Who are you and what are you working on?
My name is Mike Carson, and I'm a computer programmer and consider myself a hacker. I started a company called humb.ly that's a parent company for all of my projects. It's funny, as you get older you realize and understand yourself better. For me, it comes back to things I already knew when I was a teenager — I love building projects, and that's what I want to do with my time. Especially things that people find useful.
file.io is a project I launched a little over a year ago. A lot of people use it and find it useful, but park.io continues to grow quickly and is making the most money. park.io is a service that allows people to backorder domain names — specifically "hacker-type" domains (e.g. .io, .ly, .me, etc) — for a fee that we charge only if we are successful in getting the domain for the user.
How'd you get started with park.io?
There was a domain that had expired, and I wanted it for a project — smile.io. I knew that it would become available for registration sometime soon, but not exactly when, so I wrote a script that checked the domain every second and sent me an email if it was available.
One day I was sitting down to dinner with my wife when I checked my phone and saw that I got an email that the domain was available less than a minute ago. I rushed to my computer to register it, but it was already registered. This was frustrating, and led me to learn more about the whole system and to improve my scripts. Eventually they got very efficient, and always were able to get the domains I wanted, so I decided to sell this as a service.
There was a week or so of grunt work — setting up a UI, allowing user signups, payments, etc... It wasn't as fun as the scripts to catch the dropping domains, but it allowed myself and others to use the system in an automated way. I never did any initial marketing — the only thing I did and continue to do today is put a parked page up by default on the domains that we get. You can see an example if you go here. In this way, those interested in the domains found park.io from the domains' landing pages, and from there more people found out about it via word of mouth.
The first day I launched the service I got a few orders, and I have basically had orders every day since.
How'd you find the time and funding to build your business?
It was more like a hobby — I just worked on it in my spare time. I've told other hackers I know not to even start with an idea. It seems like every time I started a project with an idea, it never really worked out. But with park.io it was just kind of a flow — action/reaction — I can't even claim it was a real idea before I started it. When something is fun and a hobby, you don't really think of it as an idea, and you put more time and care into it. And I think it shows in the product.
Another thing I've learned from running park.io is the power of being able to adapt to changes. I think this quote can be applied to business competition:
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." —Darwin
I think startups have a huge advantage over bigger companies, because they can adapt more quickly. There were times in the last couple of years where there were big changes that were pretty large obstacles to the business, but I think I was able to adapt to these changes pretty well, which enabled the business to grow and thrive.
Another thing that is a huge advantage to programmers is our ability to automate processes. Any time I find myself doing something over and over, I try to write a piece of code that will automate it. I have so many automated processes running now that I feel like I have a team of 50 employees working around the clock, constantly and accurately, always in the background. park.io is set to break over $1M in revenue this year and I am the only employee, but only because I am able to leverage all of the automated processes that are able to do the work for me.
How have you attracted users and grown your business?
I have never paid for any marketing, except on one occasion when I paid a domain blogger to put an ad in the sidebar of his website, but mostly it was to establish a relationship with this blogger (who is also a happy park.io user).
I think the best way to attract users is with a good service and product, and it will spread from word of mouth from there. The domain parking pages I mentioned previously have probably attracted the most users — I didn't have to do anything to get the first users — they just came from these pages.
Other than that, things that have helped attract users are a weekly newsletter, blog posts, interviews I have done, and domain donations I have made (e.g. angular.io to AngularJS, perl.io to the Perl Foundation, and gnome.io to the Gnome Foundation).
What's the story behind your revenue?
I started charging right away and got a few orders and payments in the first 24 hours after launching. I wasn't sure about pricing, but I thought $99 seemed like a good number since it is less than a hundred and more than covers expenses.
I use Stripe for payment processing, because it's easy. My goal was to break $1M in revenue in a single year, and that should happen this year. This was my goal, because I heard that only 5% of software companies reach this milestone, and also I think it is the lower limit on getting on the Philly 100 list, which I would like to do again. (I have before with wizehive.com).
What are your goals for park.io's future?
My goal is to keep it as a great product, and to add some features that could further make it stand out in the domain industry. For example, I would like to make it so that users can auction their own domains. There are some existing platforms that do this, but they have a lot of issues. I have been thinking about those issues for a while, and think I may have an interesting solution.
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
I don't know if I would do much differently, since things have worked out pretty well. The competitive side of me thinks of the domains that I missed to competitors — I guess I would fix these specific issues. But instead of thinking of things I would change, here are a couple of things I think I did well:
- Adapt. Just roll with whatever comes your way and try to make it work. There is most likely a way to make it work, no matter what happens.
- Keep it simple. There are a lot of features that users say they want that I haven't added because I thought it would stray from my main goal, and I think this simplicity has really helped the company. Also, I always meant to improve the design of the app (it just uses Twitter bootstrap), but this simplicity seems to make users happy, and I am reluctant to change things just for the sake of changing things. It's working now, so I don't see a reason to change it.
What else has really worked in your favor?
I think the two biggest advantages I have are:
- I am small (just me), so it's easy for me to adapt to changes and move quickly. This gives me a huge advantage over larger companies.
- Being a developer, I can automate so many tasks. I've mentioned before to others — I feel like I have a huge team of employees working around the clock.
What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?
I guess my advice would be to not even start with an idea — just do what you find interesting, and keep in mind that maybe you could make it into a business. I personally also like having me be the only employee, I think the ability to adapt is probably the most important attribute, and as the sole founder, this makes it really easy. And, as I mentioned before, if you are a developer, leverage this skill to automate whatever you can.
Another thing I would advise, just from my own history and experience, is to move on quickly if it isn't working. You will know when it is isn't working and when it is, and it is best to just move on to the next thing quickly when it isn't .
Where can we learn more about you?
My parent company is located at http://humb.ly, and here are a couple of interviews I did on DomainSherpa:
You can also find me on...