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57 Comments

I made $1.75M bootstrapping products for developers. AMA!

Hey IH! I am a developer turned entrepreneur and I run GoRails, an education business for Ruby on Rails developers.

I also run several other products like Hatchbox.io to help you deploy Ruby on Rails apps to your own servers and Jumpstart Pro for building SaaS products in Rails.

Have any questions about how I built the business? Ask away!

I'll be around all day to answer questions.

  1. 5

    How did you grow your mailing list? It's taken me a decent amount of work to get to 73 subs on mine and a huge amount of work to get to 3.5k followers on IG - I can't imagine the time and effort and content required to get to 50K.

    Did you follow a specific process or was it just the usual suspects, write good content, do some SEO and eventually traffic (and therefore subs) will grow?

    1. 6

      For me, it was good content and always having email subscribe forms in the footer or sidebar. GoRails.com does

      The quality of your subscribers matters too. Some people have a 100k mailing list, but 4% open rates. I'd rather have a much smaller list with 50%+ open rates.

      1. 1

        Thanks - I have one in the footer. I’m thinking of taking the book off the home page as the primary call to action and replacing with a mailing list signup to get a helpful freebie

        1. 2

          I like it. The "lead magnet" works great. Sign up for my email list, I'll send you this PDF. You see it everywhere because it works well.

          Ramit Sethi does something similar and runs his entire business off getting people into the email list. I actually subscribe to his list just to read the emails and see how they do it. Great example to learn from.

          I also have a couple months of email drip content on my mailing list with ConvertKit that goes out and generally teaches things and happens to link to products every once in a while.

          1. 1

            Awesome thanks, I’ve joined 😀

    2. 2

      I was able to get 2k subs by posting to Product Hunt with something that took less than a week to build.

      How can you add a ton of value to your audience? (The best thing is to build something for yourself that others would find valuable as well)

      1. 1

        Oh wow! Must have been something for which product hunters are part of your demographic, good job 😀

        1. 2

          https://saaspages.xyz/ ton of folks working in SaaS on PH haha

          "engineering as marketing" is one huge advantage of IHs that no one does. Instead they write content :(

          1. 1

            Nice site - well done! 😀

  2. 3

    Fantastic to see this @excid3 Quite inspiring!

    1. 2

      Thanks @prasanth_p! That's why I want to share. Hopefully I can inspire other people to build their own businesses. 💪

  3. 2

    Great work.

    Have you noticed a drop off in demand for Rails-related material recently?

    1. 4

      Quite the opposite, it's been growing a ton, especially with the new Hotwired.dev framework being launched in December 2020.

  4. 2

    Hi Chris, first of all a big round of applause for what you have achieved 👏👏 Since I am working on a product that is aimed at developers, I have a few queries for you:

    1. How did you market your products during the initial days? Ads, Reddit, HN, SEO etc.? Which channel worked for you the best?

    2. Since you are selling to an audience who can develop their own solutions, what challenges did you face in selling to developers? How did you overcome them?

    3. What have you learned about your customer's mindset that you think influences them to use your products instead of developing their own solutions?

    Thanks for reading, I am eagerly waiting for your reply :)

    1. 3
      1. I shared my videos on Reddit and other places where Rails developers were hanging out. Some people started sharing my tutorials on places like StackOverflow which really helped to bring in the organic traffic.

      2. That is a great question. There's not a lot of education past beginner content. You have tons of introductory things, so trying to do intermediate and advanced topics helped stand out. Developers are often cheap (especially with education), so I had to deal with $19/mo and just let it grow slowly over time.

      3. I'm helping them think through problems and how to approach them was very helpful. They learn how to think about it from me, which builds trust and if I launch a product, they'll know that it was built with the same thoughtful approach that they trust.

      1. 1

        Wow.. thanks for answering my queries. I wish you the very best 👍

  5. 2

    As someone with a lot of Rails developer friends, its nice to see this business doing so well. Congrats. I have no questions though haha

  6. 2

    It's very inspiring that you did all of this with Rails for the Rails community. To think some still question its relevancy.

    1. 3

      Haha! Yeah, people are just drawn to whatsever the newest cool thing. Rails still is focused on making very small teams super productive and I think there'll always be a market for that.

  7. 2

    Hi Chris!

    I notice you said that you made $1.75M bootstrapping products for developers. Close to a year ago you posted a tweet saying that you had made $1M on Stripe - that is incredible. Is the extra $750k you mentioned something that came in the last year or does that include stuff that wasn't included in the Stripe tweet from a year ago?

    Also, did you make any "big changes" at any point in your journey that caused revenue to go up more drastically than what was the case prior to that change? Pricing changes, new product that took off etc.

    1. 1

      This total includes PayPal revenue which has been a good chunk of revenue. Lots of customers around the world and not all of them have credit cards like is so prevalent here in the US.

      My revenue graph is actually steady growth (with the exception of Black Friday). The only times that revenue grows drastically is launching a new product. I try to launch something new at least once a year, so that helps. That doesn't necessarily mean a new product, could just be a big improvement on an existing product.

  8. 2

    Have you ever invested in any of the SaaS products built with Jumpstart Pro?

    With your entrepreneur-focused product, technical background and online media presence, I'd say you'd have an edge if you did!

    1. 2

      No, but I would love to. That would be such a cool way to support customers and help them even more.

  9. 2

    How did you learn to stop hating your own voice when doing screencasts? This has always been a major stumbling block for me and has held me back in a lot of ways.

    1. 1

      Who said I ever stopped hating it? I still feel that way every time I'm editing. 😅

      I will say, a better mic did help make it sound more natural. I use a Shure SM7B now.

  10. 2

    Hi Chris!

    How did you get for first few customers for either product? I'm building a product I'm confident in, but just can't seem to get it in front of the right people.

    1. 5

      I just dug up my original post trying to see if anyone was interested in my idea for GoRails. https://excid3.com/blog/would-you-like-to-become-a-better-programmer

      Basically, I had been writing blog posts about random things, some of them being about Rails, others not.

      At some point I thought I should buy a domain specifically for my Rails content, so I bought GoRails.com and moved everything to it. This had some links from StackOverflow that drove traffic fairly quickly to it.

      I used that audience (which was tiny) to see if there was interest. The responses to that form were really interesting and started conversations with several people. It gave me enough confidence to launch a course for GoRails. I was scared to commit to weekly screencasts, so I tried a course instead.

      That didn't go over well because nobody knew who I was, so why would they buy my course? I realized I'd need to share free content. It was great practice on its own since screencasting is very hard, but it also showed people that they could learn things from my videos and they might just be worth paying for.

      So it was a combination of SEO and sharing free content in the beginning that drove my first 10 customers. When I started charging for the weekly screencasts, some people freaked out, but others were supportive (like @nomad7 ❤️).

      First customers for Hatchbox and Jumpstart were easy, they were GoRails members since the products are for the same audience. Feels like cheating, but the best way to launch a product is to an existing audience. You can skip the slow first months and have a lot of users immediately.

      1. 1

        Hi, so you created free content on your own domain and that built enough of an organic audience to then grow your business? I had thought SEO can take years to monetize if not build traffic. What was the time from first post to purchase?

        1. 1

          If you write about stuff that people can't find answers to, you'll end up on the first page of results very quickly.

          Trying to rank for heavily searched terms is what takes a long time since everyone is writing content for that.

          It took me about 3 months to make the first course if I remember right. Maybe more.

  11. 2

    How do you decide what to prioritize on?

    1. 3

      That's definitely been tough! Every project needs time each week, some more than others.

      I try to prioritize support first. Customer service is important, so I make that a priority.

      Then I'll work on GoRails since it needs new content every single week. Luckily, I can use ideas from other projects to give me new content ideas and kind of kill two birds with one stone there.

      The nice part about products like Hatchbox or Jumpstart Pro is that once you've completed most of the features, you can run and maintain them. There's usually not super important features to add, so I can leave it lower down the priority list once support and GoRails is done.

      It's definitely a balancing act and you have to make sure the products mesh well together otherwise you'll lose your mind trying to run multiple products at once.

  12. 1

    How are you receiving traffic nowadays? Anything you wished you would've done sooner/better?

    1. 2

      Most of the traffic is organic now that I have a lot of content out there. Years of producing things and getting indexed by Google helps a lot.

      At this point, I wish I had hired a team sooner. It would make life a lot easier now, but I think I also had something to prove to myself. I wanted to see how far I could get on my own for whatever reason. It was good for a while, but it starts to get pretty stressful when you're running several products alone. I know I can't keep that up forever, so I wish I would have hired and thought more about the long-term sooner.

  13. 1

    Hi Chris. I’m a big fan of GoRails and it most certainly has inspired Sailscasts.com. My questions are:

    How do you manage to hone the skill of screencasting so well? I just finished the first course for Sailscasts and boy it wasn’t as easy as I anticipated.

    The second question is how do you do all this and still be lean I.e having a small team?

    1. 1

      Screencasting is probably one of the hardest things I've done. Congrats on getting through your first course! That is an accomplishment. I think it's just been the years of practice, doing videos every single week for like 7 years. I don't want to really spend much time editing, so I have tried to practice recording as if we were pair programming and we're just chatting about a problem and how to solve it.

      It is just me and one person part-time right now. I have tried to optimize each product to require as minimal maintenance as I can. The weekly screencasts is still a big commitment, but if I can make content on things I'm doing on other projects, then I get to kill two birds with one stone. I don't have to do a lot of research and practice that way. For screencasts that do require that, I have to spend like 40 hours to make one video. Whereas if I'm building a feature for Hatchbox.io that is fresh in my mind, I can make a screencast on it in like 2 hours.

      Same goes for Hatchbox and Jumpstart Pro. Once they're kind of "feature complete", the majority of work is doing support or simple maintenance. It is just the initial development and year or two of fixing bugs and solidifying the product that takes the big effort. I try to do only one big new project at a time because of that.

      1. 1

        This is great. Thanks for sharing Chris. You are truly an inspiration to me.

  14. 1

    Hi Chris, congrats on the achievements! And thanks for sharing your story.

    Mu question is: we are currently trying to get traction for our bootstrapped B2B SaaS (a booking, scheduling and workflow automation tool for B2C service businesses). What acquisition channels and scaling strategies would you recommend to try?
    We are bootstrapping it, but do have a marketing budget. We want to invest it wisely and experiments burn a lot :)

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      Hi I am trying to find early stage saas builders to see if my saas can help them grow their audience. It creates an ecosystem of complementary products. Could we chat?

      1. 1

        Hey, sure! I’m a bit new to IH, not sure what’s the best way - email?

  15. 1

    Great job with the products! I've used GoRails andJumpstart Pro quite a bit along with HelloRails.io to get back into rails products. Have not used Hatchbox yet but seems like a great idea to have courses + templates + deployment ready to go for your fans!

    What are your plans with the business? ... More products? Spend your time elsewhere? Dig in and keep growing?

    I'm curious to hear since you are in a different part of the cycle.

    1. 2

      The thing I enjoy most is helping other people build products, so I'm sure I'll continue along those lines. Might be courses or other SaaS ideas.

      For example, I recently built https://jobboardly.com on as a Jumpstart Pro app to help launch job boards quickly and easily. Dog fooding it with my own Ruby on Rails job board on GoRails. It still needs some features, but it's nicely aligned with everything else I'm building.

      1. 1

        For example, I recently built https://jobboardly.com on as a Jumpstart Pro app to help launch job boards quickly and easily.

        Love this approach here. Just curious, how many hours do you think you spent building jobboardly?

        1. 1

          I don't know for sure, but probably 20 hours?

          There were several iterations I remember trying on the job posting flow, so I threw out a couple attempts.

          The app uses my other product, JumpstartRails.com, as the foundation so I was able to skip a LOT of the boilerplate. Users, accounts/teams, 2FA, subdomains and custom domain support, etc were ready to go from the minute I started. Saves a TON of time launching new product ideas. It's nice to have something like that in your toolbox, whether it's Jumpstart Pro, Laravel Spark, or whatever else.

  16. 1

    I am on several code-related Slack channels, and yours is the most friendly and welcoming, with lots of interaction from participants. Others are very quiet. Do you feel that you have done anything to develop this environment? What would you recommend others do?

    1. 1

      I have definitely been intentional about it. Most importantly, it's only for subscribers, so the quality of people is high by default. Public groups tend to get a lot of terrible posts and it is very hard to deal with.

      Alongside that, I love talking with other developers, so I try to make sure it's welcoming and get to know as many people as I can. I'll try to introduce people so that the community can meet each other and connect. That makes it a really tight knit group over time. You've definitely become one of those people and I'm so happy to have you!

  17. 1

    Hi Chris, Thanks for doing AMA. I've been following your journey and it's impressive work.

    I know you have a job board at https://jobs.gorails.com/ focused on Ruby/Rails jobs. How are you sourcing jobs? Is it manual or automated? Right now I can only see very few jobs on a weekly basis.

    I'm building remoteleaf.com, a curated service for job seekers. Do you think our manually curated ruby/rails jobs info will be helpful to power your job board? (I'm not asking people to send it to my site, the data that I'll be sharing will have the direct company links. ).

    For example check out this structured table: remoteleaf.com/whoishiring and filter with Ruby.

    1. 1

      All the jobs are from companies posting directly to it. I'm not curating any of them myself, but it'd definitely be nice to include some additional curated ones that don't know of the job board yet.

      1. 1

        This is awesome. I'll DM you on Twitter on how to go forward about this.

  18. 1
    • If you don't mind sharing, what is approximately the split in revenue between the courses and the products? Is it about 50/50?
    • Do you think it would have been possible for you to skip the paid courses and go right away from making free content to building the products and getting customers this way?

    I have a youtube channel with free content and a few ideas for products for devs (that I need myself anyway) so I was thinking about building a freemium version of these products to see if anyone would use them. It's really inspiring to see what you've done! Your videos/landing pages are all such high quality.

    1. 3

      I don't actually know the exact revenue split. I only really pay attention total revenue. Since GoRails is the main brand and where people typically find me, I would imagine it's 50% or so.

      Everyone I've talked to has hit a plateau with their screencast business and had a damn near impossible time trying to break through it. That's what lead me to adding the other products over time.

      You could absolutely go straight to building the products. I think most people do. For me, I was trying to figure out how to go full-time on my own business and selling courses is often much quicker to make a living than a SaaS.

      Anytime you build a product for yourself, there's a strong probability other people will need it too. I would definitely try it.

      Feel free to shoot me a DM on Twitter or email if you'd like to chat more about your products. 👍

  19. 1

    hi Chris, what is your typical day like? For example how much time do you spend on coding vs doing other stuff?

    1. 2

      I'd say it's about 50/50 these days. I spend a lot of time doing support and things, and that's grown over time. I try to optimize my day so I'll code in the mornings when I can think clearest and other work in the afternoon when I need a change of pace.

  20. 1

    I love your products, It is easy to get lost and try and build a product for everyone but sometimes a niche product is easier to find.

    1. 1

      Most definitely. You can always start niche and expand it. It can be hard to build something generic and sell it into niches.

  21. 1

    Hi Chris, Thanks for doing this AMA.

    How much time did it take you to reach a point where could go full-time on your products?

    1. 5

      It took me about 2 years. 12 months into GoRails I made it to about $500 MRR. By the end of the second year, it had grown to about $3500 MRR. That was just enough to scrape by living cheaply in the Midwest where I'm from.

      I filled in the gaps with consulting and a job during those two years. Afterwards, being able to focus full-time on the business helped it grow a lot quicker.

  22. 1

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