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How Much I Money Made From Side Projects In 2008 (pseudocoder.com)
190 points by hbien on Jan 7, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

Everyone's gotta start somewhere, and eventually, maybe one of those projects will take off and start generating a decent amount of profit.

A few years ago when I was a consultant, in my free time I worked on my World of Warcraft guild's website and after a year and a half, I realized it was better than the vast majority of other guild sites out there (imo), and thought, maybe I could charge for this if i made it a service. So I spent 6 months rewriting my own guild's site to make it "general purpose" allowing other guilds to create websites.

The thought was, "maybe I can score a few extra bucks on the side." I launched in May of '06 and was profitable immediately, and by January '07, business was so good that I dropped consulting altogether to focus on the guild hosting site.

So keep plugging away. I probably had 5 or 6 projects (Frozen Custard Stand CMS system anyone?) that I worked on "on the side" before this one actually turned into a profitable venture.

Wow. May I ask, how profitable was the WoW meta-guild site?

I don't remember how profitable 2006 was (since the income was combined with consulting at the end for taxes), but for 2007 and 2008, it was something like $90k revenue each year. 2008 was on a course for a bigger year (March did $14k) and then it seemed all WoW interest dropped considerably after July (if you look at the alexa ratings for the main guild hosting services, they all took the same dive). It's nothing massive or anything, but it's a reasonable living for providing gaming service to folks who are pretty much just like me :)

Hell. Yes. Way to go.

One more: could you estimate how many total hours of work you've invested into the WoW meta-guild site?

That one, I honestly couldn't estimate. Some weeks I do no coding and just answer support emails, phone calls, and forum posts. Other weeks, I'll code seemingly nonstop over 80-90 hours/week and won't do anything else (I won't even feel like gaming during those hard core weeks, all I care about, and all I dream about is coding).

Is much time lost due to burnout? E.g. periods when you don't feel like working on code, support emails, phone calls, or forum posts -- just on leveling your character. Have you developed any techniques to deal with those periods?

Oh sure, usually after a long stint of coding (several weeks), I'll take a break from coding. But regardless of what kind of week it is, I'm answering phone calls and emails and doing general support (had to do support even on my Honeymoon with satellite internet on our cruise).

I deal with them just by knowing that they have to get done. It's hard to say. A lot of what keeps me going is pride, I guess. When I don't feel like working on the guild hosting site, I just work on random other projects to keep me going.

(I'm getting tired, so my apologies if I'm rambling nonsense)

No, that was great. Thank you for your time.

Wow, congratulations.

How did you get your initial growth? i.e. where did you find your first 100 guilds and how did you convince them to sign up?


I offered the first 15 sites free on a first-come, first-serve basis, which was while I was in beta yet. In a few cases, a few people had come to my own guild's site asking where it was hosted, and I redirected them to the hosting site. Otherwise, I've pretty much always just done Adwords, Yahoo, and MSN ads.

There wasn't a whole lot of convincing. I offered a 30-day money back guarantee and people just started signing up and paying even before I was advertising - those first few I have no idea how they found the site (I even had someone sign up and pay even though my Auth.net account was still in test mode so I just let them have the site free). Aside from that initial 15 guilds, I've never offered a free version. Every guild I've hosted has paid for it (with the exception of friends of mine that were starting their own guilds, of course).

I had (have) a "Featured Guilds" section which showed off what other guilds had done with the system, an online demo for people to tinker with the system before signing up, and offered more features than any other guild hosting site (or any open source package offered as far as I can tell). The only major guild hosting site out there that did this was stagnating from lack of competition.

That's what was so surprising about it...I wasn't expecting the degree of growth I had gotten at all.

It made a lot of promise to make easy what was otherwise a tedious thing.

Looking back, it just seems like it was "right place at the right time", and everything just...sort of...happened.

But like I said, the platform was in development for a year and a half before it launched, since it was my own guild's site, and I was completely serious that I wanted my own guild's site to be one of the best out there feature-wise.

July 2008 is right about the time Age of Conan launched. I wonder if that's really what caused the drop?

Which immediately makes me wonder how easy it would be to scale chops' site to service other MMOs. If you could get it to the point where you can release a fully-featured guild website on the launch day of each new MMO you might just be on to something :)

I should have specified that it is actually multiplatform. The site currently natively supports about 15 MMO games, and has an interface for customizing and specifying your own game parameters (level cap, tradeskills, classes, races, etc).

WoW is just the biggest player by far. Currently I host approximately 88% WoW guilds. The other "bigger players" are EQ, EQ2, Warhammer, AOC, FFXI, and LOTRO, with Warhammer being the biggest non-WoW game at 2%.

WoW just has so many more players.

Hah...no. Age of Conan didn't take much of a dent at all in WoW's numbers. It had a lot of hype, but the hard core pretty much gravitated back to WoW since AoC's endgame was pretty much non-existent, at least from what I heard (I only made it to level 11).

The great thing about side projects is that they only get better -- your code stays written, your marketing snowball gets better, age and inlinks bring your rankings higher, etc. (If your business plan does not have these features, for example if you are planning to sell iPhone applications which have a shelf-life of cut apples which have been soaked in agar[1], you may wish to reconsider.)

2006: $1k of bingo cards

2007: $10k of bingo cards

2008: $21k of bingo cards

2009: ...

[1] Don't try this at home, kiddos.

$21k in bingo? kudos.

We developed SourceGuardian.com as a side project from my main company (Inovica.com) as we had a need for PHP encryption and were not prepared to pay the thousands of dollars that one company was charging at the time. We developed it for our own sites and then packaged it up to sell it to others. We had some teething problems with the earlier versions, but we're still here a number of years later. It's still a side project (and we have a few of them!!) but it brings in revenues of around $70,000+ a year. There is a team of three people though that worked on this side project and which share on this.

We also run:

www.europeantenders.com - Around $20,000 a year

www.ukscrap.com. This did amazingly well when scrap values were high (we were doing around $2000 a day) but they have become quite low at the moment so its only just covering its costs.

Hope the above helps. Happy to provide more info or help to anyone who wants it

Thanks so much for posting this. Very cool.

RSS Talker is sweet. Matt, if you're reading this, and if you don't mind, here are a couple critiques:

The title of this page should really be the info in that bubble: "Track Amazon Price Changes With an RSS Feed". This should be the biggest, boldest font on the page.

I don't think the average web user is very familiar with the terms ASIN and ISBN. It could be as simple as "Enter your email to track a specific product on Amazon." The How It Works section can explain more.

Can you make it just an email service for people without RSS feeds?

This site has a ton of potential. It's a shame that Amazon's commission rate is so low. It would be awesome to open it up to any web retailer that is signed up through a service like Commission Junction. Some of them offer 15% commission. I'm sure you've thought through all of this.

Good luck!

Hey jbenx, Thanks for the critiques. I will definitely take it into consideration.

RE: ASIN and ISBN - I was torn on whether to include those, since I agree with you that it can be confusing. I also have the option of dropping the entire url in there and it will pick the ASIN out automatically. I figured that would be easiest for users.

RE: email - I didn't want to do the email thing because then I'd have to deal w/ unsubscribe and spam issues. I like making services that don't require a signup.


You could headline the box with "URL for the product or wishlist you want to follow", and then, in a smaller and greyer font below put "(you can also just put the ISBN or ASIN in there)".

I use a similar site right now: http://camelcamelcamel.com/

I think their interface is a bit cleaner than RSSTalker and probably more developed right now.

Thanks, I have put quite a lot of work into it since January 2008. The site has been very profitable since launching in April! Here's hoping that continues in 2009...

Suggestions, feature requests, and bug reports are all welcome =)

I agree about changing the headline. It took a minute to figure out what the site was for, and that's bad. For music.rsstalker.com, I was really confused.

Ask HN: What's better: Having multiple side projects; or devoting all time to one single app? Which has better chance of bringing in more revenues?

I'm a fan of the "throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks" approach. Build lots of different things until one starts to get traction, and when one does, focus your attention on that.

That's good for well sized projects for the time frame that you're willing to commit to.

However, from my experience in the past, I actually tried that on a number of BIG projects - knowing only a couple of things:

1. The ideas were big - thinking about 50k LOC at minimum.

2. I had too much ego to let them go

Bad, bad mistake. Bad rs.

I scaled back to just working on 1 big project, and maybe toying with 2-3 smaller projects, and it has worked out better.

But the essence of your advice is right - work on a number of projects, and focus on one that works.

What does YC do? One startup or many?

I seriously don't see the point of advertising how much money I'm making off a given site. If someone else knows that putting together a site like RSSTalker will eventually bring in thousands of dollars annually with a minimum amount of maintenance, doesn't that increase the chance that my site is going to get cloned by someone else?

If I were to visit RSSTalker and not know whether or not the site was profitable, I would be less likely to take the time to consider cloning the site.

Honestly the reason I wrote the post wasn't to advertise the sites or brag about the money (which isn't all that much to brag about anyway).

I originally started the blog with the goal of focusing on these type of side projects, whether they are mine or not. Check out the original mission statement: http://web.archive.org/web/20070224000551/www.pseudocoder.co...

I'd since gotten away from that, but it's something that still interests me. I posted this because I wanted to be transparent with my sites and hoped it would inspire others to do the same.

As for people copying the sites...go nuts. Enjoy the long nights and dashed dreams...I know I did.

This is Hacker News, you are free to do that. It inspires us actually.

This is why I go back to Hacker News everytime. I list the reasons again: 1) Because bunch of smart guys hang over here. 2) There's just so much to learn especially on starting a startup, this is one topic that I love because it teaches us something. 3) Because of PG.

And I think this topic teaches everyone of us something worth posting here in HN.

To be honest, I think that ideas on their own are worthless. Its the sweat that needs to go into building something that is a real business that is the difficult part. I agree that you might think that people would want to clone it, but cloning something alone does not guarantee any kind of success. There are hundreds of examples of sites that do very well, where other people have tried to emulate them only to fail. Personally I put it down to a lack of passion on the cloners - its not really their 'baby'. They've not agonized over what to create, how to create it and this probably makes (part of) the difference between success and failure.

Personally I often find it inspiring when people do discuss how much their startup makes. Inspiring on the "I could do it too" scale and sometimes there are good lessons in these stories - not so much this one I would hasten to admit!

Free publicity? I had never heard of RSSTalker - until now...

Its one thing to say 'rate my startup', but to say 'look how much I'm making' is something totally different.

The latter will probably generate considerably more interest?

I notice that ending your statement with a question mark seems to help in avoiding downvotes?

Actually this was a big feature of the new PC intonation that appeared in the late 80s and early 90s. Undergrads started saying declarative sentences with interrogative intonation-- as if they were actually questions. This allowed one to disclaim some responsibility for whatever one was saying, and yet at the same time to compel a response from the other person.

This way of speaking has now passed down to high school students and isn't associated with any specific sort of ideas (unless you count the empty set as a type of idea), but it was originally quite a nasty piece of conversational jiujitsu.

Interesting, but I would like to point out that there is also the "rhetoric question" which I think predates the PC movement.

Rhetorical questions are still phrased as questions. It was "declarative sentence structure married to a question mark" that I was joking about. HN didn't think it was funny, clearly. :)

I for one am thankful that you have saved me from "question mark creep" (hopefully).

Wow, really? What else made/makes up the PC intonation?

Since we're clarifying things, I believe you meant "jujutsu" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jujutsu ).

Imagine how a posh, and possibly a bit poncey Englishman might say "who", and you should be close to the sound of the U's in "jujutsu". The first U is elongated, and the rest are short.

I can't for the life of me figure out what planbookedu.com does, even after watching the screencast.

It's a calendar? With only all-day events allowed? And with TinyMCE?

What am I missing?

I had the same reaction. I think if he just spent some time in creating a clear message and then putting that message on the front page he might see an increase in users. If you think about the average user they need to have the selling point made a clear as possible, more so if we're talking about the average teacher ;^).

Thanks for the criticism...copywriting isn't my strong suit. In my defense I think the site makes sense if you're a teacher. At least that's what my wife (the teacher) tells me :)

Your wife has some associated bias. I totally agree with them, you can increase your revenue like 5 times if you just made that clearer.

But I guess you have some point since I'm guessing that the Edu website gets noticed not because of Web search but word of mouth of teachers. And probably the teachers who spread this website to other teachers have well explained the product's features enough already.

But If you just upgrade the clarity of your site. The web searcher won't get trouble and know your site's purpose immediately.

I have to say I admire your productivity. Bob Walsh (47hats.com) has an eBook called "Micro ISV Sites that Sell" that's gotten some good reviews that you may want to have a look at. Good luck with the sites!

I want to echo this as well, because I feel exactly the same - and because I left a comment on Matt's site saying i thought planbook could be MUCH more profitable, but I didn't go into elaborating on HOW it could be. gcheong nailed it.

I'm a bit behind Matt in sales, but I just launched a site the other day that does something quite similar to RSStalker, but specific to best selling books: http://yowzas.com

Best selling book lists are everywhere, but this one is near real-time due to AWS. I find myself browsing the site daily reading book reviews. I have category specific ones like http://business.yowzas.com and just like RSStalker, I have RSS feeds for each major category of best selling book lists.

Nice site! I dig the simplicity and usefulness of the design.

thanks! i really got sick of trying to find books on amazon. i essentially removed everything that i didn't care about... so, really i made it in part because i had an itch to scratch.

- list of best sellers - most helpful reviews - books i also might like

RSStalker is a great idea. Glad it's worked out well for him.

"All I did for marketing in 2008 was email existing users"

Seriously? That does not make any sense. Why not try a paid search campaign? Or networking with teachers via twitter? What is the purpose of building a business and then not doing anything to market it?

Frankly the old version of the site sucked. I finally got around to launching the new version this past summer. I was hesitant to push it considering I had no real QA other then myself. It would have sucked to spent a ton of time/money to market it and then find a huge bug that drove all those users away.

Now that it's half way through the school year and there haven't been any issues I'm more confident. But it doesn't make sense to market it now, since teachers are already in their routine for the year. Next August I plan on making a bigger push.

Google actually did just that. They didn't engage any marketing activities on their early days.

later.rsstalker.com looks very useful, I will definitely use it. Great alternative to tossing everything into my bookmarks.

Instapaper is the bomb. And you don't even have to register-- just pick a username (no password necessary).

The iPhone app is also really killer.

Thanks fuzzmeister. Let me know if you hit any issues. I coded and launched it in a weekend, so it may have some bugs. So far it's worked well for me though.

I clicked the bookmarklet a little before 3 PST for the Language Log page you should see in your db: it showed up on the webpage, but never made it to the feed (according to Google Reader).

The feeds are cached, so items may not appear right away. Plus there is an additional lag depending on how often Google pings the feed.

Anyway, I checked out your case and I see the link in your feed now. I plan on dropping the cache time once I get off the shared hosting.

Great - got it now.

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