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Ask HN: Passive income ideas?
190 points by quietthrow on June 19, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 172 comments
I can code well and I have 1-2 hours daily that I can spend on any project/activity that will, after some work, generate $1000/per month net in passive income. I have kept the number at 1000 as my hours to spend are limited. Change the number if you think I can have a bigger passive income with the amount of time I am have. I would like to hear ideas from the community, specially from folks who have done this in the past or are doing this currently. Please give concrete actionable ideas.

EDIT: I am willing to learn anything.

Some options:

1) Do you have freelancing or other experience which has exposed you to multiple people with similar problems? For example, have you implemented the same "$()#% authentication system for a web application 20 times? Package up that one little piece of the puzzle into a scalable way to teach people to do it without needing to have you or someone similarly skilled on their team. Common form factors include ebooks. Sell the ebook. If you want to sell lots of the ebook, start by offering some free incentive to get people to trade you their email address, then send them email about $TOPIC for a while to make them trust you as an authority on it, then ask them to buy your thing. (Note: You don't have to be the world's leading expert on building authentication systems. You've just taken somebody's shilling to do it twenty times, which means that it is likely much, much cheaper for somebody to buy your thing and hand it to his junior developer than it is to pay a similarly-experienced engineer to do that part of the system.)

2) Failing that, talk to businesses. I could give you a vague fact pattern to ask about (a problem which is amenable to a solution with code) but people seem to get hung up on that so I'll give you something really specific: you are looking for a MS Excel spreadsheet which has ever been mailed by Bob to Cindy, had Cindy edit it, and mail it back to Bob. Every time this happens a SaaS app gets its wings. Now go out and find, in the actual physical world, ten firms which have that same darn spreadsheet. Offer to build them a software system which solves the business problem which that spreadsheet represents. Ask if they would pay (pick a number based on how big the firm is) $50 to $250 a month for it. If yes, ask them to commit to buying it when it is ready. If you get 5 commits, build it, sell to them (n.b. you'll lose some commits here), and then start trying to sell it in more scalable Internet-y ways.

3) Failing that, Bingo Card Creator, an app which does everything wrong in terms of business model and market selection, sold ~$1k a month something like 6 months after launch just because I got halfway decent at organic SEO. If you're willing to get good at one generalizable acquisition strategy (SEO, Facebook ads, AdWords, etc etc), with that wind behind you even turkeys can fly. (It often turns out that there are more lucrative options than pushing turkeys around.)

4) Find or create one proprietary data source which is not currently exposed to Google which answers a question that demonstrates commercial intent. Expose that proprietary data source to Google. The federal government has approximately 100,000 CSV files of interesting data which are not helpful to someone asking questions like (not a good example site, but a great example of there-is-an-answer-to-this-buried-in-a-free-CSV) "What is the median salary of mid-career dentists in Topeka, Kansas?"

How you monetize a site like that depends on the specifics of the niche and how savvy you are about it. Lead generation is very lucrative, if the question you're answering tends to suggest near-term commercial intent in something with a liquid market. If you want to make a lot less money in a braindead simple fashion, just slap adsense on it.

Also, I think I alluded to this above, but anybody capable of executing on any of these has ipso facto developed skills which can be employed by Real Companies with Real Budgets to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in marginal revenue. I know you said you want passive options but more active options, like selling consulting, are things that might well fit where you are in life a few years down the road.

It's worth noting that Bingo Card Creator is very amenable to organic SEO. Not only that, but the process of SEO actually expands the product offering at the same time. That's the beauty of it. Creating a new bingo card is as simple as pasting a bunch of related words into a form and maybe a description paragraph, but now you have a new page full of words (hello Google) and you've increased the real value of the product to some customers and the perceived value to many more.

I think it would be challenging to duplicate Patrick's extremely low-cost and synergistic SEO strategy with a SAAS offering that was not so text-centric.

I think it would be challenging to duplicate Patrick's extremely low-cost and synergistic SEO strategy with a SAAS offering that was not so text-centric.

Many people have reported to me that variations on it have worked out quite well for them. I mean, yes, you might spend 10X or 100X what BCC does on content creation (~$3k over 8 years), but that's very justifiable for a lot of SaaS businesses.

Other people report to me that they've had substantial success with similar strategies in SaaS.

I might have more precisely said: I imagined myself to be creating a BCC clone of sorts with www.makecupcakewrappers.com but found that trying your style of SEO/Content-Creation often resulted in ugly repetitive pages, where creating genuinely new content is expensive and labor intensive due to the graphical nature of the product.

But I didn't quite realize that going in. That's why I point out how elegantly conducive your product is to Scaleable Content Creation.

If you are using words in your cupcake wrappers, maybe find some way to make them searchable text (SVG for instance). Also something like theme groups (birthday, Halloween, etc.) might help. Also magnetic text as an alternative to a word cloud.

User generated content is one way to grow content footprint at scale, you just have to invest in seed content and then moderation. My site (also in education space) http://www.TestDesigner.com has about 150K pages indexed in Google with 90% of the content coming from users.

SEO is not just about content though. Huge part of Patrick's success comes from link building via his very popular blog and his personal brand, this is the part that I think is harder to replicate.

I like your site. Can we talk offline? You don't have an email address in your profile.

Contact me as well, please :)


As an aside to (2). You might not even need to go as far as creating and marketing a full SaaS. I know small businesses that are paying $100-$1000/month for small little services or manually doing tasks at similar costs. Automate/replace their stuff with some bespoke code and share the savings.

The trick is to find them and get them to talk candidly, though.

Example: not everyone wants to admit they have problems in their business, so you have to approach the conversation from an indirect angle.

Shameless plug: I'm compiling methods for finding those SaaS patterns: http://howtofindsaasideas.com/

(If you're a HNer, respond to the signup email and I'll give you an extra discount once it comes out.)

Given your market, it may be of interest to know that anyone with a NoScript plugin who goes to your site (on FF, anyway) sees a blank page until they enable Javascript.

That's likely to cost you a few sales - particularly since you're in the "make money online" space, people tend to be a little hesitant to enable foreign code.

I've signed up, btw.

Thanks for the heads up and I'll see if I can get it fixed.

I'm using Launchrock.com btw.

2 Q's:

1. "Find or create one proprietary data source"

Any other examples & how do you monetize on this?

2. "you want passive options but more active options, like selling consulting, are things that might well fit"

You're doing a great job at it looking at your year in review, but don't you need an established name with years of blog/material to get these sorts of rates?

Thank you!

1a) "Hey data.gov, what information do you have available?"


The very first data set is health insurance estimates broken down by zip code. There's a super-lucrative market for you, but that one might be a bit competitive for you trying to crack it in 2013. Let's see, scroll down a few results...


That's a full listing of government programs which are designed to give people money. You could transform that opaque, disorganized CSV file into an easier-to-consume .org site to educate people on how to apply for government grants, right? And you could run ads on that site, right? (I think it is likely that the type of ads you'll get on that specific site would be scummy as heck, but there's another 75,000 CSV files listed on data.gov, so do a bit more searching and find a better one.)

1b) Assuming you have picked good questions to answer, you monetize by connecting people who have demonstrable interest in spending money to people they can spend that money with. That could be directly with you, if you have a product which answers their needs. It could be with other folks, via selling leads. It could just be with Big Daddy G, by putting AdSense on the site, bankrolled by people who have the business model that you haven't implemented yet.

2) I actually wound down the consulting business. Long story, but short version is that I want to focus more on my own stuff. Having years of material and successes I could point to certainly helped me land gigs, but way back in the day, the only thing I had going for me was that BCC appeared to work and I could explain why. If you hypothetically had a successful side project, that can probably be parlayed into "I could do something like this for you, where it will be substantially more effective because it will take advantage of the X, Y, and Z advantages your business has that mine didn't."

If you hypothetically had a successful side project, that can probably be parlayed into "I could do something like this for you, where it will be substantially more effective because it will take advantage of the X, Y, and Z advantages your business has that mine didn't."


If you have a side project that's bringing in, say, $5000/year, and you do a few things to it such that it's now bringing in $5250/year, you've boosted revenue by 5%.

Now, go find a prospective client with a business bringing in $5MM/year, and explain to them how what you will do for them has the potential to increase revenue by $250k/year. Sure, it might not scale 1:1, but boosting it by even $100k/year should justify paying you, oh, $50k for the engagement.

"you are looking for a MS Excel spreadsheet which has ever been mailed by Bob to Cindy"

That's how I (unenthusiastically) described my job as a Java developer in the first decade of the 21st century. Not sure if by now all Excel sheets have been "consolidated". In any case mobile apps seem to be the current wave.

Not sure if by now all Excel sheets have been "consolidated".

Pardon me while I wipe tears from my eyes.

Not only are there plenty of spreadsheets still wandering about, but I wouldn't be surprised if many decade-old Java applications have reverted to spreadsheets, formally or under the table. ("Officially we have this website, but since the website guy left the company John actually tracks the definitive list of receivables in this Excel doc we keep on this shared drive; it crashes less often and it makes it easier for us to hand-build the new-format reports that have been required since 2010.")

Spreadsheets are actually great: Far more flexible and useful in the hands of "non-programmers" than any other software I've seen. I can't imagine spreadsheet-based prototypes vanishing from the earth anytime soon, though in the places I work for there is a noticeable tendency for the things to migrate from Excel into Google Docs.

in the places I work for there is a noticeable tendency for the things to migrate from Excel into Google Docs

That's basically Spreadsheets in the Cloud. They are upgrading to modern cloud-based software ☺

Not making a case against Excel, more against J2EE consulting really...

Although I admit I have no idea how it could be possible to create a bug free Excel sheet. It's funny that people avoid programming like the plague but somehow manage to produce Excel sheets, which seems to be a million times harder.

The local gas station/convenience store I go to regularly has a PC on the front counter that always has a spreadsheet up. I believe that's how they do their cash flow.

Given the number of business in the world, the amount of documents and spreadsheets needed to run a business, and the percentage of people who know enough to be dangerous in Excel, I'm certain these scenarios are created at a far greater rate than they are solved with programming.

In other words, you will run out of inefficient business processes to help refactor sometime significantly after the heat death of the universe.

Your words are always inspiring! I'm building #1 with features more than authentication for a particular platform. I have found those features minimum for every web application I have built for clients, and decided to package them to first assist me and now to many more soon!

If you have 1 - 2 hours per day and you're willing to learn anything, learn to write and build an audience.

An audience is a more valuable asset than a product. Once you have an audience you can launch anything you want.

totally agree with this. learning how to market is underrated big time. i'm taking this route now by writing first, building an audience and then see how i can launch things later on

I hate to be the cynic (lies), but there's no such thing as a "passive income". The moment you put your service online you'll have active maintenance and support, even if you don't charge for it.

The other problem is that if you solve a problem well, it's actually extremely hard to avoid the business scaling. Once the revenue goes past 1k/month, it'll carry on going, and few people can bring themselves to remove purchase links.

I know that's essentially what you're asking, but my answer would be no, it's unlikely that you can find a model that fits exactly the criteria you have.

I notice many people posting ideas, rather than low-maintenance ideas.

Totally agree - in my experience, passive income is anything but passive. It's more involved than most 'real jobs' I've worked.

Have you tried negotiating tax forms, outsourcing (ha) customer support, maintaining a partially hacked-together codebase, or even having legal documents written that cost an entire month's salary?

There are a great many unsexy things that need doing when you run your own business, which regular jobs shield you from (my next 8 weeks' task list is currently averaging 300 items) - that's the trade-off. And then there's the 12-hour days you'll put in for months, while setting it up...

PS: it's so worth it.

Sell an information product. They don't really have to have either maintainance or support.

I have an ebook out there that I haven't touched for about 2 years. I check the email address associated with it about once every three months. It's still selling.

However, you are absolutely right - maintainance and support can turn a passive product into something Not Passive At All. It's something to watch out for very carefully if you genuinely want passive income.

Also if you are picking an area with competition it is very hard to stand still and collect your $1000/ month, either your pushing on to something bigger or your $1000/ month starts declining pretty fast.

If you're willing to take the long tail hit, you can avoid maintenance and support.

See: apps that are 2-3+ years old, still collecting $$$ without updates.

You'll have maintenance and support especially if you don't charge for that.

I made a lot of passive income by coding trading bots for bitcoin.

Its a steep learning curve but if you are willing to learn, it can be very profitable.

Like you, I can code confidently so during my morning commute I would read books about trading and economics. In the evening I would play with bits of code interfacing with broker API's. Within 3 months I had a working bot that automatically traded away as I slept and went about my day job (passive enough for you?).

Fast forward 6 months with a couple of hours coding a week refining my algorithms, my bots earned me more than double what I made in my day job that whole year.

To answer a few questions:

I actually ran 2 different bots with a few variations of each (for different brokers).

My first bot was an arbitrage bot running on different markets, USD, GBP and AUD. There is still huge opportunity to make money using arbitrage as I've not seen many people do it well. The trouble comes from transferring the funds between brokers, there is often a cost incurred that you must consider and price into any profit equation. @skarmklart, yes the payoff compared to the trading volume is small, but it is low risk and almost guaranteed profit.

I ran the arb bots for a few months and made around $15,000 after which I decided to step it up a level. (I started with $100)

Trading and investments always consist of a balance between risk and return. The risk for arbitrage is very low, and so the return is also low (but consistent). The return for technical analysis trading is much greater but the risks are also larger.

My second bot was programmed to take advantage of technical analysis. I realised that in the bitcoin world it is actually much simpler than people lead you to believe. I set up a database to capture price feeds, then used some free technical analysis tools to produce buy and sell signals automatically. I then plugged the signal feed into my trading api (which I wrote from my original bot) to execute my orders.

Here's some useful links: http://ta-lib.org

Books: Reminiscences of a Stock Operator gives you an insight into trading psychology

Market Wizards (there are 3 books in this series): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_Wizards

It's really nice to find an emerging liquid market that hasn't attracted the industrial algorithmic traders yet, innit?

The whole Bitcoin world is about to become a lot less fun soon. I'll miss the early days (even as I work daily to usher in the next phase).

>>> Its a steep learning curve but if you are willing to learn, it can be very profitable.

That sounds interesting but do you think it's doable for someone without a business degree or something like that? I mean... I am fascinated by everything that's related to bitcoin but I never felt like I could do anything about that because the learning curve is just too steep. I studied sociology so I have some statistical data analysis background but I always felt that competing with guys who major in Economics would be like hobby cyclist trying to beat pros at Tour de France.

Could you please share some more info about your previous experience with trading, your educational background and anything that you think is important? It would be tremendously interesting to me.

Was it arbitrage or trading with some risk involved? For the former, there is this: https://github.com/maxme/bitcoin-arbitrage

I've tried it, and even extended it to support a certain Swedish exchange, but it seems to me the pay off is small and the unreliability of the exchanges means it's not true arbitrage.

Would your algorithm still be profitable today, with so many people running bots on mtgox?

Yes it would. I don't run them anymore though as I decided to concentrate on bitcoin ventures that would help the bitcoin economy grow! (Disclaimer: I hold a fair amount of bitcoin.)

And don't be put off by the hundreds of bots on MtGox, most of them are harmless and from 12 year old script kiddies placing hundreds of tiny ~0.01 btc orders for fun.

How do you even learn that?

Can you recommend any specific books? (on trading) Cheers

Inside the Black Box

What did your bitcoin bots trade?

Bitcoin and another currency (presumably dollars, as BTCUSD has the highest liquidity). Buy when bitcoin exchange rate is low'ish, sell when it's high'ish, reap the margin.

Yes thats correct. And yes, in a sentence you've described a simple but profitable strategy, one of many :).

Uhm... Bitcoins?

Here is a problem that I would pay a subscription for a great solution to: Cron as a service.

Sometimes when you set up a simple codestack on Heroku or Parse or similar, it would be great to be able to specify a web hook that should be called repeatedly just to run maintenance code, summarize scores, clean up logs etc. If you have root access you can set up cron but this is not always the case, and I think it would be possible to build a SaaS that people feel is easier to use and more flexible than cron. I would easily pay a few dollars a month for a simple reliable cron service. Reliability is key, your service needs to never ever fail.

> Reliability is key, your service needs to never ever fail.

Then that sounds like it need a serious full time commitment. The OP seems to be looking for a specific category of ideas that require minimal maintenance, rather than any ideas.

100% uptime is impossible. Remember you can get 99% uptime (2 nines) if you're down for 4 days in a year.

"Never ever" is at least two nines.. perhaps three. 4 days of consecutive downtime would probably hurt a Cron as a service-service a lot in terms of user happiness.

I use Pingdom's 1-minute monitoring for this, which is included on the Free plan. No joke, it hits up my pseudo-cron Task Processing route which fires up and reschedules all tasks needing doing, and it never fails. And it provides uptime and failure reports on my scheduled tasks!

never underestimate the power of duct tape

My weekend project from 2009 does this: http://www.crondroid.com/

One free daily cron, others paid on request (please use the contact form).

500 subscriber crons per day. We use it for in-house and client projects so have an interest in reliability ;-)

Accounts/dashboard/self-service will be added if/when needed (currently email does the trick).

All comments appreciated.

I use one of these for various side tasks, because I got sick of having to run cron jobs for servers that I might switch between or kill off, and I run a lot of cron jobs. I also like the idea of offloading the cron hits to an independent service, so my servers focus strictly on more important tasks.


It's the first one I found that I liked and was reliable. It's very modestly priced as well.

I wouldn't suggest this for passive income however, as cron is a very low cost, value added type product. It's difficult to charge much for it stand-alone. You'd want to bundle a suite of services, like ping / uptime, cron, etc etc. into one.

This could be nice for small apps. The problem with higher-scale apps is you want to handle requests as quick as possible - they should be well under a second. And under typical server configurations, it will time out altogether after maybe 30-60 seconds.

Doesn't Heroku already have a few of these? https://addons.heroku.com/#queues

Have you looked at ironworker? http://www.iron.io/worker

I created a simple SaaS app, https://www.pageblox.com/ that makes $300 dollars a month. I think that in a year or slightly more it could break a thousand a month if I market aggressively. I think I was able to pull it off by targeting a very specific problem and its accompanying keyword phrase: "css layout generator". Over-simplifying, the steps are: 1. find a problem that people and have and its niche, low competition keyword that get about 5000-8000 searches a month 2. build a web based app that solves that problem 3. grow your traffic 4. a/b test and iterate

Marketing is by far the hardest part!

Have you thought about charging $3 / month, or maybe $12 per year for this instead of a one-time purchase?

If you're saving / hosting the layouts, in which users can come back and create new ones or alter old ones, it jives nicely with charging on a recurring basis.

Throw in another service or two on top of what you already do, and the value proposition just keeps going up.

If you've got it working well, there are (smallish) hosting companies that might be interested in white labeling it, assuming it can support templating as well.

Pick an app on the iPhone that is currently selling well and you feel you could build, then make a competing app. It's boring, but it works and it's a good confidence builder. A lot of the advice in this thread is to build some cool new tech, but I'm gonna say that's a bad idea because it's very risky to do that. Sounds like you're trying to find a reliable way to make money. Also, online offerings will need constant babysitting to make sure the site is up etc. iPhone apps on the other hand can be fully self contained with just little updates for new iOS versions and phones needed.


New = risky. Risky = bad if you're just looking for income.

One of the biggest lightbulb moments I ever had in online business was when I realised that if I saw a whole bunch of competitors in a given niche, that meant there was definitely profit to be made there.

Got any other "light bulb" moments to share?

Find a very boring problem that you can automate into a product that needs minimal support.

By "very boring" I mean: necessary for a certain line of business and not well addressed by current competitors and not inherently interesting to work on and full of ugly gotchas and corner cases.

In general, solutions to these problems will be very profitable because they represent untapped markets. The only difficulties are: finding a problem sufficiently boring, and how much of it you can tolerate before it crushes your soul.

If there was some method of turning a skill into passive income with any reliability, people would replicate the idea again and again and so get 1,000,000/month eventually. You're asking for the impossible.


Imagine you had a magic formula to create businesses that make $5,000/month and only take up 10 hours/week of your time. Wave that wand once and you have a $60k salary and a thoroughly leisure class lifestyle. Wave it twice and you're living quite nicely without really breaking a sweat. Most of us stopped there.

Notice that every time you use your magic formula, you take away another chunk of your free time. By the time you've done it four times, you've got a full time job.

That's the reason most of us are smart enough not to build $1,000,000/month worth of micro businesses. If that's the sort of money you'd prefer to make, you'll need to find another way to get it. But don't knock the magic formula. It works really well. You'd be doing yourself a disservice to believe otherwise.

I think you've miss read the question

> I have 1-2 hours daily that I can spend on any project/activity that will, after some work, generate $1000/per month net in passive income.

$1000/28days at lets say 1.5hours = $23 per hour.

So I'm guessing they are not wanting to do the 1-2 hours per day once it's up and running, because $23/hour is not passive income.

Uhh, it's called a tech startup. Just because most of them fail doesn't mean it's asking the impossible. This very site exists because even a tiny positive hitrate is sufficient for significant positive return.

Everything from AdWords to Uber is just "people replicating the idea" into $1M+/month.

Ramit Sethi has a great post from last year on why passive income is largely a myth for most people:


1. Identify a problem that affects a significant market, and a problem that you can solve within reason yourself.

2. Create a solution that people are willing to pay for.

3. Sell it.

Tune out everything else. Ignore the gurus. Focus on the important things only and just do it. Tune out HN, tune out everything.

I would look into doing paid mobile apps. But you still need to have 1-3 nailed.

Definitely read PG's startup ideas article. You don't just sit down one day and think of startup ideas. It will come to you naturally because you will experience the problem. Any other way (other than partnering up with a problem experiencer) will yield fluff.

Find a problem. Solve It. Charge For It.

Start off with a service you provide manually. If you get a good response, turn it into a tool or software that automates it in exchange for a monthly fee.

Stop looking for "easy get rich quick" ideas and find the annoying, difficult stuff that people want to offload from their task list. That's where the money is.

Work someplace. Live frugally. Don't spend the money. Leave it in term deposits or other low risk, relatively high yield (ie. at least above inflation) locations. Rinse and repeat. (Recently, I heard that Vietnam offers solid rates on term deposits in foreign currencies.)

Having spent some time in Vietnam, and spoken with residents (expats and natives), I would not invest my money there. Or most SEA countries. Too many tales of foreigners getting screwed with little to no recourse.

Eggs and baskets!

That's quite a sweeping (and inaccurate) generalization.

I have no experience banking in Vietnam but what he said certainly applies to both China and Thailand, if you stick to the largest banks (ICBC and Construction Bank in China are both probably safer than any US bank - Bangkok Bank, Bank of Ayudhya (owned by GE) and Siam Commercial are all rock solid in Thailand - along with HSBC in both countries). Singapore and Hong Kong are both also extremely safe places to bank and very foreigner friendly.

Source: Lived over there for 6+ years. Still bank with all of those banks, more or less doing exactly what he suggested. In China I earn 3.5% on my RMB term deposits + appreciation vs the dollar, which is almost as predictable as the interest. Personally, I prefer that to 0.1% at Wells Fargo.

I've been living in Vietnam for more than two years now and there is no way I would put any significant amount of money in a Vietnamese bank. Interest rates have already fallen to under 10%. What's worse - just about everybody I've talked to that understands the Vietnamese economy thinks that the banks here are headed for a serious insolvency crisis.

A number of expats here that had planned on living comfortably off the interest of their Vietnamese bank deposits are now scrambling to come up with a plan B.

It may be sweeping but it's certainly not inaccurate. Try Cambodia for example. People lost their deposits not that long ago. Not much in the way of government safeguards, certainly not for foreigners. Indeed, the government are the biggest crooks, and I don't mean that in the weak "Banksters" sense that applies to western govt, I mean a good percentage are ex warlords and gansters, lead by same.

I went to Vietnam nearly two years ago, and the inflation rate at the time was 22%. I'm not a financial guy, but inherently that doesn't sound low-risk.

You missed the bit ...in foreign currencies. I'm not saying it's true, just that someone I met who was living there long term and sounded like he knew what he was talking about swore it was the best feature of the country, and was certainly no idiot.

There are several replies that start with "find a problem". How do you find problems small enough for a single developer to tackle but not trivial enough for having people willing to pay for a solution?

I would suggest leaving your comfort zone.

Developers like myself have a tendency to reinvent the wheel, as in, solve problems like online team chat over and over again. Because that's what we know first hand and are comfortable with.

The webapp for online marketeers I'm currently building, with feedback from a friend in the industry, caters to a bit of a niche but I'll probably have far greater success with it because that niche is quite underserved. I would never had thought of that particular idea had I not wondered off outside my comfort zone and talked to people in other areas.

I don't expect my project to become a passive income stream. It'll take work. But maybe the same method can be applied to find a problem which has a trivial, low-maintenance solution.

A service I'd pay for: Mailing list management that doesn't suck, and isn't Google Groups. Something that can be backed up, and has a web interface. Mailman is still king in this niche, and I'm not entirely sure why.

This is a good idea, surely someone has already made a good mailing list tool?

Zed Shaw's http://lamsonproject.org/ looked interesting, last time I looked at it. (If you forgive it for pretending all the world is UTF-8, which it emphatically isn't.)

There is basecamp's breeze. For some reasons, it's shutting down August though. basecamp.com/breeze

One way is to write ebooks and sell them on Amazon. If you write things that don't get dated, there is no further work on your part, Amazon just deposits money in your account.

It's highly unlikely you'd make $1000/mo on a single ebook, but if you write several, the trickle from each adds up.

I'd definitely buy your book about compiler construction.

Passive income isn't. Lots of little projects may look like passive income but almost all of them (not saying it can't be done but I just have not seen any) have some kind of overhead.

It may be better to search for something that can be started small but that you can eventually scale.

When people say they want "passive income", I take it to mean "I want to start a tiny business and then neglect it and hope it dies slowly".

In my experience, tiny SaaS businesses tend to grow when neglected, rather than die.

Once a product is good enough for people to start signing up for and using, it often doesn't require much more development work. As long as people can find it, more people will sign up than cancel in any given month.

"Passive" is a really good way to describe the experience of owning one of these little businesses, once you've dialed things in so that the support workload is measured in hours/month and you're firing up the IDE maybe twice in a heavy month.

> In my experience, tiny SaaS businesses tend to grow when neglected, rather than die.

Just curious: what if a new competitor moves in? Or is does that not happen often?

I take it to mean "I want to start a small business with a fixed up-front investment and eternal steady income". I don't think they hope it dies slowly, it is just that it will die slowly.

I am in continuous search for this type of passive income for about 8 years. I've tried with (automatically generated) content farms, social media spamming and all kind of more or less moral stuff.

I got to the conclusion that the answer should be in the immaculate white hat area and i am focusing on building software in that area.

Also, i dont think that100% passive is even possible, but you could reach a level where your product gets you enough income so that you become an entrepreneur

When you have some ideas, before you start, spend the first couple hours reading "The Lean Startup" [1] by Eric Ries. This book will give you a measuring stick to see if these ideas work.

[1] http://www.amazon.ca/The-Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuo...

The problem is most people don't know what they want even when it slaps them in the face. Lean startup is just a search algorithm, finding what people say they want, it doesn't create or educate markets. That's where the real progress is.

Two ideas.

1. I desperately want to be able to send a link to somebody and have them be able to book a N-minute meeting on my calendar (CalDav) without any further interaction. I have spent probably several hours trying out products, all of which suck. I currently spend $30/month on a tool that really doesn't even work.

2. The enterprise IM (CampFire, HipChat, etc.) is pretty well done at this point, but the "group chat for the somewhat public" space isn't. If I am supporting an open-source project the only game in town is IRC, which is hard to use for people who need support. If I want to have a permanent chatroom with 15 software developers that I know socially and allow people to drop in, there's no system for that.

1. Just out of curiosity, could you please share what that tool is?

2. Like iffyuva said, I believe HipChat has that option. As does Campfire. The thing is maybe those groups aren't willing to pay for such a solution?

> The thing is maybe those groups aren't willing to pay for such a solution?

Actually I think they want to pay more. At least I do. HipChat charges $2/user; I would pay $5 or $10.

The real problem is that tools designed for companies consolidate the billing. If I start a chat for my local user group then I am on the hook socially to upgrade my plan to let new people join. If I am successful in cultivating a useful chat then essentially I am punished for it, and the punishment grows without bound. One of the groups I participate in has over a thousand members.

Meanwhile I would be happy to pay for a friend or three, with the understanding that the other 997 people who may want to join need to pay their own way. And with mostly individual accounts you can probably ask for significantly more per user than HipChat can.

And the effort to get people to sign up might be effectively free if you funnel part of the license fee back to the organization who no longer needs to pass the hat around for pizza money or whatever. This may create regulatory problems, but if we're just talking about the customer acquisition equation, there are a lot of awkward situations where somebody forgot to bring cash that I would very happily roll into a monthly debit to forget about.

the first one you describe is exactly what you can do on outlook. Everyone who is connected to the same exchange server can view everyone elses calendar and see which times they are free and which times they already have meetings scheduled and then they can send a meeting request at a time that everyone is and it is automatically added to your calendar unless you reject it. The only problem with this is that outside clients wont have access to you exchange server.

> The only problem with this is that outside clients wont have access to you exchange server.

My company consists of: me and the guy sitting a few feet from me. If I wanted to schedule a meeting with that person, Exchange would be a poor improvement on the existing solution of turning my head.

Google Calendar has a 'show free/busy' option to show your availability but not your appointments, and do auto-accept for requests too.

What tool are you using right now? Google Calendar's fine for me at the moment but I'm always looking for options.

I believe HipChat has this concept of 'Guest Access'. Won't that be helpful, just curious.

I've also been thinking of the exact same thing myself, something which will generate enough profit to pay off bills, buy something nice and invest a little in growing the idea.

Recently I've been working on https://www.emlipo.com which was scrutinized by HN for essentially being "little code nobody would pay for". So I've not really wanted to work on that now.

Still, there will be something out there I'm sure.

By the way, the demo is currently offline. I'm currently at work, but shall try to get it back on.

Hey, I couldn't find your previous emlipo submission, I was going to post feedback there. It looks useful! I have a few blogs and getting spam addresses is a pain!

It took me a while to understand at first. I think the key word that's missing from your tag line is 'address' as it currently says 'verifies that an e-mail exists'

I immediately thought that was referring to searching for a specific e-mail message in an inbox.

I think the name would stick in mind better if the gmail envelope letter M was removed to make the name easier to read. I read it the first few times as Emplio not EmLIPO. It's only when I saw it written outside of the logo I realised.

I tested the demo but it didn't work (maybe too many requests have been going through it?) I tried on mobile Safari and IE 10. Both times I typed in an address, hit the button and the page just refreshed with no result. EDIT: Just seen your comment re: the demo being offline.

The navigation links at the top are very pale and tough to see (that maybe just browser related)

This could easily bring in some decent income for you. I think you just need to target it towards it's main benefit - reducing spam. The word spam isn't used on your home page at all.

HNers may have said it's 'little code' - if it's so simple then why doesn't it already exist? When something like that is packaged as a service with good documentation it's valuable. Perhaps you should increase prices. You may want to consider a forum manager / blogger level with a simplified integration process and instead of throttling on a per hour basis, could they have X number of api requests available pcm. Most people know the signup numbers to their site but can't control how they are spaced out. Good luck!

Thanks! I've taken your feedback on board and shall start implementing it all :)

That semicolon (;) in your footer should be a colon (:). [0]

[0] http://i.imgur.com/VHYGbSd.png

Same in the tagline, or better yet, just remove it there. Interesting idea and nice site.

Thank you :)

Good spot! I hate bad Grammar too!

I missed your show HN thread, sorry. But for what it's worth I think your service looks cool. Your pricing looks too low to me - perhaps a sign of your lack of confidence in the idea - I think you could do with some higher-volume packages too.

No worries, a lot comes in on HN. Thank you, you have no idea how much that means to me!

Too low? That's a great sign too! In regards to higher-volume packages, I most certainly agree, however we want to ensure we're able to handle the potential volume of requests so far.

What do you think about the limits and throttles for each package?

1. Identify a very niche pain for businesses. 2. Make phone calls every day to the people making buying decisions for that pain. Try to close the deal, even without a product. 3. Start building after your first deal closes. 4. As you build, keep calling and closing. 5. Script out common support issues as you encounter them, and offload to VA.

My previous startup generates many times more passive income than $1k/mo, and I did it the "hard" way by building the product first, then try to sell to customers. Also, don’t underestimate support costs.

Finally, keep in mind that you'll probably have to start an actual business in order to open a business bank account to collect money, and you'll have all the fees and legal obligations that goes along with owning a business, so your $1k/mo can easily turn into $500/mo after all that jazz.

Edit: I'll also add to stay away from targeting consumers directly, and instead go after businesses. Much easier to charge $199/mo to a real estate broker than $9/mo to Joe Consumer. The former won't blink an eye for a truly useful service, whereas you'll get overwhelmed with support issues on the latter.

Businesses are way better than Joe Consumer, they need less support and pay more.

On that subject, stay away from "free" plans, unless you really need freemium marketing - the support for free users is usually the most.

Save $200k and buy a 33% leveraged muni bond closed end fund, which are currently yielding approx 6% tax free at a 10% discount due to the recent bond selloff.

Disclaimer: if interest rates rise you will be unable to reclaim your principal but, generally speaking, this income stream should be pretty safe for the foreseeable future. And of course, $1000 a month today is not going to be as much in the future if inflation returns to 3%.

Doing this at the point in time in which money is about as cheap as it has ever been in history due to hyper QE to hold down rates, is a very, very bad idea.

It's not a question of if rates will rise. They're going to rise a lot, because every day that goes by the cost of artificially suppressing rates gets more expensive (which is why the Fed has had to keep expanding their QE program). Equal but opposite reaction, is what will occur, conceptually. To the extent they've created hyper cheap money, is the extent to which money will be expensive, sooner than later I'd argue.

The bond bubble is nearing an end. If the Fed wishes to continue it, it's going to cost trillions worth of new inflation, setting up a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. The era of cheap money is over.

If you want to earn a return on your $200k, wait for the inevitable disaster that follows these insane central bank policies. Swoop in with your pile of cash and pick up dirt cheap assets after the next crash. Or go after yield as rates skyrocket in the next five years.

You have no idea if this is true, this is 100% speculation. Rates could rise dramatically, they could rise gradually (which is the most likely scenario), or they can stay at 0% for the next 10 years.

This is why buying a bond fund at a deep discount (these are at 10% discount as we speak) provides a nice cushion for all cases except the catastrophic "yields rise quickly" scenario. If you are worried about that, you should be setting aside some cash to try to time the market.

No, it's not 100% speculation. Although that's an amusing claim, because your own parent post would fall under your same position of being 100% speculation if you were in fact right.

However, your premise requires a world in which nothing can truly be known for certain and all outcomes are equally likely. Such is not the case; not even remotely the case.

Rates cannot stay at 0% for the next 10 years, the math involved won't allow for that scenario. The Fed is already having their hand forced right now, as is easily demonstrated by the huge spike in bond yields, oil being at $100, housing and stock prices skyrocketing due to asset inflation generated intentionally by the Fed (as they openly said they wanted to have happen). It's a repeat of the last asset bubbles they brewed, and for exactly the same reasons, only this time it's 100% intentional. The clock is rapidly running out on their fraudulent game. They're already being wedged between a rock and a hard place; continue the policies of cheap money, and assets go so high they rip the economy apart upon implosion, again; stop the policies, and the economy implodes instantly. Rates skyrocket either way, as the bond buyers begin demanding higher yields to compensate for worsening inflation with continued QE; or rates skyrocket as the Fed stops QE and stops artificially holding down rates.

You might as well claim that rates can stay at 0% forever, or for 1,000 years, or for 100 years. Again, your position requires the premise that all outcomes are equally possible, and that is not true.

It's obvious the era of cheap money is ending. The era of expensive money is about to begin, as it must by the basic laws of economics (which is in fact a science, despite the many witch doctors in the field).

When did I say all possible outcomes are equal? The most likely scenario is not a sudden explosion of yields but a gradual increase in yields. Other possible scenarios are low yields for much longer than you expect, or your "armageddon" scenario where yields jump by a few hundred basis points in a year or something. If you don't believe central banks can keep rates low for another decade in the U.S. see: Japan. (Don't assume I am claiming this is a good idea, I am just explaining the reality of the incredible leverage central banking has.)

If you buy a 10% discounted tax free bond fund (a taxable equivalent of a 9% yield currently) that has medium duration (~6 years) then you are fairly well cushioned from gradually rising yields, as the fund turns over and moves into higher yield bonds your distributions should increase. In other words, all of your fears are not hidden, secret, insider knowledge, but are largely getting priced in at this point.

The biggest risk with long-term CEF muni bond holdings is not interest rate risk (since you don't have to sell them, you have a 10% cushion, they have moderate duration, and a large enough spike in yields to really impair your principal is a pretty low probability outcome. but again: you don't have to sell them.) The real risk is inflation risk. And this is what I said in the Disclaimer:, which you seemed to not read. Also, your viewpoint seems to indicate the best assets to hold are gold and cash, and the cash side of your portfolio is going to be exposed to the same inflation risk as your bond coupons. There's also risk of default, but you can find national funds that are well diversified, etc, so this doesn't seem to serious a concern either.

edit: Also, one thing you are overlooking is that if the shit hits the fan, there is a lot of greedy, borrowed money in equities right now, both people chasing dividend yield and people chasing capital gains now that we're in a bull market, thanks to the Fed's bubble, that will head for the exits. It will go where it always goes: government backed fixed income and money markets. This will cause downward pressure on yields in the scenario where Fed moves cause a panic in the stock market, even though ironically the Fed doesn't even buy equities, it only buys bonds.

That was my strategy for the past years, except the muni bonds are just one egg in the basket. I also hold business development companies, REITs, a high dividend stock ETF, corporate junk bonds (US and international). Right now I'm earning around $1,200 per month from $200k principal.

What REITs do you like? What are the most pressing risks you see with REITs right now?

If I could only buy one, I would choose RWO. Relatively low fee (0.5%), both domestic and international exposure. But it "only" yields 3.75%.

For more of an income play I'd look at IGR (yields more than 6%, trades at a 7.5% discount currently).

Another one I'm watching is "O".

Risks: Prices can swing wildly due to any number of reasons. Rising interest rates can depress real estate prices in the near term. Income should stay fairly stable though in my opinion, so I'm taking the long term view and try not to obsess about daily price volatility. I wouldn't put more than 5-10% of my capital into REITs.

Thanks. What do you think of PMT? I can't get past the 11% yield. I guess there are some pretty big risks there to justify that yield?

Looks like PMT is an mREIT (mortgage REIT), so instead of physical properties they buy mortgage loans. Different ballgame in the same stadium, so to speak. There are others: AGNC yields 20%, CYS 16%. I used to have an ETF that holds a portfolio of these (REM), which might be a good way to diversify as they all have slightly different strategies for investing and hedging. I got out recently, it's just too unpredictable. These funds achieve their high yield by being leveraged 10x-20x, so any impact from external factors like interest rate spread and policy changes is highly amplified.

Though I still have some exposure to the sector through other funds like AWP and SDIV.

Can you give an example of funds like this? Maybe instructions on how you would search for them?

NAD would be an example, or, if you're in California, NAC (state tax free, but geographically concentrated in CA).

There are other bargains out there now too, because of fears of the Fed tapering down QE, anything that yields >5% got hit hard in the recent weeks. Even foreign, emerging market bonds. ESD for example trades at a 7% discount and yields 7.5% at the moment.

For research, Morningstar is a good starting point: http://cef.morningstar.com/quote?t=esd

Another thing you could try is building dashboards for firms/companies that are plug-able into major databases (Excel also as a "bonus", there are many using Excel as database...).

Most will require your board to hook into their ERP system, which is run by a database. The idea it's not new but existing solutions are over-complicated or expensive.

Build a few templates and run them in browser (HTML 5, Java Scrip, CSS, database connector, and a scripting language), get them to look good/attractive (I know it's not easy, but hey... it's not that difficult either).

I believe most companies will be happy to just invest in a LCD screen, an Android device and your labor - to have the boards displayed on the factory floor or at reception (they can also run presentation slides).

As a bonus you can manage the systems remotely - for servicing after installation or changes, if required (another source of income).

I know that this is not a really "passive" income idea, but if you get passionate about it, I think that it has the potential of turning out nice. I have build one of this boards for my work place, and I am thinking of putting this into action.

Think of problems, outline a solution into a video and a pitch, put it on kickstarter and market. You only need to implement it after you received the money (the lean startup method).

To find problems, do searches on google, yahoo answers, and twitter. Look at the bureau of labor job outlook handbook online and see which parts of each job could be eased with software, or whether online marketplaces could be created (taxi drivers -> uber, hotel desk clerks -> airbnb). Also, each section of craigslist is potentially a online marketplace.

Grab data and build recommendation systems. Movie, music, book, stock/currency prediction, photo, video, blog, vacation, sentiment, patents, similar people (from facebook/twitter/blogs).

Programmatically generate data visualizations and put them on youtube, slap ads on.

Build control systems for drones to automate transportation/photography/surveillance/games. Look at the academic research and commercialize it. Drones that can play catch games, deliver orders to tables, do photography for functions/weddings, do surveillance of perimeters of offices/homes.

Cut your spending so you have a few hundred extra per month. Invest it in SPY (an index stock for the S&P 500). Over time, you'll build up passive income.

One reasonable way to cut spending is to sell your car if you have financed it, and buy a car you can afford to pay cash for. Financing is a huge drain on your cash.

This isn't a good strategy. First of all the timing factor alone can hammer your principle (particularly with stocks sitting at all time highs).

If you have a skill that is valuable, you're far better off leveraging into that, for the returns are massive by comparison to the puny returns in stock indices. If you can earn just 10% every year in stocks, you're a wizard that should be working on Wall Street earning millions.

It's radically easier to invest $100 into hosting ($10 or $20 / month at digital ocean), build a service, and make $1,000 a month (a huge return on the invested capital) - than to earn a mere 10% per year in stocks.

$1,000 / month = $12,000 per year. To put together $12k per year from stocks, at a 10% return (which is a great return per year historically), you'd need $120,000 in capital to begin with.

Scenario 1) you need $120k in cash to put to work in stocks to yield just $1,000 per month average in new capital, assuming a great historical return (and assuming you don't get demolished by a market down turn). And if you're riding dividends, you're going to be hard pressed to consistently yield 10% every year even from the best dividend investments (such as public trusts, real estate vehicles etc).

Scenario 2) invest $20 per month into a hosting account at digital ocean and build a service that yields $1k per month in income.

#1 is silly compared to #2

>It's radically easier to invest $100 into hosting ($10 or $20 / month at digital ocean), build a service, and make $1,000 a month (a huge return on the invested capital) - than to earn a mere 10% per year in stocks.

But the stocks can happen with no effort from my side. Just invest in some fund and let it ride. Building a service that will make $1k/mo isn't "racially easier", it would take many hours of work to accomplish which means I can't be using that valuable time for something else more interesting.

You can say it's silly, but I know many people who live below their income and invest the difference in stocks. Over 20-30 years, yes they do build up enough to generate significant passive income, and many of them have become millionaires in the process.

It's not a quick way to wealth, but it works, and does not require any particular cleverness nor much of any work.

That really depends on the overall situation. Financing a car that you could afford in cash might well be less risky than having too little cash on hand for emergencies.

The people I know who finance their car have no cash for emergencies, either, because their money goes to the finance company.

I am no expert, but if I understand correctly, a blog can generate passive income from archives, although this requires that you steadily update the current content (to retain and/or increase site traffic). Not sure this would meet your needs, though, because maintaining a blog can require a lot of work.

No such thing as "passive income" except maybe buying securitized debt (bonds, etc. but then you got inflation to worry about).

A business is a business; the amount of labor you'll have to put into it will be proportional to the supply and demand that exists in that specific market.

Sorry, but there's no free lunch.

He's not looking for a free lunch -- he's looking for specific market ideas.

Also, while I sort of agree about the "no such thing as passive income" point, I think he just means 1-2 hours a week level passive.

You could generate targeted affiliate links on social media sites. (from social media sites to amazon, etc)

How's your maths? Here's something I'd pay quite a lot for: intelligent inventory optimisation in an easy to use SaaS format. Quite mathematically intensive to do well, so most SMEs don't have the skills, but directly saves money so has a clear value proposition.

Some pointers for an MVP I think might be sensible: Model stock arrival and product ordering as Poisson point process with probability based on recent data Combine with sales data & length of ordering cycle to reach suggested quantity per order (you could make suggestions to account for covering variations in customer ordering based on standard deviations)

I'm thinking of doing this myself for my business but really not finding the time to get it done!

There seems to be a lot of competition in this field. Did you evaluate existing services? It's an interesting problem.

I've had a look (but not intensively, it's a back-burner thing for me at the moment). Everything seems very heavyweight and aimed at big businesses with long supply chains.

For a small ecommerce retailer, you don't want much like that; maybe I've missed it but there seems to be a gap for the Basecamp of this niche. A shopify plugin might be a good way to get standardised i/o rather than adapting to proprietary systems

If you have any kind of social media following, you could exploit it with affiliate links.

Someone posted a good article about finding niches in the app store recently. Something simple that satisfies an unmet need could earn decent ad money.

Yeah that's the one. There's a follow up worth reading as well.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5207179 Discussion on making your own "Incredible Secret Money Machine".

Write an ebook on something you're passionate about (it would be better if it solves a problem, in a niche) and self publish it online, use gumroad or something to handling payments and delivery!

I recently bought a Blackberry because of its built in encryption features. It's a great phone but is missing two popular apps: Evernote and Audible.

If you made an app to substitute for either one and charged a few bucks for it, you'll make passive revenues for a long time. Not only that, you'll be loved by crackberry users the world over.

Seriously, how many business types subscribe to Audible and to Evernote? And people are looking for more secure communications. It's an incredible opportunity.

Does anyone have experience with what they call "app tender" sites like http://appcity.org/ ?

I've heard one anecdote about a guy who knows a guy who bought a very simple iOS app for 10K, did some marketing on FB and made like 20K within a month.

I'm more interested in any experience from the developer perspective selling apps on a marketplace like this. I've also heard the new iOS makes this easier to do.

Learn PHP and write software for Wordpress, like useful plugin or theme. Distriubute free version to wordpress.org repository and then develop and sell premium version of the same thing on your own.

I personally made $100K+ with this approach and it works like a charm.

If you think there is such thing as passive income, you have anything thing coming.

If you want to be sold a "passive income mega business", go and have a look at Blackhat World, the scummiest place on the internet.

Follow the paper trail. State or Federal governments mandate business regulations. Z new piece of paper work or efiling gets created which someone can create a service to help businesses with.

Ever noticed that all the suggestions you are getting are to some other person a passion and full startup that they are pursuing? That should tell you something. Good luck :)

Monetizing your hobbies/interests would be a good way of enjoying your free time and make some money. It won't be very passive though.

I've done this through licensing SaaS to social gaming companies (apps). It took a fair bit of work though -- I'd say 6 hours daily.

I think it will be hard to build much of note in 1-2 hour chunks. Better to spend 16 hours every other weekend, in 2 eight-hour blocks.

do any kind of freelance/consulting work then invest the process into high dividend stocks and eventually shift to bonds as interest rates rise in the next few years. you can find quite a few large cap, stable companies on the cheap that yield on the order of 5%. take into account the lower tax rates on dividends and your real income rate becomes higher.

create an iPhone/Android app

I trade stocks as a hobby and have been able to make some money.

This of course is an easy thing to do when you are in the middle of a raging bull market, as we are now.

However, there are a number of reasons to believe assets are extremely over priced and yields are not compensating investors for the risk they are taking.

I trade stocks as a hobby and have been able to loss money. just kidding. but really, a single sample is not a good statistic. Also: http://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/cat-outperforms-profe...

It is not passive...

Buy & hold is about as passive as it gets.

I second this; it's the best hobby ever.

Any advice from you guys on places to start researching?

I never get why these vague I want money posts get to the front page, how is this hacking? Wanting more money, for little work? That's status quo.

Anyway stop wasting your life on stuff would be my tip.


Learn to cook well(healthy and tasty) over a few months, it'll save you money and health costs. Great tax free not wasting money passive habit to pick up.

Consider it the creative application of computer code to systemic weaknesses in the global economy, with a clearly defined success function which is fairly difficult to fudge. That might help explain some of the attraction. (There's also the "If you only know W-2 employees, then making money by a legitimate means other than a day job feels like cheating", and for some reason a lot of hackers like winning by rules exploitation more than they like winning.)

Good hack, yep that's a interesting question.

Edit: Weakness - language. Solution get a bi-lingual friend who can suggest a non English success story. This in reverse http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-02-29/the-germany-...

For me, it doesn't feel like cheating. The way I see it, the normal way to earn money (ie employment) is the inefficient/underpaid way.

It's not cheating if you're merely getting your fair share :)

Hacker News != just news on hacking

Have you tried getting reincarnated as a rich guy?

Alternately, you could create your own crypto-currency and get chumps to bid it up.

Buy some oregano and try to sell it as marijuana.

If all else fails, you could try doing some actual work.

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