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Ask HN: Successful one-person online businesses?
351 points by kewball on March 9, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 286 comments
How many people on hacker news are running successful online businesses on their own? What is your business and how did you get started?

Defining successful as a profitable business which provides the majority of the owners income.

Even if you were to scope it just to software/SaaS product companies, there's minimally hundreds of these in the world and dozens of them have HN accounts. Most don't post on threads like this, so I feel the need to pipe up and say "This is quite doable, and done, much more than you might expect."

I run a small software company (two, technically). Products include Bingo Card Creator (http://www.bingocardcreator.com), Appointment Reminder (https://www.appointmentreminder.org), and occasional offerings for training for other software companies. I used to do consulting, too, but quit to focus on products.

I'd describe it as "modestly successful." It's the sole financial support for my wife and I. I'm the only full-time employee of the business (for a very quirky understanding of the words "full-time").

To underscore Patrick's point about just how many of these businesses there really are, he's one of the few folks I remember from the old Business of Software forums over at joelonsoftware.com that seem to have migrated over here.

That was a tiny little board where the owners of single player software businesses would get together to ask silly questions about how to update their shareware product's PAD files. There were a few hundred of these businesses represented there just among the regular users.

Most of them fly under the radar since, having products that provide a comfortable living with relatively low workload and no need to follow the latest hot technology trends, there's little reason your average Dot-Com-Thousandaire would ever stumble across a place like Hacker News.

Edit: forgot to plug S3stat (http://s3stat.com) and Twiddla (http://twiddla.com), my two main revenue generators, and FairTutor (http://fairtutor.com), hopefully the next one.

I have two daughters, a niece and a nephew who might be moving from Spanish Immersion this fall to classes that are more rigorous in math, science, etc. Maybe I'm your target audience., maybe not. When I look at your website, the last blog post and tweet are from 2010. It makes things look dead. We're not homeschooling but http://homeschoolspanishacademy.com/ looks a lot more active. Also, "fair trade" often seems to translate as "expensive". Education seems more valuable than coffee (now that I'm on my second cup) but not having any sense of what pricing or structure is like is off-putting.

I think you're getting at one of the major dilemmas of running a one-man lifestyle business, the need for self-self discipline and motivation. Once things are automated and profitable, it's hard to find the motivation to keep innovating and eventually even just updating the product. In my case, I started a niche website in 2008 that soon became profitable. I thereafter started working on other projects that we more successful and I abandoned new developments on my original site, which is still profitable and producing about the same revenue as 2008. It's just not a large enough revenue source to continue working on it over my other projects.

Thanks for that. Hey, your email's not in your profile so I can't contact you directly, but if you'd like some free lessons, I'd love to have you, the kids, and the nieces as beta testers when we relaunch this spring.

Drop me an email (in my profile) if you're interested!

I like the idea of the cheap bastard plan of s3stat. Very well done and well presented.

Excellent idea. :-)

I love the tone

Pato11's stories are always inspiring and interesting to read. They were a huge motivator to start my own business, which I eventually did.

My first attempt in online business was GetSSL.me (https://getssl.me), which has been one-man shop most of the time. It was pretty simple to set up and run, but the biggest pain point was payments, because of my geographic location. Also marketing was a big issue, because I am not a marketer and had to learn everything on the go. To be honest it was more like trial and error approach.

As someone who has no idea about the SSL certificate business, how does your business work? Are you a reseller or do you make money on affiliate commissions? Just genuinely curious.

I am a reseller. GetSSL.me processes customer's order, requests a certificate from certificate authority (e.g. Comodo) and then they send the certificates to the customer.

The point of GetSSL.me is simplicity, price and support. If you were buying directly from Comodo, you would overpay a great amount, because reseller prices are much cheaper.

A lot of clutter has been removed from ordering process and you can get certificate in just a few minutes. Our support is friendly and helps with basically anything. Also a lot of people want to buy stuff from small, approachable businesses not from large corporations (e.g. GoDaddy).

For one thing, their first product is sold for $2 more than it costs from other resellers.

Your cert for getssl.me has expired...

Sorry that you had to see that, we had a little SSL downtime today while we renewed our certificates. All systems are operational now.

Thanks patio11 and everyone else who has shared their story. I have been consulting for a few years and I plan on moving to a product based income. Built products in the past that have not been successful but hearing stories of others who have done it is motivation to keep trying.

It really requires a different mindset. For instance, while BCC makes sense, I can't imagine someone willing to pay for something like Appointment Reminder.

Suppose you run a professional services business where you have appointments. If people don't come to an appointment, you don't get money. You might pay an office manager to call people the morning of their appointment to remind them, so that they come into their appointment, so you get paid, right? Appointment Reminder is like an office manager who costs $200 a month, not $4,000 a month, is vastly more likely to successfully reach a customer, (virtually) never forgets to call, and does not consider boring, repetitive work to be an insult to her intelligence. For many of my customers, $200 is substantially less than they earn for a single appointment. (Think less "hair salon" and more "HVAC repair firm.")

I didn't mean appointment reminding in general - which is a good thing obviously. But I thought it was a long time solved problem by other means (and not necessary by office manager), be it some "enterprise" calendar or todo software which are integrated in most of the "enterprise"/business software products, etc...

Substantially all problems were solved by someone else first. That doesn't meaningfully inhibit you from solving them, too. Reasons why this could redound to your advantage include superior marketing, positioning, ability to attack different niches, lower cost structure, or the ability to survive off the crumbs the big guys don't care about.

It's totally worth it for me to have the CEO and head of product development talk to your office manager for 30 minutes then custom code an import script, to get you onboarded at $200 to $500 a month. The 800 LB Gorilla basically doesn't care about you below $1k a month.

The crucial detail is that some small HVAC company may not even be using an "enterprise/business software product"... In fact they're probably still keeping appointments on a sheet of paper.

Very late to this party, but...

I'm used to my dentist's office manager calling me every six months to remind me about my cleaning appointment. This last time, the call was automated and I instantly thought "hey, Appointment Reminder."

No, it turns out it was SmileReminder that the dentist uses. When I went in for the appointment I spoke to the office manager and the light in her eyes was obvious: "Now I don't have to spend hours calling everyone to remind them. I love it" No idea how much they pay for the service, but it's obviously worth it to them.

tl;dr: Helps businesses not lose money. So they pay for it.

> If people don't come to an appointment, you don't get money

This might only be common in the medical field, but I've always seen cancellation fees of around 100% of the appointment price.

The medical field is one of the few where you feasibly can charge somebody who doesn't show up. Joanne the hairdresser down the street can't do that because she doesn't have all of your info down to your SSN and in fact she doesn't even have a collections department. Joanne's only recourse is to sit there twiddling her thumbs.

(And, BTW, I know several hairdressers who can go well over $200 for a single appointment.)

This is a pretty good comment in that it highlights the thought processes a lot of us go through. "I can't believe ..." or "I can't imagine ...". Believe it - there are tons of people out there willing to pay for various niche things that make their lives/businesses better. I've heard the same thing about one of my own projects, LiberWriter. There's open source software that kinda/sorta does what we do, but a lot of people just want to pay someone and make the problem go away. They don't want to know HTML or how NCX files work.

I think my dentist uses it. It's easy to forget an appointment that's 6 months in the future.

One of my colleagues commented earlier this week how impressed he was that his doctor's surgery sent him an SMS the day before the appointment, presumably driven by similar software.

A little bit off-topic, but I find it really interesting how some American webpages have a look and feel that is recognizable in a fraction of second. The website https://www.appointmentreminder.org/ is one of these, the second you enter, the second you know it is a US American page.

It's a theme from WooThemes, a company with 2 South African founders and one Norwegian one and, as far as I know, an international customer base.

Not sure what is so US American about this theme.

I think he's talking about the marketing style, or perhaps the art style of the eyecatcher.

Are you talking about appointmentreminder? I thought that was a single owner, the guy who lives in Japan and who also created Bingo Card Creator?

He's talking about Appointment Reminder's theme.

What a bizarre comment, I expected to see American flags and red and blue text but the site looks like any website, American or otherwise.

I thought that until I visited the page, the graphics and content both feel American to me.

the american phone number is the only thing that stands out for me

Although patio is an American he lives in Japan

I'm doing http://justaddcontent.com solo and self-funded. It turned into a bigger project that I anticipated, especially for my first product.

I started working on it full-time in October. It started as a hobby project about two years ago. It took particularly long because I have a non-technical, military background and had to teach myself to code, design, write copy, marketing, etc. It's been a fun challenge.

I still work on it 12-14hrs a day on average, but I still love it and I love the problem I'm solving. The last few months I started focusing on product again and my customers absolutely love it, which is awesome. Now I'm turning my attention back to marketing.

Like the other guys, I'm not making millions yet, but I'm 100% self-funded and in no danger of running out of money. I continue to put 100% of what I make back in the business after my essentials.

I'm not sure when I'll start hiring, but I have some pretty major plans that I'll need help executing. It's just one of those things where it'll completely change the game, but it'll also change the dynamic of the business.

Well done! I don't need a business website, but I felt a slight urge to give you my money after reading the value proposition. I especially liked the "what we do vs what you do" part.

Thanks, that really means a lot. Over the last few months I've been working hard to refine it. I feel like I'm finally getting there.

What technical skills did you end up teaching yourself (if you don't mind answering)?

I was reading the about page, fast skimming, and thought for a moment you flew the FA-18. Nope, just your awesome wife!

In looking over your site, it might be valuable to add a blog, where you write about the needs of small businesses regarding hosting (what's new, what's coming, etc). Can be a great way to build some extra traffic, and authority.

Everything. My BA is in Psychology, my MS is in Finance, and I spent the last 8 years in the Marine Corps (joined right after college) so I had no experience with programming, design, product development or anything like that.

In grad school I built a website for my thesis (2010) and fell in love with web development. I originally wrote it in HTML, but became cumbersome updating menus on every page, so I 'discovered' PHP includes, which was like inventing the wheel for me. From there I started playing with different web development frameworks and doing more advanced stuff. I really just fell in love with web development even though I sucked at it (particularly because I'm color blind, figure that one out).

It was fun to see my skills evolve. I still have a long ways to go, but as I iterate I see my own progress. Since I've worked on it alone it's like a journey of self-discovery.

Yeah, my wife is awesome. I surprised her in when I told her I wanted to leave the Marine Corps to turn my hobby project into a business, but she was totally supportive once she saw how passionate I was about it...really can't ask for more than that. She also works 12-14hrs a day and we don't have any kids, so it's perfect.

I agree, you're absolutely right about the blog. I've been 'meaning' to do it for the last few months and I'm finally getting around to it. The blog should be up in the next week or so.

Really love how you layout the "What We Do" vs. "What You Do" - Strong selling point, visually appealing, and pretty unique.

Thanks, I really appreciate that. I'm actually pretty self-conscious about the design because I don't have a design background and I'm color blind. Every time I use new colors (which isn't often) I have to send them to my wife to let me know if they look ok. It's a real pain in the ass, but whatever, I love the work.

The entire page is very professional, good CTAs, easy to understand. I'm even more impressed now that you say you did it yourself and don't have a design background.

When you say, "built on the same platform trusted by Ford, NFL, Sony, eBay, CNN," do you mean they use the same backend technology, or that they're actually customers of yours?

The same backend technology. Most of my customers are small businesses or marketing departments in larger businesses.

He means WordPress.

Sounds like an amazing journey. Congrats on all the hard work.

Thank you!

It totally was, and it continues to be. I built the beta in my free time when I came off missions on my last 12-month deployment to Afghanistan (returned April 2013). When I deployed in April 2012 I didn't know anything about tech. I listened to podcasts (I downloaded hundreds before deploying, mostly Mixergy) when I worked out (still do) and read a lot of business books.

I feel like I still have a lot to learn, but I've come a long way in the last two years. It's been one hell of a ride, I'm just happy I'm still enjoying it. Don't tell my customers, but I'd do this for free I love it so much haha.


How do you market this stuff? How are you getting customers?

If you don't mind, can you share some stuff on the revenue numbers and what your experience has been from conversations with customers?

Is there a way we could chat up?

Checked out the site a bit, looks good. Also good domain name :)

Thanks! I picked up the domain name for around $150, which I actually thought was expensive at the time. The .org and .net versions were available, thankfully.

>> This website is protected and guaranteed secure by a 100% hacker free security guarantee. This guarantee ensures that this website was scanned and deemed free from of any phishing scams, exploits, or malware that could infect your computer and jeopardize your safety.

So you're selling snake-oil too?

I don't believe so. All websites are scanned regularly.

There's no way to make a website completely hack-proof, so the guarantee means that any security related issues (hacking, malware, etc.) will be fixed at no cost to the customer.

In doing customer development I was surprised to learn how many small businesses had experience with hacking or had security as a primary concern. Website cleanup typically costs a couple hundred dollars on the low-end, so the guarantee provides peace of mind. It's a bit expensive on our end, but it's just an incentive to do an even better job.

Would you call that selling snake-oil? If so, let me know (my contact info is in my profile). I'm not a security expert, but I do hire them and believe the security guarantee is accurate. Please contact me if you disagree or I can improve it, I take this pretty seriously. Thanks for bringing it up, that's why I love posting here.

I think it's in the same spirit as a 100% update SLA or a 100% satisfaction guarantee

Exactly! From the beginning I considered this an essential feature of a business website that the budget website builders didn't offer. So after putting it together, why not offer it as a key feature/differentiator? We'll see if it helps over the next few months.

I run a business selling penetration testing software that I develop. It's completely bootstrapped. I do very little services work (I actively send this type of stuff to friend's companies). Right now, it's just me, although that's probably going to change. By most of my own definitions and the one you posted here... it's successful.

How did I get started on this? Sort of by accident.

I was working for Automattic after an acqui-hire thing. After a year there, I found that I missed working in security. I found a full-scope penetration testing gig three blocks from my apartment.

In my spare time, I started to tinker with a few ideas and released them as an open source project. Said project saw a lot of interest within the hacker community very quickly. I didn't expect this. Folks formed an opinion on it pretty quickly. Some people hate it. Others love it. Of those who know it, very few are in-between.

I left my pen testing job with a decent amount of money saved up. I didn't know exactly what I would go and do afterwards. I spent some time tinkering with Android, just for giggles.

I was very reluctant to start a business that used my "successful?" open source project. Partially because it leverages another open source project owned by another company.

I was at a conference in 2011 and someone from a US government agency asked if I was selling anything. I said no. He said that was too bad, because he had end of year money, and he liked my open source stuff. It was then that I decided to look at expanding my open source kit into a commercial product.

April will mark the two year anniversary of my first customer. My customers are well known organizations and they trust my software to assess how well they protect their networks. I'm constantly in awe of this.

When's the end of year money period?

Pretty much oct, nov, december you will see large enterprise shops who have unspent capex budget, and are afraid that if they do not spend it, the next years budget will be reduced to last years spend.. So most enterprise fiefdoms spend 99-100% of capex budget regardless of if they needed it or not.

For the US government it is usually August and September. The fiscal year ends on September 30.

Congratulations on your successful business. Can you share link to your business website please?

I run a small one-man-show publishing house: http://minireference.com. I produce math/physics textbooks for adults. I'm the author, business person, marketing person, and strategic partnerships person. Revenues are not stellar, but they keep me off the streets...

The value I provide is synthesis of a lot of educational material that exists out there into a coherent package (a book). In many ways, my work is similar to what linux distro package managers do: ensuing prerequisites are covered before the main package is installed.

I remember hearing one of the early Internet/www inventors saying the Internet will allow people to "live from the fruits of their intellectual labour." Does anyone know who this was??? With eBooks and print-on-demand this is finally possible now. I would encourage everyone with deep domain knowledge about a subject to start writing about it and publish a small book. I think "information distillation" is of great value for readers. Feel free to email me if you need help/advice with the publishing stuff.

I read the preview to your book and it looks fantastic. Just what has been missing in school. I'm an engineering student and like many other will greatly benefit from this text. Have you considered writing more on math and physics? I would surely buy even more advanced topic like electricity, magnetism, and discrete math (Sets, proofs, induction etc.)

Hi tictac, and thank you for the kind words.

I actually have a draft on E&M which is 70% done, but I've now learned that it takes me about 1 year to get a book into good shape so I won't try to finish it just yet and instead spend the next six months working on the business side of things: scaling distribution and sales.

Two other topics which I feel competent enough to write about are probability and vector calculus so by 2015 I'll get to these topics too. I don't feel I have enough experience teaching more advanced topics to write about them---also there is less need for No Bullshit guides, because advanced math/phys books are quite good and bullshit free. It seems it's the freshman-year books that suck the most.

I have both of your books: math&physics and linear algebra. Keep up a great job!

Just bought your book, looks awesome and I'm sure it'll come in handy! =)


Да. Inspiration-а за книгата идва до голяма степен от кондензираните книги коите се използват в Българските университети.

I run http://www.candyjapan.com

It just crossed 500 paying members. I started it with my wife, but recently the shipping part is no longer done by us two manually, but by a local supermarket. In the beginning it was just an email to some previous customers asking if they might be interested in a club like this. Then a landing page and a HN post. From there it grew through blog mentions and now there is a trickle of organic traffic coming in.

Before this I had some small apps on social networks that made more money, but were much more unstable. While Candy Japan could wither away, I expect the death would be more gradual. I still have some of the older sites / apps which together are still making around $500 / month, which is a nice bonus.

Probably anyone working as a salaried programmer in the US is making a more money than I am currently, but I enjoy the freedom and the thought that there really is no upper limit. If we ever do hit 1000 members I'm planning to have a celebration :-)

I just subscribed. You should add a meta description / opengraph description / image so I can share it on facebook and have the description of the website show up properly rather than just be blank.

I love this.

I clicked on the link, and being South African, I've been conditioned into thinking that all sorts of cool services/products from overseas either aren't available here or are prohibitively expensive to import. So, I was delighted when your page said, "Free shipping from Japan, even to South Africa". Thank you.

It generates that text from geolocation and is a brilliant move.

Cool idea! I love it. Nice touch with "Free shipping, even to <my location>".

Question: what do you do about local laws for importing edible products? No doubt at least some of the countries you ship to has those.

Good luck!

How much advertising do you do? I notice you're buying ads on search for key terms. Do you do much display advertising. I'm sure you've figured out the lifetime value of your customers and you buy advertising based on that. If your margin's decent, you can probably get more aggressive with display ads to scale the business. I think the business has a ton of potential.

I've bought ads, but it would have been better not to. Total I've probably spent around $3000 over ~2 years for campaigns that only brought in around 30 conversions. It would have been better to just spend that time blogging instead. I tried Facebook (side banner, newsfeed and promoted posts), AdWords, web comics, stumbleupon, Reddit ads. Some of the campaigns were close to break-even, though.

With this few conversions, it's hard to make any judgement to what works and small tweaks in particular are basically impossible. Noise drowns everything. It's inviting to start getting fancy with A/B testing age ranges or gender targeting on FB ads, but unless I am mistaken about 230 conversions are needed to say A/B test male vs. female assuming it would give a 30% boost. If you know how to figure out the optimal targeting without spending ~$20000 on each test, let me know :-)

If I could get LTV up (reducing churn might be the lowest hanging fruit now), conversions up or write better ads, paid advertising could still be doable in the future.

What about direct media buying? With a product as niche as yours, it may be worthwhile to identify specific sites (ie candy enthusiast forums/blogs) and work out a deal for a monthly banner ad. Start negotiating with an estimated price based on their traffic numbers and your LTV, and if after a month you're not profitable, go back and negotiate a more favorable price.

But aside from that, I don't think you should necessarily give up on advertising on the larger platforms you've been working with. As someone with extensive experience in online advertising, I will tell you that campaigns that are break even from the start or even lose a little money often have huge potential for becoming profitable. Just getting conversions is a positive sign. Consider the full path from advertisement to checkout. There's almost infinite room for improvement from the copy on your advertisements, to the images, to layout of your landing page, placement of buttons, size of form fields, background colors, etc etc. Then there's all the backend changes such as lifetime value and product costs that you can create additional margin. Combine all these things and you can swing a losing campaign to a hugely profitable one. Then with additional margin you create, you have the potential to focus on scaling. G'luck to you.

What a great idea! I'm looking at the site right now and I'm planning to sign up.

I created:


I'm an avid cross-country skier, and traditionally daily trail reports are done by hand by the maintenance staff after they're out all night working on the trails.

I had the bright idea of putting GPS tracking devices in grooming equipment and creating the "what's been groomed" report automatically, in real-time.

It took about 4 seasons to really get it right, and there was no appreciable income for that period. Lots of lessons learned about equipment (antennas, good wiring practices in vehicles, power cleanliness in big equipment, etc), good ways to present the data, map projections, how to deal with messy data, dealing with non-technical users, cross-border shipping tarrifs, mobile-network provisioning rules, the list goes on. I did it alongside my full-time job for the first 4 years.

It's a tiny niche, and one I never expect to get all that big, but it looks like I'll be able to make it my sole income source next season.

Which is great, because it'll let me go skiing more.

Hey - you should add a "how to setup" link to your site.

I looked at your website and don't really understand how customers start using your site and how they pay you.

Do you sell them a GPS tracker and show them their GPS logs in an online map maybe?

If so, I'd make the selling of the GPS tracker more obvious. You can also do customer testimonials.

The site is focussed mainly on the consumer, the skiers, for whom the service is free (they just look at the maps).

The "customers" are ski area managers, they pay me to publish their maps and generate their trail reports.

The sign-up process is slightly obtuse on purpose. Because I'm still busy developing the site, only the really motivated customers actually contact me (via the "Contact" page), so I don't have to spend too much time doing a sales pitch that goes nowhere. I'm fortunate that I have a decent runway to play with.

I'll change that a bit this summer once I'm no longer frantically building out features.

There is effort required on my part for each sign-up, mostly around cleaning up GIS data that new customers supply, although I do supply a backend with tools for map management. The ski area managers are often extremely non-technical, and like the personal touch. I charge a modest premium for that.

This is cool. I live in the Methow Valley and the MVSTA should use this!

The MVSTA did contact me back in November, but I guess they decided against it for the time being. Feel free to lobby them :-)

A couple of areas are funding their subscription by getting a local ski shop to pay for the service. There's a huge range of budgets across the industry, it's been tricky figuring out pricing that works for everyone.

Or they could use a service that doesn't charge the public for the information.

I don't charge the public. Ski areas pay me a yearly fee to publish their reports. I handle all the data processing, generating maps, keeping servers up and running, mobile device provisioning, equipment testing, warranty, tech support, etc, etc.

There are a couple of areas that have tried to DIY, with limited success, they usually simply don't have the technical knowledge on staff. I've been surprised myself at the breadth of technical turf I've had to cover to create something that works reliably and simply. For a reasonably technical software engineer with a bit of hardware experience, it's not a big deal, but for everyone else, it's too complex a problem.

One of the really interesting problems I had to solve was reliably figuring out which trail the grooming equipment was traversing. Unlike roadways, the GPS data for the trails is typically either non-existent, inaccurate or just plain wrong. Cleaning that up is a bit of effort for each ski area. In addition, ski trails are often in much closer proximity than roadways, which combined with GPS error margins, means that I had to do some fairly gnarly stuff to avoid jumping between nearby trails constantly. It looks simple enough on the surface, but it required some real hair-pulling to get working reliably.

Contract negotiations with cell-network providers weren't much fun either. Many ski areas are in pretty marginal cell-network coverage regions, so finding devices that behaved well in that environment was critical (in addition to handling very cold weather, i.e. -40F for 8 hour stretches). The grooming staff are typically completely non-technical, working weird shift hours, etc, so the system has to be completely hands-off after installation. Finding a device that would do that, handle the harsh environment and be properly certified to operate on the north american mobile networks was no easy task.

How do you handle installation? Do you go to every site to do it yourself, or is it contracted to someone local? I have had product ideas where this was one of the hurdles I couldn't cross: how to get non-technical people to install my product on equipment I had never seen before.

The devices are pretty easy to install, 3 wires (power, ignition, ground). Because this is heavy equipment, there's usually a mechanic somewhere nearby that can handle at least that.

I also make a version of the tracker that I pack inside a Pelican case and expose a cigarette lighter plug, for use on snowmobiles. Most people can handle plugging that in, no instructions required.

My local ski area has a couple of machines that they let me crawl through, so I take lots of photos of the important parts of the installation process, best places to place antennas, etc, and put them in an "install guide" PDF that I print and include in any shipments I send. I also wrote up a "how to test/verify that the unit is working" guide, and ask people to go through that before contacting me for troubleshooting. If they call, I ask if they've gone through the test/verify guide. If they haven't, I tell them to do that, then call back if it's still not working.

So far, so good.

Thank you for replying. That was very helpful to see it from a different perspective.

OP asked for businesses that provide a majority of your income. With a site that has an alexa ranking of over 3 million, there is no way this is your primary source of income.

The income from this website isn't strongly correlated to it's global web ranking.

Ski areas pay me to generate trail reports, and either link to the "default" report I publish for each area, or they publish the reports on their own websites. Reports are also printed and pinned up in lodges, or emailed by marketing departments to subscribed skiers. I'm not depending on people visiting my site for revenue.

What you have to realize is that people aren't out there searching for "gps grooming reports" (although I think I do pretty well in the search results for that phrase now). A this stage, they don't even know it exists. The sales channels that have worked so far are: word-of-mouth (it's a tiny industry where everyone knows everyone), personal introductions and a few cold-calls when I can summon the courage, and I don't expect that to change significantly.

This is the first "season" that I've worked on it full time and I've almost hit minimum wage. I expect to do better than that next winter. I have a decent runway, live very cheaply and don't have billion-dollar ambitions. I've supplemented the revenue with a little bit of side-consulting, but not a lot.

> it looks like I'll be able to make it my sole income source next season

Chill, man.

Sorry, but if everyone replies with their side project, this page will be full of non-relevant sites. Like the OP, I'm interested in seeing fully self-sufficient one-man startups.

Hey there. /raises hand.

https://www.improvely.com and https://www.w3counter.com

Five figures a month, just me, I've written about my solo business a couple times in other Ask HN threads. Ten years ago (almost to the day), in my college dorm, I was looking at the Webalizer web stats report my web host provided for my blog, and thought "I could do something much cooler than this". So I did. I had built a few educational sites and threw some ads on them for a couple years before that, but W3Counter was the first service I actually charged a subscription for, and now I make a living building and selling this stuff.

Ghostery blocks w3counter so it blocked pretty much everything on the actual site, maybe use a static domain that isn't blocked by ghostery. :O

You're running Ghostery for the purpose of blocking W3Counter and every other site like it. You can't really do that then lament the fact that it worked. I'm not going to invest time and effort into evading you; if you want to see web stats sites, you can just turn off the extension. Somehow I don't think there are any Ghostery users looking to sign up.

I meant you should use a different domain for static content on your marketing page, and I'm not lamenting anything. Just giving you some advice. Ghostery has been installed over 1 million times just in Chrome. Any one has ghostery installed and is going to your site will see a completely broken webpage.

Why was leobelle being downvoted? I can understand disagreeing with what they were saying. It's an opinion after all. But, what they were saying wasn't that far off base..

Maybe if Ghostery was developed in a half way decent manner it wouldn't have a bad history of breaking sites and would block tracking more intelligently rather than blanket blocks of domains.

Probably because the adverts that are blocked pay for the site. Kind of like asking musicians for zippy share links to their music.

Ghostery isn't an ad blocker, it's an analytics blocker. It's for people that don't want to be tracked on the web.

If you don't mind me asking, what is your background? Do you have any advice for someone who aspires to follow in your footsteps?

I was just a kid whose family bought a computer at the right time. I got hooked, taught myself programming from online tutorials, and never stopped creating things. The stuff I made got more complex and more polished each time, until it got to the point that I can create stuff other people are willing to pay to use. There's really no prerequisite other than a computer and an interest in programming.

Awesome. Thanks for the response! It's always nice to get some motivation to crack open a few books on a Saturday night.

Do you have lots of users for W3Counter? How much users do you need for offering free content and making a profit from advertising? I'm interested.

There are about 70,000 users.

Hey Dan, Improvely looks like an awesome product. Incredible work for a one-person shop. Our company was talking about a click fraud monitoring system last week. I'm going to pitch this to the rest of our agency tomorrow.

Awesome Dan, thanks for sharing. Very inspiring to see a one man show producing such fine products. Is there anything you outsource? You should write a book on the details of how you did it, I'd buy it in a heartbeat!

Do you have a way to track call metrics? We'd like to be able to track conversions from a Google Voice number.

Nope. Call tracking is difficult and expensive, both in terms of money and complexity; I'd have to 10x my prices before even touching it. You also wouldn't be using a Google Voice number -- call tracking services work by renting huge numbers of phone numbers, and assigning a unique number to each visitor to your site for some time. Each person sees a different number, and their calls get routed to whatever your real number is after being logged for analytics. Improvely only tracks stuff that happens on your website.

1 man startup - http://reviewsignal.com/webhosting/compare I do web hosting reviews. Not the scummy pay-for-placement stuff you see, but an actual review site. It tracks what people are saying about hosting companies on Twitter and publishes the results.

The story is told a bit here http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/25/web-hosting-reviews-are-a-c... I was just tired after 10 years of still relying exclusively on my experience and the experiences of people I knew. Figured there must be a better way and I had been working with Twitter data for thesis and saw this opportunity.

wow, love this. may actually be the first web hosting review site I would ever look at. I get more spam on my blog from web hosting review sites than anyone. not sure why but seems like you have a lot of blackhat competition.

love your site & framework. good luck! Will share.

Thank you! The competition is incredibly black hat. Try running the sites listed for 'web hosting reviews' under some SEO tools and it's often very clear which black hat strategies they are using (blog spamming, edu/gov spam, etc). I haven't been able to crack the top search terms yet because it's incredibly competitive and it's not a level/fair playing field. But working on creating some interesting content and building high quality links will hopefully pay off in the long run.

I am always open to ideas and suggestions for how to market this better. And I appreciate you sharing it!

Thanks for sharing - this is awesome. I've had an incredibly hard time finding good hosting service reviews.

Glad you like it. It really is hard. You can read a lot of reviews and people will say contradictory stuff. One of the biggest takeaways from looking at all the data I've collected is that no company is even close to perfect. These services are pretty hard to compare apples to apples because there are a lot of touch points dealing with customers. The human interactions are hard to quantify. Sometimes a hard drive dies and you catch a support rep on a shitty day. You may have a really bad experience. Is that normal or just an outlier? It's really hard to tell without enough data. So I try and grab as much of it as possible and publish it transparently. My hope is that it is useful and people end up at companies they are more satisfied with, let the good guys benefit from treating people properly rather than paying the highest commission and locking people in.

I don't know anything, but when I think of reviews I think about this: http://hammerprinciple.com/

Maybe it is interesting for you to know, maybe not. Probably not.

That's pretty neat frontpage. I am a bit confused as to what it's doing, who's doing it and why. But it seems like a neat idea.


Straight questions for people to compare two things they know.

Interesting. You make a living from this? Is it all SEO driven?

Yeah, I've been working on it for 3 years, in the past year it's been able to support me. It's not a lot of money, but it's enough that I can subsist on it. It also doesn't eat my time 100% anymore, I can do some consulting on the side when I feel like it. I'm actually just traveling in south asia now, trying to live cheap and seeing if I can work from anywhere.

As far as SEO, I get some SEO traffic although most of it is to blog posts that aren't that related to web hosting. The most popular ones are about creating a reverse proxy/caching server with nginx and long running processes in php. web hosting review seo is super competitive and I'm nowhere near the front page for most terms unfortunately.

Thanks for the info. Inspiring. So you have other traffic sources apart from SEO?

I have honest to god links, which actually still send traffic (amazing, right?). I also get some from social sources. I apparently get a bunch of direct traffic too... no idea where/why they are coming, but some days it's pretty good. Today's direct traffic is probably all HN.

I love the mad-lib style form on the home page.

I assum it converts well?

It really depends on the traffic source/quality honestly. For some it can be exceptionally helpful (ie you have no idea what you need). For the HN crowd I linked directly to the data because I figured people would be far more comfortable with that.

I sent you a contact form email. =)


Solo, self funded and profitable. I work on it while traveling around Asia.

Agree with patio11 there's probably way more than would speak up here. I seldom contribute to HN or the bootstrapping forums mentioned in another reply. I browse a little, but 99% of my time spent in front of the computer is spent working on product or replying to customer emails.

How I got started:

I've built SaaS apps before but they were the dreaded "solution looking for a problem" type.

Then I decided to do things strictly the Lean way. Got out of the building. Talked to customers about an idea I had. Pretty soon I discovered an adjacent problem that everyone had, that sounded fun to solve, and that I had specific domain knowledge in. I built and launched my MVP in one month, from a beach in Koh Samui. I've been traveling ever since then, spending each month in a different country.

Charged from day 1. Had paying customers from day 1.

I find changing my environment enables me to compartmentalize my work better - like I try to get major new features rolled out before I head to my next destination.

Not planning on doing this solo forever. Not ruling out hiring some help down the line and maybe a permanent office somewhere.

But for now it's pretty fun the way it is!

Can you please share how you marketed the app? What worked and what didn't?

Everyone: When sharing information about your app, I would request people to share marketing approaches as well. It would greatly help people who are just getting started.

If I understand correctly, this will post automatically to a Facebook page when users sign up. Any trouble with token expiration? I think it was changed from unlimited to a shorter time recently.

It's handled gracefully in the app. If it expires and the app tried to post something unsuccessfully the user gets an email asking them to reconnect.

Facebook tokens aren't unlimited but they are long enough such that the user doesn't have to reconnect all the time.

Sounds useful, and I like the demo. Just a note: when I scroll down to the footer, the demo "pulls me up", hiding the links :)

I remember that you had other apps before like GoodGecko and Peashoot, what happened to them?

Goodgecko just never made any meaningful amount of money plus it was a competitive space (surveys) so it was shut down.

Peashoot did ok but in the end there were too many free competitors (twitter analytics).

I think if the same thing happened now, I'm a more experienced entrepreneur so I'd be able to deal with free competitors better - figure out what customers are still willing to pay for, aim for the enterprise market etc.

Hello from Quebec, I am on Hacker News, as a big reader not commenting. My online business, is profitable, it make all my income, an ok salary for me :-). I have read the book '4 hours week' and work only few hours a week. The business start with a shareware game (1990), quit my day job (2002) to create more sharewares, fail at the first one (the password/unlock was hack the first week). So I come with the idea of having a client/server game (2004) (harder to hack). That work enough to make a small salary. Then I build another client/server game (2011), almost the same as the first one but localized in 3 languages. Then I received a lawyer letter (2011) to close both of my online sites. I did make some modifications, after 2 years they leaves me alone... Being afraid of closing, I was looking for a plan B (2012), I works hard on web sites that have a lot of visitors to make money with AdWords, it works. Now half of the revenue come from the 2 online games, and the other half come from AdWords. The shareware, online games and web sites are all related to a very popular crossword game.

I run Tarsnap: http://www.tarsnap.com/

I got started because I wanted good backups and there were no solutions available which I was satisfied with.

Are you planning to build sth on top of Glacier or include Glacier as an storage option (seeing it's on S3 anyway)? It will bring the cost down a great deal.

Many of us have alternative backup solutions. Like I use CrashPlan to backup pretty much everything and the most important files are backed up also to my external hard drive and a friend's machine (all via CrashPlan). Having said that I still consider I've only one off-site backup that is CrashPlan servers and though they provide excellent service they have failed many times before and hence I need an insurance. My entire laptop (except OS and apps) glaciated by Tarsnap can be that insurance policy which I'll most probably never access anyway, until when My laptop and all those three backup destination fail at once and in that scenario I will be willing to pay that cost seeing I saved a lot during those years/months.

I don't know exactly how you define "successful online business," but I am currently a university student making $500 - $2000 a month at about 5 to 10 hours a week.

Basically, there is a market for vintage computer hardware, so I post some adds offering to take away old office items they can't just throw away. Such as old keyboards, terminals, etc. and they pay me a nominal fee ($1 - $5 per item depending) to rid them of their "trash". I then resell those items after cleaning them up a bit for extremely high profit margins $35 - $120 for 20 minutes of work (since I was payed to take away the trash).

One of the things I did was sold Model M keyboards which I made USB compatible: http://austingwalters.com/keyboards/

Another way I make money is by tutoring or helping out with programming, I use to help out local people, but I have since switched over to Google Helpouts. Usually, it's just explaining some algorithms and writing some C code. Pretty easy, no real upkeep, and I can set what ever hours I want.

Just launched Pinegrow Web Designer (http://pinegrow.com) two months ago. The company is actually run by my wife and me, but I do all the work with Pinegrow while she is taking care of our other projects.

Pinegrow has been paying most of our bills since launch and I have a lot of expansions in the pipeline: full support for Foundation alongside Bootstrap, developer edition that'll work with templates, a similar app for designing emails...

Gosh pinegrow is a cool project, but the massive deal breaker for me is a lack of a Linux client :( any chance of that at all? For distribution (cause packaging is a bitch, to be honest) you can use something like Ermine to compile twice (i386 and x64) and then convert to a single static binary.

For now, I'll continue playing with it on my Mac, but Linux support would be the best.

Actually, I have an experimental Linux build. Didn't really have a chance to test it. Here it is, if you would like to try it out:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gyzegb9sae3jlwh/Bv9NtDF96z (select ... and Download as zip).

Please let me know how it works out.

Giving it a try now, will send you an email with how I go :)

Wow! You're actually on HN! I've visited your site before, and you must see a lot of click-throughs from review sites, because you guys are up there with divshot and the other site-builders.

I'll also be testing out the linux client, and I'm sure that you are probably aware of the fact that a lot of web devs use some form of linux as their main desktop.

Man, 3 days is nothing!

Give me some time to fall in love, and I'll happily pay. It seems so shortsighted, as if I'd somehow use up all the usefulness of your app in 7 days or perhaps even 30 days.

Its a tool for work, and if it can reduce my load in any significant way I'd pay $500 for it. Now, I'll never really know. Too bad... for both of us.


I get your point and have thought a lot about it before deciding on 3 days.

3 days was a compromise between having a short sales cycle (we are bootstraping the app) and letting users try the app before they buy it. We also have an online version available for free without any time limitations. The only thing the online version can't do is open local files.

We'll reconsider extending the trial to 7 days.

If you like the app and feel it could be useful to you it would be a shame to blow it off simply because of the short trial. If you need to try it out for longer, just send me an email and I'll set you up.

Pinegrow looks awesome. May I ask about what library you used to write it on the Mac? Do you have an embedded HTML renderer, or did you write your own?

Thanks! It's a Javascript app packaged with node-webkit. At first I packaged it as a Chrome App, but node-webkit was a lot more flexible and simple.

At the moment it uses Chromium to render HTML, but I'll add a custom renderer to support various templates.

This looks great! The upcoming developer edition that will work with templates sounds really useful as well.

Any plans to support the SASS version of Bootstrap ?

Partial support for SASS will be out next week (together with Foundation). The way it works is that when CSS rules are saved Pinegrow saves .css, .less and .scss versions. Variables, expressions and most of the functions are supported.

Fantastic little app :)

I don't know whether HN is the right place to ask this question. The crowd for this frequents either http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm or http://academy.micropreneur.com

There's also a number of podcasts (notably "Startups for the Rest of Us" and "Bootstrapped With Kids")

Hi Christoph! I came here to post the bootstrapped.fm link too, but I think HN is a fine place to post this discussion too. I think the small, bootstrapped company is where it's at for many of us who don't want to or can't do the VC thing in SV. That's probably a large majority even on a site like this.

Rob's book is an obbligatory reference in this space too:


My own thing is not 'successful' in that it's not my main source of income just yet, but it's not too far off, either: http://www.liberwriter.com

One of the key things I've learned from it is to go do something that matters to 'ordinary people', rather than something that's "cool" from a computer guy point of view.

Hi David! Great to hear that you are doing well with LiberWriter. That definitely is a pain point for people.

I like that you kept the layout simple using only bootstrap. that's a lot faster & cheaper than doing a full blown design.

Our customers could not care less about the design stuff as long as it looks decent, so it is not something I have bothered with even now that I have some money I could spend on it.

Interesting, considering that you actually DESIGN their products. :)

eBooks don't actually allow for a lot of fancy design if you want them to work well on a variety of platforms.

I image cross-platform compatibility is a PITA. But I find it interesting that people who pay for ebook design, don't care about website design. Mind you: That's no criticism of you OR your work. I just love the fact that people are more interested in the value than in the website design, even if they get value out of design work.

Hope that makes things clearer. Again: You're doing a great job!

eBooks are mostly about stripping out people's "design" stuff and replacing it with some fairly standard components that actually work, and adding in some various bits and pieces in XML, a hyperlinked table of contents, and stuff like that.

I run a small business called Cram Fighter (http://cramfighter.com) that is targeted at students (mostly medical) that are preparing for standardized exams. I got the idea after watching my wife preparing for her board exams and it seemed like a perfect little project to learn iOS programming. Initially my goal was to do earn maybe $5k annually, but now I'm on track to surpass my salary as senior developer by next year.

You'll find a lot of one-person businesses targeting tiny, but profitable, niches like mine. What's great about it is that often when you find a tiny opportunity, it opens up a lot of other problems that need solving that you would never find otherwise. It's also a great way to learn the skills of running a business in a relatively stress-free way (at least compared to running a startup).

The only downside is if you're anything like me, you'll get antsy working on small projects and yearn to tackle bigger, more ambitious problems. Sometimes 1-person companies have the potential for turning into a company with startup-like growth, sometimes not. I'm still trying to figure out how far I can take my company.

I've got three:

* Textbooks Please: a textbook search engine for college students. It's grossed ~$20k, almost all of which has been reinvested, and not paying myself that much. * dbinbox: an inbox for your dropbox for receiving files too large to email. It's got ~25k users, but has made less than $1k in donations. I need to give this one a reboot soon. * Email Tip Bot: send bitcoin with email. Launched two weeks ago and I've already got my first 200 users :D

I really enjoy the process of making these kinds of things, but I find it enormously exhausting to do the other half of marketing, SEO, publicity, etc. I'm working on getting better at SEO, but would love to find someone that likes the marketing side.

PS: http://solo.im/

I run http://officesnapshots.com which publishes photos of office design projects from around the world.

I started it in 2007 as a gin side project to teaching history. I'm no longer teaching and it is the majority of my income.

Just a heads up, I can't see any text on your website (Chrome 33.0.1750.146 on Mac)


Chrome Version 33.0.1750.117 m on Win 8.1 doesn't show text either.

thanks for the heads up - I haven't been able to reproduce it myself but have received a couple other reports of that happening.

if you inspect element, is there no text as well?

This is possibly the chrome webfont rendering bug that's been popping up on chrome 33, WordPress sites seem very susceptible to it: https://productforums.google.com/forum/m/#!topic/chrome/tYHS...

Excellent! Thank you - I'll take a peek to see if I can find a working fix.

Please let me know if you find a good one, that bug is affecting me as well.

Haven't had good results with that one, but thanks.

I don't know why, but I've always enjoyed looking at things like this. Companies that have really cool workspaces always fascinated me. Great site! Keep up the good work!

That's great to hear. I love the site and was always wondering if it was just a small side project or something bigger now.

Glad you've enjoyed the site, I always like hearing from people that have been reading for a while. I started it in 2007 and there are still a number of people that have been reading since it initially made it to the FP of Digg.

I've been adding new features recently, like the pinterest-like area for browsing office photos by room.

My goal of late has been to help people find and interact with the old posts that would traditionally be lost in the date-archive format of a traditional blog.

How do you earn income from this site?

What is meant by a "gin side project"?

Yeah, I meant fun :)

Basically I saw images of Google's offices and wondered if there were any sites that showed only office photos. There weren't any that I could find so I bought a domain and started posting photos I came across.

It was a collection of candid photos that weren't very good at first, but it is mainly architectural photography submitted by design firms now.

gin side project. noun. :: A fun side project that turns into successful venture worthy of posting to Hacker News (with or without having been conceived while drinking gin).

It might be a typo for fun side project.

Not sure if this is what Hacker News would normally consider a business but I run a YouTube channel as my one-person business: http://www.youtube.com/cgpgrey

Your videos are so informative. Thank you! I especially loved the series on FPTP voting.

Wow, you make your living from your youtube channel?

I'm not sure he is particularly active on HN but Rob Walling[1] is a solo entrepreneur managing at least a couple of Saas products: Hittail[2] (which he bought and then grow) and Drip[3]. He also conducts a podcast on Saas[4] and also organises a conference for self-funded startups[5]. In the past Patio11 spoke there too

[1] http://www.softwarebyrob.com/ [2] http://www.hittail.com/ [3] https://www.getdrip.com/ [4] http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/ [5] http://www.microconf.com/ [3]

My company consists of just me, and is fairly profitable. And to reiterate patio11, there are quite a few of us. I detailed income and how much I contribute monthly to each of my income streams here: http://planscope.io/blog/how-i-changed-the-world-in-2013/

I didn't create it, but Pinboard (https://pinboard.in/) is a great example of a successful one person business.

Founder Maciej Cegłowski wrote about it here: https://static.pinboard.in/xoxo_talk_thoreau.htm

You should check out the SideProject Book[1]. It's specifically about bootstraped, successful, single owner projects. It features some of the projects that appeared here, actually, like BCC.

As of myself, I am currently trying to educate myself into dividing my time better between my "day job" and my product. Hard to do, though, when your day job absolutely rocks... It's very easy to work all day long without realizing you should have stopped in the middle of the afternoon. Not a bad problem to have, mind you.

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

I sell a laptop battery meter (http://batterybarpro.com). It's not income replacing; it makes about $1,000 per month, but it's been crucial in saving enough for down payments one two houses.

I've tried to get the revenue numbers up, but I've never been able to break a $2,000 month.

> I've never been able to break a $2,000 month.

Try charging $9.95 instead of $8.00? :)

I did. It used to be $10. I've tried a whole slew of different pricing options, like cheap, but time-limited, as well as price points between $4 and $10. I've found that for a simple tool, people seem to find $10 a bit off-putting. I've been running a 50% promotion recently (for over a month now) and revenue is up about 70%.

I notice you had a lifehacker mention, that must have been a huge boost?

The lifehacker article came out in my second month of sales. I went from $400 in my first month to $1800 in my second month. Unfortunately, that's pretty much been my best month. I do get quite a few people coming in from web forums and other review sites though.

Have you considered building a mac version? I love little utilities like this, especially at your price point. Nice product.

I've never written Mac software. If someone is interested in going in on a port with me, let me know.

Maybe you might consider adding at least a form for "Looking for the Mac version? Enter your email to get a notification when BatteryBar Pro is released on it."?

Then if eventually you release that version, mailing that list could make quite a bit of money for very little effort now. If the list grows very large, it would add further justification to develop that version too.

http://www.robots-everywhere.com I used to employ two people, but I automated them away. I am successful in the sense that I have clear title to my home at age 33, if that counts.

Did the employees feel an intense wave of irony wash over them when their job at Robots Everywhere was automated away? I'd be thinking, "Well ain't that a bitch."

Hey! I was always interested in building robots, but I always thought that (1) I just don't have the time to bootstrap, and (2) I'm only a software developer and don't know enough hardware. You're living my dreams! Congrats!

Did the employee contract include a waiver:

"The undersigned, for one, agrees to welcome our robot overlords."

Also, clear title at 33 should meet anyone's definition of successful. I just got a mortgage at 28 and that day is a long way off. Must feel good :)

Yeah, it did actually. The whole thing was written fairly tongue in cheek.

I run https://www.spreadgit.com, a hosted version control system for Excel. Doing this solo and full time. It's been a hell of a ride so far but I love it.

Wow this is an awesome idea. Every business has this problem with multiple people trying to modify the same excel file.

I develop and sell Smart Shooter.


Its a traditional desktop app (windows, mac), but only sold online via our own website or the mac app store. I created it about 4 years ago, and work on it solely in my spare time. In fact I'm employed full time at a major tech company but this I keep separate.

To claim its profitable is a bit misleading, because of cause the major cost in developing such software is my own time. I've incorporated as a limited company here in Finland but do not pay myself a salary, so the only costs to the business are web hosting and occasional hardware purchases (computers, cameras).

I started this as a project for personal interest; at the time I was working as a software engineer developing financial trading software. Smart Shooter was a good way to develop something that covered both my interests in graphics programming and digital photography, to alleviate the borebom from my day job.

So for me its been successful, its still an pleasureable hobby, allows me an excuse to play around with the latest cameras, and brings in some pocket money. It doesn't generate enough revenue that I could quit my main job, but the possibilities could be there if situations change.

I wrote a book[1] that generates about $2k of revenue per month. Not quite your definition of success, but it's given me a taste. I'm now in the beta testing process for my next thing[2].

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

[2]: http://www.pagesnap.io

Just want to say that I'm using Docverter to try to make a new business :D.

Awesome! Email me if you have any questions or need any help.

I am running a complete payment gateway that supports VISA and MasterCard and mobile payments by SMS.

The name of the service is: https://www.bizify.me

For an introduction to the service: https://www.bizify.me/hacker-news/

FYI HN is not indexed by google :)

Sorry for the long text. I had a pre-written text that I used for an earlier presentation, so I just copied the text and made some minor corrections. But hopefully, the text is a good introduction anyway. :)


A website generator and a login/fetch user info/filter service attached for brazilian firms/hotels/inns that offer rooms to rent for long periods/temporary housing.

A very niche market in which I fill myself inn, was developing something just for me and got the idea of offering it to others. I have just one client (so I don't qualify to "successful"), but I'm following patio11 advice of offering services do niche underserved markets. Does anyone has any advice?

My biggest problem is how to market to such a niche. I'm trying to email people, but the people in niche are really non-computer users, so it is difficult.

I've worked full-time as a consultant since 2007 and make a little over low six figures after taxes and paying contractors. We (http://www.goodproduce.net) do a lot of basic services like content development, web design (mainly WP), social media management, hosting, deck creation, and general "digital" consulting for high net-worth individuals (primarily athletes and their brand partners.

In the early days, I worked to stay visible through conducting interviews for my company blog - that got us on the map in the sports community. It also helps that we never say no to a request...ever.

What billing model are you on? Hourly? Retainer? Fixed?

I do consulting and software development and am technically a small business.

I'm down to a single client (much easier to manage than multiple clients) so I can pretty much pick my projects, work at my own pace, and get paid fairly decently.

I don't make millions, but I make enough and am happy.

Below isn't really business but was a brilliant idea by someone. It isn't my site but maybe it'll inspire someone to do something similar: http://www.milliondollarhomepage.com/

I remember that website. In college my friend and I called it the Pet Rock of the internet. Still can't believe that idea made $1 million.

btw - I'm making a club for people to discuss/show their side projects and startups with other devs, check my profile for the link.

I remember the million dollar homepage when it appeared. I thought it was a terrible idea, but it got enough attention on the tech sites that it worked.

Then came a whole load of copycat sites. As far as I know most of those failed.

Isn't working for a single client called a "job"?

I like reading about stories like this (from all the successful solo founders).

It proves that you don't need to get multi-million-dollar valuations to be successful and that the general entrepreneur is pretty content with the amount he/she is making (+1 to thousandaire).

These are stories entrepreneurs (who are realists) should read about and we'd probably all be better off avoiding those "billion dollar acquisitions" (for fear that it will consume us mentally, physically and emotionally).

I sell Asterisk reporting sw for win @samreports.com. It makes about $1000 a month in revenues. I also work as iOS developer for the man. I have a free iOS app on the AppStore (HRTecaj), soon to be commercial, when I add ATMs. I was Asterisk integrator, and learned a lot about the system, made software to present call reports in customisable and pleasant way. SAMReports has been selling, consistently, for 4 years. I made a few updates, but now I'm working on a major update.

Great Thread....

I live entirely in the consulting space working on SEO/SEM and content marketing, and have done so alone since 1997. After a few pivots in web design, hosting and domaining, I've ended up in a place where I can be picky with clients and charge good fees. I hit the website development market on its first big wave, and moved into search before 99% of other SEOs even knew the discipline existed (and before some were even out of elementary school!)

I make much more than a full-time employee would, but there is a lot of bosses and stress comes in waves. I have learned how to fire clients (hard to do) and how to size up opportunities. But the company is me. It's not saleable - no intellectual asset exists beyond what I bring to the table. So it's never going to have an "exit." This is my main gripe.

Also, I relocated to Kentucky after writing tons of code in The Valley and ended up in Lexington, KY - a great university town with a highly educated population (and a Google eCity.) This has offered me a nice lifestyle, plenty of time to raise my kids and material rewards for probably 60% of Santa Clara's cost. My company is at http://www.buzzmaven.com. Good luck!

Cheers Scott, I consult in this space also, though recently I've been trying to productize my way out of it. I built http://killswit.ch to help folks like us who are one person agencies and have to deal with sending traffic to sites they don't control. It sucks when your KPI's suffer because of someone else. Let me know if you want to give it a whirl.

I run a small online game called RPG MO(http://rpg.mo.ee). It gets about 20k unique visits every month. Money wise it generates enough payments to pay for the server and associated services and leaves a little for advertising as well. It doesn't cover all of my bills yet so I have to maintain a full-time job while studying in the university. I still have high hopes in this project though.

I build MVP's for people who have an idea for a web app. It's at http://builtFromIdeas.com

Do you have much clients? How can you work with a fixed price?

I live in a draconian tax country. How can I open a online international business and receive money from anywhere in the world? Do I need to move to a tax heaven?

You might not have to move, just have your company operating from an appropriate tax haven. You typically need to pay lawyers, accountants, etc to achieve what you are thinking about and they end up costing more than the tax you would have to pay. Do your numbers first before you get too preoccupied with the tax. As a very general comment, in some low tax countries you need to spend a lot of money to have what you get more or less for free in other higher tax countries.

From your perspective, the US state of Delaware might be an excellent location to incorporate. It's very inexpensive, popular, and would let you use all sorts of US-based payment services like Stripe and Paypal.

You can save the money in an international account (paypal?) and when you need to retrieve the money fly to such country or someone else who can do it for you.

I run PlainSite:


Nice project

I didn't create this, but http://viralnova.com is known for being run by one person and has been quite successful. Maybe the most successful that I've ever seen. http://www.businessinsider.com/viral-nova-considering-a-sale...

I've worked goffconcepts.com full time since 2003 entirely alone (the "we" is my wife). My new product FileSearchEX is highly pirated so I'll probably be moving on to other things. I only recommend SaaS, forget about fat client software. The search engines enable a very toxic landscape otherwise.

Can you elaborate? This is really interesting.

Do you have any (basic?) license enforcement and anti-reversal protection in your code?

What do you mean by toxic search engine landscape?

Interesting. I always thought that illegal downloads are negligible. Maybe your security is non-existent?

My sales are $2000/day, 7 days - I'm in my 15th year of business. 100% of my presence is automated (I do nothing day-to-day). The only advice I'm qualified to give, is how to succeed: don't listen to anyone elses advice: use your brain. It is 100% common sense - everyone elses opinions are uninformed and almost always from someone who doesn't really know. Nobody who has succeeded will willingly reveal how to succeed - they're too busy enjoying the fruits of success to waste the time. If you find someone who is willing to tell you, they are usually fake - the "telling you" part is a cog in whatever scam they're involved with (stock investment, bitcoins, realestate, whatever).

Read my lips:


And, no, I like my income. I'm not telling what I'm doing!

I'm trying to do a business on the side (besides my full time job).

Currently i created a member management site on www.ledenboek.be/EN for sport clubs, i'm still improving this. But it's also a test for marketing and gaining clients.

Next up is Surveyor ( a email/sms marketing web application which i used myself (not public yet). I'm going to use it first for clients who ask me to create their website.

But the big one is a document management system, that is totally different from the existing onces. I already have interest have a company with +/- 100 users and we are setting up a small demo in April there (ps. This will hit Hackernews in about 2-3 months)

I am running inBoundio - http://www.inboundio.com (I call it basecamp of marketing) and is the only guy so I do all the work.

I am really not that worried about slow growth or not making much money, I am enjoying what I am doing, works on average 6 hours a day and can spend rest of my time on learning new things and thinking about life and philosophy.

I started because I felt that market (and so do I) need such simplified software. Most of the options were too complicated and were very costly.

I will soon be touching 100 paying customers so will write a detailed post and share it on hackernews.

I run http://lsathacks.com, and have a related book series

I sell e-books on my site and through affiliates, and sell print books on amazon. All told I make around $3,000 a month in passive revenues. I also make $4000-$5000 more in tutoring revenues.

However, the site is fairly new (I just sold the books through affiliates/print previously). As I grow the site I expect I may be able to get over $10,000 per month passive.

The LSAT is an admission exam for American and Canadian law schools. My materials/lessons teach people how to do better on it.

I own and operate http://www.radioreference.com and http://www.broadcastify.com. I do all the development, business management, and support.

I have a team of community volunteers that do a lot of day to day moderation and member management.

I got started simply building a set of community resources for the radio communications and hobbyist market.

We're very profitable and these businesses provide the majority of my family's income.

I developed the Electrician Calculator Pro, a National Electrical Code compliant calculator for engineers, electricians, lighting designers, etc:


I first created the Android version about 3 years ago, then the iOS version about 1 year ago. It currently makes just enough to cover some bills, although I believe it has a greater potential. I'm currently looking for ways to make this a recurring revenue stream instead of a one time payment gig.

PierreA seems to be doing well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6934352

I run https://xp-dev.com and more recently http://deployer.vc and https://zoned.io - all as a solo. I am hiring now, have used freelancers for help over time, but generally it has been a solo effort.

Do tell if you have any specific questions, and I'll be more than happy to help out!

Not sure if this counts. I have created a simple landing page open source project: http://rails-landing-page.herokuapp.com/

I get a lot of consulting (development + design) business when clients learn about us via this application.

I also use it set up landing pages for any Startups/SMEs are developing their MVP/Beta application with me.

I run a web design and development studio that is just myself, although I established it as an LLC, and have been successful with it. I focus on WordPress solutions and started it by just diving in head-first and work pretty hard at it. I have a marketing background which helped me get it off the ground quickly, and am good at managing time, which has helped. I totally love it.

I've been running http://www.vladstudio.com (where I publish my wallpapers and other stuff) for several years, and for quite some time, it was my primary source of income. Unusual, because my premium accounts are not really a "product", but just a way to "like" or "donate".

I think newsblur.com (YC S12) is run by Sam alone.

hey. The good thing about a one man operation is that you dont have any overheads. I started my startup with 4 people, but later learned that one was enough to start off with and i should scale according to the profits im making - instead of putting my own money into it (which i didnt have much of anyway). My startups: (http://opensource.com.pk) and (http://sells.pk/) are web agencies specializing in different areas. The former provides managed freelance outsourcing for larger projects and the latter specialized in e commerce for small/medium businesses. The first few clients help you pay the bills and buy bread, but if you keep at it and be persistent after a year you will have more clients than you can handle, that is the time to get employees. I am almost reaching that point, and that is what excites me these days.

For those who have successfully started a one-man online business/app, how did you get it known? Adwords? Advertising?

My own product spread virally. I think that is about the only feasible way to do it. I've tried advertising a few times myself, but it never, ever pays for itself.

> "I think that is about the only feasible way to do it."

It may be the only way to do it very quickly. Most companies don't just go viral on day 1, they work very hard to get customers. Some times advertising makes sense, other times it doesn't, but it's certainly not the only option.

I meant, it's the only feasible way to do it if you're a single founder with zero funding.

I still have to disagree. You don't have to look far (patio11's Bingo Card Creator) to find single-founder businesses that reached level of success without going viral. (I suppose this all depends on your definition of viral, too.)

Yes you're right - he seems to be using adsense to drive traffic. I guess if adsense didn't work for small businesses, google wouldn't be making the money they do :)

Matthew Inman runs The Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com/) alone and he crossed $500,000 annual revenue in 2012.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oatmeal

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