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Ask HN: How did you make your first $10,000?
79 points by areeve on Apr 30, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments
Or even $1,000, if you're yet to make $10,000.

From an entrepreneurial or self-initiated venture.

For Buffer, the first $10k came from approximately our first 1,000 paying customers. That said, we've changed our pricing a few times so the number may not be exact.

The great part about getting $10k from recurring payments is that it can grow beyond $10k pretty quickly (now $100k+/mo).

As for the real "how", I think the key is to first find out something you can solve which is truly a problem for some number of people, and then to provide it and market to people the fact it exists.

I wrote an ERP system for SMBs. (Enterprise Resource Planning, Small/Midsize Businesses). My first sale was to a 20 person automobile aftermarket wheel manufacturer for $20,000. I remember sleeping with the check that night.

Can I see? How long did it take you to write it? How long did it take you to sell it? Is it still alive today?

Haven't made $10,000 yet, but my first 1,000 was by selling a calendar I designed and magnet pens I make by hand and sell here: http://dayonepp.com/. Way back in 2008 I came up with a square-less calendar design that combined the tradition layout with a todo list: http://www.chrisnorstrom.com/2010/12/invention-calendar-layo.... Things got delayed, years later I tried a kickstarter for the calendar but it failed miserably. My goal was too high and my video sucked.

Over a year later I just said "screw it" I'm going for it. And threw in $2,000 to purchase my first 250 calendars & boxes & shipping supplies. I didn't know how I was going to sell them, it was already December so I was late, but somehow they sold. In a little over a month I sold a whole bunch on FAB.com and my own Wordpress e-commerce site I threw together. I sold out in 2 months and ordered another $6,000 worth of inventory mostly for next year. Upgraded their design so they were more premium and could be rolled up. Taking the packaging weight down to just 1 pound instead of 2.3 pounds. With the new design my packaging uses only 6 ounces of cardboard instead of 1.2 pounds like before. And redesigned my site.

The magnet pens I make by painstakingly by hand by boiling each and every cap in hot water so the plastic softens just enough to quickly insert a magnet into before the plastic cools. I searched all over the internet and Alibaba for magnet pens and just couldn't find anything economical or high quality enough. All the magnet pens out there were just weak or impractical. Plus with mine you can recycle the magnetic cap on other pens. I've been selling a bunch on ebay since last year. It took almost a year to become cash flow positive with the magnet pens and about 2 months to become cash flow positive with the calendars. I'm really bad at sales btw, it's my first time. But it's been totally worth it. The learning experience alone is worth more than collage classes.

Here's my store I opened up with my products: http://dayonepp.com/ I've got more original products on the way as well.

Just for you guys, use promotion code "hn" to get $1 off your order.

I shoplifted copies of Adobe software from a bookstore and sold them on Ebay. Eventually I felt bad about this and turned myself into the bookstore owner and paid them back. This was high school. Does that count as entrepreneurial or just plain stupid? I'll leaning toward the latter.

I don't think you slept as good as edw519 with his check that night.

You did $10K worth of shop lifting?

While at university I managed to get a contract to temporarily install covert CCTV recording equipment to catch staff stealing from a chain of UK retailers.

I wasn't making much money until I discovered I could park outside a local swimming baths, sleep in the car, and then wake up for a swim and a shower in the morning. Sadly as soon as I locked the car, the alarm was set. If I turned over during the night, the car alarm would go off.

Couldn't you just lock the car by using the internal lock mechanism (e.g. individual locks on the doors)?

My car has a pretty hidden switch in the door to disable the alarm for interior motion, I was super excited to find it for this very reason.


I'm guessing you mean you "made money" because you saved on rent?

Answered a tweet asking for help setting up an open source web service, ended up landing monthly $1K fee for "maintenance". Worked a total of four hours in one year for $12K, then the contract ended. I quit my real job soon after

Saved my lunch money from junior to college plus everything from birthdays and celebrations. Every cent was put away.

Worked surprisingly well as a strategy. Recommended, and gives a great start in life.

How did you eat?

This takes me back to my brief stint with consulting. I knew someone who had a VBScript web application that kept crashing. I'd never done a lick of VBScript, but I had cut my teeth on QBasic, so I figured that I could get up to speed on the language in a week and probably get the bug fixed in another two. I was straight out of school and only wanted $20 an hour, so we said $2500.

With all of that out of the way, I finally got a look at the source code. Fifteen minutes later, the bug was fixed (it was just a missing quote in an SQL call).

Of course, while they could justify hiring a consultant for $20 an hour for a three week job, management wasn't happy with the idea of paying a fresh college grad $10k an hour to fix a one character bug. Thus, I wound up writing another app that they had wanted, also in VBScript.

If there's a Hell, I'm going there for the SQL injection vulnerabilities in that program.

Consulting pays well (very well) but of course it doesn't scale. I made my first $10k doing that.

What makes you say that? There are plenty of gigantic professional services firms.

Trading time for money doesn't scale.

Tell that to Skadden Arps.

It's scalable for the partners at Skadden (and similar service firms) to trade time for money because the time they trade is that of other people (viz., associates, and/or analysts at investment banks) who put in prodigious hours in the hope of becoming partners themselves someday in the distant future.

Sure. That's how you scale a professional services organization.


You fleshed this comment out, which is great, but I want to be careful to say I'm not endorsing the business model of wringing hours out of people's speculative hope that they'll reach the top of the pyramid. We don't have "work 60 hours a week and make partner" model, for instance.

But the general principle of developing and refining skills to the point where they enable you to ramp up new people and deploy all your people more effectively is a good one that works in a variety of different cases.

Tech is myopic (extremely) about professional services; many of the largest firms in our economy are effectively scaled-up professional services companies.

Agree that tech is myopic... or perhaps it's just a segment of tech - there are a lot of tech people working happily for those large PS firms you mention.

Trading your time for money doesn't scale. Trade others'

That's true, but it's also what every large tech company does too, services or otherwise.

I'm sure Price Water House Coopers, Ernst & Young, IBM, Deloitte, McKenzie, and Accenture would beg to differ. Or any huge law firm for that matter.

I'm in public accounting. We just arbitrarily raise our rates. At the end of the day it depends on what the partners are selling. Audit work has kind of stopped growing. Consulting could grow but all these public accounting firms are fairly risk averse as well.

My first $100 was baking and selling apple pies locally. It was successful, but the margins were just not there due to the price of apples and the time spent.

My first $10,000 ever made was playing video games. It was all made in one weekend at a Quake 3 tournament. It was my first tournament ever, so it was fueled solely on excitement, fun, and sheer determination. I completed 2nd place, took home a giant check, trophy, and was at that moment in time the #1 U.S. player.

1. I made money high school doing web sites and tech support for individuals and small businesses around my neighborhood. Most of this work either came through friends & family or people I'd met while working in a student job helping people use the computers at the local library branch.

2. I made more in college by making up a paid job with the student affairs department (one that did need to be done, not make-work), related to my role with the student government, and then doing it. Is that entrepreneurial?

3. After I dropped out of college I worked doing odd jobs / handyman work, and as a contractors apprentice, doing home renovations. Once I learned the ropes, I went out on my own and worked for myself doing that.

4. After I finished college I went back to doing freelance web development, again working for myself.

While I learned things at all of these, any of them could have been my first $10k if none of the previous had happened.

In between, I worked non-entrepreneurially at a series of non-profits / not-for-profits -- a summer camp, my university, a hiking club. I now work for a growth stage company, and it definitely has its advantages in stability and ability to focus on the parts of the job you like. No doubt I will work for myself, and for other non-profits, again in the future.

AllAdvantage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AllAdvantage

Back when I was in middle school (on AOL)

Someone actually made money from AllAdvantage? How?!

I think I earned $100 or so but was never paid.

About.com paid out $800, a few small companies paid $100, but Northrop Grumman took the prize for paying out $9300

Although not explicitly stated, I think there was a minimum requirement of $100 to get a payout from a given company. Checks were issued from each company individually, so you literally had to make $100 from a given company to get that payout.

My first company (a sales force automation product, back in 2002) made 10k in its second month of existence by selling integration services to two customers. We were only able to make 10k of RECURRING revenue (by selling product licenses) YEARS later, however (and the consulting/integration side, although lucrative, doesn't scale that well and was VERY time-consuming).

As for a "consumer" product, myguestmap.org (2005 - about to go defunct in a couple of weeks due to changes on google maps' licensing) made 10k in donation revenue in its first year (it paid VERY handsomely for a product that took me a day to make, both in donations and in ads). It never generated enough revenue to sustain itself, though, but was a very fun ride (most donations came along with a great story on why they were using the service - and that included all sorts of groups, from cancer patients to sheep farmers trying to connect with fellow strangers).

It was in 2006, I needed some cash to pay my student loans.

At the time I was all about C++, wasn't very good at it and couldn't find any part time job to continue my CS degree.

One of my contacts proposed me a freelance gig to rewrite the intranet of a big french corp. It was written in ASP.net 1.0 and only worked on IE. I didn't want to take the job but when they offered me 5,000$ I said yes without knowing what I was doing.

After some consulting with friends I went with PHP5, smarty and prototypejs. It took me a month of days and nights instead of the 15 days initially planned but it was a blast! PHP, javascript, HTML ... found all this new world way more funny and productive than C++,boost and wxWidgets/GTK.

Since then, I learned to plan things more carefully (especially when I don't know the tech) and never stopped coding and working for the web.

I've been working for around 11 months now as a marketing guy and I now touched my $10000 mark. In India $10000 is annual average salary of a fresh graduate. I'm into my 11 month of my first job and I touched it even though I started with below average salary. And the feeling is inexplicable.

Was asked at university who would like to write code for the summer (no other details). I said yes as i had nothing else to do. It turned out to be a project working for a large company which paid the equivalent of $900 a week for 16 weeks. Went a nice way towards our mortgage deposit.

Paper route. I went through a couple rear axles on my bicycle because the papers were so heavy. At one point it just snapped right in the middle. I guess I'm dating myself now, you kids don't remember what an actual newspaper looks like.

My son does a paper round on his bike. :) The tradition is very much alive.

The weight of his papers is quite staggering. I sometimes think it weighs more than he does. :)

Using a bicycle? When I was a lad we had to carry them by hand, up-hill, down-hill, come rain or shine.

I'd have loved to have had a bicycle on my round(s). (Sunday mornings were the killer day, here in the UK the Sunday editions of newpapers are 2-5x the size of normal editions.)

The first $10k I made were from ads on websites (pay per view, pay per click, affiliate marketing). In the meantime I sold one of them and then moved to domain names (catching dropped domain names and then parking/reselling them; still own most of them). Then I've built the biggest tattoo community in Poland with over 500k fans on Facebook (currently only making revenue through ads; next month we'll release our first t-shirt). Now I'm concentrating on building an easier and more secure authentication solution for the web (using mobile phone based cryptography instead of passwords).

I made a library application for Epic Games. Looking back, I think I severely undersold myself (closer to $1k than $10k). Then sold it to another studio. I'm thinking about converting it to a SaaS app, but I don't know how I'd gauge further interest (I made a barebones landing page but apparently google won't let you advertise those).

The one lesson that is extremely clear: networking is paramount. I only got the job initially because my name was thrown around by a friend and was only able to sell to the other studio because of a connection I made while doing the project.

A customer read about what we were doing in the newspaper after the governor threatened to shut us down, and then wrote us a very large check without even asking the price.

It was never that easy again.

I made my first $1000 by doing a project for someone while in college which was a javascript based Basketball scoreboard back in 2003. No fancy jquery. Plain old boilerplate javascript and DOM manipulations. It was fun. The guy sold it to high schools for thousands more while my cut was $1000. It was intense and took a while to get it right but it taught me a lot. Since then, haven't done anything like that and just a consultant now!!

Running bots for poker, backgammon, blackjack: https://github.com/alexhanh/Botting-Library

This is actually something I've been toying with for some time. I have a pretty decent poker bot I've built from scratch, but I need a way of interacting with "real" poker clients, and configuring screen scrapers is BORING.

Do you recommend any other methods besides scraping? I've heard of people injecting DLLs into the process of the casino app, but I have no idea how to go about doing that.

I haven't been following the scene for a few years now, so can't tell if DLL injection and similar methods are detected by casino clients more easily and thus being riskier todo.

I know what you mean. We did DLL injection, network protocol analysis, reverse engineering, etc. and almost always went with screen scraping in the end due to its easiness and universality.

If you are lucky tho, the client might produce logs real-time and you can get events simply by polling the log file.

Lost my job. Updated my resume. Got on the phone. And pinged all my contacts via LinkedIn.

And instead of taking the next F/T gig, I went to work for myself. 5 years and counting.

Doing what?

First as an independent consultant, moving to establish my own firm and bring on additional consultants.

First $10k was made almost 14+ yrs ago when we were asked to build a website for a music artist. We had never built a web site before nor had we any knowledge on the backend. But we spoke well and seemed to know what we were doing. We spent the first 2 weeks learning how to make it and luckily it turned out decent. That led to about 5 years of consistent work from the same client and launched our new web dev business.

A content farm. A large scale database of information on businesses in the US / Canada. It did well, took a few weeks to build up (from various data sources). This was the early days of Google Ad Sense, and long before they concerned themselves much with content farms.

I used it to fund the development of larger, more ambitious projects (kept me from starving, paid my bills, and paid for multiple servers).

What do you do now? something related?

I grew up in a small farming community in Indiana and from 8th grade on I worked summers and after school on a Dairy farm.

I think I got paid $9/hour or something like that, but I worked so many hours that I had a decent amount saved up after a while.

The work was really hard, and that's what made me decide to go to college for Computer Science. I respect people who can do that work their whole life, but it is rough.

By performing approximately 105 hours in basic computer repair, from which I pivoted to...

Nearly doubling that rate for "consultation" for larger companies, from which I pivoted to...

Dumping about $15k of savings (made possible by a dramatic increase in income tied with a continued frugal lifestyle) in to an "enterprise" startup, which made well over $10k in the first sale (took about three months).

Developing an iOS app for someone, just over £1k when it's all finished. Prior to that, bits and pieces here and there, I made a reasonable bit of money licensing a photo to a UK newspaper after they'd used it without consent.

£10k would be a big chunk, don't think I'll hit it any time in the next 18 months. Never say never though.

How did you manage to find someone willing to pay £1k for an iOS app? I'm an iOS dev myself and am looking into possible freelance ventures such as this to bring in some cash over the summer / university period.

A one time thing a while ago. Consultation job that evolved into a developer gig (when he quit) and that turned into a designer gig (he quit too) and I ended up doing all three.

But I have no complaints though. That company hired some very talented and loyal people who're still together to this day long after I left.

Made my first real 1k€ came from developing a few LabVIEW interfaces to be used in my university's physics courses. Back in the day, in middle school, I used to host counter strike servers at home but couldn't scale it to make good money.

A rather long internship with a certain prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. It was actually rather nice: I learned a lot, I was being paid to do something I consider fun, and having money is nice when you are in college.

Regular full-time job as a service desk employee. Not the best achievement associated with it, that's why I'm pursuing a research-oriented education in university now. I was young though, I hit the mark 1 year ago (I was 21)…

I simply asked for the sale. Whatever you are selling, make sure to do just that.

My first 10k were made in a year or so as junior PHP developer (Italy - 2006)

I made a CD (yes, like a music one) and discovered that social media (myspace at the time) was a powerful marketing tool.

Didn't make it to $10k, but did have a net profit of a few thousand which wasn't bad for high school.

I made a 3D animation using 3D Studio for the Thomas J Watson Research Center. I was subcontracted - and very young, and I'm pretty sure the people that sub-contracted me made a LOT more than I did.

High School student here. Made my first 10k the summer after my Junior year as a software development intern at a startup that had recently been acquired by a larger tech company.

Combination of summer internship as a web app designer in Austin, TX, and graphic design work for my college's alumni office and my professor in Pittsburgh, PA -- all in 2000.

I started a small 2 person "multi media" company using Macromedia Director. Had a few cool clients who did some Quicktime3D accelerator cards... That was around 1994

I made a porn site.

Cutting greens and tees and watering fairways.

Made open source software to scratch an itch in my free time. Later got paid to develop on this for a contract.

i hacked a certain (now deceased) startup right after their first round of capital and then negotiated a signing bonus when they offered me a job. It was a very simple xss but i was able to do enough with it to impress the founder and make some money.

By selling imported dreamcasts...

My first £1,000 (about 8 years ago) from a small PC repair shop I opened with a friend.

I made my first $5000 writing open source code during Google Summer of Code.


Is this referring to $10,000 in one payment? (A large sale etc.)

Buying a domain and selling it for £1,200 a few months later.

Out of curiosity, what was the domain?

Would love to know too.

I did client work. I don't even remember for which client :(

online poker, starting with $50 and slowly building up

Freelance PHP dev work while I was in college.

Building and selling browser exploit packs.

with a blog that covered iOS jailbreaking

Selling software licenses.

Playing poker in college.

First $1,000 Admob Ads.

Stock-market investment

Selling a domain name.

building decks. wooden decks. also fences.

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