• Indie Hustle
  • Posts
  • Making $40,000 From Selling Two Digital Products

Making $40,000 From Selling Two Digital Products

How this full-stack developer monetizes his side projects

Making $40,000 from selling two digital products

Hello! Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your business?

Hi, I am Josef. I am 34 years old full-stack software engineer, indie developer, and book author.

I wrote a book on web application deployment: Deployment from Scratch and built Business Class, a Rails SaaS starter template.

I recently crossed $40k in revenue on Gumroad from these two products. I also write a blog and I am active in indie and Ruby communities.

How did you start this business? Take us through the process.

I just quit leading a dev team at a small startup, and I needed a break. I had some pain in my leg (likely coming from my back) and felt I have to stop an give my body time to recover. I got a good offer to stay with the company so it wasn't an easy decision.

My dream was definitely to write my own Software as a Service application, but I thought to myself why not start with a single payment product first and see how this goes. I chose to write a technical book to stay close to my profession and have it at least as a reference of my skills in the worst case scenario of not selling many copies.

I didn't have a real following at the time so I was thinking I have to choose the book topic on my credentials rather than any topic I might like.

Since I worked as Linux packager at Red Hat and also finished some of their commercial certifications, I thought that's a good start. I then combined it with deployment since I believed there wasn't a book that really focused on Linux fundamentals when comes to deployment. There are pure Linux books or Ansible books, but nothing that shows you deploying applications without higher level tooling (which is good for learning and understanding what's going on).

My original plan was 5-6 full months to have the first version, but it took me 3 years (around 1 year of billable time). I started selling an alpha version 2.5 years in to see if people are really ready to buy.

How did you get your first initial customers?

Once committed, I announced a start with a blog post.

The post goes over a few of the book’s main topics, and you can notice that my idea was to keep the book lighter and smaller. The feedback I gathered later from the mailing list made me build a vast resource of 500+ pages (yes, people wanted more, not less).

I then posted an announcement to the Ruby subreddit, which I am a regular of. In the end, I didn’t start with a question but instead said I’ll attempt to do it.

Of course, I could have still abandoned the idea if there was no interest. So the early marketing was basically just my developer's blog with a link to a landing page with a mailing list. I got my first real subscriber on 27 September 2018. It took me exactly 159 days until I reached 100 subscribers on 4 March 2019. It’s said that the first one hundred is the most difficult, but that’s not entirely true here. It took me another 334 days to reach 100 more subscribers. Most of my other other subscribers came from my blog although this was not directly measured.

My blog enjoyed on average 350+ unique visitors all that time and I put a small corner image link to drive traffic to the book homepage.

Since launch, what are your marketing strategies or channels to get new customers?

Since launch I tried posting my book to various places like Reddit, Hacker News, and Product Hunt.

The most influential was my highly upvoted Hacker News post (300+ upvotes) that sold 100 copies in a day. I never earned so much money in one day in my life :).

Lots of Reddit submissions completely tanked. I was sometimes featured in some newsletters which was pretty good.

As for Product Hunt I submitted it when I had 800 copies. I got over 30 upvotes which I felt is good for a solo person with a technical book, but haven't sold many.

Only now I'll focus on SEO which I completely ignored (unless we include my regular blog where I post regularly). Business Class is pretty new and so I only posted it about it on my blog and Twitter which is now bigger since I started.

How do your business make money?

Deployment from Scratch is a book with some additional resources in a single package.

The original price from the beggining is $50 and never changed. I should probably experiment more with pricing going further.

Sales of digital products come with spikes of virality (usually when they release), but go down over time. My best month is the one when I posted to Hacker News in December 2021, a few months after the official announcement. I made $8930 in sales. In the lowest months, I made $640.

Since I worked on the book for a full year in terms of hours (spread in three), you could say it earned me a salary equivalent of ~ $2000 (before tax). So it’s not that much from a salary perspective especially considering how hard it was. But despite that, it feels amazing. I was basically able to write and market a technical book. I am proud of myself for that.

Business Class is also a single payment, no subscriptions. But I made Business Class specifically so I can launch a SaaS business and sell a subscription.

I earned $40k in revenue since I started selling which is $1420/mo. I don't include months of work before that so technically it's way less. It really is a long journey, not your overnight success.

Most of the sales are for my book Deployment from Scratch and in a book business every month is very different. This summer the revenue is quite low for the book, but at least I launched my new product, Business Class.

Take us through a typical day in your life running the business as a solo founder

My days depends a lot whether I have a day job or not. Right now I don't have one again, so I am on the road and working from different cafes and hotel rooms.

I am not someone working 16h a day, no. I do indie things because it let's me work 3 hours or less. Otherwise what's the point? But any day definitely start with coffee and I can do up to 4 of them! Coffee is my fuel.

Before you go, what advice would you give to another who wants to start a business like yours?

Just start today. A lot of your assumptions are likely wrong, but you won't find out until you start. And if you are writing a book, try a smaller one first. I had to wait a long time for my release date.

If you are a fellow dev, you might have to consider writing a book yourself. And so, apart from the odds of success, you might want to know-how. If you make a deal with a publisher, they would likely have a system in place for you to use. But if you are going to self-publish, it’s up to you. I wrote my book in Markdown and LaTex. I then built the PDF using Pandoc. I also used a lot of Ruby, which I already wrote about in Ruby for ebook publishing. I would make my whole setup public if it weren’t such a mess as it is. I did the technical illustrations with draw.io.

I guess the final thought should be whether this is something I would do again. After all, it was a lot of work over a couple of years. Maybe the single most mentally challenging thing I did, even (although I might be saying this only because I forgot all of the pain of studying informatics at this point). Still, writing a technical book in one’s line of work is also satisfying. Seeing the final result, the 5-star ratings, or emails as well.

Where can we go to lean more about you and your business?

Here are some links you can learn more about Alex and his business: