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Passive Income Hacker vs Startup Guy (mkrecny.com)
466 points by mkrecny on July 26, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 258 comments

The conversation has been known to continue:

SG: "You should join our company as chief growth hacker, since it's a great fit for your skills and experience. You'll work 100 hour weeks. We're thinking $60k a year and 0.5% sounds fair. Come change the way the people $VERB."

PIH: "Where do you get to the part of the sales pitch where I get something out of this deal?"

SG: "Did we mention the free soda?"

(I'm joking... but not by much.)

My favorite experience with this type of conversation was when my SG counterpart exclaimed, (with great excitement) "... and we'll pay you under the table!"

Under market pay, no benefits, AND I get to screw the government? Sign me up!

I'm so glad no one at the startup I'm at is even remotely like that pathological huckster.

> AND I get to screw the government?

Only for a while, then most likely the government gets to screw you...

Agree 100%. This article is especially funny because the author's startup is Followgen. While a twitter app that automates social interactions may be a useful tool and a great thing to work on, it really isn't changing the world.

Could "changing the world" be a contender the most trite, overused expression of 2013? Recent grads seem to have adopted it en masse as their personal tagline. It's a nice sentiment, but it hard not to roll your eyes when every 23 year old applies it to his mobile phone app with no users that he threw together in a couple weeks.

I'd suggest actually changing the world first, and then shouting it from the rooftops. It will be (slightly) less annoying that way.

Besides, I'm not even sure it's a healthy sentiment for most people (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130708103509.ht...). If your focus is as broad as "changing the world," you're probably setting yourself up to feel like a failure.

I think there's clearly a need to disrupt the way people are changing the world.

You should join my startup as chief growth hacker. We'll pay you less than you're currently making, but you'll change the way people are changing the world.

Are you from Yo Dawg Industries?

Worse, by working on a trivial startup that will eventually fail, they'll usually be changing the world for the worse, as the opportunity cost could be going into medical research, or fundamental science, or creating other great works that move society forward.

I completely agree with you. I'm in my lower 20s and you have no idea how annoying that phrase is to me. I hear it way too much and used with reckless abandon that it's lost all meaning to me.

same story here

My tounge-in-cheek tagline for Webb Industries used to be "Building a better today, tomorrow". As anticipated, I never got around to it.

>Could "changing the world" be a contender the most trite, overused expression of 2013?

It's either that or the perennial favorite, "exciting".

OP and Followgen founder here. As someone below points out, the article is a satire of SG - I absolutely realize that Followgen isn't changing the world!

ps: Followgen isn't a startup ;-)

I'm afraid it didn't quite read as satire to me. If the ending was trying to be over-the-top, it undershot the target. Oh, if only the idea of an SG writing something so obnoxious on his personal blog were obviously satire.

The effect isn't bad, though, so rather than destroy the tone with an even more over-the-top ending (characters stabbing each other with forks?) I'd probably try a different "literary" signal. Consider, for example, a one-sentence intro to establish the narrator slightly more explicitly as a third character: "While I was dining at Madera, I overheard a conversation:"

Or, maybe you have the Andy Kaufman nature and you just don't care what people think so long as the art is working. ;)

To me, the point that made me stop and think whether it was satire or not (as I assumed it was from all prior content) was the beginning of the last paragraph, where it feels like it switches from third person to first person. Instead of "Worst of all, ..." if it said "Worst of all, SG believes..." (or something similar) it may have kept the satirical tone better.

This is exactly how I would've phrased it as well. I just re-read it, and it all flowed until the last paragraph which threw me for a loop.

I think that's the point. The author sees himself as PIH. He doesn't care about changing the world and sees SG as silly. The article is a satire of Startup Guy.

What among the "web 3.0" series of sites/applications do you think is really changing the world?

I think what we do in development is cool and all, and most importantly profitable, but I don't know if it changes the world much.

Google changed the world. Lotus 1-2-3 changed the world. DOS and Linux changed the world.

But any new application? I think we're just offering luxury items. I don't see anything wrong with that (see "profitability" above).

I once worked on a document management/project management system, the devs were first port of call for the client IT teams. Boring, right? Non-game changing?

One phone call I got just after it was installed at a 15-20 person business. I'd helped them out with something and asked how the roll-out was going:

Client: "Yeah, it's great, we're loving it. Bit of a problem though..."

Me: "Oh right, well maybe I can help you out, what is it?"

Client: "We don't know what to do with Sue and Bill now, they don't have any work to do. What can we get them doing?"

This boring, non-game changing software had automated roughly 10% of their workforce. Obviously not great for Sue and Bill, but when you put it in those terms the cost savings across all the clients we were serving must have been 10s of millions of pounds. That's millions of pounds to be spent on actually building things instead of just faffing around with admin stuff making sure the subcontractors got the right diagram, or finding out what the site foreman's phone number was.

Even the silliest auto-tweet tagging software means you can do more with less, that's why people buy them.

Almost all software is game changing. Never doubt we are all changing the world. It's just that the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. What Google did back in the 90s is almost laughably simple to what most of us do today. But obviously what they do now is much more complex.

--What Google did back in the 90s is almost laughably simple to what most of us do today.

Do you really think this is true or is this some kind of sarcasm?

No sarcasm, I think it's true. I'm talking about the original search engine, not what they've done to it since. They've done amazing things to it since and it's obviously turned into an arms race, but we all build much more complex software today than we did 20 years ago.

Better tools, better practices, better understanding of what works and what doesn't, better resources online.

Even simple things like most people these days understand how HTTP actually works, back then you'd be lucky to find people who even understood basic HTML.

Did you use Google back then? It wasn't actually that great, you might have to do a bunch of searches, try excluding words, just to get some vaguely good results. It was a lot better than the rest though.

a good and fast search algorithm for a massive database across dozens of machines isnt a trivial thing even today if you build it from scratch. In the 90ies their algorithms were world class!

Did you use lycos, yahoo, or altavista back then?

Google's results were orders of magnitude better, in my opinion. I don't remember how it compares to today, frankly, but I remember the tears of joy I shed at the time.

I think I switched from using a combination of altavista & one of the search sites that combined a lot of different results.

It was better, but I can't remember thinking it wasn't orders of magnitude better. I didn't use it once and think 'oh my god, this is perfect'. It was a gradual switch. And to begin with the thing which made me use it more was the simple UI.

Really, it wasn't that much better, at least not to me at the time. I'd switch search engines every few months, or more accurately have 3 or 4 search engines to deploy against difficult queries.

Google was _slightly_ better than alltheweb.com at the time that I added it into the mix. But it slowly began to win more and more of the "query requires using 4 search engines" contests and eventually I only used one.

I don't want this to sound like an anti-corporation rant, but I think that most automated workers have a hard time moving across fields and that the money "saved" is often not benefiting the company but the owners of the said company. While paying people to fool around is certainly not right either, automation of the working class widens the income disparity gap

Ah, yes, maximizing profit for the owners at the expense of laborers. This has never happened before. I'll argue that the money saved could also be used to fund further automation of the labor that is one of their largest annual expenses.

Typically when people espouse the want to "change the world" it is for the betterment of humanity; though it is interesting that you identify with the sentiment.

Can I suggest a new wording

Google, Lotus, Dos profited from an already changing world.

Technological and social-economic forces are shaping our world, mere companies, especially a few guys in a garage, don't touch the sides.

Want to change the world - invent a new technology, do basic science. Einstein changed the world for hundreds of years hence.

Nothing wrong with good implementation and profit. Just its worth recognising were the real drivers are so we keep on funding them.

It depends on what you mean by changing the world. For instance. The MS team working on Microsoft word upgrades doesn't change the world in a meaningful way, when was the last time you heard "Now MS Word has feature X, my life is saved, my children are healthier."

Meanwhile, I know two brothers who from a simple YouTube channel (not even devs) whose followers have topped the Kiva loan program, raised millions and millions of dollars for charities around the world, are actively educating people of all ages about history, literature, current events and science. One of the brothers has made the New York Best Sellers List in young adult fiction with a book about the struggles of cancer. With less capital they are decreasing world suck more than MS Word development team.

So, what about apps and web apps? A really cool childrens book that is interactive and encourages kids to read or learn about a cool and important topic, I would argue, will have greater net value than Angry Birds even if the audience is smaller. An app designed for companies (like electric companies) to use, that forecasts weather conditions that aren't storm conditions but are more severe than the company can operate saves lives, while the market is small. I'd argue saving even one life or helping teach one child how to read is changing the world in a big way.

My message of the day, "Do work that matters."

The ones that interface with the real world.

Uber - fixing taxis.

Airbnb - fixing hotels.


Yeah, another app - big deal. But an app that makes your real world (physical space) life tangibly better? That's a big deal!

Square, for one.

Not directed at you, but I wonder how many times using the phrase "Changing the world" is thrown about from the insecurity of not being able to change ourselves for the better, first, by even submitting to solving smaller problems well, and maybe, like moving up.

If you can't deal with yourself, take those skills to a broader market.

Hence the dig in the final sentence about "exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity." Knowing the author's work really changes how that sentence is read.

If he's working on something that he enjoys and can get paid enough to enjoy his life, that's a better world than one where people can only make a living off watching life fade away while sitting in a cubicle without time to family, friends, non-profit work, etc.

I'm changing the world everyday. I've got a stable job that allows my wife to homeschool our three kids.

So it does highly advanced things like automatically favorite tweets based on searches?

"Social interactions". Let's not kid ourselves.

This post reminds me of http://www.startupbook.net/, which I see patio11 whole heartily endorses. I'm a PIH wannabe, currently.

And similarly, http://www.micropreneur.com/ which is run by the author, I believe.

Yes, he (the author) also co-hosts an excellent podcast [1] with Mike Taber [2]. I know they're both on HN, but I'm not sure of their usernames.

[1] http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com

[2] http://www.singlefounder.com

mkrecny is the author.

I think he meant the author of www.startupbook.net...that's me. I also posted a comment elsewhere on this thread with more thoughts.


This happens way too much

Nailed it.

This post makes me happy :)

> "Worst of all, PIH is probably not trying to make the world a better place through technology."

Don't worry, PIH, Startup Guy isn't either.

There are really two main camps of startup founders I've met. There's the type that really wants to bring a vision to life - they have a pseudo-religious fervor about something, whether it's gaming, transportation, lodging, or something else. They really want to change the world, and it's not just talk.

Then there are ones that are really in it to make money. They want to create a company, exit, and go do what they really want to do. Sit on a beach, roll up to the club in a Rolls Royce, travel, whatever.

It's a sliding scale. Every founder has some balance of being genuinely passionate about what their company does, and the desire to just cash out. All said and done though, the founders I meet tend to lean much further towards the latter than the former.

I don't fit in those buckets. I have no external funding and no desire for it. I'm not in it to change the world or for a big exit - I'm in it for freedom.

Freedom to steer the business in the direction I feel is right. Freedom to work on what I choose is important.

The one advantage of this approach is that my primary focus is the needs of my customers, rather than the needs of my investors.

If you learn a lot of corporate strategy, you'll read about the importance of aligning the goals of your customers with the goals of your investors (and then you'll suddenly read that phrase in every earnings and annual report ever.) The idea being: there's an inherent paradox in trying to serve two mistresses, one who wants profit and the other who wants value.

Something that isn't touched on too much is that it's sometimes better to only have one mistress. When your customers are your investors, then your priorities and goals suddenly become a lot clearer.

sorry to be the guy that gets picky about words, but i think you mean contention rather than paradox

Never apologise for trying to make sense out of the world.

Whoops -- yep, you're right! (In my defense, it's very early and I'm very bad at words.)

I actually think "paradox" is a perfectly acceptable word in the context used. The common usage meaning - contradiction - is particularly apropos.


edit: fixed nasty typo

I'd say "conflict" is better term than contradiction or paradox, since we're talking interests and desires rather than logical propositions.

But also the "paradox" in this situation is that it's perfectly doable to meet the contradictory needs of value for customers and profit for investors at once. Many such dilemmas have paradoxical both/and solutions.

good point on misalignment...

Have you raised funding before? We had a similar stigma towards VCs and Angels with our company (bootstrapped up until a year ago); that they would just end up trying to steer.

Thus far (we've only raised a seed round so we haven't given out a board seat yet) after having raised about 400k in seed, my experience says the complete opposite, they don't even try to steer - I've learned far more than I ever would have dreamed of, having raised money from and talked to people that have done big and/or amazing things with their lives.

If anything, you have to learn to ignore Angel's advice - some of it is good, most of it isn't pertinent to your business.

BTW, you don't ever have to do anything an Angel says if you don't want to (unless you've given them a board seat).

VC firms are different though because generally, in your Series A, if you raise 2M from VC firm X they will usually ask for a board seat - when someone is on your board then they DO have a say. You usually balance this out though by picking a neutral third party person that is trusted by both to hold the third board seat (or if you can, preferably someone that is more loyal to yourself).

"big and/or amazing things"? Raised confident, happy children while maintaining their own happiness you mean?

I really can't think of anything else.

Unless you're talking about fixing poverty, disease or violence on a large scale in which case I'm surprised you've got the time to procrastinate on here.

So you've decided to take my completely reasonable argument and throw an ad hominem back at me? I almost wonder if you even read the comment, or thoroughly understood what I wrote because your snide tone is so far off from my intention.

Lessons of the day:

    1. stop trying to be an internet bully, it's unbecoming
    2. not all investors are evil
    3. the world isn't black & white and when you think
       something is bad, it most likely means you don't 
       understand it or its context fully

Ad hominem? Where?

1 What? 2 What? 3 What?

To get back on topic, if you use hyperbolic and grandiose language to describe mundane experience expect to rub people the wrong way.

Also, what argument?

Where am I using hyperbolic and grandiose language? You also twisted my argument and tossed in a jab about procrastination - that is completely unrelated to the dialog (an ad hominem?).

The argument in which I defended the idea that not all investors are out to get you and that maybe black and white thinking could be expanded to be less absolute.

You are still not telling me what you disagree with without sarcastically attacking me. That's being an internet bully.

What? By describing the mundane as "awesome" of course. Do you even read what you type?

Twisted your argument? I'm ignoring your argument (I've just re-read the OP and I'm not actually sure what argument you're talking about) and picking you up on your odd choice of words.

Re procrastinating, I have never seen a post on hacker news from anyone who is doing big and important things. To my mind, and please feel free to correct me, this strange state of affairs is probably because they're busy.

Finally, to make it absolutely clear, as you seem to be having problems with this, I'm disagreeing with your abuse of the word "awesome".

Do you always call people who disagree with you, "internet bully"? What's the difference (other than the banally obvious) between an "internet bully" and a "bully"? There's a lot of irony floating around for a guy who doesn't seem too clear on what "ad hominem" means.

Do you even read what you type?! The fashion in which you are engaging me is distinctly not convincing me to see your point-of-view.

You've been a dick this entire conversation; your first comment was sarcastic and an attempt at attacking personal character (am I wrong, or is that not an ad hominem when you respond to something someone says by attacking their character instead of directly dealing with what they wrote - which you're finally starting to do in this comment).

Who are you to judge anyone on whether they've done big and important things? In my opinion, selling your company for millions is big! Brokering mergers between large corporations is big! Being the inventor of an innovative new technology is big! Does that mean they are now going to cure cancer? I don't know! Are those things important? YES because they are important to the people that experienced it.

"as you seem to be having problems with this" you're still being a dick here; if you disagree with my diction then fucking say that instead of being a sarcastic asshole. Be courteous and offer a reasoned argument about why you think my choice of words could or might be more appropriate. You still haven't convinced me that my expression was wrong.

There are people that disagree with me, then there are people that disagree with me and are assholes. The latter are people I believe to be an "internet bully".

"There's a lot of irony floating around for a guy who doesn't seem too clear on what "ad hominem" means." you're still being a dick here and you still haven't offered any actually helpful knowledge. If my use of "ad hominem" really is incorrect why are you not trying to help me? Why are you trying to tear me down? I'm still not convinced that my usage of the "ad hominem" was ever originally incorrect:

From the dictionary:

(of an argument or reaction) arising from or appealing to the emotions and not reason or logic.

From your comment:

Unless you're talking about fixing poverty, disease or violence on a large scale in which case I'm surprised you've got the time to procrastinate on here.

Is that not appealing to emotion (sarcastically attacking me) instead of providing me with a clear argument to tell me why you think "big and important" things should only include "poverty, disease, or violence"?

If you don't care what I think or engaging in a meaningful conversation, then why did you even comment?

> Unless you're talking about fixing poverty, disease or violence on a large scale in which case I'm surprised you've got the time to procrastinate on here.

How does that make any sense? Unless he's raised money from or talked to people that have worked on some of the biggest world problems you're surprised he has time to post on HN?


Even if angles don't have a seat, they are still more trouble than their worth, IMHO. I personally won't seek funding from traditional methods; but luckily, the world is changing and there are some new non-traditional methods (passive income (subscription, or digital media download), donations to private companies, crowd funding, and who knows whats to come).

My company is "in the black," as it has made more money than I've put in, and holds no debt. I'm working on new business model than what I started with. I'm starting small, growing slow, and in it for the long haul. PIH Isn't a bad life, and it is a great way to make it SG w/o accelerators and networking exercises. And oh, I do care about making people's lives better with technology.

I think your point-of-view might be a bit parochial. I certainly wasn't arguing that Angels (or VCs) are trouble-free routes for funding a venture. They certainly are difficult, take up a lot of time, don't always know what they are talking about, emotional, &c... However, of the ones that you nab that are smart, experienced, and a joy to work with - make it worthwhile.

They can be a lot of trouble, but if you're trying to grow (and I don't think outside funding is appropriate unless you want to grow fast or build something that requires a large amount of capex - like hardware) I think the "funding" culture is essential in elevating the founder's ken.

I think PIH is awesome, I have many peers that I would consider to be living that life - so the whole thing is very subjective. I'm primarily arguing against the false notion that investors are bad (only some are), are a waste of time, or "take over your company" (some do, and even then it's only because the founder(s) weren't versed in the "game" and politics of fundraising).

That's about as close as "changing the world" as most people can dream to get.

You might feel it sounds too grandiose for your actual goals, but a lot of people have no shame in uttering it.

My favorite founders are the ones that are in it for the journey. You have to look hard to find them but they're out there.

Well, since this in HN, maybe we could throw out a few. In particular, which ones qualify in NYC?

I work at one, we're in DUMBO. My email is in my profile, and yes we're hiring ;)

This has been my experience as well. The people that actually care about building and designing things tend to be the builders and designers. Maybe thats why most non-technical / non-design founders I have known seem to really just be about the money.

Ehh, I wouldn't give the builders and designers a free pass either. I've met just as many engineers and designers who are in it for the money.

All in all the people who genuinely want to change the world and are willing to put their money where their mouth is, are very few and far between. Regardless of their profession or background.

The dissonance is that startups, particularly VC-funded high-growth startups make a lot of noise about disruption, changing the world, and the such. But somehow, with few exceptions, when push comes to shove they will take the exit over their vision.

The disruption is a reputation, a stereotype, that does not really hold sway the more we see developers and business people enter the industry from more traditional educational institutions.

> Maybe thats why most non-technical / non-design founders I have known seem to really just be about the money.

Not to pick nits, but I think the dichotomy you're setting up here is silly. Business administration or leadership are skills as technical as coding or design, and if done correctly, can be more so.

With that in mind, there's an art to making money. Just churning over cash in the short term doesn't have that. Building a brand that can last for a century takes a genius.

Good point. Maybe a more important distinction is how someone evaluates the product. Do they think its a success just because it made a ton of money? Or do they have some more intrinsic measures of what makes it good, and look at the impact it actually has on people? With that in mind, I can see how a gifted business administrator can do their job (maybe make the company money) while being motivated by the more intrinsic stuff about the company. I guess I just try to stay away from people who's ONLY yardstick is how well it sells.

Paraphrased via The Founders Dilemmas: There are two types of founders - money oriented and control oriented. A good HBR article about the topic: http://hbr.org/2008/02/the-founders-dilemma/ar/1

Here's the problem with that... False assumptions being made in the article include: - You need venture capital to be successful - The goal should be public trading Cargil, Koch Industries, Mars, LAMPO Group and many others remain privately held. - You can measure the potential for financial success of a company in some real tangible way, and tell how close you are too that potential.

I also don't think that money and control are the only two orientations to have here. Or perhaps there are subgroups to money and control orientation.

For instance, Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) wanted to pass on his show to another; but, couldn't find someone who met his high standards of morals, communication skills, and permeability. After his death, the Fred Rogers Company (formerly Family Communications) did launch a new show, and it was still important enough to get Fred's widows blessing before it aired. Is that control oriented, or is quality oriented?

Or take a look at company founding CEOs that have missions or beliefs that forbid them from taking shortcuts to maximize profits, like an unwillingness to outsource to parts of the world that treat labor like cattle. Is that simple "control orientation?

I am control oriented, and for that reason won't take on debt, venture capital, investors or partners. I am clear, it is mine, I have a vision for it, and you can't have it or pervert it. Profit isn't as important as delivering a good product and actually touching lives.

What a crock. I get that some of this may be tongue in cheek but I really despise this attitude. There's this sort of weird pseudo-religious belief that by virtue of being involved in a startup you're somehow doing the world some great good.

Your new social/local/mobile app isn't world changing no matter what kind of hustler you are, no matter how much hype you put out, no matter how much money you raise. Anyone can be a capitalist for good or bad whether its exploiting a niche market segment on your own or with a startup.

I believe that regardless of whether you're on your own or do a startup, if your motivation is purely financial you can still do the world great good. Similarly, do-gooders with a grand vision can harm the world. Your stupid little messaging app can connect people from around the world and change the way people communicate (throw in some good crypto and you've done even more good for private comms) or your energy startup that's supposed to change the way we fuel our vehicles and provide clean cheap energy forever can end up doing great harm to the environment or put millions out of jobs as a side effect. These are obviously very hypothetical examples but the point is that there's no "motivation + execution = ethical/unethical success" formula.

There's way too many shades of gray to even be able to consider generalizing like this post does.

I think he was poking fun at the startup guy there.

I believe this was the intended reaction. Startup Guy's inability to see virtue in anything that is not strictly in line with Silicon Valley startup culture is being held up for ridicule.

To me the generalizations in this article come across as ironic or satirical.

It's a very tongue in cheek post, there's been a few posts from that blog linked on HN and they've been very full of irony and satire.

I am unsure as to whether you are scorning or agreeing with the author. You pointed out that a) this is tongue in cheek and b) seem to agree with the fact that founders shouldn't be scorning anyone not following in their footsteps.

Why can't the author make a generalization about startup founders based on his experiences? We all have stereotypes about other races, nationalities, people with a certain 'look'. Of course there are many shades of gray in between. That doesn't preclude us from associating certain character traits with someone before we've ever spoken with them because of how they look or where they are from.

Myles identifies with Personal Income Hacker there, not the Startup Guy. He's making fun of that attitude.

Ok, I'll speak up as a "PIH". There are a lot of ideas that help people that will never touch VC money or can support a company with all of its overhead. It's not out of laziness. It's how a great programmer should look at all problems -- what here is redundant, manual and gets the most bang for the dev time and CPU cycles?

When you're a team of 1, your I/O bandwidth is almost infinite. If it's all in your brain, you don't have to explain anything, write anything down, have meetings, draw on whiteboards, etc. Your available time to work collapses down to solving specific business problems with every line of code or web page update. Imagine a case where you never have to compromise, argue, make brain dead concessions or spend resources on proving your position. Assuming you are right, and have a good head for business, marketing and writing half-way decent code, you can solve a small problem every efficiently. There are a lot of $20k-200k problems out there to solve that are not worth it for a company of any size to even touch.

Does Passive Income Hacker actually exist, or is this conversation a fantasy?

How many people are there making five figures ($10,000+) in profit a month with their SaaS product? Working by themselves, for only "20 minutes a day", with a full day of product development "every few weeks"?

This number is really easy to pull of if you know how to sell yourself and be social/on the offensive.

$150/month product that saves businesses $4,000/mo (one less programmer). Hard part: Find 70 clients.

Working in industry, we demo products all the time. We pay outrageous amounts of money for an online time tracker which is basically an online spreadsheet. We have considered obtaining systems for managing accounting, supply, etc.

Focusing on our core business, policies, we never get tied up in 2-3 month/year adventures in uncomfortable territory. There is no innovation, just maintenance. We use a 20 year old 4GL language assisted by native Python/C.

I could crank out Android apps in niches, write web content and advertise, build a few cloud based web products (CAN IT EXPORT TO EXCEL!?!?!!!111), and easily live off of 15-20k a month with huge fluctuations (both directions). I choose the simple life of industry.

Not to mention, it is so hard to motivate yourself to go from start to end on a product. Most of that energy was used in my late teens.

Right now, I could be cranking out that turn based strategy Google Glass native app, because native apps with delays in turn taking are going to be the key to Glass (it gets hot!). Instead, I'll just build another fixed width extract with this day. It will run in 1/16th of the time of the original. People will not notice or care until it breaks again. Ad absurdum.

I suppose its worth mentioning, I know a few who pull in 4-6k a month solely on advertising/affiliates. Completely passive, they have months worth of posts automated to go out every 2nd or 4th week. I've pulled off 1-2k using the same method, but I always had a hard time finding microniches that were available for me to dominate. Writing about en pointe ballet, dremels, silver polishing, simms fishing gear etc. is not my ideal goal. It did make money though.

This number is really easy to pull of if you know how to sell yourself and be social/on the offensive.

If this was true then every startup would be a success. You need a lot more than that. Not to mention that finding a problem that costs a company $4k/mo and coming up with an elegant solution is a lot harder than it sounds.

Many first time founders think exactly like this. They're blindsided after the product is built and they realize the hard work has just begun.

Startups are much different than these toss it up to die schemes. They worry about design, presentation, correctness, speed, etc.

I cannot name the online system we use, but I am willing to say that page load times average 15-30 seconds. The interface is riddled with bugs. There is no customer support for what I imagine is a $5k/mo meal ticket. They also hotlink all of their JavaScript.

Functionality is easier to sell than all of the other facets of the start up. CIO wants to know if the system will replace it. CEO wants to know how much money it will save. Higher level execs want to be able to export it to Excel and easily notify mid level execs when they are behind.

Once again, I kid you not. This expensive app is literally a spreadsheet with dynamic columns which allow administrators (dept heads) to assign values. The hierarchy is the system is sys admin, admins (officers), users, and temps.

Job scheduling, accounting/vouchers, log analyzers, time management, project management, supply systems, commissions systems. If you have seen them once, you can probably reproduce it 'with a twist'.

> I'll just build another fixed width extract with this day. It will run in 1/16th of the time of the original. People will not notice or care until it breaks again. Ad absurdum.

Life of the corporate drone. And yet... in exchange for forfeited dreams and ambitions you get a nearly assured nice retirement someday and little need to think or work hard.

Maybe 20 years ago. Now those large corporations are likely to find a way to let you go sometime before retirement.

I could crank out Android apps in niches

I hear this a lot, but are there numbers on how many people are managing it? I.e. if you exclude apps put out by large companies, how many people are earning $5k+/mo off Android apps? I don't even have a ballpark guess; is it 10 people? 10,000 people?

When I first learned Java in school, I cranked out a couple of Android apps. I coded one in 30 minutes. It currently has 24k active installs with a total of 125k people trying it out. Free. Horrible programming. No unit tests led to a scenario where setting the alarm at midnight resulted in the wrong calculation. People love the simplicity of it. People hate the simplicity of it.

It has the potential to make $5-17/day. I'm guessing if I corrected/updated the code, it would jump in rank. If I could generate 13-15 apps that fit into this type of niche, I would easily reach $5k/month with lazy/horrible coding. If I just sat there for one-two full month(s) churning out one app a day, I would probably be able to reach that goal.

Just out of curiosity, what app is it?

Sleep cycles, direct clone of sleepyti.me. Turns out ATNT branded phones don't allow access to the hardware alarm clock. The app crashes on ATNT Galaxy S2s (my original phone). Considering that was my first experience with Android, I never looked at it again in a happy manner.

I think it's larger than you think. I don't hang out with many developers and I know a guy who fits this mold. That's 1 out of the maybe 500-1000 acquaintances I have who are generally of above average intelligence/education.

I qualify. Actually I'm a stay at home dad. I work about an hour each day with my customers (mostly support and help for those users who don't read instructions) and bring in high 4 figures a month. I've been doing this for the last 2 years now. The first 6 months were almost full time while I developed the app but the hours tapered off once I released the app. Now that most of the bugs have been worked out, it's about an hour a day. Couldn't be happier with my current situation. The biggest thing I miss is the camaradery that comes with a start up.

  > Does Passive Income Hacker actually exist?
I think patio11 is the "poster child" of this:

  > Profits: $38,598 (up 66% from $23,230)
  > Wage per Hour: Approximately $1,000, given that I worked
  > for approximately 15 hours integrating the new design and
  > spend approximately 20 minutes a week doing support.
(Source: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/12/29/bingo-card-creator-and-o...)

The reality is that it's a little more than "20 minutes a week" if you tally up all of the labor over the lifetime of the product, but then again, most people don't include how much they've worked in the past when they're asked: "How much time do you spend working each week?"

I wouldn't self-identify with either of the two characters here, but then again they're characters. That said: yes, there are lots of small software businesses out there. Many of them do leave the owners pretty well off. Not all of them require huge amounts of work. BCC is very much not the most successful one out there.

I am one. I work roughly ~70 hours a week (if you count research and studying), but I can go months (or longer) without needing to touch the passive side of things (or work at all, if I so choose). Usually I am studying to push the bounds of what is available to the consumers (ML, NLP, OCR, etc), studying interesting business models, or just generally improving my craft. Not all of us are lazy, and I have a feeling the approach mentioned in that article won't stand the test of time.

In short, passive hackers who are bootstrapped and make a tidy some exist all over. I know several. However, it typically isn't treated as a "vacation" but rather having the flexibility to breathe and do things right.

I qualify. I'm a stay-at-home dad and don't work much during the day. A few customer support emails or a tweak here and there. Lately I've been working hard nights and weekends on a new project to scale things up a bit, but it's not related to maintaining my current income.

There are a lot of us out there. Speaking for myself, I can say I don't talk much about it to other people and pretty much never around startup entrepreneurs. The article sums up the feeling I get on the receiving end...

It's possible that they are working for only "20 minutes a day" in the same way that the Startup Guy is working "100+ hours a week."

That is to say, the quoted number happens occasionally, but it feels like all the time.

The article reads like somebody attempting to tell my story using my voice. They guess pretty close to the mark, though "20 minutes a day" is a bit on the high side. I have entire months full of 20 minute weeks, and often go a few months between full work days on the product.

This is with a SaaS app designed from the outset to minimize support and maintenance, with profit also a high priority, provided it doesn't conflict with the first. It was in no way hard to do this. I often recommend that others give it a try.

Do you have a blog or something where you talk how to get started? I think many of us want exactly this but haven't been able to pull it off yet. At least that's my case. I have about $30/mo passive income but it would take an awful lot of those to gain any flexibility!

I think reality is more like the startup world: there exist a people who pull it off, but there are a lot of people who also end up with a living room full of half-finished crummy web apps.

What most of these Passive Income blogs and podcasts seem to be selling is really a process: whereupon you start with analyzing a market with google's search insight tools, build a simple utility for that market, purchase adwords for it, and then ab test it.

While a process like this might work some of the time, it still doesn't guarantee anything.

I love the idea of being a Passive Income Hacker, mostly because I love the idea of "financial freedom" to pursue interests independent of a stable job and stable income. But the two things that make me wary of it are: (1) isn't it still a lot of work up front? work that you could be putting into something with much bigger impact on society into? (2) I wonder how stable the income is over time without maintenance.

"What most of these Passive Income blogs and podcasts seem to be selling is really a process: whereupon you start with analyzing a market with google's search insight tools, build a simple utility for that market, purchase adwords for it, and then ab test it."

You just summed up every article written on PIH

Why are you so worried about "much bigger impact on society"? I like the quote from Star trek first contact: "don't try to be a great man, just be a man and let history decide".

> Worst of all, PIH is probably not trying to make the world a better place through technology. He's basically exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity and is probably either unethical or lazy.

Not to say this is sustainable but if there's a way to make money via arbitrage that nobody else has picked up on yet it can be very profitable. And potentially low-effort too.

Can't say for myself, but I would bet such a person exists. I know a few that could be candidates, but I don't know how much they're making monthly. Add on that he's probably exaggerating about the limited time required. If you really do target a niche, you can make money, and it's easier than targeting everyone.

What is a passive income hacker. All I really understand is someone reading the 4-hour work week, and then writing a fifty-dollar pdf on how to feed blue canaries a vegetarian diet with really long sales letters.

I would quite like five figures a month working from starbucks, so if I am missing a trick let me know

They actually make their money off of the ebooks, seminars, boot camps and other how-to materials about how to have passive income.

Forget I asked - I simply cannot imagine going off to learn enough in the grey-area to make it worthwhile. I will write decent software for a niche here or there and see where we go.

You don't even have to do that. You can buy the e-book with distribution rights and make your own website to sell it, advertise on adwords, and away you go. My dad did it, he was getting an extra $100 a month with no time involvement at all. Once he got the paypal email his autoresponder would reply with the ebook. The only thing he had to do was once a week or once a month check his adwords account.

> What is a passive income hacker.

We have a number of them here on Hacker News who are very much not selling ebooks on vegetarian canaries. The most prominent one I can remember is jasonkester, who runs a cloud service analytics company that evidently requires very little upkeep. If you're interested in the topic, try doing an HNSearch on him for relevant terms — he's been very enthusiastic about it over the years.

There's no trick unfortunately. Going for a passive income company is just a business strategy aimed at producing a product which has appeal to some market and where operations are very highly automated.

Like any kind of entrepreneurial venture there's no shortcuts, it's all hard work, learning, failing and repeating. Like you mention, then there's the Timothy Ferriss hucksters of course, but that's a whole different ball game.

It doesn't have to be learning material, specifically not with long marketing sales letters.

It is simply making products to sell instead of working for a salary. The less upkeep that they require the better. Many mobile apps fall in this category as well as lots of SaaS businesses. See also patio11 and bingocardcreator

Can anyone identify a few example passive income apps that a single developer has managed to support? I know of bingo card creator, but what are some others?

Here's a few discussions that I've bookmarked and go back to, time-to-time for inspiration:

Small Product, Single Founder Success Stories https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3029771

How much recurring income do you generate, and from what? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2567487

Anyone making a living from just 1 app? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1772199

Inspirational money making web apps made by hackers https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1764682

@glanch you appear to be hellbanned, not sure why. I don't know what the offer was, but it wasn't just "job offer," they bought his business and are integrating it into their fantasy sports apps.

I posted a variant on this today[1], to get some more up to date responses as those all seem to be quite old. all very good reading though


Thanks a lot for posting these, David.

You don't have to be a single developer to build an app that does this. You can be a sales guy, marketing guy, etc. The power is in knowing how and when to delegate. In the soloprenuer world this is done through outsourcing. Many folks have businesses that they pay for through a suite of products. None of which generate enough revenue to pay for their salary, but the sum of all do and more. One major advantage of this is a risk diversification. IF market X falls out, then only one small income stream falls through and doesnt bring the business owner with it. Multiple income streams via a portfolio of apps is what a lot of folks do. However, there are many folks who have one app and they do great.

Listen to Startups For The Rest of Us, Bootstrapped with Kids, Lifestyle Business Podcast, Product People, etc etc. Go to conferences like Microconf, Baconbiz, etc. There's tons of us out there.

ONe additional thing to note is, alot of us that fit this category (I heard a number on Bootstrapped with Kids where its almost 60%) are people with a family to support (kids, wife, etc). A lot of us cannot get up and move to SOMA and work at Startup Company X while stuffing our family into a shoebox sized apartment in the Tenderloin district. Sure there are options, but sometimes you CANT move. Medical conditions, ailing family, a support system that you cannot leave, etc.

When its time like these, people start to bootstrap and build portfolio of products to get back the most important resource they have: time. Your kids are only young, ONCE. Spending that time working 80 hour weeks at a startup that is not yours where you get .000125 of a percent of a company IIF they go big (acquired, IPO, etc) usually isn't worth the trade off considering that the vast majority of startups fail.

I run the following, not to 5 figures but income is relatively passive.





For example status2K is in the low 100's per month, but I haven't spent anytime on it for about a year.

Selling courses about how to make passive income apps?

Selling SEO Guidebooks to make a passive income website?

I don't know if this technically counts but I'm a freelancer and I proposed and made an iPhone app for a company Social Print Studio where we do revenue share and they handle all fulfillment, customer service, and marketing. It's well on its way to a Bay Area salary for me and it's only been out for a few months. The app is called Print Studio.

Basically I saw an opportunity for a company I liked (I knew them as friends not as a customer) to make even more money with very little risk to them (they didn't pay me a salary, only the revenue share) and as such I was offered a very good deal with no variable costs to me except for development maintenance time and any new features I want to add.

Just leaving food for thought for you all, there are plenty of ways to generate passive income. You don't have to go it alone, collaboration is one of the best tools we have as humans! So get creative. :)

I manage to build + support Planscope (https://planscope.io), sell my two books (very little support necessary, outside of the occasional download links ending up in spam), and run a monthly workshop single handedly in ~20-30 hours a week. And, cumulatively, they're generating a fairly nice income.

... and Brandon is one of those folks who I met at microconf. Case in point. :)

I should have said: a part from bingo card creator and you :)

The point is that you are wrong. There are tons of people out there doing this.

I built and run http://theclunkerjunker.com. It started as an affiliate site I started on a whim one night (Or a few hours, more accurately). Within a year it was pulling in $30k/month with almost no expenses. Eventually the affiliate program fell apart and I completely re-wrote it and turned it into a legit service. I don't quite make $30k a month anymore, and it's noticeably more work now, but it's still profitable and I can work at my own pace.

I'm a single founder with no employees, and I run http://WeddingLovely.com as well as nine different online wedding vendor directories. It's a bit tough to juggle since my marketing needs are a bit more intense (I also run a weddings blog at http://WeddingLovely.com/blog) but I'm working on automating it now.

The author of the post runs Followgen by himself

There is a good blog devoted to passive income: http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/

They also have a podcast, which I have listened to. It's not bad at all.

I'd say the most famous is Plenty of Fish (POF). Single founder, run part time by him and his girlfriend, makes millions per year. (My info is a little dated, but I haven't heard of a major change.)

It's somewhat larger than that now. They have quite a few employees.

Would love to see this.

I doubt if someone makes good money in a small market/niche, they would come out and say it.

The first rule of being a passive hacker is... ;) That being said, they are all over. I find too many and I can't act upon them all. I've always had an interest in business models and successful companies/people in "non-sexy" (to most of the HN crowd) areas.

Sometimes it seems that everyone is all wrapped up in solving first-world 20-to-30 age bracket problems (social, picture filtering, SaaS for other 20 to 30 year olds, etc). Nothing wrong with that, but there is so much more out there. IMO, it is way more interesting and has much more impact on peoples lives.

No, the business is bootstrapped.

Bootstrapping is not a crime.

So you just work out of coffee shops and stuff?

Dumping the office or co-working space saves at least a few thousand dollars per year in rent, and potentially transportation costs and commuting time as well.

He's not funded or seeking funding, he doesn't go to the networking events and hasn't been through an accelerator.

I don't care for these things either. They tend to be time sucks and overly focused on investors.

Look, I am skeptical of those Tim Ferris apostles whose "passive income" businesses are based on spammy blogs, apps, and affiliate sites. But don't sleight startup businesses because their methods of operation don't fit your definition of a startup.

I think you may have missed the subtext of the article.

Yes, I did. Probably a bit too trusting and gullible. But the bootstrapping/office comments pushed my buttons.

I started two companies. The first failed (1). During the year or so that I was involved, I spent a lot of time doing startupy things - networking sessions, hanging out at a coworking space in Cambridge, pitching, applying to accelerators, etc. The local startup community, event organizers, angel investors, the media, and some people affiliated with the local higher education establishment encouraged this startup behavior (or startup theater). I feel they looked down on any startup that didn't fit the mold.

Here's one small example: When you meet someone else in the local community, one of the first questions they have is "Where are you based?" In my mind, this is a test of legitimacy. "Real" startups say something like:

- Kendall

- Seaport

- Cambridge Innovation Center

- Dogpatch

- The accelerator gives me a desk and WiFi.

I feel that founders who answer "Starbucks" "The Library" "Home" or "Virtual Team" aren't taken seriously. That's how I feel now, at least, sitting in my living room. Even though my 2nd company has products, profit, and growth (2), it's not taken seriously as the first, which never had a dime in revenue but was based in the CIC, applied to accelerators, etc.

1. http://www.ilamont.com/2012/10/failing-hard.html

2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6053105

I'd answer this by saying "I work from home so that I can save those expenses such that my business is profitable"

Bootstrapping is not a crime

That should be a laptop sticker...

let me know when i can order one for my car! wait... i only commute by bike now that i'm a lazy PIH ;)

It's a get rich quick hustle by another name. Don't be fooled. Making money is work, it's always been work, it will always be work. Anybody who tells you different is a con man. I have done this thing he talks about and it ain't no free ride. I'm not going to go into detail because I'm not trying to sell anybody anything. Yes, you can do it. No, it's not easy. Most people will try it and fail.

Don't sleight PIH because of your preconceived notions that they are all "businesses are based on spammy blogs, apps, and affiliate sites". A lot of these people are creating valuable product that people are willing to buy. How is that any worse than whatever widget startup with no business model trying to sell themselves at a billion dollar valuation?

Sorry I didn't make that clearer -- "whose passive income businesses are based on" means "who operate a subset of passive income businesses that are based on" (no longer possible to edit).

FWIW, I've read Ferris' book, and agree with a lot of what he says. I also realize that passive income can be generated by products that deliver real value. Some are mentioned on this thread. But the movement has also spawned a lot of low-value products pumped up by SEO or spammy tactics. It doesn't help the image of passive income.

I thought that was half of the point of the piece.

This seems like a very broad generalization of the Tim Ferriss apostle population. I've seen several people create interesting passive income businesses (Muses as he calls them in 4HWW) that have nothing to do with blogs/apps/affiliate sites.

1. The "unethical or lazy" is what the counterparty says to feel better about their own lives when they're failing. It's human nature to want to believe you're pursuing the best path.

2. I don't understand why people like to draw such a hard distinction. It doesn't upset me that some people prefer sushi to steak. People are entitled to their own lifestyle choices without judgment of those who make alternate choices. This isn't just a software/business/career choice issue. Paleo people love telling everyone else that their diet is the best. Many vegetarians often evangelize to others and imply there are serious moral imperatives at stake. Just because someone isn't doing what you're doing doesn't make them "lazy" or "unethical". On a side note -- I think "pursuing narrow arbitrage opportunities" is often something someone would say with disdain, but that's my flavor.

3. Most startup people aren't particularly making the world a better place anyways.

I'm sure a lot of that is written tongue in cheek, I loved it until the "narrow arbitrage opportunities" and "lazy/unethical" ending.

Yeah, here's my take on the labels --

unethical = someone who's more successful at making money / getting laid / achieving their life goals than the person rending judgment.

lazy = someone who doesn't seem to sweat as much / act like an ass than the person rending judgment.

> I'm sure a lot of that is written tongue in cheek, I loved it until the "narrow arbitrage opportunities" and "lazy/unethical" ending

me too. It just changed the whole tone and I didn't really understand it was a joke, sort of, until I read your comment.

"But what about dev, marketing, customer service etc?"

"I've automated 95% of the non-dev. The other 5% of non-dev I deal with in about 20 minutes a day. Every few weeks I'll have a big dev day."

Any books/resources with a lot of real world case studies? I'd be very interested to hear many different accounts of such businesses. Here and there you see it on HN, but is there one that has many together?

Yay, now I have a label for what I am. A passive income hacker. I don't make a lot (maybe $3K / month), but I work only ~half hour a day on my main money spinner, answering support emails. (Plus, maybe a few months solid every year or so on updating the tech.) I designed it so it doesn't have a DB or user account system, to reduce the complexity and make it easier to scale by one person with only certain skills. Users regularly ask for an account system. I don't add it; I have competitors who do have an account system, and there's no way I could compete with them by myself. A certain subset of users appreciate the simplicity of my service.

When users email me support questions, they get a personal response from the guy who made the thing. They probably don't realise either, since most contacts start with "hey X team" or "hey X guys".

Having said that, I do work a full day, on attempting to start other passive incomes, and on more fun things that have less chance of earning. So I'm not quite living a pure passive income dream yet.

Of all income sources, I have to say the passive sort is the most desirable and scalable. You can have as many meaningful hobbies as you want if your bills are paid, unrelated to your participation in commerce.

Sadly, risk-free investment returns have been decimated by 0% funds from the US central bank. We can only hope that we are reaping more rewards through active business as a result, but Fed policy has really punished those who have been financially prudent.

Sounds like jealousy. If you can automate the way you get money, you have 23 hrs and 40 minutes a day to do something without any profit motive for true good. Startups, business, and making money don't have to be a religion.

Bill Gates will do more good with the money he made than he did by creating software.

I don't agree with that. The value of bringing the personal computer to the masses is way higher than saving the lives of the bottom 1 billion.

1 billion people would certainly disagree.

I think what he's saying is that all seven billion of us benefited from the PC revolution, where the bottom one billion may benefit (or may not) from Gates' efforts.

It's an interesting ethical question. As with most questions, I don't know the answer to it.

Exactly. Also indirect effects, like how much more productive are cancer researchers thanks to computers. Very hard to underestimate the importance of computers.

"He's basically exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity and is probably either unethical or lazy"

This sentence made me uneasy. I am not good identifying sarcasm so it might be that but... How one would jump into that conclusion without knowing any detail?

On the other hand, lazy is different from being not ambitious. I had several friends like that (not making 5 figures per month though)and I find that is a very legitimate way of live.

I'm pretty sure it was sarcasm.

Definitely sarcasm :)

My wife can jump to conclusions without any details. She does it all the time :)

Wait, is my wife your wife?

If you were any good at jumping to conclusions, you wouldn't have to ask!

What did you call my mother?

Totally possible. These days, with the right forms of identification and a good enough cover story, anybody can be anyone anywhere to almost anybody.

A self-running business seems cool and magical - like creating a living thing... life! But, I think, for truly passive income (meaning it runs itself), he's right that it does have to be some kind of arbitrage opportunity, that will tend to stay around. By definition, it isn't intrinsically interesting or satisfying. But, in itself, there's nothing wrong with that.

OTOH, I'm not saying startup guying is the only solution - just that satisfaction requires ongoing work. Once you complete your startup (for example), you have to find something else to do - another startup, create YC... something. Why not just do what you find satisfying in the first place? It could be a startup. It could be just to make money (e.g. Warren Buffett loves making money). Or it might be something else.

Here's a twee story about a hand-to-mouth fisherman http://www.rinkworks.com/peasoup/richman.shtml

If you pick the right passive income thing it could provide the money you need to do the work that you find interesting, which might not have any money in it.

> Why not just do what you find satisfying in the first place?

The satisfying thing might not pay the bills.

Maybe. I think that satisfying work (stressing that it's "work" not just pleasurable activity) will always be creating value. And value is valuable to someone, in some way, hence there's a way to make money from it. Maybe not very much money...

A second problem is it might take time before that value is recognised. Hence, the painter's, actor's "day-job". Passive income is a day job.

However, it's actually quite difficult to find a passive income niche, it's work and risk to do it, they usually end up not being 100% passive after all, and few niches are stable long-term (even huge enterprises don't last forever).

This is really not true. I LOVE my work and it's very satisfying. I just do it on a less than full time basis. It's not an arbitrage in the sense you're thinking, but more of a disruption of small part of a relatively small space. Small but still a business. Think lemonade stand with better tasting lemonade than the supermarket next door.

Oh man...he had me until he called thousands of people, many of whom I know personally, "probably either unethical or lazy."

I think we can all agree that there are multiple ways to approach startups.

The misstep Myles makes is to assume that one approach is somehow superior to another, and then take the further step of insulting everyone who is striving for something different than what he sees as the best option.

We all have opinions on this topic, and it's an interesting discussion to have. But let's try to avoid dogma and judgment.

What's right for your unique situation isn't necessarily right for the 100,000 other people with similar ambitions, but who may be in vastly different life situations or just have different goals than you do.

Oh, and call me when you're 40, married with 2 kids and a mortgage, and you're coding Perl for a bank because none of your startups made you the millions that TechCrunch promised.

What are you talking about? PIH is the Myles surrogate in that conversation. He's making fun of Startup Guy for thinking that anyone who does what he (Myles) is doing is "unethical or lazy."

Oops...apologies to Myles if I mis-read this - I thought he was mocking the PIH, taking the side of the startup guy.

Myles in fact does have a small one-person low-intensity startup off which he claims to make 5 figures per month. And don't you notice how he makes his lifestyle sound really good, and the startup guy's judgments seem silly?

The funny part here is that you read this and actually agreed with Startup Guy for almost all of it. (From the rest of the comments it seems like a lot of HN did). That's part of his point, I guess.

I made the same mistake. Maybe we are so used to other people being super skeptical to what we do? See you in Prague ;-)

count yourself lucky if you're coding perl for a bank - from what i gather, most banks are Enterprise Java shops.

So, PIH has a profitable business. "Startup guy" is a bullshit artist.

"He realizes that Passive Income Hacker (PIH) is not a hustler, he's not funded or seeking funding, he doesn't go to the networking events and hasn't been through an accelerator."

This article rubs me wrong. This paragraph really rubs me wrong. If you're good at hustling for customers, you're a hustler where it matters. Funding (non-customer funding i.e), networking events and accelerators are secondary - lots of America's biggest businesses have been built without them.

The "passive income guy" described in the article reminds me of the Plenty of Fish founder by the way. Most "startup guys" would probably kill to be in his position...

I think you're missing the sarcasm here... This is written from PIH point of view making fun of what startup guy thinks of him. PIH agrees with you that funding and accelerators aren't needed to be successful.

So maybe I did. Better go back for some more coffee I guess.

no its not just you, I wrote a similar comment. This guy who calls himself a hacker actually fits the bill, most of the time criminals exhibit schizophrenic characteristics and to no surprise he wrote a self serving article making himself look good...now I guess I need to get back to my startup before I turn into startup guy walking around coffee shops seeking funding.

Unethical?? HAHAHAHA. PIH supports themselves, and their family. They aren't a drain on the system, and owes nothing.

Realistically, Startup Guy is pissed because his photo sharing website that allows you to apply filters isn't getting traction.

But he got the good domain name! Filterfy.io


This outlook on both PIH and start ups is quite knaive/ignorant. PIH doesn't want the inherent risk, and maybe responsibility, of a start up. This author seems to criticize a developer who loves developing for not converting his passion, and recklessly throwing himself into a managerial role.

Why does every idea have to be a startup?

I think you missed the point. This is pretty strongly pro-PIH.

I believe the last paragraph is sarcasm.

As someone whose Twitter account has been suspended as a result of using the OP's "Passive Income" hack, I wish he would spend more time thinking the project.

What do we win by promoting these caricatures?

I think it's just such a truism these days that every company has to (often recklessly) aim for massive growth and fund that by selling off the company, that there's just a lot of cognitive dissonance when you present that that's not the only way companies can work.

It's not necessarily all derision, it's just the mind trying to reconcile new information with old.

I found this post mildly amusing. It is a terribly simplified and mildly offensive comparison of two sets of objectives. Neither of which are actually right.

Startup is a phase - not a stereotype. Teams are not essential to either a startup or what you term a PIH. The skills needed for the challenge are. Not the number of people. Not all startups need nor want outside investment. Not all startups have an idea that will change the world. Not all startups need, want or are suitable for accelerators, incubators or other similar vehicles. Startup is neither better nor worse than a single person building something to improve their livelihood.

Best I can tell, the author equates a startup to what is popular in the press. Young geeks, big rounds of capital raising, buzzwords galore, huge acquisitions and all the hype that goes with it.

I think bunkum like this devalues the efforts of entrepreneurs everywhere and demonstrates such a closed mind in a space where openness is increasingly important.

How does one become a passive income hacker?

Well, the simplest way is to toss a website up with some affiliate links. Eventually you'll get a few hits, at least. Technically, then, you will have earned some passive income, albeit not a lot.

To make it big, though, relies mainly on luck and the skill to recognize when luck has provided an opportunity. For example, a lot of these people with passive "affiliate" income are essentially very lucky that they recognized the niche and were in a position to be able to exploit it better than (or at least as good as) anybody else who tried--it's not common, or even 'infrequent'; I'd say it's rare at best.

Or you can do what "everybody" else does: have a job (freelance or otherwise) and, eventually, exploit your connections and network into a product (like PIH's SaaS product) that produces passive income. This, of course, takes years unless as in the above you are very lucky. Even then you have to have some good fortune to maintain steady employment, not be hit with any of a number of life's possible mishaps, etc.

Personally, I think passive income from, e.g. dividend paying equities in the Gambler's Emporium known as the stock market are more likely to provide regular passive income than hoping that working toward some hit affiliate stream or niche software market will payoff without luck.

Passive income != affiliate income. That may come from the internet marketing guru "buy my course" crew being very vocal about selling a certain dream. Some succeed, but there's more money reliable money in building a real business.

Of course the set of things that generate passive income is not restricted to the affiliate element only. It includes things like writing an eBook, developing an App for desktop/mobile/web, etc., that one doesn't intend to maintain, or the ratio of time spent in maintenance or working on the product(s) to free time is very small (which is, of course, subjective). Dividend paying stocks or investments in other funds are truly passive--they require zero effort that could be called "work".

As soon as one begins to maintain or attempt to expand these things, however, it's no longer really passive. In fact, "building a business" necessarily implies direct action.

"Worst of all, PIH is probably not trying to make the world a better place through technology. He's basically exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity and is probably either unethical or lazy."

Really, really? Regrettable

This looks like the kind of dreamy SG that only wants to do "good"(by his definition) and doesn't have an attainable goal.

Or the startup guys that want to use the latest and "greatest" so he writes version 1 with whatever.js and when he's about to launch he decided to rewrite everything in drunk_pangolin.js "because of integrity" (except that drunk_pangolin.js is still in version 0.1, has 1 part time developer and no docs)

The stereotypes are funny, and startups, by nature, will always be filled with a majority of hustlers, but it may also inadvertently lump an entire group of startup founders -past,present and future- into the "SG pile," whom I think don't belong there.

That being said: i think i've heard this conversation and event had it (sadly, from the SG side in my less-educated days), and I think this conversation is intended to force people to ask themselves "am I a poser or do I want money?" which is a false dichotomy.

I'd rather look at people who want to make money by creating value vs. people who want make money by creating perceived value.

Am I the only one who dislikes this post because of the assumptions it makes on startup founders? Statistically most startups are bootstrapped, this was written by someone who is arguably caught up in the silicon valley hype, you don't need to get funded for everything...Also the other guy has obviously built something called a "lifestyle business" google it if you don't know what that is, the noob startup guy is way too nooby to know what that is. Unless the hacker guy is a hacker and is doing something illegal, I don't see why the conversation should get awkward...

Huh, are there actually Startup Guys who want to "make the world a better place through technology?" I thought the basic plan was "build and maintain an amazing, indispensable service for exactly long enough to get bought out by Google/Microsoft/Yahoo/Apple, then retire to Tahiti while the new owners fire everyone and ruin the product."

e.g. Siri before Apple: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/siri-do-engine-appl...

Your summary does not describe the story of Siri in the linked article accurately at all.

No? Obvious hyperbole aside (no one retired to Tahiti that I'm aware of), it seems pretty close. A company built an extremely ambitious, bleeding-edge app, sold some early copies, were preparing to roll it out on every meaningful platform, then got a fat check from a tech giant and promptly became platform-exclusive, ripped out a lot of the more interesting features, and fucked over their early adopters. (The folks who paid actual money for the Siri app on the iPhone 4 were not amused when the app suddenly announced that it was disabling itself and they'd have to buy a new phone to keep using it.)

And, really, how many times have you heard someone say something like "Man, that service has gone to shit since Yahoo bought it"? It seems to come up pretty frequently. I'm sure there are entrepreneurs with actual integrity regarding their startups, but it seems like a lot of the big success stories end with "and then we sold to Google for $100 million, we win, the end."

That's not what the article is about, though. It's almost like you didn't even read it.

It's not the primary focus of the article, no. There's not that much documented writing on Siri-before-Apple. This was the best single source I could find for the facts I cited, all of which are in that article.

What's so bad about being "Passive" Income Guy? This guy is out there monetizing with his self-bootstrapped "boring" SaaS that has real customers, while Startup Guy has blown through multiple rounds of investors' money with his quixotic third-pivot "change the world idea" that still hasn't earned a single penny but is being regularly pitched at circle-jerk networking events to the other benchwarmer wantrepreneur spectators banking on some highly improbable IPO. Wait, who did you say was unethical, lazy, and not a hustler again?

OP here. I guess it wasn't clear from the article that I am a passive income hacker, and that I'm poking fun at startup guy.

I honestly cannot figure out which guy (PIH or SG) this article is "making fun of" (maybe it's both?). I've read it twice now, and it can kind of go both ways.

Maybe that's the point.

Counterpoint (old but relevant):


The article paints non-startup guys as parasites. That's so needlessly polarizing.

The more common definition of the Passive Income Hacker is "lifestyle business", i.e. a business where you don't seek a 10-100x exit.

Personally I think if all you've done or plan on doing is an app or website, calling it a startup is kind of silly.

The more common definition of the Passive Income Hacker is "lifestyle business", i.e. a business where you don't seek a 10-100x exit.

I have to disagree with this one, of all of the people I know that have "lifestyle businesses," they were as committed to the early stages and aggressive as most of the "startup" guys I know. While some of them, after years of work, got to "minimal interaction with the business," most of them still work it hard for a standard week. The only difference between them and the "start-up guy," is they don't ever want to exit.

I've always seen the PIH "movement" (if we can call it that), much more opportunistic than many "lifestylers" - there's a big difference between being committed to something for life, and and trying to find a way to make money by doing as little as possible.

That last part is not to say that all PIH's are opportunists working on things that make money even if they could care less about them - but the movement is distinct from that of "lifestyle" business, where the goal is to make enough for a good life, doing something you enjoy/love.

So what if startup guy disagrees with the choices of PIH? This is another example of conflicting ideologies, and luckily, no one can do something about it. Imagine if there was a politician who didn't like the approach PIH was taking and worked to ban it because he didn't like it. This seems very farfetched, but there are examples of this happening. The ones that come to mind are the banning of sharing recourses, like AirBnB or any ride share program.

aka bitcoin miners vs the government :D

This started out so well and I was hoping it would end along the lines of "different hackers with different goals," but steered way off course to some vitriolic attack on the casual hacker lifestyle.

I think if anything, bootstrapping your product to success is far more respectable than taking large sums of seed funding and potentially throwing it all away when you find that your market doesn't even exist.


I think he's being ironic.

I believe that statement is made in irony.

It was a great read, until the end where in the last sentence it was really ambiguous whether he was being sarcastic about "He's basically exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity and is probably either unethical or lazy."

Everything was so obviously tongue in cheek until that point.

But, the ambiguity was actually welcome because it forces the reader to wonder and in turn choose their position.

It's a fun read.

>Worst of all, PIH is probably not trying to make the world a better place through technology. He's basically exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity and is probably either unethical or lazy.

Is this supposed to be what "startup guy" thinks, or is it also the opinion of the author? Seems like a pretty jarring assumption, if you ask me.

Some people just have that attitude, if you don't dedicate yourself 100% to your work (read my company) then your just some lazy pos, because "surviving" and "thriving" is lazy. Where you know PTSD, and mental health issues for a salary is pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.

There's also an opposite extreme. Some people think that spending time on your work (company, project) should take not more than 5-10% of your time, the rest you should spend hiking, traveling, singing or whatever else that doesn't have to do with tech. It seems that for such people tech is not the main area of interests and they can't understand that things can be different for other people.

This was like reading an excerpt of the HN version of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" but with the opposite conclusion.

Really amazed at the number of commenters who didn't pick up on the sarcasm.

But, honestly, how many developers are there making five figures a month in profit passively (more or less)? That is an extreme amount of success, far beyond what most people will ever enjoy in their life.

As a former passive income hustler turned startup guy - this is so true. What's most important is to be comfortable with what you do regardless of others opinions. That's the one thing I could do without in start up land. The prosthelytizing.

This article is arrogant and pretentious. Come on, it trivializes one side while glorifying the other beyond reasonable. It seems to say that if you work on a startup you are the cool kid, and otherwise you are loser. Just like high school.

It seems you've missed the point. The article is still arrogant and pretentious but also sarcastic. The writer sees himself as a Passive Income Hacker.

you missed obnoxious I'd add obnoxious in there too.

:D, Get Income invest on your own business, then get customer to make it grow. It must more satisfied then look up for investor :)

Btw you must see in the end, is there FBI or any kind police knock on your door :p

So make sure your business clean!!! Cheers

I m a developer in New York. I have a few good engineer friends I met while living in Vietnam. If any of you here happens to have a product that qualifies as a passive income product and need a tech partner let me know.

Startup-ers can be some of the most self-important people on the planet. "Passive Income Hacker" is making a living for himself and quite possibly his family as well. There's a lot of nobility in that.

I have to disagree with this post. Passive Income Hackers are usually hustlers with more street smarts than technical skills. Startup Hackers are the opposite.

I so want to be a PIH. I just can't get enough free time to put my shit together as my day job sucks it all away.

I'm in the same boat as you. Even if I have free time in the evenings or weekends a lot of my desire to be in front of a computer is gone. I've been slowly chipping away at a side project but I feel like if I wasn't weighted down by my day job I'd be able to get on with things faster.

You could find a smaller problem to solve. Get up an hour early and work for yourself.


Maybe good advice, but I'd recommend having a few months wages as a cushion.

Better to have an MVP and a few customers (paid or expressed paid interest) first. That's what I did + the cushion.

Don't quit.

as a PIH and a father, I have to chime in and mention that my lazy & unethical self gets to spend a great deal more [quality] time with the family now that I'm no longer working 24/7 at a startup. sadly, no one ever gets man of the year for being a good parent.

Passive income always sounded to me like either a fantasy or a career of ripping people off.

Loved it, brought a smile to my face. This is exactly what I am trying to do.

Changing the world is the new blinking text, or rounded corners.

I love how his comments section is hacker news.

Hacker News makes for a really good comment section.

The last line I suspect is out of utter jealous.

I suspect you missed the sarcasm. (The author is PIH)

I would rather be the PIH, how do I become him?

making the world a better place... mostly for themself, though...

"Worst of all, PIH is probably not trying to make the world a better place through technology. He's basically exploiting a narrow arbitrage opportunity and is probably either unethical or lazy."

Is this serious? It's epically funny if it is.

Even if PIH is trying to make world a better place, he doesn't have to do that on his "billed" time. He has a lot of time to spare for that.

True. Maybe he/she mentors a child in his/her spare time.

We do have gender neutral pronouns of a sort: "True. Maybe they mentor a child in their spare time."

They is technically plural. There is no good singular gender neutral pronoun. So, "he/she", "s/he", "he" or "they" are fine by me; we know what the author means.

Where 'technically' means 'people have used it as both singular and plural but some people like to argue' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

Perhaps. Some might disagree with that, but the "gender neutral pronouns" debate is both long and boring. After all, he and she have both been used throughout English writing to denote all people male and female. Certainly a person using he/she his/her is well aware of the possibility of using they their instead, and perhaps said person is making a stylistic choice.

I do not object to the use of colons, but if I did — insisting on the use of Em dashes instead — and I were to comment that there were perfectly fine alternatives to the colon on every post that used one (such as yours), I might be considered an overly pedantic nuisance.

'One' may be a good choice also, although singular they also works.

"Maybe one mentors a child in one's spare time."

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