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How I Built a $5K a Month Side Project (campfirelabs.co)
647 points by jaxsonkhan 5 months ago | hide | past | web | 239 comments | favorite

I actually did this too... I create Datastreamer (http://www.datastreamer.io/) which (when I created it) was an RSS syndication platform as a service.

You gave us RSS feeds and then we would index them and send you the output without having to deal with the insanity of RSS feeds.

This was a decade ago though.

I've been running it since and now it's more of a massive search engine of content - nearly a petabyte at this point.

We have an Elasticsearch API which our customers query. We also have a streaming API if you just want to listen to the crawl data directly.

It's been a wild ride but here's my big takeaway - if your company is profitable it actually might be because you're sitting on something MASSIVE and don't realize it.

Datastreamer was the first company in the content indexing space and we were WAY ahead of everyone else.

I was more focused on enjoying life, traveling, backpacking, etc.

In retrospect when you're sitting on a rocket it might make sense to buy more gas and light up that bad boy.

I'm actually in the middle of a (mild) pivot of Datastreamer right now. We think it might have significant value for the coming 'code war' we're in right now with Russia.

With companies continually looking at social media as a way to manipulate democratic societies these governments need tools (and data) to figure out where they're being attacked and how their citizens are being manipulated.

> I was more focused on enjoying life, traveling, backpacking, etc.

> In retrospect when you're sitting on a rocket it might make sense to buy more gas and light up that bad boy.

I can identify with this. I started a Facebook game in early 2008 that picked up a million users in its first year.

Back then all the stars were aligned and if I would have had a bigger vision for it there’s no reason it couldn’t have turned into a massive company.

I remember reading the TechCrunch article about Zynga raising 100 million in VC and laughing because “why would a Facebook game company need that much money? I’m really profitable being completely bootstrapped!”

Don’t get me wrong, the lifestyle it has allowed me has been amazing. And it’s still going strong 10 years later (we have users who have been paying $10/mo for their premium subscription for that whole 10 years). But the opening to grow it into something huge was only available for a short period of time. Now users are too expensive, organic traffic is minimal, and most users on the platform are locked into their existing games and resistant to trying new ones.

Zynga rode that into becoming a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company. “Think bigger” is a take-away I’ll definitely bring with me to my next venture someday.

The flip side of this is realizing where the path might have lead you. Were I in your position, I suspect my regret might be tinged with relief. Zynga might be an extremely profitable company, but they also epitomize some of what I view as the most egregious offenses in manipulation human nature for monetary gain.

So, were I presented with your prior circumstances and had I capitalized on them, would my convictions have caused the company to fail, or steered it a less profitable path, or possible have been compromised through a slow erosion, greed, or a combination thereof?

For another take, if the Zuckerberg of 2004/2005 was presented with what Facebook would be in 2019, extreme success, billions of dollars, social problems, and increasing questions about what role it does and has played in Democracy and an informed populace, how do we think he might have thought of all that?

>For another take, if the Zuckerberg of 2004/2005 was presented with what Facebook would be in 2019, extreme success, billions of dollars, social problems, and increasing questions about what role it does and has played in Democracy and an informed populace, how do we think he might have thought of all that?

If Zuckerberg knew in advance how successful Facebook was going to be and how the product would look today, that could reduce focus and derail everything. The product evolved through multiple stages with different goals in mind. The path would definitely be different.

considering known statements at the time I think probably Zuckerberg would think it sounded ideal.

Everything I have read about Zuckerberg's history makes him look like a despicable and abject human being both on the surface and deep down. Of course I have a superficial view based on movies, articles, word of mouth, etc. But it feels backed by his actions.

He's not exactly going out of his way to disprove it; any public appearances he makes look heavily scripted and rehearsed, and performed robotically.

And for good reasons; on the one side he's the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world, and any slip-up he makes will cost the company billions in lost stockmarket value. On the other side he has a family who are at constant risk of abduction and / or murder by people that want ransom or who he or his company have pissed off.

I've of the richest most powerful people on the planet, whose creation is able to influence democracy; most people probably dream of being such a person?

It also might have flared up and burned out. In fact, the statistics would put a much higher probability that it might have completely failed.

That doesn't seem like something to regret. In my mind, building a business is about giving you the freedom to do whatever you want. If keeping it small helps you do that, that's what you should do.

Take a minute to skim through the history of a bunch of "successful" companies on that rocket trajectory. Does it sound like it made the founders happier? Or do they seem like they were actually doing better at some sweet spot earlier on in the story?

That's what it always seems like to me. So when I built my business, I set out with the goal of finding that sweet spot of good profits, minimum workload, no staffing or investor headaches, and most importantly, maximum Jason freedom.

Reading your comment, it sounds like you did the same. Don't worry for a second about what might have happened. What did happen sounds pretty cool.

I agree. It's fine to let something stay a side project. Having a company setup that pays for a lifestyle and stays fairly passive is a success based on the original intention.

Founders can look back and say "I could have had more" or "I could have been like X multi-million dollar company", but then the company is no longer a side project. Then the company is your life, which seems contrary to the initial motivation if the point of a side project is to not work 24/7 in a CEO lifestyle filled with meetings and managing.

Couldn't agree more. I had been travelling and backpacking for 8 years when Airbnb came along. To me my website was just a booking platform. Then I realised I could have done something huge. Oh no wait,I did, I traveled full time for 8 years. I sometimes try but I just can't regret this.

> Datastreamer was the first company in the content indexing space and we were WAY ahead of everyone else.

Meltwater.com is in the same space but is much older — it was founded in 2001.

Their engineering team recently blogged [0] about their petabyte-size Elasticsearch cluster which still uses a much older version of ES (1.7.x).

0: Optimal Shard Placement in a Petabyte Scale Elasticsearch Cluster https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18413862

Actually, Meltwater was one of our first customers.

We powered their blog data back in the day. They acquired a smaller company in the space and incorporated their stack and used us for about 5 years.

Good to know.

With respect to the acquisition, is the smaller company Wrapidity?

What's code war?

It is what some are calling parts of modern espionage: using social media and other distributed systems to spread misinformation & propaganda, and more generally destabilise "the other side".

A play on words with "cold war" to highlight the similarities with what went on in that period.

Ah, interesting

500 emails for 20 signups = 96% off target.

>> By May of 2015 I had sent over 30,000 sales and marketing emails

.96 × 30,000 = You just annoyed ~28,800 people. It's only because this immense amount of time lost is borne by strangers that it's a viable business.

Let's not glorify spammers.

A 4% signup rate actually signifies really well targeted emails. Not everyone who doesn't sign up is annoyed by the mail (or did even open or read it). I think this is far from beeing spam, where you would see signup rates well below 1%.

Spam generally includes unsolicited and unwanted emails, targeted or not.

Sure, but it also generally means large quantities of those (regarding email I don't think 30k qualifies as large quantities). My personal definition would be that the messages were sent without any thought if the audience might be interested in the content and that does not appear to be the case here. If your personal definition is that every email you receive ,that you did not ask for in some way yourself, is spam then thats ok. But as a general definition thats a bit strict.

It's unsolicited bulk email, and bulk is generally > 10 or so for most people, > 1 if you are strict.

I'm just trying to differentiate between this guy who is sending 30k emails to people that might likely be interested in his business and some viagra seller that sends ten million emails a day to any address he can get his hands on.

Your personal definition isn't what matters here. This is spam. See wikipedia for this definition:

"Email spam, also known as junk email, is unsolicited messages sent in bulk by email"

As I replied in another place here: It depends on what you define as bulk. My personal definition is what matters to me and everybody is free to have their own.

> A 4% signup rate actually signifies really well targeted emails.

You're spamming 25 people to get one sign up? That sounds terrible.

Well if you send an email to 25 people and 1 one of them actually takes time to read it, click and fill out a signup form, chances are pretty high that more of the other 24 somewhat liked it. Most likely 20 of them didn't even bother to open the email.

SPAM is any unwanted email, phone call, SMS, or other form of contact.

SPAM is defined by the recipient, not the sender. Thus, if you're trying to justify something as "not spam" by saying it meets or doesn't meet some criteria, then it's probably SPAM.

Sounds like advertising. I don't want any ads in my imgur feed. I don't want any ads in the magazines I _BUY_ I don't want any ads in the movies I PAY to go to watch (trailers and "buy candy and popcorn clips").

If an email is an email about a thing or service which is related to my interests, but I don't recognize the company, I suppose that falls under spam, but that's better than random emails for prescriptions or scams.

...doesn't that imply that emails are just a garbage method of communication more than anything else? I can't remember the last time I didn't immediately hit "spam" on an e-mail I didn't specifically request/expect.

I agree. 4% is very high. I was a sales rep for some tech equipment. We were about 1%.

Agreed, the first thing I thought was 'Where did he get a list of 30,000 email addresses?' Buying lists is technically illegal in the US. Sure, the chances of you being hauled in are slim to none, but it's still slimy as hell.

This guy built a side hustle nefariously.

I have a motor control IC. I look for robot manufacturers and read their company websites for contact info. I call or email them to schedule a presentation. Some say OK. Some don’t . This is just basic cold calls.

Maybe someone can be so good, majority of leads end up buying the motor IC. But 4% of response is quite high in my experience.

You really have no idea how cold emails work do you? It must be a total mystery to you why companies like Constant Contact exist.

"By May of 2015 I had sent over 30,000 sales and marketing emails so I knew how to get high response rates"

It's clear that the author meant he had experience with sending mail, not that he sent 30k mails about THIS product.

What is the line between marketing and spamming?


How can you consent to learn about something you don't know about? This is a very different idea to me and I'm trying to understand where you're coming from.

IMO, if i did not sign up for information regarding a product, its spam. If i want something, i will go look for it. I don't want random strangers trying to sell me something, especially when they have no idea what i need.

What if the random stranger is telling you about something you do want, but didn't know you wanted?

If the address on an email list was obtained via some other party that the address was voluntarily submitted to (say, a service with a ToS that included sharing your email address with "partners"), then consent was already established. Doesn't mean it isn't still shady.

Unless it was specified for what purpose the email was obtained, consent isn't established.

Goes into good details about the tactics used to come up with an idea and then recruit the first few customers. After signing up $5k/month revenue it meant he needed to generate 5,000 leads per month for those customers. That is the hard bit, how did he do that on a side project? He says that the income was passive, so how did he generate 5,000 targeted leads passively? That is the magic, not the ability to recruit some customers.

Based on when this product was created, I can almost guarantee they are just manually scraping LinkedIn (plus a few other places - Facebook, twitter, Bloomberg, maybe even Pitchbook). There are custom Google search portals you can use to search LinkedIn via keyword that not everyone knows about. From there one can use a bunch of services that will provide you (mostly)valid emails at various companies.

I imagine he made a quick set of tutorials for his outsourced contractors and had his virtual assistant he found on oDesk do the hiring and setting up of those contractors.

This quote from the article is wild: "Customers have to train their team and the billing is variable so your cost per lead ranges from $.50 to $5" You can beat that number paying people $20/hr to do this stuff, let alone exploiting people out in the Philippines on I'm sure the not livable wages he's paying them(Aka the fallacy of low rent/cost of living in developing economies).

Sigh... you know we're at the end of the cycle when it's just a bunch of outsourcers with marketing backgrounds.

This is the problem with articles like this, they never really go into specifics. Generally fluff. Look at me I did this, but I won't give any specifics how except for vague self-help pamphlet jargon like "Monetize your brain".

I just skip over them unless they provided proof of their xK/month revenue. There are so many people willing to lie to sell you something or just to get e-rep.

I don't think that's fair, there's detail in there. For example, his approach to sales calls.

> the fallacy of low rent/cost of living in developing economies

Let's say a knowledge worker in a developing country could survive on $1 USD a day, adjusting food and rent to local cost.

If a local white collar job paid them $5 a day, and a remote "exploiting" job paid them $15 a day, but an American could earn $50 a day for the same task, is this really a moral hazard?

No, ya see, it's wrong to pay people in poorer countries less because now you're talking to a poor person. If you hire an American, you never even spoke to a poor person, so it isn't your fault.

If that sounds like a fever dream, you aren't alone, but it's my best guess at understanding what's happening. Obviously, my complete lack of employing people in central Africa is why they are all middle class Americans now, so I'm doing my part.

Or, maybe pay people a living wage no matter what country they are from? Doesn't seem that unreasonable.

It seems reasonable until you realize you could completely wreck their local economy.

If you start paying people to compile lists for you at a higher rate than they are paid performing important local services, then they will stop performing important local services and start compiling lists for you.

What needs to happen is slower growth.

So foreign businesses outsource to the Philippines, paying them low wages. Then other businesses see this as a good way to save and do the same, and then more businesses and so on. Soon the people in the Philippines have options, and their market starts to become competitive, and they start demanding more pay (which is good). During this whole process they are spending that foreign money into their local economy, allowing it to grow and keep up.

China is a good example.

As a business, paying more for something that you can have (exactly the same) for less is totally unreasonable.

Well, if a person is producing below a living wage, then it's difficult to pay that person a living wage.

That is a living wage in their country.


Because he should be employing Americans, or because he should be paying the developing-country worker $50/day? If the latter, how do you think that workers in developing countries are going to go from making $5/day to $50/day if they never make anything in between? Surely a 200% pay increase given immediately is better than a 900% pay increase that’s purely hypothetical?

Because he should be paying human beings a living wage no matter where they are. Pretending that living costs in a developing nation is somehow magically non existent is immoral.

Pay people a reasonable wage to live their lives and provide for their families. Just because someone lives in another country does not give a person the moral authority to pay them an amount that does not allow them to properly feed and care for themselves and their family.

True, but I'm pretty sure he's not going to tell us about the "secret sauce," especially since he's sold the company.

Replying for mike2477 who wrote the article and responded to this post, but his comments are dead.

Mike - it looks like you got shadow banned, but it’s not clear why?

Maybe dang can help.

Maybe shadow banned because the story is 4 years old, and has been repeated word for word already?




Great story, but may be one reason.

I vouched for the dead comments.

The story might need to have a missing date on it (4 years old?), but the two comments that the author of the post made don’t seem to violate the terms or spirit of HN rules.

If someone can show me how the rules were broken in his comments, I will gladly unvouch.

Maybe shadowbanned because he's the Mike of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13339723 fame?

That was an interesting thread of rebuttals and counter-rebuttals.

Thanks for linking to it!

So he wrote an article that misquoted someone, and they didn't like it. Is that against HN rules?

Maybe because it’s advertising, wrapped in an old article.

Sure. The post could probably be legitimately downvoted. The comments from the author, however, just don’t seem problematic.

How does one see shadow banned posts?

In your profile there is a "showdead" option

It was a lead gen tool. He could have used the tool to generate leads for the tool.

He said that as a salesperson himself, he outsourced this work to VAs. I assume he continued to do so for this side project.

Aha, so he is performing arbitrage. Charge customers a $1 for something he can buy for much less than a $1. I wonder if the recursion works, use the virtual assistants to bring in leads to also get his own customers.

To be fair, it sounds like he put in work up front vetting and training the VAs.

> As a millennial there are few things that rank as desirable as finding a recurring source of income that doesn’t take much work

That made me laugh! As someone much older I can honestly say that there are few things that rank as desirable as finding a recurring source of income that doesn’t take much work for me too.

As a millennial myself, I would like the need for income taken off the table so that I can find a recurring source of meaningful work.

This is such a modern problem too. No matter what anyone feels about it having to farm crops to eat was definitely meaningful work a hundred years ago. Even if you were being exploited in a factory suicide was common but mostly from abuse and injury rather than the vacuousness of the job.

Its wholly contemporary to invent bullshit jobs and imagine complexity to keep people at desks en masse, leaving them with such a feeling of their lives being pointless.

Truth. My job is "important", but at the same time I don't think anyone's life would be measurably worse if I didn't do it (besides mine lol).

IMO it is kind of a problem with software in general. It is getting me down honestly; I could use some advice.

I feel the same way. Pay is good, work can be interesting, work-life balance and job security are relatively good, but being a developer never gave me any sense of real fulfillment. I'm not making any serious difference in anyone's life, and my six figure salary could be replaced with a team of eastern Europeans who could probably get more done at a fraction of the cost. If I were to die tomorrow, it wouldn't really make any difference aside from friends/family. My company might be inconvenienced for a couple weeks, but would easily find a replacement.

I can put up with unfulfilling work (at least for a little bit). What I can't stand is the Kool-Aid culture surrounding it where you have to put this big smile on your face at all times and pretend like gluing Javascript is your life-calling, mentally stimulates you, and gives you a deep sense of fulfillment. That CNBC article describing Facebook's work culture as "cult-like" is basically every job and job interview I've ever partaken in in the tech industry.


The modern software engineer is a glorified factory worker, except instead of making cars and computer parts we're making apps that help rich people get a little richer or get people to buy sh*t they don't need.

I envy people with actually meaningful jobs - doctors who save lives, journalists exposing the world's atrocities, politicians, anyone working on the cutting edge of anything, etc.

Doctors and journalists use a lot of software. Everyone uses computers all the time. Making software better can be a very high leverage activity. Sometimes fixing one bug can save hours of work for a whole bunch of people. Right? So it basically just depends on what you’re working on. And there are also doctors, journalists, and perhaps especially politicians whose daily work doesn’t contribute very meaningfully to a better world.

The thing that amazes me is that so many people feel the same way, yet this "way of life" is still the norm.

That is, why is there no way to innovate a new structure, given the degree of intrinsic support that would seem to exist?

And, software engineers in particular would seem well-suited to this task. If software is eating the world and we write software, then...

well put. I recently had this thought that dev is no difference from production line worker. There are only small fraction of dev sitting on top of pyramid designing blueprint and managing production line.

Imagine yourself sat in a big chair aged 110 years old. And you’re thinking to yourself “I’m so glad I did X”.

What is X?

(It’s tough, I’m 44 and I only figured it out last year, but I didn’t do it this way)

Now, how can you do X?

Is it a side hustle? Is it a spare time thing? Does it need millions of dollars? Does it need you to quit your job and change direction completely?

Can you get to X in five years?

If so, what is the single most important thing you need to have completed in 3 years?

To do that one thing, what’s the most important thing you need to have completed by January next year?

And to do that, what’s the single most important thing you need to have completed by March this year.

Now you have a goal - something to achieve by March. Write out 12 tasks to get you there and do one each week between now and then.

If you can’t come up with 12 tasks you can be more ambitious in your March goal. If you can’t fit it all in you need to scale back your March goal.

And then when you hit March, look at your one year target and figure out the next 12 weeks.

That seems like good advice. Having some sort of thing to work towards seems helpful.

I feel the same. I've been doing this for nearly 10 years now, and although software and programming still interests me, all the jobs I've had in this industry do not. It just feels like I spend all my day working hard to make someone else even more money. I can't imagine myself continuing doing this for the next 30+ years...

My plan is to save as much as my income as possible and retire early, possibly getting a part time job in a coffee shop to supplement my savings and maintain some interaction with people. Take a look into /r/FIRE if that sounds appealing to you.

Part of why I like working at smaller companies that focus on serving small-medium sized businesses. At this level you are actually building a piece of software for users rather the C-suite.

Short term, find sources of fulfillment that are not your job.

Longer term, seek a similarly comfortable position that you find more meaningful.

Farming crops doesn’t sound like an entirely bad job, but I’m not sure the pay is great compared to software development.

I’d seriously consider agricultural jobs (farming, ag engineering, agricultural science) in another lifetime if I hadn’t invested so much time in my tech career and weren’t so allergies to grass/pollen outdoor allergens.

I'm curious whether the declining fertility rates are related to people feeling their lives being pointless.

> Its wholly contemporary to invent bullshit jobs and imagine complexity to keep people at desks en masse

I don't believe that's remotely true. That bullshit jobs exist is certainly true, but it's due to inefficiencies in communication and incentives at larger companies. Bullshit jobs eat into profit, companies don't do it on purpose, it's just harder and harder to weed those people out the bigger you get; the more people you have the easier it is for non-productive people to hide and not have it known.

If you find a reliable source of revenue that takes an insignificant amount of non meaningful work to maintain, you can spend the rest of you time on meaningful work.

> As a millennial myself, I would like the need for income taken off the table

In other words, I'd like someone else to pay for taking care of me, my shelter, my food.

> so that I can find a recurring source of meaningful work.

So that I can follow my desires rather than being forced to pay my own way.

As a gen-x'er I just have say, you are not entitled to other people's labor, certainly not so you can avoid labor you don't like. The world just doesn't work that way, taking care of your own needs is necessary work, whether you you find it meaningful or not.

Virtually everyone would prefer not "needing income", that's just another way of saying "be rich". Meaningful work is a luxury.

Your entire comment--including suggestions as to what the OP really wants--is predicated on the belief that the current structure is the result of some static law of nature, rather than completely man-made.

If you envision other means of distributing the planet's vast resources, then you'll realize that there are alternatives beyond a) working unfulfilling jobs that produce wealth for others in order to subsist; and b) someone else "paying" for our subsistence.

> If you envision other means of distributing the planet's vast resources

Whether you pay for yourself, or others pay for you, is a binary choice. There are no other options that don't fall into those two categories.

> is predicated on the belief that the current structure is the result of some static law of nature

Nope, just on the nature of boolean logic.

>Whether you pay for yourself, or others pay for you, is a binary choice.

You're still speaking in terms of our current system being the product of some immutable natural law of the universe.

What I am talking about is more fundamental. The very idea of someone "paying for you" is built on the premise that some group of people is entitled to own and control such vast quantities of the planet's resources that they enjoy access to many orders of magnitude beyond what they need to subsist; while, that same ownership leaves precious little resources for some other groups, such that they cannot even subsist. Now, we have this manufactured "dilemma" and only here enters the construct of the first group "paying" for the second.

The entire premise is asinine when you really think about it. And, it's even more so when you add the fact that the "accepted solution" to avoiding the dilemma is for vast numbers of the second group to dedicate a majority of their waking hours in the prime of their lives engaging in frequently unfulfilling activities merely to survive. It's yet further asinine when you also add that the product of that labor further concentrates resources in the hands of the first group.

If you're still not seeing it, then consider the simple phrase that is applied literally: "earn a living". I mean, really think about what that means. Start with the fact that to earn something implies that one is not otherwise entitled to it; thus owes something in order to receive it. To whom do they owe this and why?

> Whether you pay for yourself, or others pay for you, is a binary choice.

No, it's a continuum where those are the two polar extremes.

> There are no other options that don't fall into those two categories

That's true in the sense that all options aside from those two extremes are a mix of them.

The universe is rarely best described by boolean logic. There are other options that are currently not feasible, but not forbidden by any laws of nature. For example robots could provide everybody's needs. Or we could genetically engineer people so that everybody finds their particular job meaningful and fulfilling.

> Virtually everyone would prefer not "needing income", that's just another way of saying "be rich". Meaningful work is a luxury.

If you honestly believe this you need to broaden your outlook. There are interesting people all over the world experimenting with different systems of living and working without a traditional means of income. It's not about wanting to "be rich".

Working == income. You need to stop being so pedantic that you actually think you're saying anything different than me, you're not.

I wonder how many people are aware that Millennials are between the age of 23 and 38 at this point.

I believe the author added the 'as a millennial' bit because everyone's feeds for the past couple of years have been bombarded by posts about 'digital nomads', the seemingly lucky few that are their own bosses and live out of a suitcase and a Macbook in exotic-seeming places like Slovakia, Argentina or Vietnam.

> That was made possible when I took a couple friends (who are salespeople) out for drinks to tell them what I was working on. Afterwards they both said they would try to think of people to refer me to.

Thomas deserves all the credit for building and selling his business, but the value of this point here is critical, in my mind. IMO key takeaways are (1) knowing lots of people helps a lot, and (2) asking for help/daring to talk about your project helps a lot.

> Most people in the tech industry are brainwashed by Silicon Valley group think. These people believe that every business must have a billion dollar opportunity.

If anything, I’d say that most people in the tech industry in Silicon Valley are brainwashed into thinking that entrepreneurship is the One True Path to salvation.

Much like whoever wrote this article. Who else would recommend that someone follow the path that “led to depression, social isolation, and the hardest time of my life” just because they got lucky in the end?

> Who else would recommend that someone follow the path that “led to depression, social isolation, and the hardest time of my life” just because they got lucky in the end?

One of my favorite Ewan McGregor quotes from watching Long Way Round recently was when he would say ”This is the part that really sucks right now and is just so hard it makes you wanna cry, but it’s the part we remember most fondly later”

He said that on multiple occasions. It maps well to stuff I recently learned in Thinking Fast and Slow about our experiencing self versus our remembering self.

It turns out we cherish sucky experiences tht end well more dearly than we do experiences that are great (or bad) throughout.

What about sucky experiences that don't end well?

Fuck those. We wish we hadn't been so mindblowingly stupid as to put ourselves through those.

Well, those can also be remembered fondly.

One that crops up in my memory with some frequency is lying face-down in three inches of snow. My feet are going numb. My SAW is freezing my fingers. My helmet keeps sliding down over my eyes. We've been out here on the perimeter for almost two hours, just waiting for the word to move.

They told us to embrace the suck. It was fun. I've never felt so alive.

Since you didn't die and (I assume) didn't lose all of your fingers and toes to frostbite, that ended quite well.

Apparently to find a “recurring source of income that doesn’t take much work (or a boss)”.

> Most people in the tech industry are brainwashed by Silicon Valley group think. These people believe that every business must have a billion dollar opportunity.

From past experience, part of the "brainwashing" is because the major VC firms have way less interest in pursuing ventures that net them less potential money. The VCs are out to make the best return possible for the members of their fund, and 5% of $1B is way more savory than 5% of $100M. Trying to get past a Seed or Series A with a market cap <$1B sucks when trying to get funding from VC firms.

I created a successful side project back in 2014. It is still running and making 20 times more than I would get with a normal job. But i was lucky. Lucky to be born in a rich country. Lucky because I was given a computer at the age of 5. Lucky because I had unlimited education opportunities. Lucky because I had a friend who gave me access to something I needed for my business. And many other lucks. I will never deny that fact. But reading these stories makes me a bit angry, because it is just not that simple. It's always easy to translate a successful story into a guideline. But that guideline isn't worth anything when all those luck properties are different.

I worked for a mom + pop Amazon seller (manufacture + ship from China to America, stick packaging on it, send it in to Fulfillment by Amazon, collect a check)

He's probably worth $50m as one of the top 250 sellers. Probably ~20 SKUs. Tons of competitors trying to bring him down but his product has so many reviews that it is just a money printer.

He was smart to be at the right place at the right time. He undercut the bigdogs back in the day (~10 years ago maybe?) and gained momentum.

He refused to admit to me that he was lucky. He refused to admit that he had the right idea at the right time. Was his execution great? You bet. Good marketing/product advertising/images/pivoting/getting through hardships/blah blah blah.

But like... he couldn't do again if he had to start from scratch in 2019. Things are different. And he refused to acknowledge that. He wanted to believe everything he did was perfect and he got his wealth purely from skill.

I think that's a bad trait :(

What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck? At the very least, thousands of people had the same opportunity to do what your boss did. And that's if we take your word that this is all he did, and he didn't negotiate at all or spend any time researching what products to sell, or take a loss in the beginning to provide good customer service for future gain. Even seeing the opportunity is a skill itself, millions of people will happily stay at their current job rather than take a risk.

>But like... he couldn't do again if he had to start from scratch in 2019. Things are different.

This is a losing attitude, a quick search of almost any category on Amazon will show more recent products that are China rebrands with thousands of reviews.

Here is one: https://www.amazon.com/JavaPresse-Grinder-Conical-Brushed-St...

You can find exact copies on Aliexpress for $10.

You can't prove it's impossible to do what he did today. Others are actively doing it.

>I think that's a bad trait :(

Being proud of your accomplishments is not a bad trait. Thousands of people had the same opportunities as him, yet he came out on top (or top 250, in your example).

What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck?

A need to balance out the notion that "anyone can do it".

> You can't prove it's impossible to do what he did today. Others are actively doing it.

There is a whole genre of get-rich-quick scammers claiming that exact thing:



Just because something is possible does not mean it is common. Why didn't all the hard-working software entrepreneurs from the 1980s end up like Bill Gates? Discounting luck and good timing leads to the Horatio Alger fallacy.

I don’t see how it’s belittling to acknowledge luck as a factor among many in success while also acknowledging the non-luck factors. You can be proud of your accomplishments while still acknowledging the influence of luck your success.

I think it's the difference between what comes first, the work or the luck and what's the dominant force.

If you study hard and get good grades, you might find yourself in a position where someone needs to hire for a role that you're already prepared for. Sure, there's luck in bumping into that person, but you worked hard to be able to take advantage of opportunities, so I'd say luck had very little to do with your success. If it wasn't this lucky break, there would be another one.

If you brush off school and happen to get hired by a boss that could care less if you do work of any quality, that's mostly luck and probably not repeatable.

Sure, Gates and Bezos experienced luck during their careers, but I'd be willing to bet that the dominant trait in their growth was hard work and intelligent decision making. Some people like to think of them as happening to be in the right place at the right time, but I think they worked hard to prepare themselves with the skills necessary to see those massive opportunities and were obsessed with moving as fast as possible towards their goals.

I view it this way: being smart and hard working is necessary but not sufficient to achieve the success they have. There are plenty of very smart and hard working people that are also dirt poor due to various circumstances. Maybe they have interests that don't happen to pay a lot of money. Maybe they are in locations where being smart doesn't pay off that much.

The dominant trait was rich, well connected parents?

> What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck?

I don't think OP meant as black and white as you see it. There is some luck factor involved in many of the successful projects. What people should be wary of is thinking of it as a formula for success - add x and then y and voila you win. It is not that simple.

> What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck?

Many accomplishments are mostly luck? Japan Rugby beat South Africa in a 7s match a while ago. Are the players now entitled to call themselves better than those on the South African team? I mean, sure they could, but it would be obviously false, and nothing of value is gained. This reduces all the way down to “accomplishing” choosing lottery numbers.

> Many accomplishments are mostly luck?

This got me wondering how we might prove which accomplishments are luck vs skill.

Michael Mauboussin's 2012 book dives pretty far into separating luck from skill, worth checking out, or at least the more interesting online reviews / interviews.[0] It covers sports, investing, etc.

You can control the random seed in some games (duplicate bridge), but more often, you just want an enormous number of samples.[1]

Even with large sample sizes there are still debates (poker [2, 3], investing [4, 5]).

So if we come back and want to assess one individual life? No idea how confidently we can sort out how much was luck and how much was skill for anyone at n = 1.

It's like watching one poker hand. We can point to the cards. We can point out that they didn't make incredibly rookie mistakes. Beyond that? Who knows.

But then... I guess you could say... The guy who has played a million hands of poker is more skilled than the guy who played one.

By analogy, how good at this can any of us really be?


We'd all definitely be better at life if we had a few more tries.


Late comment, just had been mulling it, wanted to park it somewhere.


[0] https://www.wired.com/2012/11/luck-and-skill-untangled-qa-wi...

[1] True score theory: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/truescor.php

[2] https://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/1130/finance-carnival-ari...

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/jan/08/online-poker-b...

[4] Investors might have incredible careers only to face allegations of survivorship bias. I had some anecdotal source here but lost it over the last day of sleeping on this. Sorry. Here's a wikipedia page? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias

[5] https://mathinvestor.org/2018/08/mutual-fund-performance-and...

I think the thing is, at any given time, there may be a thousand people trying to do the same thing at a certain level of competency, with only a few actually managing to gain any traction due to a combination of luck or timing.

Then these people say they were much better than the others, while objectively they were executing at about the same level.

If everyone does everything right, there will still be winners and losers.

The mythology is that hard work + cleverness = success.

The reality is that probability * (work + cleverness) = success.

The size of the probability makes a big difference. If it's too low you're likely wasting your time.

You can improve it with good business/sales techniques, but if it's tilted the wrong way you're always going to be fighting against it.

Objectively, you'd need to know the hit rate for specific business ideas/approaches/fields.

Realistically, some fields are more likely to be successful than others. Analytics, sales aids, and off-shore arbitrage are far more likely to make money than - say - software support for the disabled, or starting a band.

It is funny that the post ticks off all the things he did right, then concludes that he was lucky, primarily due to timing.

Yeah, maybe he couldn't do that on Amazon in 2019, but he might just as well not try, in favor of something more doable today. That is, part of what the OP calls luck is essentially the recognition of the opportunity, which in itself should be added to the list of skills.

Back in my Microsoft days, I knew many co-workers who, within about three years of graduating and starting at Microsoft, were in a position to retire. Several of them professed to me that they believed that it was their hard work and skill that got them wealthy so young and not the situation they were lucky enough to find themselves in. Some said they thought that they could go out and do it again. A precious few did (one of them co-founded Valve so, he did) but I don't recall any of the others striking it rich twice.

Not a bad trait. If you believe that things are down to luck you put yourself into a very unhelpful frame of mind that can prevent you from achieving the things you want to achieve. https://github.com/adnzzzzZ/blog/issues/38

>But like... he couldn't do again if he had to start from scratch in 2019.

This misses the point by a country mile. The skill is knowing and predicting the when and where in addition to executing on the what.

Just like the people who time the stock market.

This is a very common belief amongst successful people. In fact, you might recall a few years ago in US politics there was this big "I Did It" thing where successful business owners defiantly claimed they earned their successes without the help of anyone (or any publicly funded infrastructure).

I'm sure sociologists have a name for this, but to me it represents people who have a big hole to fill regarding self-worth. By believing they accomplished something because they are extra-uniquely special is a way to try to fill that hole.

If you take a formerly successful person and have them start over, their stature (titles, money, contacts) can often give them starting benefits that can indeed make their following ventures successful - or at least more likely successful than if they had started with little more than their skills.

There are old, wealthy people who have made a life out of repeating "successes". Some find their way into positions of great global power, and they unfortunately believe they know more than anyone else (and will state such without any shyness).

>I'm sure sociologists have a name for this, but to me it represents people who have a big hole to fill regarding self-worth.

Fundamental attribution bias? "Everything bad that happens to me is because of external factors beyond my control. Everything bad that happens to you is your fault." And the opposite: "I'm skilled, you're just lucky."

Nothing teaches this better than a game of Dota2.

When someone works really hard, goes through lots of hard moments and eventually succeeds the general public or not so close friends see the end result but don't see all the struggle. Then they try to explain how this happened and when they fail to connect the dots it all looks like magic to them and all they can say is that luck was involved.

The hard truth is that everyone comes by opportunities in life (call it luck) but very few people have the knowledge and experience to achieve something meaningful out of those opportunities.

I am curious. I live in a place where ecom is just taking off. While there are lot of brand dependency I see a chance to actually to do private/white label stuff. So curious if you know some tips on how to get started on Amazon FBA.

Unsolicited random suggestion I would do if in your position: Find the most popular household/kitchen item being sold on amazon - and whitelable that.

And source the most popular kids items from Alibaba and use language to market it to whomever your locale is.

> He wanted to believe everything he did was perfect and he got his wealth purely from skill

He did, his skill was to get on it at a right time in a right place. His skill was to keep working on it and believing in himself. Saying it was due to luck is just pure disrespect.

It's both - if he didn't have his skills, he wouldn't succeed either. But for him to deny that luck played any role is naive. We should work our hardest so we're ready to shine when the opportunity comes, but we need to remain humble because not everyone gets the same opportunities.

he had the skill to be born a man of a certain to certain parents in, i'm assuming here, was a western country in the last 60 years or so. a less skilled person would have been born a farm worker 3000 years ago.

A lot of comments here about “luck” ignore the essential nature of it: its subjectivity. Objectively, there is no such thing as luck, but only circumstance. Circumstance can certainly be beyond our control. Luck, however, is our subjective interpretation of circumstance, and is very much within our power to control.

Are you lucky or unlucky? Are your circumstances lucky or unlucky? Your answer to that question doesn’t impact your circumstances — what happens to you — but it does significantly impact your mindset and behavior — what you make happen. A person who believes in bad luck is disempowering themselves. A person who believes in good luck does the opposite: priming themselves to see patterns of opportunity where the unlucky brain sees patterns of obstacles.

Do these beliefs change anything about the real opportunities or obstacles that come our way? Not one bit. But beliefs dramatically affect what we see and what we do.

Having said that, in my case I am special. I actually am objectively the luckiest person I’ve ever met.

My last sentence was (I hope) obvious as tongue-in-cheek: I try to cultivate a mindset that sees opportunity, and telling myself I am lucky is a good hack for that.

But I have a good example and anecdote here. I used to work at a startup that went from 60 million views a month to a few billion (Facebook videos). Some people would say, “you were just at the right place at the right time, when Facebook decided to promote video.” That’s true, for sure. However, the right way to describe it is, “I am a really lucky guy. If it hadn’t been Facebook promoting video, it would have been some other lucky break.”

Another anecdote: divorce. Whenever I encounter a thought that starts to resemble self-pity, I remember how lucky I am, and that for the next three days, instead of sulking to myself about not seeing my kids, I actually have something most parents never get: three days of distraction-free time to work on a product that I believe will change the world.

Perhaps I’m deluding myself? There’s no perhaps. I am most definitely deluding myself. But some delusions can help. Being lucky is definitely one of them, with perhaps one additional caveat: that being lucky doesn’t mean I win lottery tickets. It means if I never give up, and I work as insanely hard as possible, and have the humility to change as circumstances dictate, that my good luck ensures I can’t lose. Oddly enough, it is my belief in luck that encourages me to never stop looking for it to be realized. Pretty silly, but it works for me!

> Do these beliefs change anything about the real opportunities or obstacles that come our way? Not one bit. But beliefs dramatically affect what we see and what we do.

Wouldn't it be better to believe the truth that beliefs don't change the circumstances that come our way instead of believing in good or bad luck? The downside of thinking you're lucky is a tendency to overlook problems. I've noticed that when people (including myself) are being overly optimistic, potential challenges and pitfalls are minimized.

> The downside of thinking you're lucky is a tendency to overlook problems. I've noticed that when people (including myself) are being overly optimistic, potential challenges and pitfalls are minimized.

One could argue that it is that exact overlooking of the problems that enables many to embark in entrepreneurial pursuits to begin with.

Many millions of people (or more) have the same lucky factors that you list, and don't have the same success. Hence, those might not have been the most critical factors.

Speaking of luck, this article was on front page sometime ago and had lot of good things about how to attract good luck.

The key to good luck is an open mind - [http://nautil.us/blog/-the-key-to-good-luck-is-an-open-mind]

So luck can be a factor, but may be that also could be a trait?

In hindsight, all these stories seem to have a clear thread running through them which can be replicated by anyone with reasonable intelligence, drive, and time.

In practice that particular thread likely required all kinds of environmental details to occur - details the entrepreneur might not have noticed at the time, might have forgotten about later, or might be discounting as unimportant.

One of the things that helps the most, it seems to me, is having the self-confidence to take the risk. You also have to be motivated enough and in good enough health (eg: not burnt out) to be able to work on this side-project after your job. Then of course you need the right skills, the right timing, and the free time and financial resources to execute your plan.

However, at the end of the day, you are taking a risk, it's a gamble. What stops most people is the fear of failure. This fear isn't necessarily unwarranted. As the author points out, he has a previous failed startup. Most people don't have the drive to work hundreds of hours after work and possibly invest their own hard earned cash in a project they suspect deep down might not actually pan out. I know I find it difficult.

Still, I don't dislike these stories. It's good if it inspires people to take (calculated) risks, and it is possible to learn from failures. Though I would also say that yeah, there's probably some self-selection going on. The people out there with 2 or 3 failed attempts at monetizing side-projects probably don't feel super eager to write a blog post and tell us all how we can improve our lives by following in their footsteps.

It’s immensely easier with hindsight. Everything’s laid out right in front of people. This is like a sports fan sitting at home saying, “How could they miss that? I could see it right here. Even I could do that.” The difficulty is deceiving when it’s all seeing and no doing.

It's totally true that there are lots of people in the world who don't have the circumstances to make a business like this happen right now.

But there are many, many people who do have the circumstances to make it happen, and who would benefit from it, but who make wrong choices and waste their time elsewhere. Those are the people who the article is intended for.

Speaking more broadly - The fact that this business strategy isn't immediately available to every person on Earth doesn't seem that fruitful of a point to make. Why does this come up every time someone posts about anyone doing anything entrepreneurial and succeeding? What is the message for disadvantaged people in our society? "You have no chance of succeeding because of your circumstances; give up now"? Somehow, this external-locus-of-control [0] viewpoint seems very attractive to people to the point that they actually want to spread it memetically. And yet it's been pretty well demonstrated that this style of thinking is actually harmful to people to who engage in it.

Even for many of the people who can't immediately carry out a strategy like that in the blog post - many of them could, with some time and preparatory action, get themselves into a position where it's possible. Consider someone who lacks skills, connections, and experience. They cannot reasonably expected to start a company right there and then. They can be expected to get a job, spend a few years getting experience and connections, move up a rung or two, then perhaps quit and go entrepreneurial. If that's out of the cards, they can likely study to move towards the point where getting a job in the target field is feasible.

Yes, there are people who are so downtrodden that they can't even take steps towards getting into a position where they can do better. And some people won't get all the rewards they deserve, in some moral sense. But the great majority of people can do something to improve their lot, even if it isn't exactly like what goes on in this blog post.

Even consider the author of the post - he didn't just start this business from college; his success here depended on the years of work he did before and the connections and experience he built from that.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control

What was your side project, if you don’t mind me asking?

But it has to be more than just luck. Many kids get computers at the age of 5, have lots of educational opportunities, etc. Very few do what you did. I agree that a "guideline" like this is not worth much. It probably takes some luck and a lot of skill..

I witnessed "Play #3" firsthand. The first startup for which I worked (developing a peer-to-peer learning system that paired up students to learn off one another, whether in person or via video chat) had an uphill battle getting customers and investors because we had to convince them that the problem our product solved was actually a problem they had. Our product happened to chiefly operate by integrating with a different one (Khan Academy), so much of our time "in the wild" pitching to potential customers was spent giving KA free advertisement before we could even explain what our product did.

There were multiple other factors behind why we ultimately didn't succeed and ended up all going our separate ways (and I know I wasn't blameless there), but in hindsight I think this was the central factor. We barely had the resources - sapient or monetary - to sell our own product; trying to sell other people's products upon which ours depended was doomed to fail.

I still think we had an excellent and valuable product, and I stand by the code we wrote and the platform we built; we were just too far ahead of our time :) One of these days, when things like Khan Academy are a bit more mainstream in classrooms, I'd love to (with my old boss' permission, of course) try restarting that particular project and giving it another go.

> We barely had the resources - sapient or monetary - to sell our own product; trying to sell other people's products upon which ours depended was doomed to fail.

Just to know, this isn't a particularly uncommon problem. I spent quite a few years working in the B2B lead generation space, and there are countless companies built around the value proposition of being a complementary product to another software platforms.

There are quite a few techniques you can use to suss out what software and platforms companies are using internally, in order to better target your prospecting. Or you can skip that step and go straight to purchasing a list of companies that are known users of that platform. There are companies that curate that type of information - similar to BuiltWith[1] or Wappalyzer[2], but include internal-only technology and not just what's visible by crawling their website. Or you can take it even further, and commission a custom program from a B2B lead generation firm which includes a requirement that any leads have self-reported that they use a specific platform and that they have decision making authority over it[3]. There are also a ton of options in between; feel free to reach out if you'd like to chat more (email in profile).

[1] https://builtwith.com/

[2] https://www.wappalyzer.com/

[3] These are a patently different class of lead generation program than what the article references - both in quality and cost. You're looking at $20-$50 per lead vs. $1 per lead. But with a guarantee that they match your targeting and pre-qualification criteria, even if that pre-qualification criteria was as random as "she has confirmed they use Khan Academy internally, and that she's in charge of it, and that <insert your complementary product's niche> is a pain point for them".


This is great and educational. But I've noticed that many (most?) of the successful side projects were started by people who had some sales and marketing experience. Sales first, tech second (or third).

If you want other people to buy, rent, invest, etc., you have to be able to find the right people and communicate with them in a way that will lead them to become your customers/partners. Unfortunately, I doubt many of us with CompSci degrees and years/decades of experience have those sales and marketing skills.

So I guess there's a business just waiting (for someone who knows sales + tech)! Teach nerds how to market. I might be a customer.

> Unfortunately, I doubt many of us with CompSci degrees and years/decades of experience have those sales and marketing skills.

The history of enterprise tech is strewn with stories about that first big deal happening before the tech was even ready. Bill Gates and Paul Allen's meeting with IBM is probably the best known one. Hell, even Steve Jobs, with all of Apple's power, publicly pitched a ghetto-rigged iPhone because a fully working version wasn't ready at the time.

The 'best' sales people I've met always, always exaggerate the benefits of something. In tech, the "Comp Sci" people are the ones building the product, so they are especially mindful about not overstating what their product can do. Psychologically, they are forever in a problem-solving mode, meaning that when they talk about the product, they are primed to talk about current bugs, or how far away it is from being 'feature complete'. Not the people you want extolling your virtues in a sales meeting.

Salespeople aren't as closely embedded within the product development process, which gives them the mental bandwidth to straight up lie about what the product can do. I've seen it numerous times; sales exec closes a big deal, then goes to the dev team and says "I need X, Y and Z to be added to this sprint because customer H wants to launch in a month."

I think you've nailed it regarding problem-solving mentality and not overstating capabilities. And yes, I've sat right next to a salesperson and had to swallow my tongue while they told a customer that we could deliver something that we absolutely could not.

Fortunately, some of the side projects I've seen that have become successful don't appear to be overselling themselves based on their websites. So there must be room for success just by learning a process of how to get noticed by the right potential customers, and then plainly speaking what the product is.

I'm a marketer who has gradually gotten more and more technical over my career.

I refuse to believe that people with CompSci degrees can't quickly pick up the more basic (and even many intermediate and advanced) marketing skills, particularly in the digital realm.

Yes, knowing how to apply them, and learning about audiences messaging, etc. are going to be challenging, but you'd be shocked how far you can get for many products and services just by semi-intelligent testing and implementation of best practices with things like paid search, SEO, email marketing automation, analyzing web analytics, etc.

In fact, I'm often shocked at how many marketers are not technical enough to do those things at even a basic level.

There's a LOT of good information out there, and sometimes it really is just a matter of honing your bullshit detector to weed out the guru spam. Heck, spending a week reading through the Google Ads and Facebook help docs would set you ahead of quite a few of your peers, AND you'd have a leg up on implementing the more advanced approaches that require technical integration.

That said, finding an experienced marketing mentor or consultant can help you short circuit the learning curve and guide you away from wasted time and money.

Spending $5k with a consultant to help you create your initial plan might be wiser than say, randomly spending $5k on FB ads without having known you should setup conversion tracking, how to properly structure your account and audiences, how to build great creative, etc. and then not even having any clue what the spend did for you because you don't understand what the data is actually saying.

We can definitely learn things (CompSci people). In fact, my career is full of near constant learning. However, when it comes to marketing, knowing where to start (on one's own) is a challenge. And as you say, having a good bs detector is important.

I'll take your advice about reading the Google Ads and FB ads docs! Thanks.

Not saying your conclusion is wrong, but could this be selection bias? Maybe it's just that people with sales and marketing experience are disproportionately likely to write about it. I know some engineers with quiet side hustles that do quite well.

The fact is that you can have the best product in the world but if you can't sell it, it's basically worthless. No product or service is going to sell themselves.

The truth is, there is no 5-10 hour work week for 99% of people. Even if you make something like this person did, if you don't continue investing a lot of time into it, eventually competition will break you to pieces. Why? Because your competitor is hungry and working a lot more than 5-10 hours a week.

I know this, because I've built two side income businesses, sat back and collected money only to find competitors had taken me over. They weren't big by any means but the $3,000 a month I made off one and the $1,000 a month off another was quite nice. I could've quit my job and traveled, but instead I paid down my mortgage and banked/invested the rest. This left me with a lot of money (for me). I eventually sold both businesses when I saw the writing on the wall with various competitors and industry changes.

I did end up traveling for a while though. I did that with a remote job. Sure I had to work during the day, but that left plenty of time to explore whatever city I was in at night and do bigger adventures on the weekend.

TLDR; 5-10 hour work week doesn't last.

Only a tangent to the OP, but...

I find it hilarious that he calls Abercrombie & Fitch the “high end clothing brand for middle schoolers”. A&F used to target “elite outdoorsmen” (not a joke — think a high end LL Bean), and they made some really good stuff. Some of that quality lasted until the 90s and early 00s after changing hands and shifting towards targeting youth casual wear, but their clothing line is almost all overpriced junk now. Such a sad loss.

Not a fan of how they portray their brand, but in my experience A&F makes really solid fits for althetic type build (think big thighs). This in my experience is really hard to find on clothes of a somewhat modern cut.

I hear ya. Even though I’m not their target demographic, I bought some of their stuff for the same reason — great quality and great fit for athletic builds.

Something happened in the late aughts. The fit is not as consistently good (my body changed very little over that time), and the quality of the material and stitching is much lower.

If you don't mind me asking, I'd like some help laying out what my next steps should be on one of my side projects. I had an idea for a side project, ran it by a hand full of friends and associates, expecting to have a bunch of holes poked into it (they have done that to me many times in the past). This time they all think I have something.

Problem is I work full time, as a Linux systems engineer (30 years of Unix experience), with a side passion for C programming, web technologies, and have built a hand full of web apps that are getting a lot of use at work (btw I'm not under any contract prohibiting side projects, and have cleared it with my management).

Next problem: The project itself is relatively simple, has client-side pieces that will be open source, and over all I prototyped it in about a weekend's worth of work, but need probably a month or so to get it more polished and robust. The upshot is that it can be easily replicated by anyone in a similar space. There are similar products that try to solve the same problem, but in a rather backwards and less secure method, but I'm really not sure why other vendors haven't thought of this project first.

Third problem: I'm relatively new at modern advanced web apps, so things like taking payments, handling customers, integrating to a customer's on-premise or cloud based authentication (O365, Active Directory, etc) is something I'm not too familiar with (for my projects I just used ldap bind for authentication against a local AD server).

So for my next step, should I put a prototype / demo site online, and let people create demo accounts that last for a couple weeks? Then if there is sufficient interest, set up something like a Stripe account? Start off with local user account authentication, then later on add the ability for customers to set up users authenticating against their own AD domain or O365 account?

Or would I be better off finding a business partner that has been through all this already?

Honestly, as someone who has started a 5-6 figure monthly "side-hustle" in an area where there are many other players, and which requires learning new frontend skills, while I'm a crusty UNIX/Linux head, 30 years experience like you, I would say: just do it!

Here is the thing I learned in 2018, in which I also generated >$700K of side income working 10-12 hours a week (mornings, evenings, and weekends): If you know how to learn new tech skills at a reasonable rate, you can learn anything you need to do in a few hours. Obviously this doesn't apply to sophisticated things, but how many of the things you need to do in tech are really that hard? For example, my client needed to update a static website with data stored in Airtable - I spent 2 hours finding some python code that was open source on GitHub that scrapes Airtable every few minutes and puts the data in a JSON file that his static website can now read. 2 hours of effort and I have a client that I billed almost $1000 and he's completely happy with the outcome. His static website is now dynamically updated from Airtable. Not only that, I learned a new skill and I can repeat this for other clients without the effort of learning. Multiply this over several hundred days over several years and you have an amazingly strong side hustle.

Just do it, you can figure out the details as you go...

You were able to charge $1000 for the Airtable gig? If you don't mind my asking, was the client not aware of Upwork, Fiverr, etc, which I would imagine would be perfect for these one-off, low-engagement gigs?

Can you talk a bit more about these side gigs of yours? As much as you can, without affecting your biz.

I'd also like to know more about what you're doing on the side that is that profitable.

And where do you find clients with one off needs like that?

> The upshot is that it can be easily replicated by anyone in a similar space

I think many problems are like this. We engineers to think that we have to build something "rocket science", but actually many businesses don't require "rocket science" software to take off. It's more about the execution.

>I'm relatively new at modern advanced web apps, so things like taking payments, handling customers, integrating to a customer's on-premise or cloud based authentication

These days, there are almost already SaaS for everything. A little googling here and there will find you what you need :) Also sites like indiehackers.com is really awesome. People share what indie projects they had built, there's also a comment section where people can ask.

>Or would I be better off finding a business partner that has been through all this already?

I think you should try to do this in parallel with trying to learn it yourself. Finding a good, competent, and suitable business partner isn't exactly the easiest thing to do.

> I think many problems are like this. We engineers to think that we have to build something "rocket science", but actually many businesses don't require "rocket science" software to take off. It's more about the execution.

I would even go further than that, that's exactly the reason why Wordpress and basic CMS are very popular, most companies have some very basic and similar IT needs.

I've been through all of that, and have a great resume.

Happy to partner up, or just mentor. Just went through a third-party AD integration, for example.

(Throwaway as I don't want too many people knowing I'm looking at side projects right now...)

Feel free to email throwaway650@trashmail.com if you're interested.

Stupid question, how could you possibly automate lead generation? For that matter, how do you do it manually? Search for potential customers and read up about their business?

I don't think he automated it. It looks like he outsourced it to cheaper labour in the Philipines

1. Know the keywords that will lead you to potential leads.

2. Pay a VA to use the keyword list to locate businesses and/or people in search engines, FB, and LinkedIn, and record their contact info.

3. Sell this info.

The steps are easy. The execution is decidedly less so.

You can, I replied to the main thread about my two side businesses without going into specifics. Both my businesses were lead generation. I won't give the industries a way, but here's the jist.

I had a system I built for a clients lead generation business. I asked if I could re-purpose the software and in exchange I'd provide the enhancements free as well as discounted development. He agreed. It was a basic system where a lead would come in for a geographical area, that area would have a vendor assigned, and an email would be dispatched. If you do the SEO and marketing right, the leads become pretty passive.

I improved the system in two ways:

1. My client generated monthly invoices. This was a problem since he had to chase people down for money. I setup a credit system where you purchased credits (leads) in advanced. I gave a 20% discount for purchasing 100 credits at a time. I also gave new customers their first 10 credits free. No obligation, no contract, not joking.

2. Email sucks. I integrated twilio and did direct call dispatching with numbers I controlled. I spammed the internet with these numbers. If a customer ever dropped off, I'd just find someone else. Rarely did I need to do that since the leads were so good.

This required a lot of work up front, but in areas where my marketing was dialed in already it just always generated income. This is the kind of stuff fluff articles like this never tell you, the actual specifics.

You could now take this basic model and apply to any industry that requires leads. Bonus if the industry is underserved, not huge, and filled with techno-peasants.

What about Reddit type ads ("Promoted posts"), in a relevant subreddit, with comments enabled? I've seen that on other advice lists, would like to know real-world experiences on that though.

- Google AdWords > Landing page data entry form

- Email (spam) blast > Landing page data entry form

- Game or content paywall > submit personal info to bypass.

LinkedIn is one starting point.

Next topics for Hackernews: "How to be a success spammer" "How to grow web doorways network as side project" etc

"the first thing I did was hire a team in the Philipinnes to ensure I never had to stay up until 1am building lists"

Is it possible for anyone to share how they found people to hire/outsource building sales lists to?

He says right in the article: odesk.

Right, but they now go by the name UpWork.

That the article uses the old name of oDesk from 4 years ago points to the need to add “(2015)” to the thread title.


actually, the article was posted yesterday. He’s writing about his experience in 2015...

That the article was published recently may be true but the article’s contents doesn’t really contain new info. Please see this comment up-thread [0] which surfaced older incarnations of the same content.

0: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18880312

To me this always sounds like "How I won the lottery..."

Maybe I am too pessimistic and jaded from studying statistics...

Left unsaid is what the bottom line margin is. 10%? 30%? More?

Good article, thanks! The business seemed to have been built on oDesk workers but now that site it called Upwork. Are there any alternatives to upwork out there?

> found a virtual assistant on oDesk named Jonathan

Am I correct in thinking this "virtual" assistant is not a bot, but just a human hired remotely?

Virtual indeed refers to their presence. While to you, you know they are remote, for any outward facing function though, such as with customer interaction, ideally they'll seem like they are no further then the next office or department of your company.

That's exactly what it is. Freelancers working for relative pennies. Tim Ferriss started the bad habit of calling this 'automation' in the 4hr work week book.

Nice. (commenting so that I can remember this post)

There's a "favorite" link you should click instead, located just below the article's title on this very page — it'll add the article to your "favorites" list at: https://news.ycombinator.com/favorites?id=willart4food

Has anyone done this with a hardware product?

So how did he got customers?

> As I mentioned, my first lead/opportunity came from an introduction. That was made possible when I took a couple friends (who are salespeople) out for drinks to tell them what I was working on. Afterwards they both said they would try to think of people to refer me to.

> My next two customers came from a less obvious channel. A friend told me about a service called Growth Geeks and suggested I create a profile for my service. I was hesitant at first because it seemed like a distraction, but I signed up nonetheless.

So basically he sent an email to the founder of that website like this https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5706d181b09f95e331b21... saying that the author (a bit confusing to figure out as both are called Mike/Michael) can grow your sales with no marketing.

Then this happened:

> He responded that day and asked if I had time to speak on the phone.

> On the call I learned that he had a customer who needed 2,000 leads a month and they needed 2,000 leads a month for themselves. I used the same sales process as my first call and closed two deals in 30 minutes worth $3,000 / mo (25% of the $4,000 in revenue went to Growth Geeks). Suddenly I went from $1,000/mo to $4,000 / mo.

My question is now, how he manages to make 4k leads?!

> Later that week I decided it was time to double down on this side project. I spent a couple nights writing email templates and planning outbound email campaigns. By May of 2015 I had sent over 30,000 sales and marketing emails so I knew how to get high response rates (see play #1).

So now he says he sent over 30000 emails (I assume he has a mailing list of 30000 and sent an email, but that doesn't match what he says, he seems to have sent multiple emails). So let's say he has 30000 email list and a click-through rate of 13.3% (which I think is very very high, maximum I got was around 3-4% and was only once) then he would make 4000 leads.

First thing I think is strange, is how he got 30000 emails? That's kind of the most important part of the guide, without this he couldn't make any lead.

Then he says this:

> I sent emails to about 500 people over the course of a month which resulted in ~20 free trial sign-ups. Two of those free trials converted within the month and by the end of June, I had $5,000 in booked MRR.

Note that this is another customer acquisition source. So he has an additional 500 emails.

I mean how can a person reproduce this guide without these mailing lists?

So even if he says how he did it, you can't really do the same unless you have:

- Friends that can sign up for your product or refer other people - Big email lists - Create leads from ???

I feel like all these missing points leads directly to his startup https://getsimpledata.com/ - So I guess is more about marketing.

Anyway, I think the post was interesting, but not too much I can do about it because I probably know about:

- Focus on a problem that already exists - Work on your pain point - Outsource to a cheap country - Positioning in the market

Some types for the author: Philipinnes

This article reads like total BS. Within 6 months to 30k income. Yeah right.

shady and only tells what kind of person OP is

Love it

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