and exciting than a job.

In the same boat as you, quit my job around the same time you did (august of 2011), built an iPhone app and have some affiliate marketing. Turned over a bit more then 10 bucks a day (average about $70) but still in the ball park of can do much better :)

And yes it is fun ! i guess we just gotta keep going

Nice -- my email is in my profile if you're up for some sort of occasional peer support

The domain name is registered by Rob Fitzpatrick of thestartuptoolkit.com. I wonder what the relationship is?

Edit: Looks like this site is also by him, just not submitted by him.

Nice idea.

What is the product you are working on?

You talked about about the numbers, but some general idea of the app would be interesting if we are going to follow along with your progress.

This could work really well to harness the power of learning from the community if you reveal your product.

I'm sure lots of folks, especially here, would jump in and help you improve your registration rate if we had visibility.

I'm sort of doing this.

I'm 4 months in, I've had one scrapped project, one failed project and one project which isn't really taking off.

I'll be watching this with interest.

What I should have done is posted the fact that I'm doing the same to Hacker News. I'm guessing that if his blog gets enough traction, he'll succeed. Not because the product is great, but because this "10k GBP - can I make money" sideproject brings in the eyeballs.

While HN brings eyeballs it does not really bring profits unless you are innovating in the "productivity / programming / business" product space.

What it CAN do is give you decent SEO via reposts that helps diversify your inbound links resulting in better pageranking. My month of blogging has brought me from ~90th for "android dj app" to ~9th in google search.

If only I hadn't made the idiotic decision to compete with twitter for the term "bootstrap" :)

Step 1 should maybe be purchase train tickets to bulgaria where you can stretch your 10k GBP out for a year.

It takes guts to take a leap like this. Good luck, I hope you succeed.

I wish you good luck, and I am excited to see your portfolio develop.

/sips coffee

if the business doesn't require a lot of physical interaction , try moving to a lower cost country. Your runway will increase two/four fold.

Keep us posted. Specially the marketing side of things.

Good luck.

What's your first product?

curious already.

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