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Ask HN: Those making $1,000+/month on side projects - what did you make?
160 points by tagabek on Dec 10, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments
It can be a SaaS app, a mobile app, or any side project that is netting you recurring revenue.


It's a service that solves SEO for javascript driven websites.

For the most part, Google can't crawl sites that manipulate the DOM using javascript (AngularJS, Backbone.js, Ember.js, etc). The solution is to use a headless browser to make html snapshots for all your pages and serve those to Google instead of the page that requires javascript.

This turns out to be a bit of a pain in practice. So, BromBone does it for you. It generates, hosts, and updates the html snapshots. When Googlebot visits your site, you proxy the snapshot from BromBone and serve it to Google. Now Google can see the same thing your users see.

Huh. I totally thought Google would penalize your ranking for trying something like that. Have you heard of that happening at all?

This method follows Google's own guidelines on Making AJAX website crawable.


My blog at http://erica.biz makes more than $1,000/mo in advertising and affiliate commissions.

I built the blog after I bootstrapped and sold my first tech company. I talk a lot about growing your business/startup, and especially about all the failures I had while building my businesses. It became popular (1.2 million unique visitors last year alone.)

I've now been blogging there for just over 6 years. Today I'm more focused on my startup, so my blog isn't bringing in as much income as it used to (though it's still over $1,000/mo.) My best month was over $24,000 in income.

Have you noticed a decline related to the rise of AdBlock (and related)?

Good question. I don't have a good ad stats program right now, and I charge a flat rate for banner ads on my site, so the honest answer is...I haven't checked!

My ad service provider is going out of business on 12/31, so over the next few weeks I'll pick a different ad software program and/or ad service provider, and I'll then be able to track stats better.

Interesting question. I read her post, checked out the blog, disabled Adblock but still didn't see any ads. So I disabled Ghostery as well and finally saw the source of her income. My initial thought was "who the hell clicks these ads?". I suppose the target group isn't people like me who use extensions Adblock and Ghostery. And people like me are (and probably most of you) - at least for now - a pretty small group among web users.

you don't have to click the ads to mean something. every time you see an ad you're most likely getting cookie retargeted as well, meaning the advertizers now can uniquely identify you across the internet. The next time you purchase something related to an ad you saw half way across the internet, she gets paid for showing you the ad.

but that 24k month - was it affiliate? product launch?

http://rebrickable.com - a LEGO database that does some number crunching and tells you what you can build by combining parts from all your sets. Lots of user submitted content that is also searched and can be built, everything with instructions.

Awesome site! :-) Is most of your revenue from affiliate marketing of Lego items (most obvious one)?

Most creative and original idea in this thread. Congrats.

easily coolest idea in the thread for me (and I posted as well). Nice!

Thanks, it's a lot of fun too :)

Really cool!

I started a bag company, https://www.missionarybag.com/, for a niche market (young adults who leave home for 18 months to 2 years). A contract sewer here in the US makes the bags and my stay-at home wife does the shipping/handling. This is our first month to hit $1,000 profit in a month in under 6 months. After spending 12 years in software development, I wanted to create something tangible. And all the ecommerce/SEO/marketing I have helped others with over the years has come in handy - learning a lot in the process. We are looking to fill some larger orders with an overseas manufacturer.

I wish I'd known about this a few months ago when I was in the market for a new bag. It meets all my picky bag criteria including not being made in China.

I ended up getting a SealLine shoulder bag which are pretty pricey but excellent.

Important to note: Missionaries are now discouraged from using backpacks, so a sidebag like this is great timing.

Tangential curiosity: Why discouraged from using backpacks?

I can't speak for the church or any particular mission, but from my experience as a Mormon missionary over a decade ago, backpacks 1) Make missionaries look like students, when they are not. 2) Are awkward on public transportation (and using them on transport is considered quite rude in some cultures). 3) Are more prone to being pickpocketed or losing things than a bag at your side/front that you can see more readily.

The first option is the one I've heard the most.

The other aspect is that they actually want to discourage them from carrying so much stuff. They have many problems with back pain and the such. And like the other guy said, they want Missionaries "to look professional, and backpacks are not professional".

Why are backpacks discouraged?

FYI, I just tried to send you a message via the "Contact Us" link on your site, and clicking "Send" results in a classic Ruby on Rails "We're sorry, something went wrong" error page. You could be losing sales if those messages aren't going through.

Thanks for the heads up.


My goal was to break $1k / mo by the end of this year. Last month I not only broke that goal, but more than doubled my next highest month.

That's great. I usually wade through Retail Me Not on my own, but it's time consuming to go back and forth to see what's available from different stores (and they try and hide the actual code). I'll give it a try next time.

They hide the actual code until you click on their link so they can get the affiliate traffic (otherwise people would just copy the code, and leave, resulting in no revenue for them).

Retailmenot was part of the inspiration for the site - I always found pizza coupons on their site to not be very accurate.

Great idea! Quick heads up, the SERP doesn't seem to load in IE9 (I know, I know...it's all they offer at work). All I see under the ad is "ding...)", so possibly some CSS rendering oddity going on. Email is in my profile if you want, shoot me a note and I can send over a screengrab.

Thanks for reaching out to me! I just replied to your email with more details, but this is fixed now - I was incorrectly placing the 'doctype' after some javascript, causing IE9 to fall back to 'quirks mode', which seems to disable css and js. Since js is used to load the results, the results never loaded.

How do you make money? Just ads?

Yup, just ads. Unfortunately there are no affiliate ads for pizza stores (at least that I have found).

How are you going about getting the deals / codes etc into your system?

Users can submit codes, or I add them when I see them on sites like slickdeals. I built a python backend that checks where a code works for new codes. After that, I have some methods so I don't have to check as frequently.

I was going to ask how you make money with that site, but then I disabled ghostery and saw the ad. Are you using adsense or something else?

Yeah, I'm using adsense.

Thanks for answering everybody's questions. How do you get the data on which coupons are available for which locations?

Users can submit codes, or I add them when I see them on sites like slickdeals. I built a python backend that checks where a code works for new codes. After that, I have some methods so I don't have to check as frequently.

What did you do to promote this site?

I started it out about 2 years ago to help out people on slickdeals, and posted it in relevant threads. After the first few months, people started to find it useful enough to post it on their own on slickdeals.

Now it's almost entirely promoted by other people sharing links on twitter, reddit, slickdeals, etc. About a month back it got posted to '/r/YouShouldKnow', and got ~3k 'upvotes'. Didn't notice it was posted until I saw the big spike in traffic when looking at the stats for the day.

More recently I've been testing out reddit ads, but I need to work on my targeting (my ctr has been ~0.7%). Paid advertising is a bit challenging for a site like this since revenue per user is on the low side.

Is there a mobile app wrapping this that allows clicking the codes within the app?

Do you mean a mobile app for the website? i'm planning to, I just haven't had the time yet.

Awesome idea and easy to use

Love this dude - great idea!

Thanks, really appreciate it! It's been my side project for about 2 years now.

It really started to take off at the beginning of this year when I started to rank well for relevant keywords. This past summer, I switched domains to make it more memorable, and my ranking suffered pretty severely.

My rank in Google search never recovered, but my traffic from other sources / direct traffic has increased quite substantially such that this doesn't matter anymore.

What was the old domain name?


Google analytics showed a decent amount of traffic from users searching for asliceofpizza, abitofpizza, etc, and I talked to some users that indicated they had trouble remembering the domain. Bought the new domain for ~$600 over the summer.

My direct traffic has increased a lot since then, so I'm inclined to say it helped.

You redirect properly + submit to Google, etc? A proper redirect + submission should see a dip then recovery, not a persistent dip.

Yeah, I did a 301 permanent redirect (the redirect is still there too), redirecting each page to the correct corresponding page on the new domain. I also told Google about the redirect through the webmaster's console.

I am ranking for terms like 'pizza codes', but I'm assuming that's due to my domain name (and the traffic from this is considerably less than I used to receive). I've pretty much just accepted the loss of organic Google traffic, and the site's doing pretty well without out it.

If anyone has experience with this, and has any ideas, I'd be eternally grateful. I spent a considerable amount of time looking trying to figure out what was wrong with no success.

Have you considered working with local pizza shops or recruiting a "virtual" sales force to do that for you?

Unlike Groupon it wouldn't be about big deals but simply more people calling the local indy than the big chain which pumps the coupons out.

So many food websites focus on big cities or daytime office deliveries, but there is a lot of delivery pizza business in the midwest and other more spread out places.

For me, knowing when they stop delivering at night at a glance would help too.

You read my mind! That's my next plan for expansion, I'm just trying to decide how to approach it. A lot of the visitors to the site are budget conscious, so I'd really like to have coupons, etc for them (even if they aren't as good, etc), but people have mentioned that they'd love to have more local stores.

My current ideas are:

1. Use the yelp api to add local pizza stores to the current site - this is probably the easiest way to keep the database up to date. I could then reach out to local pizza stores, and try to get some promotions added. The biggest challenge with this is keeping the promotions for local pizza places up to date as a single person working on this.

One idea is to somehow encourage users to 'adopt' a local store, and keep the promotions up to date for that local store. Still trying to decide if there's a good way to do that.

2. Make the local pizza places a separate site / app and push users to use it for just finding local pizza places, less about finding coupons, and run it next to the current site.

Over the last few Google search algorithm updates, exact match domains (EMD's) were devalued. This could be one of the reasons why you are not ranking as highly for the term "pizza codes" while the previous domain was.

The deranking (and domain change coincidentally) were right around that time. Interestingly, I rank higher for 'pizza codes' now, and a lot lower for terms like 'papa johns coupons'.

Feel free to shoot me an email at kevin at supremestrategies.com and I'll see if I can root out what might have caused it :)

Will do! I'll send you an email later tonight with more details.

I really appreciate the help.

How does it make money?

99% from ads. I have added some 'local' deals that are sourced from sites like Groupon, but I draw very little revenue from this.

I made a nest egg of $150,000 through advanced use of the "spend less than you make" framework. I invest passively with index funds. I average about 6% annually, but this year was significantly more than that. Easily $1k/month.

Is that from dividends or growth of capital? 2013 is definitely a historical anomaly when it comes to returns, not hard to do well when the S&P 500 is up 27% YTD

Ah, a nice green account to go with your bragging. You know what OP means..

A good old fashioned web site which ranks high for a resort town which has a lot of tourists who don't know where to eat so they search in the Google. My next venture is a run on sentence shortening service.

do you make money from the restaurants advertising directly or adsense etc?

Direct only. Our competition is tripadvisor, it a david and goliath situation, even though we specialize in just one area for one thing. My friend owns a similar site in a much larger demographic and makes a lot more, but be advised.. this works mainly because of salesmanship and ranking well, the per month hours are now very minimal (5-10).

So, do you call the hotels/restaurants and try to sell banners/ads?

I would love to see your website and how the information you provide for this particular resort compares to what Trip Advisor offers. Any chance to share the url?

What is a sentence shortening service?

FYI, it was a joke; the first sentence in the post was excessively long.

lol that totally went over my head :D I was thinking prison sentences :|

Now that's a service people will pay good money for!

I run http://postertext.com. We design art prints for bibliophiles. All illustrations are made entirely out of text.

I've been running it while traveling the world for 3 years non-stop now. Check out my AMA on reddit if you're interested: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1rneli/ive_been_travel...

I bought a couple poster texts about 3 years ago. They're awesome :)

Thank you for your business!

This is interesting, just requested a book I'd like.

I run a forum (historic vehicles) members donate to see additional content, mainly old posts and bigger images, this is the primary income. Our recurring income is in that range.

Certainly not hi-tech but valuable to our membership and increases by at least 10% each year.

We don't run any keyword advertising but in the past year I we started selling advertising space in 12 month plans which has supplemented income.

Facebook has taken a bite out of our daily posting figures but it has made no difference to traffic/income. Facebook can't compete when it comes to delivering old content.

There are several associated niches to ours which don't have a centralised web site, much potential, you do however need a good knowledge of the subject matter and time to build the community.

I made an Android app, Unlock With WiFi, three years ago. It has brought in about 64K over that time. The app unlocks your phone when you're connected to your home wifi. I'm currently working on a complete rewrite that will support patterns and face lock for root users.


Great idea.

http://www.shipadick.com - no joke. They sell themselves.

Ha. Gotta love sh*t like this. Hilarious Probably most sales from college kids

Best in the list!

I built and sell a collection of plugins for the Delphi IDE at http://www.twodesk.com. (Yes, people still use Delphi), for a consistent single-digit multiple of $1K each month.

That is AWESOME... back in 2000, I was writing a vertical app for an oil company using Object Pascal/Borland Delphi (it was still Borland... and Kylix... at that point) It got me using Interbase/Firebird/FirebirdSQL for a couple of years. Glad to hear it's still around.

Thanks! I've been doing this since 2002. It's a fun project and a very interesting business to be in.

I was developing primarily in Delphi for 5 years, took a year off, and now doing it on a the side again a little bit. It's not SO bad mumble mumble mumble

https://coderpad.io is a SaaS product I built that provides the highest fidelity experience out there currently for interviewing other programmers over the phone.

I got to my current rev with a mix of self service plans and enterprise deals.

I use coderpad.io for remote pair programming interviews. Great work!

cool, you've protected yourself against a fork bomb. lxc - makes sense.

I built and run the internet sales for my fathers and friend company and both produce over $1k a month for me: http://bluebidet.com and http://naturalsinsonline.com

In my spare time i make more than $1,000/mo designing and building Android Native Applications for companies and businesses. Is hard to balance your time between your day-day job and your personal projects but i think is possible with a good management of time.

Cool. How do you find clients? Its one of the biggest challenges I have to deal with.

My mobile app, Routesy (http://routesy.com), falls into this category through a combination of sales of the paid version and advertising in the free version. It was one of the first 500 apps in the App Store when it launched in 2008 and has been pretty consistent in its earnings ever since then.

Thanks for Routesy, I use it most days. :)

Aww, thank you. That always makes me feel good to hear.


It is a shopping cart service developed for developers and web design agencies.

This is the a side project we have with the team @ spektrummedia.com.

We are up and running since last August, we won the site of the day on Awwwards.com back in August and then we have a lot of traffic and we are getting new customers everyday.

A music album I made fits that description, although it is winding down, as to be expected: http://lifeformed.bandcamp.com/

Via album sales, Spotify streams, iTunes, etc, all done through TuneCore (https://www.tunecore.com).

Cool album. How did you get a big enough audience to make real money from this? Was it just word of mouth from making good tracks? Or was it also from doing shows or reaching out to music blogs or something?

Yup, it was mostly piggybacking off of the game itself. Also, it was in a Game Music Bundle, which got another $10k in a week.

Ah that's great, thanks for linking to the album, I love video game music :)

I make quite a bit more than $1k a month from Duet - http://duetapp.com

It's a project management app for freelancers and small businesses. Hopefully one day soon it will be more than a side project.

Good on you! Curious to know how do you market & promote the app, considering that project management is a very competitive/saturated market segment?

It's very difficult and I'm still figuring it out, but I get a decent amount of traffic from the free version http://getsoloapp.com.

Freemium model almost always works best! Best of luck

This app looks amazing! I'm doing something similar but in a much different vertical - if it makes sense I'd love to talk to you about UI !

Thanks! Feel free to shoot me an email from the contact page if you would like to talk.

did you do the UI or was it based on an admin template?

Everything is custom :)

http://www.supportfu.com - SaaS. bootstrapped.

I was making ~$3k/month with http://myapptemplates.com. Recently sold it. Now working on an ad tech startup.

I make ~$2.5k a month from my simple iOS apps http://www.bytesizeapps.net/

Very clever 4 in a row game! Makes me want a 5c.


Kickstarted a Python course (now 2, soon to be 3 courses) - RealPython.com

Oh awesome, I backed both of your courses.

Wish I could say that I have had enough time to go through them both...

Isn't the website payment system vulnerable to MITM without without using https?

Simple Goods (our provider) does use https via an iframe, so it's secure although not best practice - that said, we'll be moving to Stripe soon!

Technically, no. The payment happens within an iframe secured with https: https://www.simplegoods.co/embed/PKGTEISN

The issue with it however is that the initial page is delivered over an insecure connection, which allows any part of it to be modified in the usual MITM style. Nothing prevents an attacker from changing the link that is served to the client with something else that looks like that payment system and functions the same, but logs the payment information. There's a reason Firefox now disallows mixed HTTP/HTTPS content by default[0]

[0] - https://blog.mozilla.org/tanvi/2013/04/10/mixed-content-bloc...

In other words: yes, it's vulnerable to SSL stripping.

If the main page is insecure, then everything is insecure.

My work VPN blocks this as porn. Ha!

do you work at a ruby shop?

Har har. I work in finance.

Oof, good to know... Any other false positives you've had so I can maybe figure out why?

Edit: Never mind, I think your censorware might just have a more inventive sexual imagination than I do when it comes to domain names...

Not sure it would be related, but python.com used to be a startling high-res extremely NSFW spread that you really didn't want to accidentally visit in a public setting when you really wanted python.org...

(They are now 'no longer accepting new affiliates' though, and the pictures are gone.)

This was also blocked at work:


But the main site (http://www.sfweekly.com/) and the blog site (http://blogs.sfweekly.com/) aren't blocked. I'm going to guess my work filter is just screwy.

None that I'm aware of.

Adult comics - http://www.8muses.com

How did you obtain the right to distribute jab comix for free?


This is my brand new project: http://metrics11.com/ It helps you find profitable keywords niches you can use on your site to get free traffic from Google. It shows you how many people search for given term per month in chosen country, what is competition for that term, and other metrics like trends or domains availability. We focus mostly on competitors metrics. I think it is the most comprehensive keyword research tool on the market right now. Try the demo on the front page.

getsentry.com - saas

Good on ya! Curious to know how do you market & promote the app, considering that it's a pretty competitive market segment?

Our marketing is simply trying to build the best product and assuming that well dominate the scene die to it

Plus we are pretty lazy when it comes to that

We use Sentry at Trak.io and love it :)

We use Sentry @ crowdsourcedtesting.com and now we can't live without it.

How long has the sentry app been live? It looks pretty useful.

The company I work at uses it across all products - Javascript and PHP. It's super handy and has helped us find bugs before our users! Definitely recommend giving it a shot since you can have Sentry logging your Javascript errors in 2 lines of code.

It is /very/ useful. I managed to mooch a free account for an open-source project and it has been invaluable. For Python projects, it has the best integration (being written in python) of any of the many that I have tried (most of which seem to focus on RoR and everything else is an extra).

I'm attempting to get it adopted at my workplace as well. The major point that seems to get the bosses interested is being able to host it ourselves (for free, it's open source) easily in the case that we outgrow the hosted version.

My first software product I launched on the side 5 years ago still makes quite a bit more than $1k/m (and that's in non-recurring revenue). Its best month was more than $15k while I was working full time. I was able to quit my corporate job back in February to focus on some new products.

Can you share what the product is?

A service that helps businesses recover from Google Penguin penalty. The number of websites using poor link building and seo practices is unbelievably high. I help them undo the poor practices and recover/prevent from Penguin penalty.

How do you identify your leads?

Mostly through referrals from existing clients. Also, got a few clients from various blogs and forums.

Have you thought about some kind of drop shipping business? Find a vendor, make a store on Shopify/Volusion/BigCommerce, whatever. A lot of items can have 50%+ margins while still staying within range of competitors.

promoting it is the hard part. You also have to beware of the bargain basement shoppers that will vampire you

My side project : http://html5portfoliotemplate.com is generating some revenue. (not closer to above mark but in next few months it may reach there)

http://www.visadoor.com Visadoor lets you search through employment based green cards petitions and H1Bs. I make a couple of hundred dollars from adsense.

1. Niche music site monetized with apparel sales

2. Network of content sites monetized with ads


It's a SaaS providing A/B testing for mobile apps that started out as a side project.

I started http://buildtracks.com as a side project. Now working on it full time.

I made a course and documentation management, and grading system for speech pathology students. Netted me >12k last year (before tax).

I made a service where I find leads for other freelancers. Something I desperately wanted for my own freelance biz.

Any chance of posting it here? I am sure people on this site would find it useful.

I wrote a short book on Ruby (http://dmtri.com/posts/65/just_enough_ruby_to_get_by) for beginners. I wanted to publish it via LearnPub originally and earn some money, but I decided to release it for free instead.

And how is it generating revenue?

Personal blog: http://ashishb.net/ Makes money from adsense. No where close to 1K/month but growing towards that.

How much traffic do you get? Is there a place to understand the earnings correlation of traffic and earnings through google ads?

How does that make any money? I don't even see ads and I don't have adblock.

I bet you're making no where close to 1k. There's no ads.

found the ad, it's waaaay down the footer

A tiny Zombie Shooter (www.snipezombies.com)


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