Turning a Small App for Myself Into a $17,000/mo Business

Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.

I'm Bartosz Hernas, and I'm a full-stack web developer. I have a twin brother, my exact copy, that works with me. Together we built Stamp. Stamp lets you transfer your playlists across music streaming services, e.g. Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc. Most of our customers are simply people who want to switch to a different provider and take their playlists with them.

Can you tell us a bit more about how Stamp works?

It's really simple. First you log in with your account to one streaming service (for example, Google Music), and then you log into another (for example, Spotify). Stamp will then fetch all your playlists with song titles, author names, and albums from Google Music. Then it will perform a search in Spotify with a little bit of magic to properly match songs, e.g. some services use "[feat]" and others "(feat)". Once Stamp has properly identified all the songs, it will create a playlist in Spotify.

Adding multiple sources and destinations is always a bit tricky, as they are so different from each other. I think Apple Music is the trickiest, because we have to create a proxy locally to get the iTunes cookie so we can authorize ourselves.

How'd you come up with the idea?

Immediately after the release of Apple Music, I really wanted to switch from Spotify so I could try it out. Usually someone develops a tool like Stamp, but after waiting 2 weeks I noticed that there still wasn't anything there.

Moving 3000 songs manually would've taken me hours, so I tried to figure out how to automate the process. After a few hours of playing with Apple Script, I created an app that literally just used the mouse to click things in iTunes: search for a song -> click more -> click to add music -> repeat.

When did you decide to turn it into a business?

I figured what I built could be useful for others, so I made a small website and posted it on ProductHunt. At the beginning it was free, but people could donate money via a "buy me a beer" button ;-) The first day I got reviewed in multiple newspapers and online magazines, got 20k unique visitors to the website, and made 97€ in donations. I thought, "All of this because I made a small script after work? Nice."

Then my brother said, "Hey, let's make it better and start selling it!" So my brother Mike, our friend Chris, and I got together and spent all night creating a proper app. I think it was 5am when we released it. We got our first payment within 5 minutes and then went to sleep for a few hours.

Things got crazy after that. I went back to work and saw people buying licenses all day long. We had so much stuff to do that I had to take a week off work. For the first few months we had to work 16 hours/day: half for our full-time jobs and the other half for Stamp.

How has Stamp's revenue changed over time?

The first month we made over 15,000€ in revenue because of ProductHunt, but the next few months were much smaller (around 6,000€). Now, after one year, our average monthly revenue is back around 15,000€ levels, but it varies between this and the peak of 19,000€/month.

We've experimented with different pricing models: it was 5€ at beginning, then 12€, and after some tests we saw that a 9€ price mark for Stamp works the best. In the meantime, we've also added support for iOS, Android, and many new music services.

Thanks to Stamp, my brother and I were able to quit our day jobs and focus on building our own companies. We are now building modern flight booking app called Ahoy.io :)

That's a ton of revenue growth in a year. How'd you do it?

From the beginning we focused on having the correct SEO tags and all the basics. If you Google "seo website checker" you will get ton of resources telling you what you are missing: meta tags, descriptions, fast loading, h1 tags, compressing etc. It all affects your Google ranking. Using one of these tools we realized that our website takes 7 seconds to load. By implementing the correct nginx caching, we were able to bring it down to less than one second.

After that it all grew organically. We were just constantly improving our apps and adding new services and platforms. We were also the first to support Apple Music playlist transfer via an iOS app, which was made possible with the iOS 9.3 update. Here's a graph showing the number of copies of Stamp we've sold:

Stamp sales chart

You can see a few things:

  1. The beginning was crazy thanks to Product Hunt.
  2. There's a small bump where Rdio promoted us on their website when they closed down.
  3. In the last part of the graph, you can see that we're growing much faster and selling more each month. This correlates with us releasing iOS and, soon afterwards, Android apps.

The real growth started when we realized that Stamp was a real business, not just a cash machine that would last for few months. After that we started paying ourselves fixed salaries, but not too much. We kept lots of money in the company's bank account, and that allowed us to invest in the business.

We recently hired a marketing agency that's running Facebook and Google ads and checking what converts better. We have an Android developer working on our Android version, and we've hired a development agency to help us with creating new features. We've also gotten help with customer support.

We're constantly thinking about how we can improve Stamp so that users are happier and can depend on us. We will be releasing a completely new product soon — it's free, but we believe it will help spread the word about Stamp.

How did you handle legal stuff?

Stamp was an overnight success, and we started making money on day 1, which forced us to open a company as soon as possible.

Fortunately, my parents had been self-employed, so I was accustomed to business. In Poland you can open your own company in less than a day, so I took few days off work and by the next day had opened the company. Then we incorporated StampApp Civil Law Partnership, which was basically a joint venture of all the founder's self-owned companies.

We had one problem with it though. It was not a separate legal entity, and all liability would fall on us in case of any problems. People also trusted us less when they saw the weird "partnership" in the company name. They are used to LTD's and Delaware companies. So in the following months we established Stamp Software LTD in the UK and moved everything there.

As for legal problems, we were always careful to not step on anyone's toes. The music business is really strict about their rights, so we made sure not to break any licenses. Spotify allows you to use their SDK and even make money from it as long as you do not earn from streaming music. It means that we can easily charge for using only our users' data.

However, the streaming app Deezer just forbade anyone to make any money by using their APIs and SDKs. We were forced to create a free Deezer exporter that would save your playlists to an .rstamp file. Then you could open this file with our paid app.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

This is great question, because it lets me think about all the mistakes we have made.

  1. For sure we would have immediately started by using Electron to build a Windows/MacOS version based on one codebase. At the beginning we'd been building separate native Windows app and native MacOS app. Then at some point we realized that it takes us too much time to copy features over to Windows (we had been focusing on MacOS). I'm glad we had balls to say, "Let's rewrite what we have in Electron so we will have one shared codebase (except in a few cases like iTunes proxy)."
  2. We would have incorporated as an LTD at the beginning.
  3. We would have paid for proper logo and website design much earlier.
  4. We would have used Stripe instead of Braintree, because Braintree's bank closed our account as a result of them not understanding Spotify's SDK license.

Of course we know all of this now, but when Stamp was starting, we had no idea how long it would last, so we were cautious to spend money.

We didn't quit our jobs immediately, just in case Stamp failed, and I think it was a good call: You should not jump into deep water. You should first try it out slowly and run your business as side project. At the same time, you should see where it's going and make a decision quickly: my current job or my business. In hindsight, we should've quit earlier.

What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?

To be independent, you have to make money to support yourself. If you have a project you're working on after work, but months have passed without it having any paying customers, that usually tells you that there's no market for it, or that you haven't focused on it enough.

Before Stamp, I created numerous projects that failed, and this is what I learned: All businesses have to make money, and you need to quickly kill the ones that do not. Treat your side project as any other business. If it doesn't make money after a few months, either change something in your product or kill it and start something new.

Also, outsource things that take a lot of your time but could be done by anyone. We wasted a lot of time replying to customer emails instead of improving Stamp.

Read everything from Paul Graham. His writings contain so much knowledge and good advice that you'll be amazed.

Go through stories of how other companies started. It's true when they say that almost every company has similar problems. For sure there is some company from the same vertical or with problems similar to yours which you can learn from. For example, the go-to-market strategy of PayPal and eBay top sellers is a great "how to" for what we should try at Ahoy.

Talk to others. There are numerous Slack groups, Facebook groups, Quora questions, etc. You will be amazed how much others want to help you.

Diversify. If we had kept focus limited to Spotify and Apple Music and only on MacOS, we would be much smaller or dead. Look around for market opportunities you are still not taking but are easy to grasp with your product. For example, look at what Uber has done with delivering food. You can do the same even when you are quite a bit smaller than Uber ;)

I also recommend some books:

For the rest, you have Google. Today, there's an enormous amount of information available for free concerning all of the topics you need.

Where can we learn more about you?

I tweet and post on Facebook a lot about how we build Stamp and Ahoy, so I recommend my Twitter @bartosz and also my brother's @hernas.

Feel free to write to me via DM or Facebook messenger as well, or to leave a question in the comment section below.

Bartosz Hernas , Creator of Stamp

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