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.
One more: could you estimate how many total hours of work you've invested into the WoW meta-guild site?
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)
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.
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.
2006: $1k of bingo cards
2007: $10k of bingo cards
2008: $21k of bingo cards
 Don't try this at home, kiddos.
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
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.
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 think their interface is a bit cleaner than RSSTalker and probably more developed right now.
Suggestions, feature requests, and bug reports are all welcome =)
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
It's a calendar? With only all-day events allowed? And with TinyMCE?
What am I missing?
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.
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.
- list of best sellers
- most helpful reviews
- books i also might like
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?
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.
The iPhone app is also really killer.
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.