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Ask HN: Any solopreneurs here?
32 points by sandeepshetty on Sept 3, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments
Would love to connect and exchange notes with other solopreneurs.

* What businesses do you run? * How much time do you spend on them? * How long have you been at it? * Do you outsource to contractors, VA's? * Is is sustainable or do you have to take up day jobs or do consulting on the side? * How do you deal with being the only employee (motivation, validation, automation, ...)?

As I said in the "recurring income" thread recently, I'm mainly working on http://www.improvely.com , http://www.w3counter.com and http://www.dialshield.com

This is my full-time business, and I've been building it since half-way into my freshman year of college 8 years ago. I don't generally outsource anything -- I really enjoy all aspects of the work, from design and development to helping onboard new customers to managing marketing efforts.

Being the only employee does mean everything needs to be automated. I use Pingdom to check that every site and API is responding with proper content. Monit and custom scripts make sure various services/daemons are always running on the right servers, and restart them if something fails. Everything is set to SMS me, and I'm never far from a computer, even on vacation.

When you're the sole employee, you're the one responsible for disaster recovery. Data center on fire, hard drive corrupt, billing mistake, etc. -- your problem, at 3AM when you get that SMS that your service is down.

So prepare for that. Keep all code in a ready-to-deploy state in a hosted repository, with local copies in case the repo host is down too. Keep all your service configuration files backed up too, or have scripts that can deploy them automatically. Have all your databases backed up, automatically, to at least two different data centers. Don't hard-code IP addresses in your code. Test all these things. These days, every server I have could be hit by a nuke, and I could have my customers back online as fast as new servers provision and DNS caches refresh.

The only issue is keeping support requests manageable. I have almost 100k users across all the sites. Requests come in through SnapEngage, ZenDesk tickets, feedback forms in the app and e-mails. I try to treat every support request as an opportunity to make something easier to find or easier to do so that the next person in the same position doesn't need to contact me -- fix the bug, fix the process, create a FAQ entry, make the documentation easier to find, etc.

Dan, your work is very impressive & inspiring.

Where do you host your apps?

SoftLayer primarily. They're rock solid, their hardware is top notch, their management tools and infrastructure are top notch, their support staff is top notch even at 3AM on a weekend.

Is it worth it?

I'm a solopreneur, and I work on iOS apps. I've been at it for 2 years now (!). I have not outsourced to contractors, and have been doing all the coding and art myself.

Check out my apps at: http://www.squarepoet.com/

My best performing app is Tiny Piano, which recently reached 2 million downloads: http://itunes.apple.com/app/id477014214 I also recently updated my Japanese learning game: http://itunes.apple.com/app/id492005575

My company became profitable starting this June. Tiny Piano has made enough revenue over the past several months to pay all my bills, though revenue is dropping fast. :-) That's how the App Store works... you get an early bump and then your downloads begin to trail off.

I left my full-time job 2 yrs ago, and so I spend most of my waking hours hacking on apps.

I'm a pretty competitive person, so wanting to "win" or wanting to "not fail" keeps me motivated enough. I have a few concrete goals that keep me focused. 1) Get 10M+ downloads so I can say on my resume that I made a "hit" app. 2) Buy a house in the Bay Area. :-)

You seem to be doing pretty good. A couple of questions:

1. Is this ("Tiny Piano has made enough revenue over the past several months to pay all my bills") all ad revenue Edit: Just saw the in-app song pack purchases. Is that where all the revenue is coming from?

2. Isn't, the music niche very competitive on the app store? What are you doing differently?

3. Given that (as you say) downloads begin to trail off, how are you planning on getting to 10M+ downloads?

4. I like the specific goals :) Is being specific (10M+ downloads) a hack you had to come up with to stay focused or just something you wanted?

5. Are you a musician yourself?

1. About 33% of my revenue is from sales. 67% is ad revenue.

2. Yes, it is very competitive. My app has dropped from the #8 spot in iPad/Free/Music to the #41, and it's hurting. :-) It has done very well in east Asian markets though.

3. Not sure. I might try to add some viral channels in the app. Otherwise, I'll have to slog it out, and get to 10M+ the slow way.

4. Specific goals is more or less a hack / dangling carrot. It's hard to say, "I'll succeed when I succeed." Two years ago, my specific goal was to launch a single app. This January, my goal was to make revenue. Now that I'm making some revenue, my goal is higher. Maybe when I hit 10M, I'll want to hit 100M? :-)

5. No, I'm not a musician. That's why I built the easiest piano on the App Store. :-) If you have an iOS device, download it and let me know what you think! http://itunes.apple.com/app/id477014214

Your answers lead me naturally to my next question :)

Why/how did you choose to build music related apps (given that it's a competitive space and your not a musician)?

Thanks for taking the time to answer. Hoping you'll reach your goals sooner rather than later :)

I've always been interested in learning to play instruments (who isn't?). I tried playing piano when I was younger, but gave up. I am currently (on and off) trying to learn guitar.

I had just bought an iPad in 2010, and was playing around with it and thought that it'd be cool to play guitar on it. I made a quick prototype and sent a video to two friends. They said it was cool. So I committed and started hacking. :-)

I will be launching the big one at the end of this month. It's different kind of review site called Review Signal. I work full time on it (including most weekends). I've been working on this project for ~1.5 years with a few small breaks. I outsource small things like PSD slicing/coding. I work with a talented designer on the UI.

It's not sustainable in the sense it's making money now, it's made a small amount off the beta but nowhere near livable. I've got other income sources and keep expenses to a minimum. Burnt through most of my cash building this and committing full time.

Motivation: joined Affinity Lab (coworking space in DC). I have a hard time getting work done outside that space now. Why I end up there til 1am on a saturday night. It surrounds me with awesome people who understand what I am doing and we help each other constantly. I don't think I've been there a day where I haven't been helped in some small or large way and helped someone in a small or large way. It plays a large part in what keeps me going.

Validation: I had a private beta in march, the same coworking space was a great place to start getting users. I also have been reaching out to people who I think would benefit from my service and having them try it. It has worked pretty well and the feedback really helped. I built a tool to help automate this process as much as possible. Which leads into...

Automation: love it. I've built a lot of tools to reduce the amount of time I spent doing things which are repetitive or semi-repetitive. As a solo founder everything is competing for my bandwidth. There is a lot of high value, repetitive things (hustling) which I think can be automated to some degree. I've built some infrastructure to help me do that. Trying to constantly watch myself and figure out where my time is best spent is important. However, this often conflicts with motivation: doing some valuable things suck. You need to find a balance or simply will yourself through, I don't have a good solution for this, yet.

I've run a couple small startups as a solopreneur. Currently I'm running the Birdy - http://thebirdy.com. It's been online for about a year, and I just recently quit my job to work on it full time. The only thing I've outsourced so far is the mobile app development (still in progress). It's ramen profitable, so not sustainable yet, and I'm hoping to grow it to a lifestyle business or better.

For validation, I usually turn to my users. I do a lot of user surveys and collect a lot of feedback. For automation, I use a lot of services out there - supportbee, google doc, build my own internal apps...

Motivation is a tough subject. Even tho I've been lucky enough to see continuous growth of the Birdy, it's hard to stay interested, focused and excited about it. I take breaks, I try to find related projects that interest me, and I talk to a lot of people about it. I try to present it publicly as often as I can, so new people hear about it, and give me feedback.

Not sure about "solopreneur", isn't an entrepreneur just a single person anyway :) Although I wouldn't title myself with either.

I've worked on my own since '03, currently in here http://qiip.me/edlea/blogger/post/4019

I freelance mon-fri 9-5 and I build my project evenings and weekends. When I have enough cash I get some help from another developer.

Interestingly RescueTime says I'm ~10% more productive at weekends when I'm working on my project... so I guess I love to work on it, so I do wish I could do it full time.

Motivation (in no particular order): 1. prove to myself I can do it 2. make money 3. help people with a problem that stops them working on what they love 4. [perceived] freedom 5. challenges not in my freelance work

and if you're curious, http://qiip.me is my project.

I'm using "solopreneur" to mean someone running a company of one.

qiip.me looks nice. How did you get Guy Kawasaki on board? What's your plan in terms of making money with it?

I just emailed Guy as per the suggestions of this forum (and a couple of other people). Guy kindly replied. Hopefully have a few more names on there soon :)

Re: making money. I plan to sell extras, like premium themes etc So keep the core product free and make worthwhile add-ons.

Would be interesting to get your take on "freedom" since you've qualified it with "perceived". Time and location independence is one of the biggest reasons I went solo.

at the moment I freelance and work from home. Sometimes I work while travelling. I kid myself that I'm free, but really I work evenings and weekends. Some of my white-collar-joe friends might feel trapped, but at the weekend they are drinking beer in a sunny pub garden while I'm in front of my mac! That's why I say "perceived".

My ultimate goal is to not rely on client work, that's when I'll feel free. i.e. take the afternoon to go kitesurfing or something without worrying about being available to freelance clients.

I created http://outgrow.me - the first marktplace exclusively for successfully crowdfunded projects.

I work on Outgrow.me full time, and I'm a full time student in the evenings. I outsource here and there. I wake up each morning and punch the day in the face.

I run http://namingkings.com/ and http://pitchremix.com largely by myself, although I sometimes get friends to help and get second opinions. I probably spend ~10 hours a week working.

I'm currently a student, but I also have a part-time job. Motivation-wise, it definitely helps to get business. :) Every time I get a sale, it energizes me to work on marketing the site some more. I also try to tell as many friends/coworkers/people on the street about it. Without a co-founder, it can be hard to stay in the entrepreneurial mindset, so telling others about it helps reaffirm that mental state.

I gradually switched (since Jan 2011) to consulting part-time (I'm down to 2 days in a week) at my previous employer and I've got one product (http://apps.shopify.com/fliptabify) that makes a decent amount of money (enough to survive* but not yet comfortable) and I'm working on a few more.

Currently doing everything myself. Lucky to have a few friends I can bounce off ideas with.

Edit: * To add more context, I'm married and have a 17 month old daughter.

I didn't realise shopify had an app market. Is it big enough to make decent money? Does shopify take a cut of your subscription income?

It's big enough for me to make decent money and growing all the time. If you use Shopify's billing system they take 20%.

I've written the popular PHP client adapter for the Shopify API (http://wiki.shopify.com/Making_A_Shopify_App#.E2.80.9CI.E2.8...). If you need any help with getting started with Shopify, feel free to get in touch with me.

thanks, I'll take a look. I want to try and replace my freelance work with passive income products. I was thinking of ThemeForest to start but I might try this.

Hi Sandeep,

Just emailed you asking for some help. I hope you don't mind :)


I'm just starting out with http://www.jamaicanize.com , really small compared to other but it's a start. I've been searching HN and learning a ton. I'm hoping to release something bigger soon :)

I consider myself a solopreneur. I run http://bbguard.com.ve which is a panic button for BlackBerry users that live in dangerous cities (main focus in LatinAmetica)

My email is in my profile. Would love to connect.

I've just launched http://www.bravecreators.com and http://www.alicecombes.com and I'm hoping to turn both into businesses eventually. I have a full time job at the moment so only have time in the evenings and weekends.

I've tried doing other things to make money, like opening an online shop selling craft kits, etc - but my passion wasn't there. So one thing I've learnt is that it is very important to do what you love, follow your passion. Your passion is your motivation.

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