wallabag.it

Nicolas Lœuillet talks about how he's making money from his open-source app by charging for an easy-to-use version for privacy-conscious users.

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi, I'm Nicolas Lœuillet, a French web developer. I've been working on wallabag for four years now. It's a web application to save web articles and read them later, even if you're offline on your tablet, mobile, or reader.

In December 2016 I decided to launch wallabag.it, to allow everyone to easily use wallabag, because I realized that installing it can be a pain. wallabag.it lets you have your own wallabag in 1 click without requiring any competence in web hosting.

The wallabag.it users are very interested in their privacy, and protecting it is one of our strengths. Because our economic model is only based on subscriptions, we don't need to read and sell customer data.

Today I'm making more than $600/month from the service, and users have saved more than 760,000 articles from the web.

What motivated you to get started with wallabag.it?

Four years ago, Google closed Google Reader. I was a huge Google Reader user, as well as a user of Pocket, too. My first question was: "What happens if Pocket closes its service?" I needed an alternative, so I began to develop wallabag. (It was formerly called "poche", the french translation for "pocket".)

Since then, our team has continued to grow, and today we have more than 20 people contributing via open source. As I continued to work on it, wallabag required more and more of my time, and I began to wonder if it was possible to earn money with the side project.

Don't create a service just to earn money: try to create something useful.

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I asked my entourage — my friends and colleagues — to let me know if they thought a paid service would be a good idea. After a few months of hesitation, I launched wallabag.it.

How long did it take you to build it?

When I was sure I wanted to launch the service, it only took me a few weeks to develop the website and the payment system, because I didn't add any features to the wallabag application. It's the exact same application as the open-source application available on GitHub.

What's the story behind your revenue?

Just to be clear: I had no business model at when I started this project. I launched wallabag.it for fun, and then I asked, "Is it possible to earn money with an open-source application?" I wrote a French blog post about my thoughts.

I opened a poll to our wallabag users asking, "If you had to pay for a read-it-later service, how much would you be willing to pay per year?" Most of respondents said they'd pay less than €5. I didn't listen to them, because I really think that a service like wallabag.it can charge €20 per year. I ended up deciding on €12 per year. (Less than a coffee per month!)

For the payment system I used PayPlug, a French company, because I wanted to work with European providers only. Because some of our users can't pay via PayPlug (like Belgians and their Bancontact system), I plan to add Stripe.js in the next few weeks.

Today, my primary job is as a web developer at a small agency. My goal is to quit so I can work full-time for wallabag, because I need more free time to improve the product. I hope to do that in the next few months, and I'm currently in the process of figuring out the best way to make it happen.

What have you learned so far? And what's your advice for other indie hackers?

The biggest challenge with with wallabag.it was handling the success of the service. I didn't think that I'd have so many users and so many imported web articles.

It resulting in our needing to improve wallabag and its import feature, and I learned that you always need to have beta testers before launching a service.

My advice is to be your first customer. Don't create a service just to earn money: try to create something useful.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can follow the project @wallabagit on Twitter or email me at nicolas@wallabag.it. Alternatively, you can tweet me on my personal account (@nicosomb), or ask me anything on the Indie Hackers forum.

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