As almost all the show posts here are about bootstrapped software companies, I think this blog post I wrote is actually really relevant to this community. If you’re storing really any data (especially user account data), then this draft of an encryption bill likely applies to you.
Started my bootstrapped company with 0 money on my bank account. First year was difficult, specially because I became a father and entrepreneur in that same year :-). Survived by not paying much taxes, lowered my recurring expenses to the minimum, not buying anything other than food. Only client work when ran out of money. First year was the most difficult. Now living very well with lots of freedom and an ok salary!
That’s awesome! How long did it take for you to get from zero to “ok salary” part?
I think it took like a whole year. But I must say, I don’t need as much money monthly as most people.
That’s great to hear! Congrats on the success, I’m happy for you that those years of scrimping and saving paid off. :)
Flootbits can be helpful for this — it’s not entirely editor agnostic as it has plugins into several of the common editors: https://floobits.com/
We also use Google Hangouts with screen-sharing, but that’s unfortunate because there’s no good way to let the other person drive.
Several releases to two small web apps I run.
Finally finished the sales/optin page for a productized version of one of the services I provide, and setup a small Facebook ad campaign running to it. No results yet, but I’m hopeful.
Made a lot of progress in learning Angular 2. Ready to use it for the next small app I’m building.
Started work on a new contract with a past client.
How is Angular 2? I haven’t been able to jump into it because I’ve been enamored with Redux + React.
Still early, but liking it so far. I’m not much of a front end dev, so the early going was rough since I was trying to figure out all the new syntax from Typescript, the module loading system, and all of Angular’s own lingo. After that initial hump it starts making a whole lot of sense.
Got a meeting with a potential client by sending them a old fashioned letter (since I couldn’t find an email address) and they signed up!
Large customer who was evaluating with 80 users is going live in May.
Lost a customer who was evaluating, their priorities changed.
Wrote and upgraded a few minor features to the site.
Wrote a couple of tech blog posts.
Oh, and worked a 40 hour week at my regular job.
How do you balance between your regular job and your side-job?
Having a set schedule to work on the side project. I have a long commute where I can use my laptop so i get an hour in/out there. Feed the kids put them to bed, get an hour or two at night. So thats 15 hours a week I’d otherwise be doing nothing. I do take breaks for a few days. The hardest part was getting to MVP then getting the first customer (worked many long weekends). I’m fine if I get 1 customer every few months and letting the business come by word of mouth. Maybe some day I’ll try to put more time into marketing but not yet.
Nice work! Got any links to those tech blog posts?
Here is my blog, just a few posts on a recent upgrade and codenarc. Also have another in the hopper for this weekend.
Not to be a downer, but what does this have to do with bootstrapping etc.?
Well, it’s tagged “show”, so my presumption is that the person who posted this link has built this product as a bootstrapped business.
I’m not in the target audience for this (I don’t really use any digital music streaming services), but the site looks good. Just from that page I have a clear understanding of what 180 Gram does and how it works. Nice job!
One thing that wasn’t immediately obvious was the price. If it’s free, I think it’d totally be worth mentioning that somewhere.
Is the business model that you take a cut of the merchandise sales through 180 Gram?
I also wondered about the business model. And I’m curious – how are you going to scale the curation? Is it automated?
Looks really helpful. I have a manual process that does basically the same thing as this, but anytime I can automate I’m happy
This seems to be an express violation of Amazon’s Condition’s of Use (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=508088). Specifically the License and Access section:
Subject to your compliance with these Conditions of Use and your payment of any applicable fees, Amazon or its content providers grant you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-sublicensable license to access and make personal and non-commercial use of the Amazon Services. This license does not include any resale or commercial use of any Amazon Service, or its contents; any collection and use of any product listings, descriptions, or prices; any derivative use of any Amazon Service or its contents; any downloading, copying, or other use of account information for the benefit of any third party; or any use of data mining, robots, or similar data gathering and extraction tools.
How concerned are you about operating a business built on shaky legal ground? Presumably if Amazon finds out about you, they would attempt to shut you down, so what’s your plan if things go well and the business begins to pick up? Is the goal to stay under their radar. or — if things take off — do you have a plan to pivot and “go legit”?
The way I see it is that the reviews are public domain, and that this is fair use :), ie. anyone can read them, copy them and so on. Data collected is not even generated by Amazon, but rather by its users, and user info is not collected :)
While I was researching how to do this I registered an Associates account and tried to get the same data in a ‘legit’ way, unfortunately Amazon does not provide an API towards its reviews, apart from displaying them in an iframe.
To actually address your question. Since the service has a free tier I am not worried yet. However if it takes off, and I get some paying users, I’ll likely reach out to Amazon. I know some engineers there so I’d try to use them to get in under the usual customer facing bots they have :)
First, the reviews are not in the public domain — they are owned by the person who wrote the reviews and Amazon is granted the right to use and re-use these however they see fit .
But this isn’t even a question of copyright law. It’s a question of contract law. You are using Amazon and its services to access that data. Even if it were public domain data, by using Amazon to access the data you are bound by the license they provide for use of their service. If you had another way to access the data — say, you went to every individual reviewer and got the review from them direction — then you would be allowed to use that data. Since you’re using Amazon’s services, you’re bound by their Conditions of Use.
The good news: It is not a crime to violate a terms of service. It’s a breach of contract, and a civil tort. The worst that could happen is Amazon could shut down your company.
The bad news: If they put in place technical measures to restrict your access to the content (such as an IP block, account banning, etc) and you work around those restrictions you may be committing a felony under the CFAA.   
The really important thing here: If Amazon uses a technical measure to block your access please contact a lawyer before working around the technical measures.
 This is, again, thanks to the Condition’s of Use which states that:
If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant Amazon a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, perform, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media.
 This assumes you’re an American citizen or living in America. Many countries have similar laws, so if you’re not in the US, I’d recommend investigating your local laws.
Thanks for a very detailed response, I’ll be sure to brush up on my legalese :). Anyway no specific technical measures are in place, and my scraping is on demand only as I really try to be as polite as possible.
The one thing I am just not really sure about the terms of service issues, unless usage of service is interpreted as an agreement (and usually those are pretty explicit) one cannot really be in breach :), or maybe this is just me arguing for the sake of arguing, you do seem quite experienced in this sort of dealings.
As for the public domain issues, they are public in a sense that they are accessible to the general public without any additional effort apart from clicking a link, technically Google is doing the same only not so specialised…
Sure, I don’t mean to start an argument. Like I said, being in breach isn’t the big problem. The big take-away was the other point: If Amazon implements a technical restriction to your scraping — even if it’s as simple as an IP block, please talk to a lawyer before continuing to scrape data. That’s the place where it would be theoretically possible to face criminal charges. These are the same charges that were filed against Aaron Swartz.
Thanks once again, really enlightening, will definitely heed your advice…
They are publicly available at the discretion of Amazon. Like a book in a bookstore. But they are not in the public domain in that they are owned by the public at large. They are owned as laid out above by @ncallaway.
Public domain is a very specific form of ownership that is not applied when something is accessible by the public.
Btw. @ncallaway, great write up and I thank you on @durch’s behalf for the work put into that.
What kept the product from being a success? Was it something intrinsic to the product itself, or did you get pulled in different directions by other revenue generating activities (since — obviously there were some other revenue generating activities. Congrats on that!)
Did you set any similarly audacious goals for 2016?
I wasn’t quite making enough to pay the bills. Credit card debt was piling up. My anxiety crept up and took control, so I started seeking consulting gigs to get the cash flowing again. I’ve been heads down killing off debt and saving up again for 6 months. Finally back on track with that, and now transitioning to products again. I don’t really know if I could have hit my goal or not.
I’m just getting started playing with React Native. I haven’t had as much experience as the author, but I’ve found a lot of truth in what’s written. It’s quick and easy to get started and get a small app out the door.
If you’ve got the time / team-size / funding to build natively that’s definitely the way to get the absolute best user experience. You don’t sacrifice much by switching to React Native though, and it makes it much cheaper and easier to maintain a single code-base. I’d think it’s perfect if you’re a bootstrapped project needing to get a cross platform mobile-app out the door.
A lot of the tools here are useful for distributed teams. One thing that’s nice about distributed teams — you also save on office space / rent.
Hey Noah, just curious if your remote team mostly works from home? Might be purely a personal preference but I prefer the physical separation between life and work so we offer a co-working space stipend, which ends up being about the cost of a centralized office.
They do mostly work from home. We have given people the option of working at a coworking space which we’d reimburse. One employee is trialing this now, the other two seem content to work from home so far – maybe we should remind them of that option again, though.
In general are team is distributed across lower cost of living areas, though, which increases the number of people we can consider hiring, lowers the cost when they do go for a coworking space, and makes the same salary go further.
To be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating anyone change to remote work; it’s just what we do, and so I know the tools there fairly well
“remote or distributed team”, “calls and video interaction”, “project management for up to 15 users”. Are you sure you are a bootstrapper?
Also, what’s with that Small Orange? Digital Ocean’s chapest plan is $5 too, and it looks like you get much more value for the money there.
I’m run a one person bootstrapped company with plans to grow, and I use several of these tools. Hangouts are key to talking to potential clients (plus Skype and a pile of other ones), Google Apps gets you your main office applications and I’ve Digital Ocean for our website.
I’d recommend OnePageCRM as a basic CRM option. Once you go past about 50 leads, spreadsheets don’t work anymore.
Yes. We are a software services company, with the goal of eventually becoming a product company.
We have taken no outside funding and have no debt to our name. At this point we’ve grown to a team of 3 people (plus our 2 cofounders). We’ve found having the team be remote significantly lowers costs for us, but it requires us to be very diligent about communicating well.
Edit: I didn’t respond to your Digital Ocean comment earlier, sorry. Yea, I would recommend Digital Ocean generally. We really only need a basic place to host random password-secured files (for example, a client deliverable that we wanted to host on our domain). Digital Ocean does more, but we didn’t really care about that. I would generally agree that people should prefer Digital Ocean over A Small Orange, though.
I’m sorry for the tone of my comment. It’s just that these are the tools large and funded companies use and they are very well known. Doesn’t mean they are bad or that bootstrappers shouldn’t use them, but I just found awkward that you suggested them here.
No worries on tone. I didn’t take offense, and I’m sorry if my response sounded defensive.
My basic qualifications for my list were:
From the list, you can put together a pretty solid internal process and have a public facing website on $5/user/month (paying only for using gmail on your own domain through Google Apps for Business). It happens that a lot of tools that are well known are pretty good at what they do. I didn’t cut a tool from my list because it was well-known. I cut tools from the list if they are expensive.
+1 for Digital Ocean.
It’s been very reliable, very affordable and overall, a very pleasant experience.
How did you find appear.in to be - good enough?
This looks awesome. I’ll play around with the free version on our site. We don’t need a tool like this, but I can imagine clients that might want this.
A couple quick questions:
how do you define a “website” in the pricing section? Is that per domain?
what are your stories around compliance? I’m guessing I need to disable this on pages where a user is entering credit card information, or if I’m displaying health information covered by HIPAA. Is there a programatic way to disable ScreenSquid, or somehow magically redact portions of the DOM?
Redacting portions of the DOM is interesting, gonna file a ticket for that one.
If anyone has any disagreements or feedback, I’d love to hear it. While this post has its roots in software estimation, I think it applies pretty generally when you’re discussing timelines with clients in pretty much any services industry that has unpredictable timelines.
As an MVP I think this is great. A simple marketing page with a CC widget thrown in. Very quick to make, and presumably easy to fulfill when you do get an order.
One note: there’s a message on the purchase page about Christmas ordering. Is that still accurate, or is that left over from the previous holiday season?
At MicroConf this year the owner of Know Your Company (same niche) gave a talk on tradeoffs she’s made in her business, you might find that section of the notes really interesting reading. (Videos will probably not be public until the fall.)
Have you had good success with Friday Feedback? What are your business goals?
Thanks the links to the notes. I can relate to most of what was said in talk.
Business goal = generate enough revenue so my wife doesn’t need to work. I launched quietly earlier this year, and I’m just trying to collect feedback and refine the product. This is a ‘side project’ currently, so I don’t need to rush things.
So far the results have been pretty great - just trying to figure out what knobs to turn to convert free users into paid ones.
Can I make a suggestion: don’t even have a free-tier. If you can manage it, setup a 30 or 60 day free trial.
If someone has employees, $5/user/month is a pretty minor expense on top of salary and everything else. If they end user sees the value on this, if they won’t spend $5/month, they’re not a good customer anyway.
You can probably charge $5/user/month for the free tier, and 10-25 per user/month for the pro-tier.
If you do make a change like this, I’d grandfather in all your current free tier accounts. No reason to make any of them mad, especially if they don’t appreciably add to the operating costs.
As an aside: it looks like a neat service! I’ll take a look at setting it up later this week. Cheers!
Hi - just wanted to update you and say that I switched to a free trial earlier today. Thanks for your feedback!
Thanks for your feedback :)
Right now, I’m optimizing for conversations with folks about how to improve the service. Most “competitors” (even though I’m not really even one at this point) have trials, so I’m looking to differentiate. I’ve also found it takes time to create a habit around a team providing feedback.
Also, there’s a goldmine of data I can use to help managers actually improve (“other managers resolved this conflict by doing __________.” I’m spending $10/mo right now, so the extra conversations + data is not adding much weight.
I do plan on adding additional tiers (wrapping up multiple teams inside organization, search, etc).
Would love to continue the conversation!
I agree with a lot of this, though I think it can be really challenging to manage 5-15 hours a week on top of a full-time job.
It’s tough because it’s really nice to diversify your skills and learn new things, but it’s also super important to avoid burning yourself out. If you can keep your day job between 20-30 hours, then I think this is really great advice.
This is actually the first time that I heard that “Lifestyle Business” has negative cogitations. I’ve actually always seen it as a positive, but maybe that’s because it’s something that I’m striving for. Have others here experienced this?
I’ve had several Bay Area types make comments to me along the lines of, “Oh, sounds like a lifestyle business,” with a certain holier-than-thou sneer during the word “lifestyle.” :-)
I’ve heard it with both connotations. As @adrianh alludes, the negative cogitations are usually accompanied with an air of self-righteousness.
I think it’s all about the culture that it’s in and the goals people are striving for.
For someone pushing to build the next Facebook, or Google, a “Lifestyle Business” is going to seem like a small goal. If you’re pushing for other things in life, though, it seems narrow-minded to put all your investment in one area of your life. I think it’s just another situation of: different people want and enjoy different things in life. And we all tend to be pretty bad an empathizing with people and seeing things from their perspective.
This reminds me of something Amy Hoy said – that existing markets are the best way to start because there’s so much more data to investigate, and you know that money can be made there.
Right — someone else has done the legwork of proving out that there’s a viable business in the space.