What are some examples of small web apps that earn their creators a side-income? What are the stories behind them?
March 22, 2012 8:47 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of small web apps that earn their creators a side-income? What are the stories behind them?

The kind of things that I have in mind are hobby projects that earn their creators maybe from low hundreds up to high thousands of dollars per month. (i.e. Somewhat more than just barely covering the server bills, but not necessarily anything close to income from a full time job.)

But feel free to interpret the question broadly if you know of interesting examples that don't fit that.

If you can tell me the stories behind the app - if for example, you are the creator, or know the people involved - that would be even better. For example: What inspired the projects? How much work were they, and how much work are they ongoingly? How have they evolved over time? What kinds of costs and revenues are we talking about?

It's also fine if you don't know any of that, and just have a URL or somebody's blog post to point to.

Side note: This question was partly brought to mind by mathowie's Webstock talk, and Fuelly is an example of the kind of thing I have in mind.
posted by philipy to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Instapaper, designed by Marco Arment, comes to mind.

NPR's Planet Money had him on a while back to talk about it.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2012

Patrick McKenzie wrote an app called Bingo Card Creator that lets teachers and parents make custom printable bingo cards. He eventually earned enough to quit his day job. He's answered questions on Hacker News.
posted by djb at 10:32 AM on March 22, 2012

You might like Founders Talk, as it touches on this stuff pretty often.

Chris Coyier works at Wufoo/SurveyMonkey, but has a bunch of side projects such as CSS Tricks and Are My Sites Up. There's a good interview with him at The East Wing.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2012

Math Workout
posted by pete_22 at 10:51 AM on March 22, 2012

Markus Frind was annoyed at the lack of free dating sites and decided to build one himself, learning asp.net along the way. His site, Plenty of Fish, eventually turned into something massive.
posted by fix at 11:55 AM on March 22, 2012

Not exactly small, but 37signals have an excellent series on startups that didn't rely on venture capital: Bootstrapped, Profitable, & Proud
posted by fix at 12:49 PM on March 22, 2012

It's not an app, but I have a membership site that earns me $1500-2k/month without a lot of attention. It's a reference that teaches people how to do what I do in my consulting niche. The audience is mostly employees of corporations. The content is mostly HTML with some embedded Flash and video.

The biggest challenge was creating the thing. I had a lot of content already from my blog but still had to flesh it out and organize it. Many, many hours went into writing and sourcing graphics.

Upfront costs, however, were low. I spent $750 on a logo, $600 (through an auction) on a nice site design, $87 for the membership-site plugin for Wordpress, $300 for some custom code, and $800 in legal stuff. Stock photos were another $100 or so, but I also use them in my blog and presentations.

Ongoing monthly costs are hosting, merchant account fees ($35), and the shopping cart (e-Junkie; $5).

As of last July, the ROI from the product was 1002%.

I don't have advertising costs because I don't advertise. Sales are word of mouth or from visitors to my blog or Slideshare presentations.

Minor ongoing hassles are mostly caused by a glitch that causes login trouble for some people and that no one appears able to diagnose. It means that every two weeks or so I get an email from someone with trouble and I have to enter the site to manually fix it (takes about 5 minutes).

I also get questions on the site, which has a comments feature. But there aren't many questions, and I consider my answers part of the service that they pay for.
posted by ceiba at 1:56 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I should have pointed out that the ROI was from 2.5 years of sales.

Also, you asked for what inspired the product: I noticed a demand for instruction in my particular set of skills, and I had come up with a model that seemed popular. Colleagues suggested I write a book, but I wanted to make more income than that. I also liked the fact that I can easily update the site as my ideas improve.
posted by ceiba at 1:59 PM on March 22, 2012

Ramit Sethi talks about this on his blog IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com
posted by CathyG at 4:32 PM on March 22, 2012

This is a perfect question for Hacker News (linked upthread) because you'll get more answers related to more apps you and almost nobody else has ever heard of as opposed to well-known success stories. Example: Kleio is a flashcard app you likely have never come across but earns the developer (a MeFite) an income.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:11 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: a perfect question for Hacker News

Thanks, maybe I will try that later.

Just to clarify to everyone, I'm especially interested in small things that stayed as side-projects and which their creators were happy to keep as side-projects.

But feel free to post about small things that got bigger, as at least part of those stories will be interesting to me.
posted by philipy at 10:26 AM on March 23, 2012

The kid who started Quizlet.com in high school recently dropped out of MIT to run it full time.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:05 PM on August 30, 2012

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