Solo founders with profitable businesses, collected stories
Jun 23 2017
People sometimes wonder: can I have a successful business as a single founder?
The answer is: yes.
This is a collection of solo-preneur success stories (with occasional 2 people bands).
I only include businesses generating significant revenues. In this context it’s around $5k/mo or more, enough to replace full-time salary.
Maybe it’ll inspire you to start your own, solo business.
Before you get too excited, keep the following in mind.
This list is the pinnacle of survivorship bias. Solo-preneur software business is not different that any other business, and most businesses fail. You have 10-20% chance of success so pick your idea wisely, work hard and if you fail, do it again.
At the same time, this is only tip of the iceberg. Those are the stories that people shared, cribbed from a few online sources.
There are 100x more successful solo founders that don’t share their numbers publicly. A silent majority of successful solo businesses.

1. Anonymous making $750k/year with a desktop app, sold via his website

Important factors of success:

2. JollyTurns

Web/iOS/Android app for ski resorts.
Income: unknown.
How it makes money: in-app purchase on iOS/Android ($1 per ski resort or $15 for all of them, see
First version (iOS only) released in Dec 2013 after 2 12 years of work (
Insight: code is the easy part, marketing is hardest.
Tried to find a partner in SV but couldn’t. Wrote code himself, hired people to collect data about ski resorts.

3. CRM plugin that finds location of customer’s offices based on address of the hotel you’re traveling to

Sold for $50. “made pretty good money”.

4. Niche app, $200k/year after 6 years

Most likely USB driver that allows using USB devices remotely over a network (, is same user name as on HN post).
No marketing, gets sales via word of mouth and internet searches.

5. Website templates, $100k/year profit

Sold on Working about 4hrs a week.

6. Shopify plugins

Makes enough money to hire full-time developer for onboarding of new clients, support and documentation. Does product development himself.
Insight: the trick for coming up with product ideas is to first do custom development. When enough clients are willing to spend a few thousand for a personal implementation of something, that’s when you know you have an opportunity to charge 40$ per month for a SaaS version.

7. $20k/mo from 3 niche SaaS products

Also in the past ran real estate SaaS, making $70k/mo at its height (it then crashed when real estate market crashed).

8. Ngrok

Full time for past 4 years.
Insight: minimize support by improving UX, documentation, error messages.

9. Football betting analysis/predictions website, £75k / year

Source: makes £75,000 per year in advertising/sponsorship/affiliate revenue.
Gets !25k visitors a month.
Works 2-3 hrs a week.
Website traffic generation:

10. Watermarking desktop app for Mac/Windows

Makes $3k-$5k per month after 5 years.
Sells for $30/$60/$140.

11. Real estate startup, $130k/year of profit

Source of revenues:
Sources of traffic:
No marketing, no blog, no social presence.

12. Dan Grossman, improvely and w3counter, $45k/mo

Source: uses freemium model, people pay subscription for advanced features : SaaS priced $29/$79/$149/$299 / mo.
First customers for improvely came from $100-$200/month AdWords advertising for the first few months and $79/month banner ad on a web stats site bought via
Used SnapEgage chat widget on the website to talk visitors to sign up.
Word of mouth and referrals started quickly after that.
Now referrals are biggest signup drivers.

13. VNC application for Mac and iOS

Sells for $30 on Mac and $20 on iOS.

14. NomadList, $400k/year revenue

Revenue source: membership fees for community of digital nomads and remote workers.

15. B2B Windows desktop app, $1 million/year sales

Wrote scrach-my-itch app, was side project for 10 years until it started making $120k/mo. Went full time after that. Is in a very crowded niche.
Insight: coding is easy, marketing is hard. Must be persistent.

16. Pinboard, bookmarking web service, $200k/year

Revenue history:

17. s3stat, “equivalent of a nice Senior Developer salary”


18. StoreSlider, $700k in 2016

Makes money with affiliate revenue from eBay.
Built with Lumen on PHP 7.1, Nginx, running on Linode.
Source of traffic: word of mouth, social sharing, Google search.
Did a lot of A/B testing to maximize conversion.s.

19., estimated $12 million/year


20. tarsnap, backup service, “better than Google salary”


21. Sidekiq, $1 million/year

Open source library for Ruby, a background job framework.
Sells pro version for $950/year and enterprise version. Only needs 800 customer

22. Balsamiq, $2 millions in revenue after 18 months

It’s no longer a single person but it was created in 2008 by a single person and within 18 monts reached $2 million in revenue.
It’s a desktop app for creating mockups.

23. John Gruber, $32k/mo

Makes $8k per week for sponsorship (ads) on his very popular, Apple-oriented website.

24. Sales tracking & CRM app for small business.

Source:, 6-digit revenue.
Freemium model, $30/year. Web and iOS.

25., full-time salary.

Started 9 years ago, full-time for last 4 years.
Revenue: AdSense and later selling his own advertising (ads are sold as $/month and sold in blocks of 1 to 12 months.


Stated in 2013, operated solo since then. Profitable since 2014.
In early days pitched his service on linkedin, now people come from referrals.

27., $125k/mo

Started in 2014. In his spare time he wrote a script to auto-buy domain when it expires and turned that into paid service by adding registration, payments etc.
Most users find it from either parked domains or word of mouth.
Insight: automate all the things.

28. cronitor, $6k/mo revenue after 3 years

Started in 2014, written part-time by 2 people. They wrote it because it solved a real problem they had at a startup he worked at.
Marketing tactics:
Raised prices after 6 months from $7/$20/$50 => $10/$25/$50 and then $24/$70/$150.

29. bugmuncher, $4k/mo revenue

Web-based bug tracking software.
Started as a side project in 2010, went full time in Nov 2015, reached living wage in Nov 2016.

30., close to living wage

Digital signage for Raspberry PI. Started as a side project, turned into profitable business.

31. Anonymous app, $5k/mo profit on $7k/mo revenue

App hosted on App Engine, ~50 users paying between $30/mo and $500/mo. Analytics API.

32. Wordpress theme, $5k/mo

Sold via ThemeForest.

33. Radio Silence, main income

Mac app ( that evolved from side project to providing main income for the author. Sells for $9.
Author was able to quit his job.
Business tip: build related free app and host on the same domain.

34. Ryan Clark, 10 Games, $3+ million over 10 years

Working full time since 2004 on his games. Wrote 10 games in 11 years. 8 been profitable, 3 grossed more than $1M.

35., ramen profitable for Seattle


36. Desktop app, seating planning, $120k+/year

2 desktop apps for Windows, written in C++.
Over 10 years, sold 40 thousand licenses of first desktop app, the cheapest is $30, which is at least $120k/year.

37. Desktop app in construction industry, making a living

21-year old app for Windows, written in Delphi 5.

38. Video games, making a living

Multi-platform games written in C#, based on Unity game engine, released on Steam. Makes a game every X months.

39. Pinegrow Web Editor, comfortable living

Desktop web editor built with NWJS/Electron. Started by a single person, grew to 3 full-time people.
Launched in January 2014 after 2.5 years in development, sold $100k the first year. Sells for $49/$79.
Marketing: website and asking for e-mail address when starting the trial to build e-mail database to send promotions to.
Tried Carbon, Google and Reddit ads but was losing money on them.

40., full-time job

Wrote and launched in a couple of hours as a response to StackOverflow question about. Posted as a response, forgot about it, it became popular so he implemented paid plans and started charging for it.

41., $3-4k/mo

Self-hosted, web-based invoicing and project management app.

42., $6k/mo after 10 years

A website with math tutorials. Started in 2006. Content is free. Makes money selling ebooks (on Amazon kindle and directly from the website), amazon affiliate links and newsletter sponsorships.

43. Website with special-interest news, $!0-15k/mo

Money from AdSense.

44. $5.5k/mo from Udemy course


45. Storemapper, $21k/mo


46. Brendan Dunn, $451k revenue in 2014 from several products

His income:

47. Cooking blog, $5-6k/mo

He does the design/programming/marketing/monetization work behind, his mother does the writing. Revenue from Amazon affiliates, ads and ebook.
Revenue from AdSense, 8 million monthly uniques, after 6 years.

49., $5k/mo

Web and desktop app for creating pretty timelines. Makes money from premium accounts and selling desktop app.

50. Webapp in education space, $90k/m

Revenue: AdSsense.

51. Large web community, $90-110k/mo

Revenu from subscription, adsense, other ad revenue, license and royalty revenue

52. Zencaster, $12k/mo

Zencaster is a web-based tool that helps podcasters record their guests in studio quality.

53. Workflowy, $800k/year

Jesse Patel learn how to program building After 9 months of working on it alone, he asked a friend he knew from college to join him. They got into YC to work on a different idea but pivoted back to Workflowy.
They started charging 2 years after they launched and got enough revenue to pay for living expenses.
They have 100k paying users and $800k/year revenue.

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