• Indie Hustle
  • Posts
  • This Site Teaching Web Applications Deployment Makes $15,000 Monthly

This Site Teaching Web Applications Deployment Makes $15,000 Monthly

From a personal blog to a niche site making over $15,000 MRR

This Site Teaching Web Applications Deployment Makes $15K Monthly

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

Hi, I'm Nick Janetakis. I've been a software developer since the late 1990s and started working with computers near the end of high school.

Nowadays my business is focused on selling video courses to help developers build and deploy web applications. I also do a healthy mix of contract work helping folks and businesses solve whatever technical problems they have.

Sometimes it's a specific programming topic where I'm pair programming with someone, other times it's helping come up with workflows on how to deploy their apps based on what will work best to get them from point A to point B. Often times I'm getting my hands dirty and perform the implementation as well.

I also put out a weekly blog post / video on anything I've learned in the past or what I'm actively working on. It's heavily focused on tech topics. All of that can be found on https://nickjanetakis.com which also links to my courses.

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

The short version is I started with GeoCities to build my own personal site where I mainly listed the metal bands I liked and shared a few little tools I created using Visual Basic 6.

Back then I played a lot of video games, specifically Quake 2 and Quake 3. I built a number of gaming sites related to that, including help design and run a competitive Quake 3 gaming ladder with an online friend who was also getting into programming. It was a nice introduction to running a real web app, including doing support. We were also admins of the site so we handled disputes or conflicts between competing teams and individuals. It had ~13,000 sign ups and over ~15,000 matches played at its peak in the early 2000s.

I started doing freelance work straight out of high school (I never went to University) where I mostly helped small businesses create a web presence. Back then I mostly used ASP Classic and eventually PHP to build the sites. Fast forward to about 2014 or so and I mostly use Flask and Rails to build web apps and have taken a strong liking to deploying web applications as well. Most of my work is related to helping folks either build or deploy web apps.

As for the courses, that began in 2015. I had just finished doing a few contracts in a row where I helped different companies build a few different types of SAAS apps. One common aspect of that was accepting credit card payments for subscriptions as well as handling 1-off payments. That got me to thinking that maybe I could create a video course demonstrating how to build a SAAS App with Flask so I made a course literally named "Build a SAAS App with Flask" which focuses on putting together a production ready web app that accepts payments with Stripe. Everything I learned building real apps for clients was put into the course at the time.

This story could get really long so I'll avoid the gory details but it had an interesting start in that Kickstarter was becoming popular back then. I had no audience and no official marketing skills. I never made a video before in my life but I figured what the heck do I have to lose?

So I made a 30 day Kickstarter, put up my own website (which is https://nickjanetakis.com) and started blogging about the project.

I ended up hitting the $12,000 goal literally 1 day before the campaign ended because an Australian businessman funded about 97% of the project (the other 3% were my family and a few kind folks on the internet who believed in the project). I owe a lot of gratitude to this experience and to do this day I still chat with him once in a while. Realistically I would have made the course whether or not the Kickstarter got funded but I will say with 100% certainty that experience changed the trajectory of my life in a good way.

How did you get your first initial customers?

With freelancing, it all stemmed from video games. After help running the gaming ladder a number of teams who competed on that ladder contacted me to help them build their own site. Back then you had "Quake clans" which were groups of folks who played together as a team. It was common to have a clan page to share a bit of information about your team and to really shed some light on your clan's personality. A couple of these were paid gigs and my first response was like "wait what, I can get paid for this?" because up until now everything was done for free and I didn't mind that at all since I was having so much fun while learning.

Outside of gaming I rode my bike around the neighborhood and contacted every small business I could find. If I saw a van that had a work number, I called it. If I saw workers on the street I asked to contact the owner. These were a wide array of businesses but mostly it was service based business like roof installers, plumbers, pool maintenance and things like that. Having a site meant it could help them generate more business.

Back then I didn't have a website or business cards. I was a dude on a bike talking to local people on the street and sometimes the phone. There were no formal interviews and no one even asked about a degree. When they asked about my experience I brought up the gaming sites. All I did was focus on how I can help them grow their business and make them more money while offering the best possible support I can while ensuring I delivered on what they requested.

Nothing was fancy around the onboarding experience too by the way. I had no complex software or services. I accepted checks or cash for payments and collected them in personal usually. Sometimes they would mail me checks. I had an excel sheet to track payments but I was operating at a small enough scale where I knew the status of everything anyways. I was only collecting a few payments per month.

With the courses, I mainly blogged about what I'm building. I haven't done any paid advertising. This side of the business hasn't grown to the point where I can do it full time but truthfully I don't ever want to stop doing contract work and become someone who only makes courses because I feel like you'll lose your edge on seeing real world problems that only come up when you're deep in the thick of it for a bunch of different businesses.

Interested in more growth strategies?

Check out this extensive database of over 300+ growth strategies from various indie founders.

With this database, you would be able to find out stories of:

  • who got 100 paid users in just 1 day for his SaaS

  • who used a pricing strategy to hit almost $15,000 in sales for his digital product

  • who shared a step-by-step process to finding journalists and their email address in order to get free PR coverage for your business

  • who went from merely hundreds to over 200,000 monthly search impressions implementing just this one strategy

  • how this creator went from 0 to 2,500 email subscribers in just 30 days

  • who generated 6 figures from a digital product in just 2 weeks

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

At this point my blog and YouTube channel are what I use the most.

Often times someone will email me saying they read a post, watched a video or listened to one of my podcast episodes and they want to work together. I'll admit tho, this took a long time to ramp up. I've been putting out a weekly post since 2015. I put in a huge amount of time writing up the posts and recording / editing the videos but I enjoy it so I don't see it as hard work. I ran a tech podcast called "Running in Production" for 2 years and put out over 100 episodes but ended up stopping it because I couldn't figure out a way to sustain the workload with my current schedule.

I'm really bad at using Twitter but I use it once in a while. Sometimes I'll check out a few sub-Reddits and help folks by answering their questions with as much information as I can provide and sometimes drop a link to my courses if it fits the discussion.

I try hard not to come off as spammy or constantly self-promoting but I wonder if I hurt myself by not promoting enough. Personally I hate things like popup ads and sometimes that's enough to get me to leave someone's site immediately.

I do very much value my newsletter but truthfully I don't send a lot of emails through it. It's mainly a way for folks to keep in touch and ask questions and I also use it to help send out notifications of new free and paid courses.

How does your business make money?

With freelancing, it really depends. I do a combination of charging per hour and project based billing.

For certain types of things, especially if it's really vague or has a lot of unknowns or if it's trading time for money like jumping on a 2 hour call every week to do code reviews and pair programming then per hour billing makes sense. I do this sort of work quite often.

For more well defined and scoped out projects then project based billing makes sense. For example if someone asks me to come up with a solution to help them automate deploying their web app, then billing based on the outcome of that makes sense. It doesn't really matter if it takes 40 or 7 hours to complete that. I prefer billing on an outcome there because it lets me re-use solutions I've created in the past without feeling guilty. You should be rewarded for having more experience and can deliver a polished well tested solution in a shorter period of time. Hourly billing for that penalizes you which doesn't make sense.

With the courses, they are one time sales. Most of them are $30 to $60 dollars and you get life time access to either stream or download the videos and course material. That comes with personal support and free updates as long as the course is still available. That even includes getting a free update if I decide to re-record a course from scratch, effectively making a v2 or v3 of the course. That's different than adding small updates at the end of the course to do refactors, library updates and other changes (which is also included).

For courses, there are pretty big swings. Sometimes it's $15,000 a month and sometimes it's $2,000. Things like Black Friday and certain temporary business relationships can play a big role. For example, there was one year where I joined up with a company who had over 300,000 developers on their newsletter and we worked together to promote some of my courses. It worked out nicely.

In the past, I've partnered with a few course platforms. They were all horrible and I would never in a million years ever recommend anyone to consider using them no matter how good it might look on paper. It's so much better to grow your own audience and be in control of your customers. Otherwise you're just building someone else's business and they can drop you at any time without warning for no reason and now you're left with absolutely nothing.

For freelancing it depends on how active things are. It tends to be feast or famine, at least for me. Sometimes I'm working like an animal and other times there might not be anything for a month or 2 other than a few recurring gigs that I've built up. I also tend to pick and choose which gigs I want to take on, I like that aspect of freelancing a lot.

Overall the margins are good. I mean ultimately you need a computer and some form of hosting (courses) as well as an accountant to help you file your taxes (at least in the US). You're mainly trading time for money here and when working for yourself you can expect to likely put in more hours than working a full time gig. Although that can vary wildly. There was a stretch of time in my 20s where I kind of just floated working 20 hours a week to scrape by because I wanted to do other things than work hard.

Here's a plot twist too. About 4 years ago I was working on a ~5-10 hour a week contract for a company and they asked me to join them full time a couple of times. About 18 months ago I took them up on their offer which was the first full time non-freelance job I've ever had in my life. I'm still there today and while it's a different world than freelancing, I feel like I've learned a lot in the short amount of time I've been here. There's a number of things I haven't picked up when freelancing, but maybe that's a story for another day. By the way, I mainly wanted to see what it was like on the other side and truly enjoy the team I work with. It had nothing to do with money for making the switch.

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

Here are some links you can go to learn more:

Other Content That Indie Hustlers Are Reading…