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Ask HN: How much recurring income do you generate, and from what?
444 points by marioluigi on Sept 23, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 430 comments
The last two threads by the same name got a lot of attention (and a lot of love from patio), but seeing how its been over a year since then it would be interesting to hear from new people (HN userbase is ever growing) and also get updates from some people who posted in the previous threads.

Previous thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4467603

Previous to Previous thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2567487

TL;DR: The top of our funnel is fine, and our app is making money, but it's not "easy money" and our trial to paying customer sign up needs some serious attention.

I run a HR app for SMEs called http://www.staffsquared.com. We're making a comfortable 5 figures each month.

We're reinvesting this income back in the product either in the form of new functionality (paying programmers) or advertising (paying Google Adwords). We've increased our Adwords spend, invested in SEO (on page and off page) and a recent redesign saw a decrease in bounce rate and increase in trial sign up rates.

Our site visit to trial sign up rate for the last five months looks like this:

April: 13.02%

May: 12.37%

June: 13.76%

July: 15.61%

August: 16.46%

Our bounce rate for the last five months looks like this:

April: 39.54%

May: 40.06%

June: 37.21%

July: 32.8%

August: 31.17%

So both of those top end of the funnel stats are moving in the right direction.

Our free trial to paying customers is the area we're really focussing on at the moment as it's really not high enough. So we're re-targeting accounts that have expired to find out how we can serve them better and tell them about new features. We're also working hard on our onboarding stuff (the type of stuff you'll read patio11 talking about) including more intelligent automated e-mails based on the status of their account at a point in time.

Happy to answer any questions you good people might have where I can...

Please share anything you can about how things go in the future. I'd love to see how your dunning emails turn out. Can you also share some background? When did you start? How many people are on your team? What kind of initial investments did you do?

Really awesome to see people being so transparent about how they're doing.

By the way, if you ever want to write any blog posts and cross-post them to Lifestyle.io [0], we'd be happy to have them.

[0]: http://www.lifestyle.io

If there's a demand I'd be happy to share our lifecycle email updates...either way I'll be sure to keep track of our progress so I can report on it from time to time. Getting the onboarding process exactly right really is a combination of art and science (mostly science).

We launched Staff Squared about 18 months ago, it was originally an internal app that I used at my software company http://atlascode.com that we realised could be useful to other companies. We bootstrapped the app from the outset and haven't taken on any investment as I wanted to see if we could make this thing work first. Turns out it's possible to make a profitable business from it but it's by no means easy.

I do pretty much everything...sales, marketing, support, QA, specifying new features, and so on. My team of devs at Atlas consists of four full time .Net developers. I now also have a part time person who helps me with marketing, newsletters, copywriting and design. Our office manager assists with some of the support requests we receive and manages our oLark chat on the site...

We're looking to grow now and take on more developers as I'm finding it hard to balance the client work we've got at Atlas and keep Staff Squared "fresh". All good problems to have :)

I'll check out lifestyle.io and see if I can contribute something of use to that community. Thanks for your interest!

Apparently "SME" means "Small & Medium Enterprises".

Thanks for this clarification, as I'm used to SME meaning Subject Matter Experts (which also applies to the product).

BTW, the Staff Squared homepage is really impressive! My eyes are directed to all of the right places on the page to sign-up and learn more. I also like that clicking the Roadmap link on the footer leads directly to the Trello project page.

Thanks so much for the feedback, really nice to hear that people who haven't seen the site before think we're doing it right :)

For the record, if anybody thinks we've made a huge mistake on the site I'd love to hear about it!

Not a huge mistake at all but shouldn't the email address box say "No card details required" instead of "require" http://bryan.cx/7OXv/K6kIrX0S

Yep, thank you. I'll get that fixed.

Ah yes, you guys refer to it as SMB I believe?

No, I don't use either of those terms often enough to have an acronym for it.

(FWIW, apparently "SMB" means "Small-to-Medium Business".)

Or "Super Mario Brothers".

Oh yuck, I thought of Server Message Block first. How dull is that?

Simon, Thanks for the great insight!

We are also targeting SMB sith a SaaS in a different area (sales): http://www.quotty.com.

We haven't still defined a strategy, but your comment caught my attention because we are facing the same issue. Your application is innovative, how do you announce it? I figure that hardly somebody will search for an application like yours that nobody figures exist?

In summary where you get most leads: keyword search, organic search, partnership, ads placed in industry blog? Did partnership generate results? With other software? With distributors?

Another issue we found is that many users are too lazy ans inexperienced for the trial disert. I am conducting the following experiment: instead of immediately sending a free subscription-trial password, we ask for a phone number that we will call to make an interactive (remote) demo of the product using real client data, This has improved results, but elevated cost.

Don't you have the same training problem with new users?

How do you market StaffSquared? You mentioned SEO and ads; is this your main source of customer acquisition?

We're currently number 1/2 for "HR software" (at least on google.co.uk) and so we get a lot of traffic from that. I'm working on getting us to rank for HR Systems which gets just under half the amount of traffic as HR Software.

We have a limit of £30 per day on PPC. It drives traffic to the site but I'm still getting under the hood of whether it delivers real ROI.

We get a lot of interest in our app from the Chrome web store. I think a lot of people overlook that as a (free!) place to market their software. They have a whole section dedicated to HR software and the majority of the time we're featured at the top. We're going to get listed on the Google enterprise marketplace soon too.,

A bunch of other stuff we do includes:

* Advertising on various HR blogs

* Partner marketing - I could write a whole post on just this topic, it's a big undertaking

* Writing guest posts

* We're trialing influads.com at the moment, which is an ad platform. Again I'm not sure if we're getting value from that just yet...

The one thing we've not done to date is press releases. We've performed exactly zero PR for the app, but that will change once we complete a few super cool features we're working on that I feel will set us apart.

Hope that helps!

EDIT: Formatting

The chrome web store is a great idea. Does the chrome app provide any additional functionality? Or is it primarily a link to the web app?

When people "install" the app from the Chrome web store it just puts a link in their browser. That's it.

In the Google marketplace it's a bit more advanced, and you can integrate with Google authentication for sign in, and with documents for document sharing and so on.

I think you might consider changing some of your cartoons so that a Woman is running the business. I think it's a bit strange[1] that it's the male character all the time.

I don't know if that's something that might turn off a woman, but it did sort of jump out at me.

[1]Full Disclosure:I only browsed through a few pages, I did not to a page by page gender analysis.

This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

Thanks for the info! Just a heads up: seems like your Twitter account is suspended.

Yeah we know, happened yesterday. Thanks for the heads up..

To explain: I was experimenting with an app that it turns out breaks the twitter rules and so they've suspended us. I'm talking to Twitter now about getting us unsuspended.

And we're back online again! http://twitter.com/staffsquared

Followgen? Experimented with it and although provided some value it ultimately got our account permanently suspended.

Holy shit really? Yeah it's followgen...I've e-mailed the owner and revoked his access to our twitter account.

What was the app? Tweetadder or something?

Thanks for sharing the past discussions. The more often we can talk about this, the better off the community can be.

First link is to 9/3/2012, not 2013 as labeled.

I'm just going to post this question every day, since it seems to be so popular on this site : )

I'm making roughly $300/month from three iPhone apps. They're all quite simple and I'd estimate that I've put in less than a month's actual work building them; although as a disclaimer, this is my day job so I can put these together relatively quickly.

My fourth app was a larger time investment and gets quite a lot more downloads. It makes no income now, but I'll add In-App Purchases soon.

I'm freelancing for ~45 hours a month to fund this while backpacking all over the world. I should blog about it.


Edit: I put up a LaunchRock page, if you would be interested in a blog about this stuff, leave me your details: http://theoreticalblog.launchrock.com

Please do blog about it. Freelancing while traveling is a concept that a lot of us are really drawn to, but most of the current blogs focus on the travel and only briefly mention the freelancing aspect. Maybe if you focused a bit more on the business side of things you could find a niche within the blogosphere.

Having just traveled around the world over 7 months but NOT freelancing, I would have to say that:

  * net connections are very very spotty,
    prepare to work offline

  * supplies are rare (usb devices, upgrades, etc), 
    expect to pay more for less

  * desk conditions are poor, rarely did we 
    find a place where I could get into the flow. 
    Checking email and noodling on the net was 
    fine, but getting real quality work done 
    requires spending time to find the right location.
I think it could be possible, I have written some of the best code of my life in a corporate budget hotel holed up for a week with only a 1Mbps internet connection.

You can simulate work/travel by playing with IPFW settings on your mac and only working out of a macdonalds.

Pretty accurate. But you can mitigate this by 1) sticking to the kinds of locations where you know you'll find a decent connection, e.g. Thailand, and 2) pausing when you find a good setup and working for extended periods to make up for poor conditions later on.

Totally agree. The locations that are most conducive to "the flow" also have internet that is worse than non-existent. I have learned to just shut it off completely rather than sink time trying to get blood from the turnip. Local copies of documentation and projects that take little outside research also help.

When going on another extended adventure, we will definitely stay in one well scouted location for awhile (6 weeks to 6 months). Nothing ever gets dialed in if you're moving all the time.

1Mbps internet connection is what I'm used to mostly :/

Thanks for your encouragement, I put up an email form if you're interested in reading more about this: http://theoreticalblog.launchrock.com

Telling people that you should blog makes it actually less likely that you will actually do it. Read that on some psychology website once. ;)

In this case I have to disagree, as these positive replies are removing any concerns I had about nobody reading this hypothetical blog :)

I would read it. As you are seemingly living my dream I would love to do a bit of vicarious living through your blog. :)

I read in Influence [0] by Cialdini that telling people you're going to do something actually makes it more likely you will because you feel consistency pressure

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cialdini

Anyone recognize this phenomenon by name or have a link?

most people are familiar with this notion due to this post: http://sivers.org/zipit

tl;dr “Symbolic Self-Completion"

I've long noticed this in myself. Very neat to see it isn't just me.

I kinda look at it like a lean startup practice. If nobody signs up for his blog why start? if some people sign up there will be pressure to put something out.

Causation vs correlation

Would you mind sharing some more info about your apps (i.e. an overview of the concepts)?

As someone who has tried (and struggled) to monetize personal projects, I'm always interested in hearing stories about independent apps that are financially successful.

It sounds like you are living my dream. Care to share any details about how you got into that? I work (and enjoy working) at a big company right now but I feel like down the road I will want to do something like this.

Take a look at my edit above - I'd be happy to share more about this stuff.

I've usually read these threads without thinking about my own situation, but suddenly realized, I'm getting checks every month. It's not much, only $100-$250 per month, based on advertisements on my youtube channel, most coming from a 24 part series I made on locks & lockpicking a few years ago, but it's passive to the point that I literally forget about it.

Unfortunately I'm the sort who is very uncomfortable asking for money, or even advertising on my content (only about 50% of the videos I put out have ads at all, and many of the most popular do not), but at the same time I'd love to have the time & resources to produce more & better content in the future.

Not looking for advice, as my disposition away from revenue is much stronger than my wish to get money, and I've learned that lesson many times, just adding another voice to the thread.

I am a lot like you temperamentally and currently homeless, though the two things are not really directly related. I have thought a lot about it over the years. For me, part of it is that I was one of the smart kids in high school and got a lot of not subtle messages about how I owed the world benefit for my gifts and would be evil incarnate to try to, gasp, get rewarded for them. For me, I think gender also plays a role. I am female and a lot of my strengths have a social element which is routinely treated by other people like I owe them some free motherly love, I should be a total fucking martyr about it, and, to add insult to injury, making people feel good is not some sort of intelligent, valuable skill set or knowledge. It is treated like I am just cute and lovable like a tribble.

I have my own ideas on how to solve these issues for me. I sm not giving you advice here. Just saying it resonates, fwiw.

I would recommend not being so open and candid, emotionally and concerning life events, on the internet. This is doubly true when your handle is linked to your photo, location, and real name.

I wouldn't hire you for freelance work due to your seemingly incredibly unstable situation.

Thank you for your concern. As is typical, off the cuff advice about something you know almost nothing about isn't going to be useful to me. Your remarks smack of jumping to conclusions, probably very erroneous conclusions. Arguing about the particulars is not likely to do either of us any good but I am also not comfortable letting your characterization of me stand. Suffice it to say, your opinion has been noted and I plan to continue to be emotionally open as well as open about my life. My financial mess is getting cleaned up. I am clear I am on the right track.

I hope you have a great day. The world would be a better place if more communication came from a place of concern for another person's welfare. I hope you do not stop caring about other people. Although the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, I believe it is usually due to good intentions combined with poor execution. I think execution is easier to fix than a cold heart.

Take care.

It's worth a lot, and while I am not female, and can't fully empathize, I would like to say that I at least sympathize and that I see and try to speak against what you are describing. Women in particular seem to be taught not to profit. In fact, I think on the other side of the equation it is part of what has been awkward for me. Many of my closest male friends see profit as part of their self-identity and it wasn't until your post here that it clicked for me that it may be related to gender identity.

So, like I said, worth a lot. And making people feel good, caring for people, it's the most valuable skill so far as I'm concerned. Glad there are other people who value it.

My situation is complicated. I am not making much money but I am "saving" millions kind of by not being sick. Long story. So can't really be too terribly unhappy about it. At some point, the dough will role in but I will know I am doing stuff I am okay with...etc...

((hugs)) & take care.

Now that's interesting. Please do share more about your disposition away from revenue. What does that mean to you?

I'm trying to think how to explain it without using anecdotes, as I want to understand it myself without punting to simile. I know that I undervalue the importance of money in my own life (I have been poor to the point of homelessness once, poor the point of selling possessions to get rent/food money a few times). I also undervalue my worth, almost never charging an appropriate amount for my time.

I've cultivated a niche expertise that I translate well to a wide range of communities, but when asked politely I tend to give my time and even tangible goods away for free.

Now, I'm actively trying to change that. I'm getting married next year and am very excited to have a family in the relatively near future, so I'm paying off debts, I re-entered the workforce at a decent salary, and have been trying to train myself to be comfortable asking people for money in exchange for my time & expertise.

It has been harder than you might imagine, but I'm making progress. Being able to externalize the need to earn money via the idea of a future family has helped me, but I remain very uncomfortable asking and often find myself under-reporting hours spent, transportation costs, etc.

If I could just produce content, conduct research, give workshops & lectures & have someone else handle the money, I would be in heaven, but the few people I've spoken to about it, despite initial enthusiasm, have never followed through. Considering my own disposition, I obviously don't blame them at all :)

emhart This just went on HN front page: http://blog.quoteroller.com/2013/09/19/uncomfortable-convers...

I read your comments here and then I saw it. I think it is a sign :)

Seriously, I am not sure this aproach will help you. It looks like to me that it is more about "why do it" than "how to do it". I think what you should do is put yourself in a position where will just assume you will charge for it, so you don't have to say "oh, I would like you to pay for that".

But that wouldn't help with you refusing to charge for long hours. But you may consider a transparent aproach for it. Why not sending an email asking your clients if they feel confortable with you charging some extra hours. If they complain, you don't charge, but I guess some may accept it and even enjoy if they are rewarding a good job. This way it is no more a binary "I don't charge and they never know/I charge and they don't like it". There is a dialogue about that may substitute any confrontation.

I appreciate you sharing the link, I missed it on the front page. How fitting! :)

And I also appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

I am like you. Recently, I was given the advice (by someone who the advice was working for well) to hire a business manager. You do what you are good at (producing content, conducting research, giving workshops & lectures) and they manage the business. You need to be able to trust them, but assuming you can find somebody like that and afford to pay them, it makes a lot of sense. Perhaps there should be an app for that (outsourced business management??).

Best of luck to you :)

I'd love to! But, the 3 people I've approached about it so far have all failed to work with a single lead. Literally I'll forward them an email asking me to come speak somewhere, and they never communicate with the person or me about the work again.

If anyone on HN wants to start a speakers agency for tech/security folk, I'd be first in line to sign up :)

I'm interested in your need - in your example, you have a verified, paid speaking lead and you need someone to line up the work for you, get it billed, maybe find you other leads, what else? I'm not going to promise anything other than to think about your need and see if I can come up with a simple solution (I have an idea in mind). If you'd like to email about it, send me a note - noj AT dimensionsix.com.

Relevant new Wondermark comic: http://wondermark.com/969/

The person asking you politely for free work is probably someone good at sales and manipulating people. In other words, you aren't doing them a favor. They see you as a sucker. You sound like a nice guy, and everyone assumes most people are like themselves. But in business there are tons of wolves in sheeps clothing. The line of people who will take advantage of you will last longer than your life on earth. So you have to learn communication, and learn that you bring value and they should pay what they agreed to pay. Invoice them for the full amount, and don't give them any freebies unless either they complain (even then they need a good reason), or at the very least they have to know that you are trying to do them a favor. If you do free work and they don't even know about it, you have just shot yourself in both feet. You remind me of me. I speak from experience. It's not easy, but it is worth it.

Hey, halfcat, I hope you revisit this thread and see this, but you are apparently hellbanned (only those of us with "showdead" on can see you. I actually can't imagine why, your comment history all seems pretty reasonable. Anyway, figured I'd leave this here to let you know. Good luck.

Also maybe read some of Ramit Sethi's stuff. He has a book and tons of stuff on his website and YouTube.

Not the OP, but I can put forth that perhaps it's an ethical dilemma? Objections could be raised to collecting money without expending effort. Similar to objections to copyrights that last indefinitely.

I do think that it has some sort of knurled ethical/moral center in the middle there. It's definitely an emotional response, but logic & emotion are at odds on this one for me.

That's a cool idea and I made only 1/3 of that.

Made about $200-$350 every 3months investing no time at all. Last year I started feeling bad, because I didn't do anything and made the menu free. I wanted to sell other stuff, but never had the same motivation to be honest.

I made a menu for a customer, then decided to sell it for $1, but the system didn't allow that (no micropayments). So I just made a dozen additional colors of the menu using Photoshop and sold it for $15 for 2y.

I didn't post on the last threads I think, but I have had some modest success with passive income, was making up to 700 euros a month 2 years ago, this is down to 130 euros a month now. Still not too bad considering I haven't really touched the site for almost 2 years. But my heart isn't in that kind of projects anymore. Passive income is a bit overrated in my experience.

Still nice to get a small check at the end of the month.

The site in question is http://www.giftcertificatefactory.com, it provides printable gift certificate templates.

EDIT: I should add the money comes in from Adsense. I tried other monetization schemes as described there http://www.sparklewise.com/my-first-passive-income-project-o...

After reading your post last year, i started my own niche website making iphone app templates (easily googleable). I ended up taking it to roughly $3k/month in revenue and have just sold it to a private company.

Thank you for writing that post.

Nice site. Has the income come down due to a reduction in traffic spend or just a loss in rankings due to reduction in freshness metric wrt SEO or any other reason?

My site got slapped by Google Penguin update, lost 90% of its traffic and never really recovered. It's going down steadily now for some time.

As for the Google penguin update drop in rankings, it might have been a stale content penalty, or a devaluation of spammy links - I wrote manually lots of articles for supposedly respectable article directories pointing back to the template website to go up in search engine rankings and it worked well for some time.

The idea was to extract myself of this process at some point since it was painful to write not very interesting articles. But didn't get around doing it, or outsourcing it.

My site got slapped by Google Penguin update, lost 90% of its traffic and never really recovered.

It's funny how you don't really build websites anymore (did we ever?), you build sites for Google's search engine.

Even thought websites are conceptually different from writing a Photoshop plugin, in reality? Not so much. You're just as dependent on Google as you are Adobe, it's just hidden.

Would you consider passing it on to someone else, with a view to getting hands off royalties for a time. Or would you just want to sell it and have it clear cut?

He mentioned it's probably seasonal. All the traffic he gets during non-events are people who have friends with a birthday soon.

Bit late to the boat but:

Around $700/mo from a themeforest account.

And the more interesting story, about £4.5k/mo from a cleaning business that i bought.

I will at some point write the story up, but the TL:DR is: Spotted vastly under valued cleaning business with complete staff. Turnover of previous owner £190k a year. Profit of previous owner £18k. Yup, £18k.... Bought it for £13.5k.

Still in the early stages and still changing things but the previous owner was/is in massive debt, little free time to put into the business, did EVERYTHING on paper/fax/phone and had enormous monthly costs.

Theres a much longer story to this but i'll write it up in a few months when its a bit more proven.

Would love to read the story. Buying and modernizing traditional businesses (cleaners, laundromats, etc) is something that I think is really interesting.

Hey all, i realise i'm much too late to this but if anyone checks, i setup a mailchimp list i'll blast out when i make a proper write up of my story: http://eepurl.com/FNvPr

I'd love to hear more about it when/if you get around to writing it up!

Also very interested in this story... Where would you put it up once you write it? (So I can start monitoring...)

Any tips on finding undervalued small businesses? How did you come across this one?

A day late and I'm not the OP, but a friend of mine did this by talking to a business broker. He found a small technology business that was operated by an old couple that needed to quit.

The couple had been making sensors for a niche industry forever and were still charging prices from 10 years earlier. His first order of business was to contact all the customers and tell them prices were going up.

Cleaning. Like house cleaning, dry cleaning? I'm intrigued.

House cleaning primarily, yup. 104 clients, 10 of them are offices, 9 cleaners.

It might sound kind of obscene here on HN, but I'm making about 3500 euros per month, semi-passive from adult related site/community. It's subscription based and the content is user submitted (that's why it's semi-passive). Some moderation is necessary, as well basic user support, but overall - not so much hustle.

How did you break into this industry? I've done random work as a freelancer for a few different adults sites, but I've always felt like running my own was the real "money shot" as far as passive income goes. Can you elaborate on how you got started and how you keep an edge in such a competitive space?

I'm not really into the industry - my main income is coming from working for major brands in the ("mainstream") ad industry.

I saw the service of acquaintance of mine and what revenue he's making, so I though I can do better.

Generally, in this industry there's massive shortage of talent, ideas and innovation. This is a big opportunity for people who are delivering value in the "mainstream" startup scene and that was one of the reasons which made me try - you can get in and disrupt pretty easily if you think out of the box, which is not so hard in this context.

Most of the stuff is almost scam, the customers are threatened like idiots and technologically the year is 2002-2003.

There are people who say there's no money anymore in this industry and they're right - there's no money for people who are short on skills, ideas and execution, but there is huge potential for people who are coming from other "mainstream" industries.

My prediction is that lot of talented kids will enter this industry with great services - I see it as emerging trend at the moment.

Is technology really that behind? I mean redtube/et al are some of the largest websites out there and the blog posts seem to show a pretty high level of technology behind them although with a larger focus on cost than most startups.

99% of adult sites run on single servers using out of date PHP/MySQL scripts. Sites like RedTube, etc use newer technology, like at Confoo a dev for YouPorn talked about their stack and they use Symfony, Varnish and Nginx.

True, but behind these tube sites stays [1] Fabian Thylmann and his [2] company. He is considered as the biggest disruptor who revolutionised the business. The whole story is something like Napster and the record labels, but slightly different.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabian_Thylmann

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manwin

Do you work with Manwin at all?

No - I don't have any points of contact with Manwin.

Can you please provide more detail regarding how innovation is lacking?

I've been curious because I was thinking of doing something that would host content; is it a legal nightmare if someone uploads illegal material? Is it common?

It depends, but overall it might be risky if you don't pay the necessary attention.

In my case - I've kind of outsourced it, but every user submission is being reviewed before it's published.

Yes, and yes.

Care to elaborate? How much risk is there to the site owner which accidentally hosts the content?

You'll want to make sure all models are of legal age, and that the person submitting it has the rights to upload the material. Yes there's DMCA clauses to live behind that help make such tasks easier but in adult DMCA is so widely abused that it's best to make sure your stuff is 100% legal and legit to stay out of trouble. Not worth the returns in my opinion.

Source: I have just spent the last 12 years in adult and recently just severed all ties with the imploding industry.

It's not obscene to work in the adult industry! Good for you for being successful at what you do. €3,500/month isn't something to sneeze at.

Which payment provider are you using? AFAIK most of them are very picky on the subject.

CCBill, SegPay and Achbill.

Most adult sites use CCBill.


Congrats. What hosts are you running at? I haven't been able to find one that allows adult content

Thank you.

I'm using Webair at the moment, but you can check also Amerinoc and Leaseweb.

I am a data point for the worst-case example. I don't have a hot application or a popular website, and most of my money is earned the old-fashioned way.

My passive income from my investments in government bonds is enough to cover mortgage, basic living expenses for my family, and two family trips a year.

Source of money for investments:

- savings from many years of working and diligently saving

- some real estate investments

To be honest though, since we're all inundated with startup and marketing information all the time, it's refreshing to know the old fashioned investing still works :)

I'd like to put some math with this because this is the path I took too. 4 years ago I was offered a job with a startup and a job with a government contractor at the same time. The contractor was offering 15k/year more and I took that offer and saved all 15k of it every year (index fund investing). 4 years in, with reinvesting dividends, my passive income from the money is around 400/month. Very happy I made the choice I did.

Kudos on the great rate of return!

I tell everybody around me it's surprisingly easy to become financially independent. By saving s% of my income investing with a rate of return is i%, then the worst case is that I should be able to completely replace my income in i%/s% years. I was saving 30% (actually more) and investing at around 5%, which resulted in complete income replacement in around 10 years.

~$1000 a month. Designed, edited and published a book of Warren Buffett's letters to shareholders (see http://amzn.com/1595910778). An opportunity I stumbled into. But I suppose "get publication rights from Warren Buffett" isn't a repeatable business model :)

Not repeatable in that specific case, but have you thought about doing the same thing for other high-profile figures (either in finance or elsewhere)? You might be able to leverage your experience and success to get them to agree to a similar sort of thing...

I have thought of this but haven't really pursued anything yet. I also have permission from Buffett to publish his early partnership/hedge fund letters from the '60s, so will probably be doing that in the next year.

Interesting! I saw the book a few weeks ago and wondered who put it together. I assume the letters are public? How did you get the extra material? And do you share any income with Buffet? (That would feel strange, but would also make sense)

Most of the letters are freely available on Berkshire's website. The "extra material" includes a few early letters not on the web (got these from Buffett so the collection would be complete), and charts/tables/indexes that I put together myself.

The income is not shared with Buffett, but any income I receive is "return on capital" from me taking inventory risk. So I do have to invest some of my $$$ to buy the book inventory, and as it's sold to Amazon I make (great) return on that money. But the profit per book is actually pretty low compared to other published books -- I could be charging much more for the book, but it was part of our "agreement" that I make the total price of the book as cheap as possible. (Which I think is accomplished with Amazon's price of $19-25 for a 700 page textbook-size book.)

Interesting. I bought the Kindle version a while ago, mainly for the ability to highlight and not have to go to the web page each time.

Do you have to share revenue on the book? I'd be curious to know how you went about obtaining the rights and what the process is like.

I've made about $3k a month in semi-passive income from my codecanyon portfolio in 2013. I call it semi-passive income because I have to spend some time on support each day, but it usually doesn't take more than 30 minutes.

EDIT: My portfolio http://codecanyon.net/user/23andwalnut/portfolio

I sell on codecanyon as well though only make around $300 a month right now. I have almost the same number of items as you do yet can't seem to get the visibility. Do you have any tips you can share?

Also, completely agree about the semi-passive! Lots of questions to deal with daily.

In my experience quality sells. Quality code. Quality feature set. And most importantly, quality design. I think a lot of items on codecanyon neglect the design aspect and therefore don't sell as much as they could.

Also, I've been somewhat lucky in that almost all of my items have been featured. This probably has something to due with how much time I spend on design - at least 40% of my total development time is design. Feel free to email me with a link to your portfolio if you want some specific pointers...

You're probably right about the design side of things, mine is definitely lacking I just have zero ability in that area.

I've send you an emails, thanks!

I make it a point to make sure the featured items look really yummy. ;)

How do you decide what sort of thing to make in order to sell well in a marketplace like this?

I build things that scratch a personal itch. If there's a product that I need and I can't find a suitable existing product, I build it and sell it, because I assume other people also have that need. That's how Duet was born - I wanted a self hosted project management app that was functional and beautiful. I couldn't find one, so I built it myself...

What plugins did you publish?

Mostly apps, but you can see them here - http://codecanyon.net/user/23andwalnut/portfolio

I make $300-$500 per month with an online design tool for printable cupcake wrappers. I don't do any advertising. I get 80-100 uniques per day. I have very few quality inbound links. I do rank high for a few keyword combos, but their monthly traffic isn't that big.

I spent quite a bit of time early on writing the website, and lost some hair recently trying unsuccessfully to upgrade the OSS libraries, but for the most part it runs itself, at least when GoDaddy's $60/month VPS isn't flaking out. The only other expenses are the domain, e-junkie, and payment processing fees.


A whole new world just opened for me.

Imagine all the cupcakes you could buy with the profits!!!

Last year I made a decent DJ application for Android. I probably invested a few thousand hours into it & the framework I built it on that could compile to Android, Blackberry Playbook, and HP Touchpad. I grossed just under $10k between sales on the three platforms, and advertising on Android. That works out to a few dollars per hour, last year.

This year, I don't have time to work on it further but between advertising and sales I'm still making ~400-600 USD/month. For 0 hours investment. I love the long tail.

When you say a few thousand hours, do you really mean it?

Working 9-5 for a year is only 2000 hours...

:) It's not 0 hours investment, just 0 hours investment this year. All of that work last year was investment that's now paying off, bit by bit.

Your hourly rate from last year will look slightly better now if you add in this year's earnings...though it's still a rough game to play. Good luck!

I feel a little bit ashamed to post this but whatever. I used to write bots for a popular online game that would harvest materials and sell stuff in the games auction house. At first I only wanted to automate some tedious, boring tasks in the game, but over time I got really good at it to the point where I wouldnt have to touch my guy for days. Anyway, there where lots of bots on my servers and we would all undercut each other to a point where our materials where worth almost nothing. Around this time the company released an API where you could pull auction house data for your server. I wrote some scripts that would pull the data, store them in redis and crunch some numbers that I would later feed to my bots, to gain some advantage. Basically, I was able to withhold my stock when the price reached a certain threshold and buyout all of my competitions stock at super low prices. By that time I had already "scaled up" and ran several instances on various servers, all full automated by some python scripts. I wrote a web socket based web interface that allowed me to see my bots log messages in real time from work. I set up alerts when game masters messaged so I was able to answer them to prove that I was not a bot, all remotely. It was so much fun. At the end of each month I would sell the in-game currency to some chinese companies, the last few months I made between 300-500 € / month, double that amount around christmas. One day, the bann hammer (rightfully so!) hit me hard and I lost all my accounts. It still was a fun experience that introduced me to several new technologies.

I'm not sure if my project counts; 'cause it's running at a loss?


I made it because it seemed like /r/malefashionadvice needed somewhere to host their fits with a little extra functionality. Every now and then I build a feature or two but mostly it just ticks over.

For revenue I make a little via adsense but mostly try and focus on the affiliate products, for example on this page http://drsd.so/15YxDWv the 'shop this look' links earn me affiliate revenue.

Neat, I've seen your site on /r/malefashionadvice.

Since your site is focused on men, you should try and filter out women's products in your shop section.

Example for a search on "sperry" topsiders: http://dressed.so/shop?q=sperry

I'm guessing that mixing in women's products will hurt your conversion rate for affiliate products. If your affiliate network can't filter like that, you may want to check out http://prosperent.com/ or http://www.cj.com

Yeah I've been quite slack about optimising the search stuff. It should just default to 'male' and have a radio to change.

Thanks for the links; just yesterday I put 'investigate alternate affiliates' on the top of my list.

Feedback: Great domain, crap photography.

There are some killer fashion sites out there, the ladies have been driving them for ages. You know, search by anything, real time refresh, change the colors, suggest a match, SAVE SAVE SAVE SALE DISCOUNT FINAL STOCK 3 LEFT!

The area is good, execution can be improved. Refine.

(Alternatively, punch out and sell me the domain ;)

$2500/mo from AdSense on http://coverphotofinder.com/

Zero-maintenance, which is nice.

You know, what I would love to know is how you attracted the initial audience. This stuff is always so easy to make, but my past attempts never really got enough traffic boost. I'm wondering how you got over the 'plateau' (which in my experience seems to be ~1000 visitors a day.

This site forces you to login via facebook and then sell all your friends by forcing you to allow it to spam to all connections, thus promoting itself.

Dirty "viral" tactic.

seems Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc. have been using this practice for decades.

Sorry, forgot about this thread! We were first-to-market (may have had insider information about the Facebook Timeline launch...), and got on Mashable. Spread through the blogs and hit #1 on Google for "Cover Photos". We've stuck that #1 spot and it's where 80% of our traffic comes from.

.. but where are the ads? I don't see any.

EDIT: Oops. I've had an ad blocker installed so long I forgot it even existed. :-) Leaving my comment up though to save this discussion thread in my history. Nice site!

That is insane! How did you attract users in the beginning, and do you use the same strategy now?

I make between 5-10k a month on my apps and book. (It depends on the season. Summer and Christmas are best.)



Derek, you're missing out on an extra ~7%!

Sign up for Amazon's affiliate program and use your own affiliate links on your links to amazon.


Also, as commented below - I posted the first of these recurring income threads almost two years ago - I'm now compiling some stats, data and insights [1] for myself so that I can learn how to boost my numbers closer to yours :)

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6432851

That's actually a good call. I'm already an affiliate from another blog I have. I've been meaning to change those links and I hadn't gotten around to it. Thanks for the reminder.

Your book site uses the same theme as an old book of mine no longer selling! Nice landing page though isn't it? :)

Also, my latest book sells nowhere near that amount. How are you marketing if you don't mind me asking?

The book is actually a tiny portion of those sales. I'm one of those rare guys that makes money off the thing the book is about and not that much teaching people about it. It does make some though so I include it in the calculations.

Mostly I haven't done much marketing for it outside of my blog so far. I've been toying with some other ideas for it, but I haven't really had the time to devote to it. Mostly it's just a side project I've had fun with.

Derek I've used your Debt Snowball app and it's been immensely helpful in getting my financial house in order. I've signed up for your newsletter and will be checking out the sample chapter of your book so you may help even more!

Awesome, that's great to hear. Glad it's helped.

$0.1/month from ads in a free iPhone app.

I think this represents the majority of HN user's attempts at monetization.

The other long tail!

Low click through rate or little app users?

10 cents?

Few years ago I wrote a solution manual to one of my text books (half of it was part of the assignments). I sell it on Amazon for $30 for pdf download. Been making around $200/month.

How much time did you put into this upfront? Seems like the most "passive" item in the entire thread so far. Can I ask what book this is for? whats the lifespan of a solutions manual like this? Have you been selling it for several years or does it obsolete itself in sync with the aggressive textbook versioning schedules?

I guess I am lucky that the text book still gets prescribe in some universities. I also think there is no other version of the text (I need to check that) I do not maintain it at all. And like I said, I solved most of the questions as part of the assignments and later worked out the left over ones, packaged it into a pdf.

When my professors found out that there was a solution manual floating about, they changed the textbook. Apparently all of the student's answers started looking the same.

I generate around $2,500/mo. I operate a company which mines poker data and have a couple of partners, plus some large server / tech / support costs. No-one is full time on the business any more as after Black Friday there isn't a lot of $ in poker: http://hhsmithy.com/

If you, like me, are wondering what "Black Friday" is in the context of poker, it refers to United States v. Scheinberg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Scheinberg

United States v. Scheinberg is a United States federal criminal case against the founders of the three largest online poker companies, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Cereus (Absolute Poker/Ultimatebet), and a handful of their associates, which alleges that the defendants violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and engaged in bank fraud and money laundering in order to process transfers to and from their customers. (...) After the indictment was unsealed on April 15, 2011, a date quickly dubbed Black Friday by the online poker community, PokerStars and Full Tilt stopped offering real money play to their United States customers.

This is fascinating. It took me a while to discover the purpose of subscribing to this data, and I finally found it at https://www.hhsmithy.com/tour

"Finding the best tables to play on is impossible without up to date statistics and data on the player pool and consistently playing pots against opponents with no reads or statistics is a sure fire way to lose your bank roll fast."

How do you harvest this data? Do you use player bots?

Also, you have a typo on that page: "Your on the cut off with AJo and a player under the gun has opened". Should be "You're".

The data is used with 3rd party tools that scan tables, find the best seats, display statistics etc. The most popular tool is holdem manager (http://www.holdemmanager.com/). After buying data off our site you can import hundreds of millions of hands and have detailed info on almost every player on a poker site (how often they raise, fold, call etc etc). If you also scan tables and sit with the "fish" (recreational players) then you will win a lot more. One day I'll write a blog post about what online poker is really like (game theory, tools, and statistics).

On the tech side its some fully reversed clients that we just have linux command line clients which connect to sites, and other sites its a ton of Windows XP VM's which open tables and observe. At the heart of it all we have some command servers which handle distributing the table load, parsing and aggregating all the data etc. Each day we "mine" over 10 gbs of data zipped and at peak times can be watching over 10,000 poker tables. It's pretty nuts that it somehow all works.

And yeah, lots of typos :-O

It's crazy to me that online poker companies make this information available. Shouldn't tables be private or something to stop this?

Yeah, a few sites have made it so you can't observe tables but most sites allow it. You'd have to ask them why but I assume that casual players like to observe before depositing and they don't want to scare away the casual players (who are the life blood for a poker site).

what are some of your main competitors? i know tableratings was big in the past but then got blocked out by pokerstars (and apparently now ftp as well).

hhdealer.com, hhmailer.com, handhq.com are the major competitors. After Black Friday there are lots of small localized (especially Eastern Europe) competitors. Poker Table Ratings also provide search, and we built something to do that too (PokerCloud) but ended up selling the tech and domain.

Its an interesting world though where only us, table ratings, and mailer actually do mining (as far as I know) and we sell at wholesale prices to some of the other resellers. And then of course there are lots of people who buy hands and without our consent resell them through forums, web sites etc and that is an ongoing battle. We all have interesting ways of marking our hands so we can track them back to users and ban them.

Typo: Playing multiple limts and games.

$2000/month from free Android apps.

I just copied existing apps on android like Logo Quiz, 4 pics 1 word etc. that were number 1 in the play store. Just took 24h to rebuild this apps, since they're quite simple. Did that around 10 times.

Admob makes $500/month, Airpush $1,500/month.

However, Google just shut down Airpush push notifications, so the latter is now gone. ha.

I hate to play Devil's advocate (please prove me wrong) but you have almost a million app downloads (more successful than most) and high school kids at Taco Bell make more than you. And that's before taxes. What will you owe the IRS if you're in the US? What are you paying in hosting? Is this really the "mobile revolution" glorified day after day in the news? So $500/month after Google pulled the rug from under you? Only "24 hours" but what about tech support, compatibility issues, the market research, artwork, learning to package the apps, complying with Google's rules, setting up your development environment? How many days does "24 hours" add up to, start to finish? But forget the money, at the end of the day this sounds like unrewarding work: ripping off other people's ideas. Which makes me wonder, you're obviously clever enough to get a million downloads, why such an uncreative approach? I'm just trying to understand the app market everyone is raving about. How many times have we all heard "the future is mobile, the future is mobile." Is making these apps (games?) really that enjoyable? I'm curious because I'm thinking of making an Android app. When I read stories like this, makes me think twice. What you're doing sounds really smart from a marketing perspective because 1. you're making games which are by far the most popular apps and 2. you're replicating the most popular games. So you should be killing it, making 100x more than all the other app developers who didn't sell out, the developers building interesting, original, useful apps. Yet, you're not. Am I over-analyzing this? Or is the "apps market" totally overrated?

These ideas were not original to start with; 4 pics 1 word (which is, imho, incredibly boring) somehow got a lot of attention, downloads and money but was never original. Then 100s of devs copied it in some way or another. All these 'games' look / work the same. I made one for a client and the 24 hours sounds plausible including artwork but excluding the actual levels. That would take around another day. Making a few $100 / month constant for a few days work is ok in my book, although it's not the work I would want to do; like you say, it's uncreative and actually boring.

However; for these kind of games there is no 'support'; people like it or don't like it, but you don't get support requests; people who experience issues with the software just uninstall it. It's not worth actually fixing it for a few outliers with crap white label phones. So you don't actually have any work with these things and that beats Taco Bell.

I think the reason he is not killing it is the nature of these games; they are very easy to make so there are 1000s of clones in the Play Store, people usually cheat (look up the answers) and those who like them have more than 10 installed on their phone. So the ad exposure is very short lived. Installs are not a very good metric; play time is; you're not going to keep apps like this active for a long time.

If you make an app which gives value to people or games with fresh content every week , you will make a lot more money. But that's not automatic; it's a job :)

Seems to me someone with this much skill/ability could easily make $100k/year ($100 x 1000 successful app months) plus pension/benefits just working for the government. 10x easier work with 10x the pay and more stability. And "mobile apps" is supposedly the promising, high-tech growth segment of the economy everyone is harping on. What's wrong with this picture?

Well it depends on what apps; these are not brilliant examples of app and app economy. There are people making that kind of money you are talking about with games like this (4 pics 1 song is top free in the Appstore for instance at the moment and that is known to make quite a bit of cash), but the things you don't see 'in the Appstore' are apps which save companies money, for instance, by optimizing their internal HR or support workflow. Or for instance an app helping chronically ill elderly managing their meds so the on call nurses and doctors have a significant % less workload thus saving money and lives.

These apps will not be in the store, but they are making or saving companies millions. These kind of apps are already critical to a lot of enterprises and are a real opportunity for developers to make your $100k/year and much more.

The promising factor can be in games, but then rather games people stay engaged with (Minecraft, Plague, Plants vs Zombies; not saying if they are good or bad; saying they are liked for years in a row because they are better gameplay and polish wise). Next to that the aforementioned apps either to save or make money; mobile, unlike laptops/desktops, brings apps to everyone, all the time and there is a lot of money to be made in all market segments because of that difference. Both for devs as well as companies hiring these devs.

Oh and, this is definitely a matter of taste, but I rather make $2k/month from home than $10k/month in some gov job in an office. Where I live, you are allowed to work from home in some of those jobs, but they do expect you to be in the office at least 2 days/week and that is definitely something I wouldn't do very unless there is really no other way out.

But I value my work at $50,000/h, so I need to focus on my startup 100%, that's why I didn't want to spend more than 10 days in sustaining myself (10 apps a 24h).

You totally got it man. As tluyben said, there is no support, no follow up work. But I wanted to spend the least amount possible on "making-money" so that I can be fully on my startup for 80h/week.

I've been just by myself for 2 years now and by "hacking" the play store this way, was the only way I could build my startup, so I seed-funded it myself. And all that finally brought it on the trajectory and it just started to work.

I'm not proud of building these apps, but there are 50 clones of these out there. I don't use that money to buy things, I'm going towards for $40k in debt now by taking another loan to invest everything back into my own startup to change the world.

Very interesting strategy. Thanks for sharing.

I generate about $900/month of semi-passive income from http://algorithmic.ly, but the initial setup cost is high. In the future I want it to be the goto-company for adding generalized algorithms to apps, products and services (provided as a service), but while I validate the market there's a huge initial setup cost (about 10 hrs), spent on data modeling, cluster deployment and secure key generation.

The concept of "algorithms as a service" is really interesting to me. Basically implement complicated algorithms well and efficiently, hook them up to a web service, let people call the services.

Seems like a dream if you really just like programming, once you've got your funnel streamlined and your infrastructure banged out, you can add new algo's and consequently money to your service in a flash.

I'm impressed.

Is that 10 hrs per new customer?

Yes, including sales, support and integration. Nothing much is needed afterwards, but it's still doesn't scale.

Closing out of your site crashes my browser; just a heads up. Windows 8, Chrome Version 29.0.1547.76 m.

Hmm, can't replicate under the same conditions. Do you have any chrome extensions installed that the site might be interacting badly with?

It's good to be back!

I guess it was around 864 days ago that I posted the original one of these threads!

My current stats:

$~500/mo from a few supplement related websites, and some fitness stuff. Last worked on these back in April. Total work/month is roughly 30 minutes.

My current project:

Doing the research so that I can boost this to around $5000/mo :)

I figure this is as good a time as any to announce that I'm actually putting together a little recurring project of my own - and it's pretty meta.

It's pure stats and useful information on who generates recurring income, how much work they had to do to get there, what they learned/should've done/shouldn't have done. I'm researching this purely for myself, because I want to get to more recurring income faster (because recurring income is so, so, so freeing) - but a few friends asked me to package it up so I'm doing so!

Check it out [1]. Also I figure I should post it to HN, so I'll update this comment when I do so :)

Thanks guys - and really glad to see this thread live on longer than when I first posted it almost three years ago!

[1]: http://recurringincome.meteor.com/

Edit 1:

On HN. [2]

[2]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6432851

Improvely reached $10,000/mo RR recently, less than a year from launch (https://www.improvely.com).

I also run W3Counter (freemium) and a couple smaller services and paid plugins for Shopify stores.

Well done... those numbers are impressive to reach. How many other people do you work with or are you solo?

It's just me, working from home or wherever I feel like bringing a laptop for the day.

This is meant in the best possible way: I hate you. My hate is constructed entirely of jealousy.

The Ruby on Rails Tutorial (http://railstutorial.org/), conceived as a 4-Hour Workweek–style product business, makes low five figures per month, requiring just about the proverbial four hours of work per week (mostly minor book updates and customer service emails). New editions are a lot of work (e.g., ~2 months full-time to redo the screencasts), but the new sales cycle typically yields a mid-five-figure income spike the month of the launch.

I'm currently working on a project designed to help make Rails Tutorial–type stories more common among hackers. Stay tuned...

Just wanted to reach out and say that using your tutorial, I taught myself what I needed to know to talk myself into my current job. Thank you!

Super interested in what you're building, huge fan (but not a customer) of your tutorial and story. If you could offer a SquareSpace type of solution for selling screencasts including international billing, account management, it would be killer! Where do I sign up for the mail list? :)

Glad to hear it. :-) I'm working on a publishing platform that makes it easy to produce and sell Rails Tutorial–style products. If you'd like to get involved, just send me an email (address in profile) and I'll add you to the notification list for the private beta.

Meta note: please don't be shy to share links to what it is that's generating your income. I hate reading things like "I have this simple app that's making me $X/month" and not be able to see the context. Who knows, maybe I'll find it useful and pay for it too.

It seems the big winner is Apple and Google. They passively collect 30% on the apps we spend months making.

Nothing about what Apple and Google provide for developers/App Store is "passive".

I disagree. Nobody at Google would have a job if it wasn't for Adsense/Adwords, which hasn't changed since the Goto.com days. It's a fancy click counter script paying everyone's salary. Search = content to sell clicks. You could fire 99% of everyone at Google and they wouldn't lose one penny of profit.

So the App store infrastructure, support, etc just built itself automatically? The entire eco-system would not have been possible without them making it.

I've been an App developer for 4 years now and have no qualms with apple taking the 'passive' 30%

Look, the fact that these two companies happen to be be geographically located in resource-rich land is in no way a merit. Apple pretty much did a survey and struck the iPhone, which has been guzzling up ever since. Google bought some land from Herman J. Android and it turned out to have a large natural deposit of everything that has been coming up ever sense in the form of its mobile offering.

But make no mistake: if you had put a stick in the ground you would have seen the same result, provided you were as geologically fortunate as these two lucky suckers.

I suppose Apple devotes a lot of manpower and is very "active" in excluding all developers and applications outside of its walled garden.

Google is much different in that you have the option to publish on alternate app markets, or self-publish your own apps, of which Google gets a cut of $0. This lack of control over their own app marketplace is probably the cause of Google's flagging stock price and Android's failure to effectively compete with iOS in the mobile market.

>"the cause of Google's flagging stock price and Android's failure to effectively compete with iOS in the mobile market."

Was your comment sarcasm, or just terribly misinformed?

"Flagging" stock price? You mean the one that's hovering around all-time highs? Android's "failure to compete" with iOS for the mobile market? With 80%+ of global market share?

How much of our time do we spend managing their servers, security, payment gateways, etc...?

It's like oft-touted maxim during the dotcom era: those that made money during the gold rush were selling shovels to those digging for gold.

And they didn't even put in any investments or work hours ;)

Interesting point against recurring revenue for some products: We increased overall sales by charging a fixed price for permanent access vs. recurring billing. The lifetime value of the customer turned out to be less in the recurring model. It took us about 2 years to discover this. Just something to keep an eye on.

Very interesting. I've gotten a decent number of requests for a la carte purchases on my site, so I'm strongly considering doing it. (It's a big change, though, which is why I've held off.) Can you say more? I'm particularly interested in how you set your prices, whether you kept the recurring model alongside the permanent model, and how you saw customer behavior change. Thanks!

I'm reluctant to give harder details since I am in what could be a "passive income" niche, but I will try. We originally set our monthly prices in line with comparably similar produces - about $20/mo, with discounts to purchase 6 & 12 months in advances. The final fixed cost (lifetime access) account ended up costing less than a 12 month discounted subscription.

The feedback was that a) some people bought precisely because they didn't have a recurring bill hitting their account, even a small one. b) some people found the fixed price too expensive to buy and were disappointed they couldn't buy it. c) The ones that did buy the fixed price were happy with their purchases. Overall, however, we ended up with fewer total buyers each paying above the average lifetime value of the monthly buyers.

When we offered BOTH subscription AND fixed price access for individual units for a period of time, people tended to buy the lowest cost subscription instead of the lowest cost unit. They shopped on price. They were not as happy with their purchases in either case, though more so for the cheapest subscription.

In the end, it was counterintuitive to what is commonly considered "good business" to have recurring revenue from customers. We still think there's a place for monthly recurring billing somewhere, but we don't have the catalog or products to support a mix. It would be great to provide Level 1 at a fixed price and Level 2 at a lower monthly fee because we know they are the "stick with it" customers and so will likely have a better lifetime value.

Sorry to be vague here. The numbers vary over the years, but started about $2500/mo and grew to about 10k/mo over about 6 years. It is for a learning endeavor that people SHOULD commit a year+ to learning, but tend to quit for very human reasons. We think people who make commitments are happier because a) that cool TED talk about irrevocable choices that everyone talks about and b) Committing to putting in the time on our product DOES result in a new skill set, so it has tangible personal improvement if it is used as directed.

Around $40-50 from admob and amazon affiliate links. It pays for my netflix. I originally set myself a goal "just to see" of buying myself one pint of ale from a pub over the course of a year for app sales/ads - not exactly ambitious but I thought i'd end up at best shifting a few cents a month.

I had already an app on android with ~3000 active installs for doing simple shopping look ups. I changed it to throw in some affiliate codes and fixed a crash and updated it approximately 18 months ago now and haven't made a single update.

It's next to nothing but it encouraged me to look more into at least trying things out for myself - I would never have thought (and still can't) it would be any more than a personal exercise. If I look at it as "free netflix for 2 years" then it's a real thing to me and "means something".

I wrote a guide to integrating Stripe payments into Rails applications that expands greatly upon the 10-minute quick-starts[1]. It launched a little over a month ago and has generated more than $10k. I'm expecting that to drop quite a bit going forward but I'm still hoping for ~$500 in monthly revenue.

[1]: https://www.petekeen.net/mastering-modern-payments

How do / did you market it? As it seems as if you're only hosting it on your personal website? How do people find it?

I set up a mailing list right at the beginning (there's a signup link way at the bottom of the landing page, need to make that more prominent) that generated quite a bit of interest. My website by itself generates a decent amount of traffic as well. It's also been featured in a few podcasts and email newsletters which generate traffic and sales.

Thanks for the info! Did you ever consider also selling it via a couple of ebook sites?

I've been considering selling on other sites (maybe Amazon) and/or doing some limited affiliate deals, but I haven't put any serious work into it yet. What sites were you thinking of?

Making $4000 + / Month profit . Running a consulting firm. I have two direct employees and few pass-through 's . Revenue is much bigger a number at $100,000 + /Month . Effort is very less to maintain this profit as only spend few hours /month to run payroll , invoicing clients and make timely payment out to the vendors.

pass-through : Consultants not employed by my company but work for my clients.

You only take 4% profit margin? Seems very low.

This rate is not an atypical profit margin for partners (owners) of a consulting firm. Keep in mind that if the parent poster is really only spending a few hours a week then his hourly rate is fantastic. In many consulting firms the partners are also active employees, and so receive salary as well as a portion of the profits.

Yes . Most of the revenue coming in goes out as employee salary and vendor payout.

I make ~$400 per month off of https://itunes.apple.com/app/the-wiki-game-a-wikipedia/id459... (and counterpart: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wiki-game-hd-wikipedia-game/...).

I started 'The Wiki Game' by building this web game: http://thewikigame.com - but all revenue comes from the iOS apps, not the site. Been meaning to potentially monetize the site some day. It gets ~30,000 players per month, with time-on-site ~9mins.

Nice artwork and presentation. Looks a lot better than most of the one (wo)man show apps I've seen.

I gross just under $10K per month from http://www.letscodejavascript.com, a subscription-based JavaScript screencast for professional developers [1]. It's a full-time job: I put out two new episodes every week, plus a "special" every month that takes quite a bit more effort. That leaves me with about half my time for developing the business. I'm bootstrapping this, so it's just me. I don't plan to hire any employees until there's more money coming in. (I also make a few hundred a month from royalties on my book [2], which is truly passive.)

I've talked about Let's Code JavaScript on HN before; check out the previous thread [3] for some details about how I started and market the site.

Since simonswords82 was so generous with details about his business, I'll do the same. About 2% of the visitors to the site sign up for the free trial. That seems poor, although I don't have a lot of insight as to what the number "should" be. I do require a credit card in order to sign up for the trial. The trial automatically converts to a subscription after seven days.

About 70% of trial subscribers convert to a paid subscription. This seems pretty good to me, although I'd of course be happier if it was higher. Once they've subscribed, I lose about 25% of subscribers in the first month, and then the number drops asymptotically down to about 5% (of the initial total) per month. I'm reasonably happy with this as well. It's poor by the standards of a SaaS, where a churn rate of 1-2% is doable, but I think it's pretty good for a content site.

My most recent push was an inbound marketing campaign: I took one of my monthly specials and turned it into a dedicated site on object-oriented JavaScript [4]. That was very successful; it nearly doubled traffic in the first month (from 2,800 uniques in the previous month to 5,400) and looks like it will permanently add about 1,500 uniques per month. Trial rates went down slightly as a result, but overall subscriptions went up.

The biggest challenge for me is having lots of things I'd like to pursue, but not enough time to do them all. The Object Playground inbound marketing campaign was successful, but a lot of work. I recently released another special that might make a good inbound campaign (on large-scale JavaScript fundamentals: modularity and automated cross-browser unit testing), but I'm not sure it's worth the time it would take to create a marketing site for it on the scale of Object Playground.

For now I'm focusing on A/B testing various ideas for improving conversion. It takes less effort and potentially has longer-term impact. So far, I've improved the subscribe page [5] by adding testimonials and a better design. Next, I'll probably provide more opportunities for people to preview the series without signing up, as well as more obvious calls to action on the video pages. I also have some other plans in the works that I can't talk about yet. :-)

[1] My screencast is Let's Code: Test-Driven JavaScript, a series for professional JavaScript developers. It's available at http://www.letscodejavascript.com. I'd love to hear your feedback.

[2] My book is The Art of Agile Development. It's been out for over five years now, so it's nice to still be getting royalties from it.

[3] I talked about my experiences launching and marketing the screencast here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6038226

[4] My recent inbound marketing campaign was Object Playground, a tutorial and visualizer for object-oriented JavaScript: http://www.objectplayground.com.

[5] The Let's Code JavaScript subscribe page is at http://www.letscodejavascript.com/v3/subscribe.

Your demo video is stuttering and unwatchable. I'm guessing it's getting hammered from this post.

The site looks really nice, and appears to have really great content. Signup achieved.

Wow. Oh, wow.

I just discovered that my demo video is recorded at too high a bitrate. It's at 2.8Mbit/s, compared to 1.3-1.8Mbit/s for subscriber videos. That's probably because I used my standard screencast encoding settings (which are set nice and high) for a video that has a lot more motion than my standard screencast.

Fixing this alone will probably do wonders for my conversion rate.

Thanks a million to tankbot for starting the conversation rolling and to alecthomas for helping me to troubleshoot it over email.

So, for anyone following this saga...

In researching this issue, I found recommendations that 2.5mbps is probably the most you should plan for in North America. I'm not sure how accurate or current that recommendation is, but since I was seeing problems at 2.8mbps, it seems reasonable. (It also might explain why I have such a large proportion of international subscribers.) That said, I'd really love to get my bitrate below 2.0mbps, because that's what my actual videos come in at.

I went into my video export settings and fiddled (and fiddled, and fiddled) and ended up finding a compromise that gave me 1.94mbps at the cost of slightly-visible artifacting during transitions. [1] Bingo! Uploaded, deployed, done.

Well, not entirely done. I'm still using my old settings for most videos, because it doesn't have any visible compression artifacts at all, at least not until you get out the magnifying glass. (I can get away with such high quality because, although my screencasts have more transitions and motion than average, they're still mostly unchanging text.) But I don't want to run into this problem again. It's embarrassing. And I like killing problems dead. DEAD!

So I modified my deploy script to run `ffprobe` and pull out the bitrate for each new video. If it exceeds 1750kbps, I get a warning. And if it exceeds 2000kbps, the script fails. [2] That'll do it.

Of course, the real root cause here is that I don't have visibility into client-side performance issues. Eventually, I'd like to modify the client-side code to report back playback experience. That would have detected this problem much sooner, and it will protect me against CDN/network issues as well, which are particularly hard for me to get visibility into.

Thanks again to tankbot and alecthomas for helping me find this problem.

[1] The settings I ended up with, in case you're curious:

Video encoding: H.264; 24 frames per second; 2250kbps max bit rate; "High" quality; Single-pass

Audio encoding: AAC; 44.1KHz audio (mono); "Normal" quality; 64kbps audio bit rate

[2] These thresholds are pretty conservative, and I'll increase them if necessary. I like starting with low thresholds because it gives me more visibility into what's going on, at the cost of requiring me to be a bit more hands-on until I get things dialed in.

it would be awesome if you could share some details about your screencast setup.

Glad to help a fellow Portlander! :o)

Thanks! I have the videos on a geo-balanced CDN which is well overprovisioned, so it should be okay. I just tried it myself and everything seemed fine. Of course, because it's geo-balanced, there could be a problem I'm not seeing. If anybody else has problems, could you let me know?

It's unwatchable for me too. It appears to be buffering fine (I see the gray buffering bar quite a bit ahead), but just stalls and stutters quite a lot.

Hmmm... that's disturbing. It's stuff like this that keeps me up at night: not things breaking, but things breaking without me knowing. Thanks for chiming in. I've sent you an email to follow up.

If anybody else sees this issue, and you're willing to take a few minutes to help me troubleshoot it, please let me know. james@letscodejavascript.com . Thanks!

I should clarify that the video quality was fine, but it would pause for buffering often at the beginning. Once I made it a few minutes in this cleared up. I'm in the Pacific Northwest, USA if that helps with troubleshooting.

Thanks. I'm the Pacific NW as well (Portland), so we're probably hitting the same server. I'd guess the CDN had to adjust to the sudden influx of traffic. Let me know if you have any more problems (james@letscodejavascript.com) and we can dig into it further.

The website is working fine for me. Also, the videos convinced me to try the free trial.

I'm a PHP developer that's been looking to become better at JS. Right now I'm at the level where I basically can write some simple JS to do what I want, most of the time, but the code is a mess of spaghetti.

I am also a huge testing fanatic, and absolutely love that you're teaching using TDD from the first episode!

Consider me signed up and a paying customer!

My answer to the main question here is related to yours, since your a testing fanatic ;)

My company does web dev and consulting, but we struggled with how to manage long-term support. So we developed an automated html5 testing platform and started writing custom UX tests for our clients' applications. This way, if they continue to develop new features or whatever, they have a way of quickly checking for breakages. It works so well that we've now opened it up as a service we offer outside of our development projects.

We get a little bit of cash for writing the tests, and a little bit of cash for hosting/maintenance/updates.

Here's a link: http://html5testing.co/

That's pretty cool. Are you looking for developers, or ?

What do you use to drive the tests? I'm most familiar with Behat.

We're actively looking for test writers at the moment, but we also throw consideration to every dev resume that comes our way for our consulting projects.

I'm not familiar with Behat. We're using Node.js.


Which conversion step do you think it would be easiest to improve upon? I'm curious, because increasing the rate of free trial signups by 30%, from 2% to 2.6% (which seems like a modest increase), would result in the same number of subscribers as if you were to manage to increase trail-to-paid conversions by the same 30%, from 70% to 91% (which seems like a much more difficult feat).

Anyway, I'm sure you know the various scenarios, so my question is: how do you determine where to focus (or how to distribute) your efforts? Of course, the free trial signup rate becomes a limiting factor as your trail-to-paid rate approaches 1, but at this point, where do you see the best opportunity for improvement?

I'm definitely focusing on the free trial signups, for exactly the reason you said.

Here's how I decide what to do next: I have a big 6' folding table in my office that's covered in index cards. On the left-hand side are six columns: what I'm planning to work on this week (the current iteration), the next four weeks of commitments (mostly episode air dates), and any future commitments (such as my Christmas vacation with my family).

On the right hand side, I have five more columns: Attract, Convert, Hygiene, Delight, and Intelligence. Whenever I have an idea for something that I should do, it goes in one of those columns. If an idea column is full (some categories get two columns), then I have to throw out one of the existing cards before I can put a new one in.

All of the columns are full.

Every Monday, I calculate my velocity (Agile/XP-style) based on what I finished the week before. Then I look over my upcoming commitments and move everything that should be done this week into the current iteration. I try to stay about two weeks ahead of The Beast (that is, episode commitments), but I don't always succeed. Still, I have yet to miss an air date.

Then I look at the amount of points remaining and choose an idea from the right-hand half of the table to work on. Sometimes there's one I'm already working on--that goes into a special "On Deck" corner of the table--in which case I just generate story cards from that and slot them into the current iteration. If there's nothing on deck, though, I look over all my existing ideas and pick one.

I pick ideas primarily based on bang-for-buck. Is it relatively easy, do I think it will work, and will it give me useful information even if it doesn't work? But sometimes I pick small things that are bugging me or that I think would be satisfying to work on. Morale's important. And sometimes I choose things that are really big and risky but the time is right to do them.

tl;dr: dart board. ;-)

Here's a picture of the table: http://imgur.com/tmm9TvT

Thanks for the detailed reply! I'm going to experiment with some of the things you mentioned.

hi i was a previous subscriber to your service. i just wanted to say thank you!

the one point i wanted to criticize was the lack of accounts page, not being able to view my billing information or the ability to cancel my account kind of scared me.

other than that your videos were high quality and course content was great.

Thanks! There's an account page now. It still has room to improve—I handle most things manually—but as pg says, do things that don't scale. :-)

Congrats on your service and success, and thanks for sharing. I'm offering training in games development, and your model looks interesting. Do you spend much time editing the videos? It seems like doing that must be a huge effort, even if they are recorded live. Thanks & good luck!

Thanks! Editing is a huge effort. I've gotten it down to a science, and I still spend about 60 minutes editing together a 15-minute video.

Part of the time is spent adding titles, notes, and transitions (such as when I zoom out to show a web page), but the majority of the time is just spent going through the episode with a fine-tooth comb to strip out pauses, ums and other filler, and to speed past necessary but uninteresting work.

The monthly specials take a lot longer. I typically spend a full week on a 15-30 minute video. Sometimes longer. Editing probably takes 2-4 hours and the rest of the time is on scripting/outlining, animations, coding the examples, and so forth.

Congrats and thanks for sharing details about your business. I'm currently building a subscription based medical training video streaming site. May I also ask for details about the technical aspects? Do you use a media streaming service like Wistia? How do you protect your videos from unauthorized access? Do you serve different formats to different devices?

Thanks in advance for answers.

Sure, send me an email (james@letscodejavascript.com) and we can discuss it.

I really like what you are doing, but after seeing what happened to RailsCasts I am a worried what will happen to this business model once it hits 400+ episodes. Hopefully your "other plans" have this part worked out?

I assume the screencast has a limited shelf life, so yes, my "other plans" are about that. Although at this point, I think the problem is more about organizing the content so it's not overwhelming. I'm not worried about running out of material or burning out, at least not for a while.

What happened to RailsCasts?

What happened to RailsCasts after 400+ episodes?

In [3] you wrote that you already had traction from the agile community. Was that just from the book?

I've been involved in the agile community since near the beginning, and I'm fairly well known there. It's partly the book, partly my blog [1], partly speaking at conferences, and partly longevity.

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

I make around $5 to $10 a day from my site http://tunes.io I haven't put any effort into marketing it or trying to monetize it other than adsense. Maybe I should be trying harder!

You could sign up to the iTunes and Amazon affiliate programs and then link to where users can purchase the songs. The nice thing with Amazon is once users click through to Amazon from your site they are cookied and you will get a commission from whatever they buy. They could come in on a 0.99 download but they end up buying some underwear and a book and you get a cut of it.

I was about to post, "How do you make money on this?" And then I remembered that I use AdBlock. D'oh! I paused it and refreshed a couple times.

Yeah I use adblock too - even on my own site ;) I was thinking maybe I would make a tunes.io android app and sell it for a buck just to see what happens.

I'll tell you what will happen. I would pay for it! tunes.io is great!

Thanks! Tell your friends ;)

How much traffic do you receive a day?

About 400 - 500 visitors a day. CPM is ok compared to other sites I've run adsense on. People seem to like the site.

How are you attracting those visits, ads, word of mouth, etc? I run tubalr.com and have considered ads but am worried it will scare off the users I have. My traffic is a little more than what you're running... but its going down day by day.

My traffic is pretty much direct/word of mouth. I haven't done any advertising, just a few links on places like HN. The problem with a YouTube video site like tubalr is you can't use adsense unless you have a lot of added content and you are competing with the ads in the videos anyways. And in my experience other ad networks have really bad CPM rates. So you probably have to find another way to monetize the site, which is tricky. The sad fact is that music/video sites while fun to build are a hard way to make money (having built a few myself).

Sadly :(

Instead of ads, I decided to try affiliated "buy this song on x site" buttons on my site (www.tunecrawl.com) under each song. It generates so low income, however, that I would have removed it a while ago if users didn't find it useful. Might be worth a try to see if you have the same result. If nothing else, it adds some additional functionality to the site and is easy to set up. I honestly think you could get away with some well placed ads on tubalr, though.

Great redesign, btw!

I like yous site. Do you have a white label version of your site? I want to build one for a completely different vertical.

Nice. I don't see any ads though.

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