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Ask HN: Examples of profitable little free web tools?
223 points by xyby on Dec 4, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments
We all know examples of paid online services that became profitable. For example Balsamiq, Tarsnap and Bingo Card Creator.

I love to build small tools that do something useful. But they do not offer enough value to charge for them. Imagine tools like "When will the sun rise today in city X" or "How much taxes are in $X" etc. Some of them are used by tens of thousands of people a month. And I get a lot of "thank you, that's cool and useful" emails.

So far I'm not making any money from them. When I slap adsense on them, I only make a few bucks. Like $0.5 per 1000 visitors. Even if I optimized that to $2 per 1000 visitors, it still would be just around $150/month for all my websites.

But since I love doing these little, interesting projects, I will probably make more of them anyhow. Most of the projects I have in mind are little tools that cater my own curiosity. Nothing people would pay for. Like "find all xkcd comics related to a topic" and stuff like that.

Do you guys think there is a way to make a living like this? Are there any examples of profitable websites, created by one guy that have some informative value but not so much that people would pay for it?




A few years ago I was getting into iOS audio development and I started blogging about CoreAudio. My website started getting some traffic so thought I'd put together a really comprehensive tutorial on how to play MIDI files on iOS. I started selling it on my site for around $19.99 and started making a couple of hundred dollars per month. Then one of the founders of http://www.binpress.com reached out to me and asked if I'd consider putting my component on their site. I decided to go for it and with the added exposure it started bringing in around $400 - $500 per month. Then I decided to spend my spare time making components to save other developers time on common tasks. I developed a piano plugin and then a chat component (http://www.binpress.com/app/chat-messaging-sdk-for-ios/1644). The chat component did really well so over time I built it up - currently it brings in about $2k per month in sales and loads of consulting work. Because of the chat component, I was approached by the Founders of Firebase because they wanted to shut down an online chat service they had called Envolve. They asked if I'd be prepared to make an alternative service and take on their customer base. I took on the project and developed a new chat called Chatcat (http://chatcat.io). Currently, I'm making about $4 - 5k per month in passive revenue from Binpress and the chat. On top of that I can easily make another $5k in freelance work. I'd definitely recommend this as a low risk path to generating a really stable passive revenue.


Great example of turning something small into bigger opportunities. Nobody is going to come knocking at your door if you don't first make yourself known, even in just a small way. And don't confuse unsuccessful with failure. It may take many unsuccessful tools to stumble onto a success. The learning along the way can also be a catalyst.


When you make something like that, a framework or a small service that you want to sell, how do you get the word out to potential customers? Do you pay for some advertising? Do you rely on SEO?


FYI: Chatcat's Twitter link in the footer led to a 404 (http://chatcat.io/www.twitter.com).


I hate having to be vague here, but suffice it to say there exist a few developers-oriented web applications which did one small thing well apiece. One day, a Silicon Valley company tired of paying $500 per lead to AdWords just sent them bolt-out-of-the-blue offers. Suffice it to say that the numbers involved were fat yearly salaries for nights-and-weekends style projects.

If you want to catch a bolt out of the blue, getting together a coherent commercially valuable audience increases your chances. That said: the easiest and best way to make money is to make something people want and trade it to them for money. If you're smart enough to build something that 50k web developers use every month then turning that into six figures is straightforward.

P.S. "They do not offer enough value to charge for" is a solvable problem, either by adding value or by using equivalent engineering time to build solutions to problems that matter to people with money. I mean, it's not like BCC's for loop and random number generator are a commandingly high bar of technical prowess to justify the $29.95 price tag.


Maybe I don't understand how AdWords works, but I thought the top CPCs hovered around $50†. How is that different from a "lead" and who is paying $500 for that?

http://www.adventureppc.com/most-expensive-adwords-2014/


If it takes X number of clicks to get one (real) lead, they could add up to $500+.

I worked for a company that managed adwords for a mainframe software company and they would pay a lot of money for clicks before getting a conversion.

Maybe you guys are just using different terms here.


I'm guessing he's spending $500 per lead. As in, for every $500 spent on adwords, they are getting a lead.


    If you're smart enough to build something that 50k web
    developers use every month then turning that into six
    figures is straightforward.
How? I have 50k visitors interested in other topics, but wouldn't know how to turn that into any money at all.

    BCC's for loop and random number generator
What is BCC?


BCC is Bingo Card Creator.

The broad strokes of making money from a tight, commercially relevant audience: collect their email addresses by promising you'll send them something valuable, send them something valuable, continue doing so, offer them the opportunity to purchase something one step more advanced than that for a meaningful amount of money.

This may or may not be achievable from the position you're in, since "50k visitors across a portfolio of websites" is possibly quite different in character from "50k highly paid professionals with congruent interests who make a habit of coming to your site to solve a problem which implies the existence of a second problem that has an active market in solutions available and lots of money sloshing around in customer acquisition budgets among them."

All of the sub phrases there suggest valuable things to shoot for in new projects, by the way. Given the choice between a website which could be used by anyone in St. Louis or anyone in a well-paid profession of equivalent size, pick the second. Given the choice of serving nail artists or lawyers, pick lawyers. Given the choice of solving a problem which is peripheral to their interests or one which is more central, pick the central one. Given the choice of "totally noncommercializable" versus "abuts a very commercial field", pick the second one. etc


patio11 built a downloadable and then web application named Bingo Card Creator. He tends to downplay it as "just a random number generator".

He documented the development process from soup to nuts here: http://www.kalzumeus.com/start-here-if-youre-new/


50k visitors is not the same as 50k visitors that are all web developers. What patio11 is saying is that you need to either add more value to your product, or make sure your simple product is used by people that see value in your product.


If I were in your shoes, I would go to patio11's website (kalzumeus.com) and sign up for the email list at the very top. Trust me...


BCC is Bingo Card Creator (http://www.bingocardcreator.com/), part of patio11's portfolio.


BCC is Patrick's Bingo Card Creator.


I created sendtodropbox.com (email attachments to Dropbox) as a side project about 3 years ago. After the initial prototype, two-ish rewrites, and monetizing it with a freemium model, it's now got 1100 paying subscribers and brought in $20k in revenue this year. I did the whole thing myself (aside from the website template design, which a buddy of mine helped out with). This doesn't technically fall under the "informative value" category, but going solo on a project to make it profitable is definitely possible.


Just FYI—the name of your project goes against the Dropbox branding guidelines: https://www.dropbox.com/developers/reference/branding


Yeah, I got a special exemption from them for the name. :)


But how? Did you talk with some of the guys behind Dropbox or what did you exactly do to be allowed to violate this rule?


I wrote my app before Dropbox had published any branding guidelines for developers (3+ years ago), so I was essentially grandfathered in. Perhaps my phrasing of "special exemption" was a bit strong. I apologize for that. I dug up this email exchange: http://i.ralph.io/95cc7ww3.png


Something also not offered in the usual "just build a great product" advice, there is so much to be said for getting in on something EARLY.

Google "send to dropbox", this site is #1. Guaranteed income to some extent just because of that. People need to build a great product, but that's not enough. You have to get it in front of alot of people. Try to do this same thing today, dropbox will slap you down.

Get in early on some area with a bright future, before the crowd - AND build a great product, I would think better than just build a great product.


You asked "will you have a problem with my name "Send to Dropbox"?" and they said yes. It does look, based on the rest of their response, that they were instead answering the unasked question "is it ok to use the name?" but their response definitely makes things more ambiguous.


The website says it's a free service. How did you earn $20k? What do subscribers pay for?


They're essentially paying for the ability to customize their email address, set up incoming whitelists/blacklists (so someone with your address can't fill up your Dropbox overnight), as well as expedited email support.


What do you charge subscribers? Is there more than one tier?

Thanks!


Single tier - $3 a month or $29 a year


Thank you for writing this - its a perfect example and proof that ones does not need to be patio11 to succeed with simple apps! Congrats on delivering!


What does this mean? If I recall, patio11 was making $20k/$30k per year from bingo card creator years ago. Even today, with appointment reminder, at the core he is delivering real value to real customers for which they pay him money. I don't get the sentiment you're trying to express here.

It's not like he's a Kardashian or something. He's delivering a valuable service to businesses, and they pay him in return. If you do that, you will make money too.


Interesting. How do you market it?


I don't. All subscribers and traffic are organic from Google searches.


Thank you for sharing the details! Creating something like this, and possibly having it pay my rent, is something I'm hoping to build in 2015.


Seconded. I can't remind myself enough that there are plenty of successful SaaS apps outside of the HN/TechCrunch/Pando loop. Talk about tunnel vision...

Congrats on your success.


About 7 years ago I invented and patented CreditCovers : "skins for credit cards". They are widely regarded in marketing circles as the single most effective way to start an offline conversation about a brand - called a "new dawn in viral marketing" by BusinessWeek.

CreditCovers.com is a near fully automated business at this point. I set up a deal with a factory in Brooklyn to handle print / pack / ship and wrote software to handle batching orders to them daily and updating customers.

Also, I created a DIY tool for people to customize their own which cut down on tons of e-mails of people asking for custom covers and having to do graphic work. http://creditcovers.com/DIY

It's been cool. Ton's of press, customers include people like Google, Ben Cohen - founder of Ben & Jerry's, celebs, Obama, etc.

Because CreditCovers are so effective, our single greatest marketing tool is just to give them away which always results in a positive ROI on referrals.. So that said, anyone who wants one with their start-up logo / dog / gf / mom / whatever on it can go get one... Use code 'hackernews' to get $10 off an order and get one free. (You will have to create it yourself using our tool at creditcovers.com/DIY - there are photoshop templates as well)

Also - we have a generous affiliate program of 50% if you'd like to partner on either 1 off or bulk sales - hit us up. order@creditcovers.com


Interesting! Do you have designs for European cards that have a chip that needs to be in contact with the reader (the chip is in the upper left corner)?


Yes, you can select the "chipped / smart card" option when customizing them with the DIY tool.


As someone else mentioned, the only method I've seen work is either a niche with very high CPM rates, or to garner a lot of traffic.

On the ton of traffic side, there are a lot of examples, but Google has nuked countless of those over time.

eg: http://www.markosweb.com/

They were once one of the top ~1,000 sites in the world, and that site was generating over a million dollars per year via AdSense. They'd show up for nearly any search for a random domain / site in google. A lot of sites were using that domain info technique to spam traffic (they'd show things like pagerank, alexa rank, estimated value, blah blah).

Well that concept is still functional, just not as lucrative. Today you can find "sites like X" sites that are plentiful in the serps. There is still a lot of traffic in it.

Some presently still successful examples (some are spammy, some are less so; Google has hit some of these hard this year; if you asked most of these sites, they'd claim they're valuable tools):

http://www.semrush.com

http://www.network-tools.com

http://www.ip-adress.com

http://www.prchecker.info

http://www.intodns.com

http://who.is

http://www.aboutus.org

http://www.similarsites.com


please dont put semrush in that list. I use it regularly and they probably make over 5 million in annual revenue, if not more.


I've followed them for a long time. They weren't always as... enterprise upstanding as they are today. And their method of getting attention falls into the same category as the others - serps spamming. That's why they have 6.4 million pages in Google. It's automatically generated, low quality search engine spam. That's how they built their business.

Why just look at this high quality content I pulled off of page six of their Google results:

http://www.semrush.com/info/pornoorzl.com

Or

http://www.semrush.com/info/streamingbet.com

There are millions of more pages like that. It's content spam. Hopefully Google does the right thing and adjusts their traffic accordingly.


agree, and their data is wrong. I have a number of sites that do 1000+ UV's per day and have compared traffic a number of different times. Not even close, to say the least.


The general formula is you have to nurture and build your own community. Quality over quantity. There are many examples of people aggregating and filtering content (http://iosdevweekly.com) to producing content (basically all sites from the smallest blog up to BuzzFeed). The metric if there is one is how engaged your community is. Do they open your regular cadence newsletter? Do your current readers forward your newsletters? You can game social media all you want and in the end the real thing is are you providing value to people in the community you are contributing to/part of. All those people who sell 2,000 books with a single email spent hundreds of hours growing their email list one by one. It is easy to write one blog post that goes viral. And to get them to come back and read what your write next - that is harder.

Grow your community, give back, deliver something unique that you can provide on a regular basis.

The reality is you don't own anything if you work for a company. But if you have 100 or 1000 mailing list opens - that is all yours.

The rhetorical question is do you want to make $12,000 a year or $120k/year. The catch hear is $120k is salaried and NOT geometrically scalable while the $12k refers to your own sales/ad revenue. That what you own and have built is scalable.

It is all about influence and/or providing what people want.


I'm going to take the other side and say ...quantity over quality as long as two conditions are met a) fun to make (by the op ) and 2) useful to someone ( op at a minimum )

keep a close eye on what sticks and then iterate and polish.

also ...maybe structure your mini-products under companies in such a way that if an acquirer came along you could sell it for a decent chunk of change.


Interesting. I've run a somewhat successful aggregation website in the past, and found that I hit significant scaling problems.

Can you provide a few more examples of aggregation / filtering services that have achieved reasonably high profitability? Always interesting to see what other people do that I don't!


Congratulations! I'd be curious about the scaling problems. I assume you were trying to source the content from the community?

In general, the aggregation / filtering services that I like have that more as a feature of their site rather than being its sole focus. That means, aggregation / filtering is definitely done with a more human touch, editorial bent.

This one is owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education and is not necessarily about profits.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arts_%26_Letters_Daily

And, we cannot forget the grand-daddy of all tech aggregation sites.

http://techmeme.com

And where would the Internet be with 'X and you won't believe what happened next' and 'N things you should now about Y'.

BuzzFeed has an 'area' full of people (not 'room' because it is Open Plan) who actively look for content that is going viral/could go viral. To their credit, they are using their top-10 (Comscore) ranking and going after more serious journalism.


How is iosdevweekly monetized?



There are sponsored stories and job ads in the newsletter.


I just sealed a deal yesterday, making mid-3 figure /month revenue with a sponsor for a weekend project of mine: http://hacker.surf

HackerSurf launched a few days ago on HN, and sat on the front page for about 12 hours. Here's a recap on how it all went down here: http://scotthasbrouck.com/8000-uniques-from-weekend-node-js-...

A small example of a small project leading to recurring revenue. I'm writing another blog post for tomorrow on going from launch to solid revenue in 48 hours, I'll followup here with it.


I read your blog post - the bit about open sourcing connects with me. It is the direction I would like to go in. Write open source but still make money.


nice work!

I'd like to make a directory on 175g.com that lists all the jobs for Ultimate Frisbee related companies -- either owned by people who play Ultimate or that service the actual industry.

Would forking this be a useful tactic?


I'm making ~ $100 per month from this little tool [0] I created over weekend.

[0] http://portchecker.co/


Does most of your traffic come from organic searches? I imagine it can be hard to rank a tool-based site that doesn't have a lot of text content


Yes, most of the visitors come from organic searches. Not necessarily, because a tool based site will be competing mostly with other tool based sites, with little or no text content. So other factors may be more important e.g bounce rate.


If you don't mind me asking, do you make money off the google ads?


yes.


Interesting. How much traffic does it get?


~ 1000 page views per day.


Doesn't this get abused immensely ?


I'm not sure if this site qualifies as "small" enough, but I think Ken Pomeroy does pretty well with his site kenpom.com. He takes college basketball box scores, runs a cron job that does some mathematical analysis and puts the results on his site. He has built the site out in the last few years, but there are still only a handful of dyanmically generated pages on his site (rankings, team stats, player stats, game stats). A subscription to his site costs $20/year and I would guess he has several thousand subscribers (myself included).


Interesting. What do you use the data for? Why is it valuable to you? How do you estimate the site has thousands of subscribers?


I'm just a college basketball fan that likes statistics and finds it worth $20/year for his analysis. I have season tickets to a college basketball team and I like to see information about upcoming opponents and the site's projections for the game.

I estimate the site has several thousand subscribers because I personally know quite a few people that subscribe. Many (most?) college basketball coaches also subscribe to the site[1]. There is also a page in the subscriber section that shows a breakdown of subscriber's favorite teams by percentage. Based on how small the percentage changes when you select a team, you can infer a rough number of subscribers that way too.

[1] NY Times article about coaches using the site (before it required a subscription): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/sports/ncaabasketball/24nc...


I'm not an Adsense specialist at all, but I suggest you might give it a little time. Adsense learns how to improve the value of your ads because it understands your visitors better over time. My Adsense income has increased 600% over time without me doing anything (still a small site, not enough to pay the rent, but nice extra). Of course other factors than just Adsense learning might have influenced it, too (ie more competition on ads or whatever), but still - my experience has been good.


FYI If you haven't seen it check out this github list & discussion about web business models: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8073732


Adam Bard's recent work is a good example: http://adambard.com

As is Kevin Lynagh's http://keminglabs.com - He also made Denizen (I think) https://getdenizen.com/

I have no idea if any of these are profitable, but at least you get some ideas. Searching "site:news.ycombinator.com microbusiness" also brings up some good examples, for instance: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7367243


Candy Japan is a great example, and the creator regularly posts updates on his blog/here on HN


It's not really a web tool though. But before that I made a widget which lets Facebook page fans vote who the biggest fan of a particular FB page is. Kind of an automatic competition that repeats each week. The winner is then posted on the FB page it is installed on. It was almost as big as Candy Japan is now. It's still running too, but I've let it languish since CJ has taken over my brain.


Here are two more great resources:

http://justinvincent.com/page/1421/bootstrappers-kickstarter...

http://microisv.com/ - hasn't been updated in forever, but some good content

I couldn't think of it when I wrote the above comment, but "microISV" is the term you want to search for. Stands for "micro independent software vendor"


I wonder what happened to the microISV movement? It kind of dwindled out a few years ago. Now everyone talks about bootstrapping startups and lifestyle businesses. Seems very odd to me, unless these are all the same things?


One way to make money from an activity is to sell products and services to people doing the activity. Supply companies in Denver probably were more consistently profitable, and their owners and employees probably lived longer, than the miners who stopped in on their way into the mountains to dig for gold, silver and lead.

Use your experience with what you do to create books and other resources for people who might like to do what you do.

Create a hosting service that is structured to support that community really well.

Etc.


I'm certainly nowhere near making a living, but I have a few simple tools that generate adsense income. The sites generate international shipping documents. It was something I needed myself. Targeting businesses in a small niche helps with the per-click value and organic search rankings, I believe. So I don't need a huge number of visitors.

I feel good about actually providing value. And they are useful tools for me and I make a little money (about $150/month).

I've made a few consumer-oriented tools, including a baby name site, a meat temperature guide and office football pool site. I have not generated enough traffic to make ads worthwhile, but I suspect the pay-off would be low anyway. These sites would require thousands of visitors a day, and it would take a lot of legwork to generate that sort of traffic.

A few others that I use regularly that I did not make: https://identitysafe.norton.com/password-generator/ http://www.freeformatter.com/csv-to-xml-converter.html https://www.xml-sitemaps.com


Put your contact information in your profile please.


Done.


Since you have traffic, you could work on monetizing in other ways than adsense. Think of a product that visitors might be interested in and try to sell them that.


I second this idea. Find out who are your 'power users' for each app. Is there overlap? You can focus on one type of user, find a complementary product that pays for referrals, and link to it at the bottom of each page.


I'm on the same boat regarding adsense you need a lot of traffic or extremely profitable keywords to make any substantial income. I read recently on a similar Ask HN that https://www.conferencebadge.com/ is making a good income, and it can be considered 'little' I presume but they actually charge for their product/service.


Off-topic, but I just wanted to let you know that your website looks beautiful! A very well done to you and a great idea too!


Some tools lend themselves to starting small and expanding through add-ons, pro features or alternative versions. The example that comes to my mind is GreenSock (http://greensock.com) which started as small, simple Flash (ActionScript) library, but evolved into a large set of animation related libraries and plug-ins covering also HTML5 (JavaScript) and offering various licences starting from free to commercial/paid.

I don't know the internal details, but I have used it on multiple occasions over the years and the impression I get is that it evolved from a free, personal side project into more professional product and company. I suspect that the creator also gets commissioned projects as additional revenue stream. And judging from its consistent evolution over the years it must bring profits that justify working on it!


Why not gather all your products under one roof? Create a website that gathers all the other tools, choose a theme for it and everything, then start taking donations or charging small amounts of money for a monthly subscription to all your products or paid accounts that to use some extra tools


Depends on what you think of as free/small. My startup, http://reviewsignal.com is a free service people can use to look up web hosting companies. it's automatically tracking all the tweets about major hosts and publishing the results. It's profitable and free, but was a lot of works (not sure how small it really is). I've also built a lot of tools closer to what you're describing, things like http://listmanipulator.com and http://domainling.com but none of the smaller projects come anywhere close to being a sustainable living.


Incidentally, for those interested in this sort of thing, http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm/ has a laser-focus on bootstrapped startups that makes for a very pleasant site.


I have a history of sites like that too. None of them ever made any money. I finally bit the bullet and started working on one site that does something that I charge money for: http://www.liberwriter.com

It's not perfect in a lot of ways - no recurring revenue - but it's done way better than any of those fun projects ever have, in terms of making money. I've also learned a lot more because I have real customers that get angry if things go wrong, or are very happy when things go right because I'm solving something that's a real problem for them.


That's a great idea and implementation. Well done!


I do run small website called Notation Training http://notationtraining.com it is up and running for about three years and is doing quite good. I do run AdSense there, making around 200 USD/month and then I am selling premium version for $4 which quite some people buys as well. I guess I could be more aggressive with selling the premium version, but I am quite ok with it. There is very little maintenance going to this product and it makes quite nice extra money for me.


Interesting, my workplace McAfee Web Gateway prevents me from accessing your site, the reason given is that it is a "Parked Domain". I rarely see our gateway block anything, and I've never seen one blocked for being a parked domain. Just wanted to pass this along, maybe you're missing out on some traffic...


Thanks, will check it out.


Wow, that's a pretty minimal and useful website. It took me a moment to figure out what it is about. How many visitors does it get per month?


5k or so.


$200 adsense earnings with 5k visitors? That's must be a misunderstanding. That would be a CPM of $40. The best I ever heard of is $8.


5K visitors != 5k pageviews. But yeah the cpm is really high, much higher than 8. It used to be much higher few years back, but I am still really pleased with this app.


If the tools are useful enough to attract backlinks, you might want to find a company that's audience would find value in your tools, and sell it to them as an seo strategy. Here's the simple formula...

1. Content Development: Build a linkable asset (content or tools that people are compelled to share). 2. Outreach: Develop a targeting list of people who would likely link to your tool, and nurture a relationship with them. 3. Get Rich.

Packaged right, to the right company, you can probably charge $5k-$20k for the tool and another $5k/Month for outreach.


I don't recommend trying this, but this guy made a fortune using his SEO value for ranking of years for car insurance search terms.

http://www.calculateme.com/

Basically, he published a bunch of calculators, got lots of links, built up pagerank (not a relevant metric anymore), and than built out unique content pages/ local directory for car insurance, and sold leads for a commission.

Strategies like this where the content and links are not relevant to the category (i.e. calculators to car insurance) probably don't work anymore...

But, if you can find an industry that is relevant to your tools, it should work really nicely, especially if you deploy it on their website under a resources section.


A little CSS formatter tool I developed - http://procssor.com (now part of MaxCDN). The Mac app was profitable before I sold it 2yrs ago.


Perhaps instead of assuming that they don't offer enough value to charge, you could spend some time figuring out who would value them enough to pay for them.

e.g., when will the sun rise in city x -> send me an email 5 minutes before the sun rises in city x (because I told my girlfriend who's working overseas that I'd call her when the sun came up).

There is probably value in what you're doing. The trick is to find out who values it, for how much, and how can they pay you a possibly tiny amount with low payment overhead.


This is just begging to be an IFTTT recipe.


I wrote this Wordpress Bitcoin plugin for fun:

https://wordpress.org/plugins/bitcoin-payments-for-woocommer...

Eventually got about ~15 BTC worth of donations. Free version is fully functional, paid version allows very detailed performance configurations for serious stores.

Making about $300+ sales per month on it, fully passively (in $$$ and BTC as well)


Along these lines, I have a small app I want to improve and monetize. Problem is that the value is pretty low and it's doubtful that it would ever rise above $5/use (and that's really pushing it!) and it would be very occasional use. Is PayPal the best I can hope for with low sales volumes and low sales amounts?

Are there recommended forms of micropayments/low overhead payments available at the moment?


Depending on where you're located and where your audience is located, you could use Dwolla[1]. They have no fees for under $10, which would mean more money in your pocket and claim only a 25 cent transaction fee for any other transaction.

[1]https://www.dwolla.com/


Have you looked into BitPay and bitcoins?


I built a pretty thorough tax calculator tool at http://www.tax-rates.org/income-tax-calculator. Building it was a great experience, and I monetize it with ads and affiliate links during the tax season. It was certainly worth the time put in, and I am currently exploring options for expanding it into a paid app.


I have built a few free products too. I use them to advertise my sisterly paid products. A few of my free products: https://getsimpleform.com/, http://redirectapp.com/

You could try accepting donations or use it to build your portfolio for consultancy projects.


I just started a document conversion API. Its only making $20/mo now but I think I can build to $2k/mo after a little more refinement and some advertising steps. But this is not make a living money. Combined with some freelancing gigs and other SaaS things it becomes living money.

The biggest upside is the stable revenue which allow you to be even more creative.


I'm interested to see what you've done. I couldn't make this kind of thing profitable but I'm glad that someone has.


Email me: edoceo@gmail.com I'd love to show off


We are building "Create your own HackerNews"

http://www.postatic.com

We are not charging yet, but planning to quite soon. Plenty of users so far with interest in paying. Not entirely sure how we'll go, but we're pretty sure it'll bring in some profit (or fingers crossed!)


Interesting, how are you making profits btw?


They aren't based on his original comment.


Without any experience doing what you're doing, I would say listen to what your users tell you. Review their emails and they'll tell you all you need to know about what they are looking for (enhancements maybe)? Learn to build a premium model after what they are asking for.


http://rebrickable.com - a tool to show you what LEGO sets you can build with the parts you have. It has a large collection of fan made creations, all with building instructions.


I have made about 100 USD from pgxplorer. The site is in a bit of a limbo after my server crashed and I got a bit busy with dayjob. But looking to inject a couple of booster shots and also working on pg as a service platform as we speak.


Balsamiq, Tarsnap are not in the same category as Bingo Card Creator.


Indeed.

At the very least, their authors don't venture into a business development consulting advising on how to sell to the enterprises based on their vast experience selling a piece of trivial software to the schoolteachers.


Could you offer api's to your tools or offer them as widgets for other websites to use and charge for that?


Ask for donations and see what happens? You might be shocked by the money that comes in.


Got any numbers to back this up?

Donation model being a sustainable source of revenue is an urban legend. Just look at Cobian Backup - really popular, of a decent quality, massive install base, donation-based model - the author ultimately gave up (after several years!) and put it up on sale, because donations just didn't work at all.


I really don't see any risk in trying it. what are you saving yourself from by dismissing it based on anecdotal evidence? A couple minutes of work?


Nothing against "trying it", but your comment implied that you've seen cases where shocking money started pouring in. I take that you are actually not aware of such cases. On the other hand Cobian is just one high-profile account of donationware not working. The whole model is just wishful thinking.


I'm basing it on the Stanford story about using $5 and 2 hours, where a group that was filling up bike tires for a buck switched to asking for donations and started making more money...

Alot of it has to do with how and who you ask.

If this guys is getting emails from people thanking him for making it, I am sure a well crafted message saying, "we can only continue creating these great tools with your generous support."

Here is a blog post I wrote about that stanford story. http://www.davidmelamed.com/2013/01/15/theres-no-excuse-for-...


It is more likely to work with face to face contact.


There's a lot of things that can be easily attempted. That can't be the sole basis for trying something, especially something that has already been tried a lot but doesn't seem to have taken off. (at least without there being something different about how you are approaching it, that is)


I haven't run the numbers, but I get maybe $20 a month in "buy me a coffee" donations on http://statetable.com. It's enough to cover the domain & hosting, and the rest goes to fueling my caffeine habit.

It's not shocking money at all, but it's honestly more than I expected from a donation link.


If you're creating content and are on the lookout for a little coffee- or hosting-money, using Flattr might be a nice supplement...

https://flattr.com/


Did you try bitcoin donations instead of ads?


Google easily answers a lot of these questions. for ex: When will the sun rise today in city X. it works even for a small village in India




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