Growing My Side Hustle to Hundreds in Monthly Revenue Without Code

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

My name is Andrew Ettinger. I’m from South Florida and have been living in the Bay Area since March 2017. I moved out to San Francisco to work for Twitter after working remotely for Product Hunt for a year and a half, where I started part-time, while getting my Master’s at the University of Florida. As of last month, I joined Atoms as the first full-time hire.

While working at Twitter, I created Pear, a pay-to-access database of email newsletters. People are using Pear for two major reasons:

  1. As Facebook commands a higher share of ad dollars, advertisers are eager to find alternative advertising methods and email newsletters are predictable and highly targeted.
  2. The number of email newsletters is increasing, but growing them is tough. Other email newsletters are signing up for Pear to find cross-promotion opportunities.

With zero paid acquisition, Pear has had 147 customers paying $5 - $7 per month ($3,500 gross volume). In fact, the only acquisition method has been launching on Product Hunt.

home

What motivated you to get started with Pear?

Most of my rather short career has been focused on growth and product marketing. During my time at Product Hunt, I worked on our first monetization efforts — creating, testing, and selling ad spots in the daily digest (fun fact: Product Hunt is almost profitable). Our first conversations went very well, but manually sourcing potential advertisers for a highly engaged email newsletter was taking far too much time.

Then, in between my time at Product Hunt and Twitter, I began doing some consulting, but the issue of finding newsletters persisted. After talking with some other people familiar with the problem, I decided to build a no-code MVP.

What went into building the initial product?

I created the first version of Pear on Carrd, leveraging Airtable, Zapier, Stripe, and Mailchimp. All in all, this test cost around $20.

It took less than 10 days to build the site start to finish, but given that I was working a full-time job at Twitter, it took another 2-3 weeks to seed the newsletters. At launch, I wanted 50 newsletters that were actively looking for advertisers. That is, newsletters that knew they were being added to the Pear database (and why).

I initially built Pear alone with some help from Ben Tossell, but after 6 months teamed up with Csaba Kissi to build a full web app. I knew Csaba from helping him with some Product Hunt launches and was excited to work with him on building Pear 2.0.

Our goal with Pear 2.0 was to automate the process of account creation and convert the system to real SaaS. Pear 2.0 is built on Laravel framework version 5.6 with a MySQL database in the backend. We’re using Mailgun to handle outgoing emails. When it comes to handling subscriptions, we decided to use Stripe, as it was easy to implement and it supports webhooks that we use to handle failed payments.

How have you attracted users and grown Pear?

Much like the first version of Pear, we launched Pear 2.0. exclusively on Product Hunt. Though relatively small in numbers, our subscribers are highly engaged, finding advertising and growth opportunities.

Rather than focusing on growing the user base, retention has been the biggest key for us. Given that our entire business model is pay-to-access information, it is crucial that we continue to add new information to the database. We launched with 50 newsletters and have since grown to over 240.

We add newsletters to Pear in batches and send subsequent emails, letting the subscribers know how many newsletters and impressions have been added. Impressions (number of subscribers to newsletters in the database) is our most important metric. Adding 10 newsletters with 100 subscribers each (1,000 impressions) is far less valuable than 2 newsletters with 10,000 subscribers each (20,000 impressions).

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

The business model is straightforward and one-dimensional: subscriptions. We don’t make any money from newsletters being added to the database, brokering deals, or promoting newsletters…strictly from subscribers. If they’re unhappy with the service, they can unsubscribe, no questions asked.

How we were able to prove value to get our first paying customers, however, was tough. We had considered doing a free trial, but ultimately decided on creating a way for potential subscribers to see the quality of the newsletters in the database (newsletter descriptions, subscribers, open rate, click through rate, industry, target demo, location) without seeing the pertinent information (newsletter name & link, contact name, email).

Because we were using Airtable at the time, we duplicated the database, replaced the fields listed above with “🔒 upgrade to unlock 🔒”, and embedded that version of the database on the landing page. We still use that preview on the homepage today.

preview

Since the launch of 2.0, Pear has been a 1 hour per week “side hustle”. On one hand, I’m ashamed to admit this, because I know more time = more revenue, but I’m also proud that we’ve hacked together an idea that’s served more than 300 businesses.

For the last few months, Pear has been on the back burner, as Csaba and I were focused on other projects and I started a new job. Naturally, the lack of attention has led to declining subscribers and revenue. Today, Pear has 38 active subscribers paying $5 - $7 per month (roughly $200/mo MRR).

This idea to launch process has taught me a lot — a lot I wish I’d done, things I wish I wouldn’t have done, and things I’d have done differently. Most importantly, this experience has taught me to just go for it. For a while, I wasn’t sure what the medium should be, the business model, if I should build a full web app or MVP, and I’m still not sure I have the answers to those questions, but the learning experience and satisfaction from building and launching has been amazing.

The main advice I have for people with limited or no technical experience, before you sink money into building an app or website, find a way to test your hypothesis. There are countless ways to create a functional website or application without knowing how to code.

In every decision, there’s a balance between making the quick decision and making the perfect decision. Sometimes the quick one, though maybe not perfect, is the best one.

In every decision, there’s a balance between making the quick decision and making the perfect decision. Sometimes the quick one, though maybe not perfect, is the best one.

Tweet
Share

What are your goals for the future?

The future of Pear is interesting. In its current state, with one hour per week, growth will be questionable, but the database can grow significantly, causing retention to remain satisfactory. However, Pear could very much use an additional couple of hours per week spent focusing on growing the top of the funnel — getting new subscribers on board.

I truly believe Pear, as it stands today, could be a $2-3,000/month business by spending just a few hours per day on it. If I were to take it a step further, there is a lot of opportunity for Pear to serve as a marketplace.

Unfortunately though, almost all of my attention these days is on Atoms. To do right by the current subscribers, I still update the database with new newsletters every so often, but my ambitions for Pear beyond its current subscribers are unfortunately on hold.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Finding time has been the biggest challenge I’ve faced by far. I launched this project right after moving to a new city to start a new job. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything you want to get done. Recently, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be more deliberate with my time — planning and prioritizing tasks better. Though, I suppose had I done that with Pear, before getting started, I might not have actually gone through with it.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve always admired people bootstrapping projects and companies, particularly those building in public like Pieter Levels and aj. In a world where everyone obsesses over (the very few) billion dollar businesses, it’s important to remember that people are building amazing companies without raising tens of millions of dollars or selling your data.

But perhaps most helpful of all were Ben Tossell and Csaba Kissi. Ben for his expertise in creating no-code-MVPs and Csaba for being a rockstar engineer. I definitely don’t think you need to find a co-founder to launch a side project, but having someone you trust to bounce ideas off of is incredibly valuable. If you have an idea, I’m always open to providing unfiltered feedback.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Be methodical, but don’t overthink it. If you find yourself deliberating on one particular facet for an extended period, move on and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.

Be methodical, but don’t overthink it. If you find yourself deliberating on one particular facet for an extended period, move on and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.

Tweet
Share

For over a year, I saw nearly every product submitted on Product Hunt. The range and diversity of makers is staggering. There is no profile of who makes good products that people like. Good ideas and follow-through trump all. Just do it. Seriously. Go for it. If not now, then when?

Where can we go to learn more?

My Twitter @andrewett is the best way to keep in touch with me, but I’m open to answering any questions about Pear or otherwise in the comments below.

Andrew Ettinger , Founder of Pear

Want to build your own business like Pear?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

We're a few thousand founders helping each other build profitable businesses and side projects. Come share what you're working on and get feedback from your peers.

Not ready to get started on your product yet? No problem. The community is a great place to meet people, learn, and get your feet wet. Feel free to just browse!

Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

Loading comments...