I made $101,578.04 with an open source project. AMA!

Last week I shared how I made $101,578.04 selling colors online.

I've learned a lot about monetizing an open source project with Dracula PRO. So now I want to give back by sharing what worked and also what didn't work.

Happy to answer any questions you might have, including:

  • How to build in public
  • Evaluating business models for OSS
  • Balancing side projects with a full-time job
  • Creating products for developers
  • Building an audience on Twitter
  • Being vulnerable online

Feel free to Ask Me Anything :)

  1. 5

    How did you get your first customers and proved that developers don’t DO spend money with tools?

    1. 7

      As @dvassallo likes to say, this was a small bet.

      For my entire life, I only built open source projects. I thought that paid products were evil and only free software was good. I couldn't be more wrong.

      What gave me the confidence to pursue this path was a combination of patterns that I noticed in the industry.

      1. Dark mode everywhere: Dark mode is not new, but after Apple introduced it to their devices more people started to pay attention and use them.

      2. PRO experience emerges: Once again, after seeing Apple change their brand to "iPhone Pro", I noticed how everybody wants to be a "Pro". Another inspiration was @gvrizzo's product CSS Scan Pro.

      3. Interest in Dracula merch: A person reached out to me and asked if it was ok to design a Dracula mechanical keyboard. I said yes and they started to build it. Once the product was available for pre-sale tons of people started to buy it. This was another sign that developers are willing to pay for the brand.

      There's no secret to getting the first customers: build an MVP, put a price tag, promote everywhere.

  2. 2

    Awesome job, Zeno! Love your work!

    I was wondering how you got Dracula off the ground at the start? How did you take it from zero users to a $100k NET project?


    1. 2

      I documented the whole journey from $0 to $100k here, have you seen it?

      1. 1

        Oh, thanks. I haven’t until now.

        Thanks so much for writing this!

  3. 2

    Hey Zeno; to keep it short jumping straight to the questions.

    • How do you handle licenses and the included fonts' license allows you to re-sell them or you simply link to them?

    • I've been fiddling with Twitter lately, not a twitter person but I wonder how important Twitter on this journey?

    Checked the github repo, 15k stars with ~190 "followers", a link to site which is linked to your twitter. Is this how the funnel worked or you did all the work on Twitter.

    1. 4

      Many people assume that Twitter is what drives Dracula PRO sales.

      The truth is that SEO and email (the old tricks) are the main acquisition channels. Here's the data to back it up:

      • Site: 1,775 sales ($98,801.26)
      • Twitter: 13 sales ($339.92)

      In any case, I still believe that it's extremely important to build an audience. Twitter is what I naturally gravitate towards since it's short and direct. I also post on IG and Linkedin, but I'm not that familiar with them.

      About licensing, I only included open source fonts, so this is not a problem. I talked to some typography people and font companies to see if I could include a paid font too, but the cost of Dracula PRO would need to increase drastically.

      1. 1

        I see, also thanks for the numbers.

        Even tho numbers are there, is it possible for people to constantly get reminded about Dracula PRO updates over Twitter and complete the transaction on the site.

        Funny thing for me is $100K sounds huge while finding 2k people is not so much. I found ~10 so far but yeah, consistency might be the key here.

  4. 2

    Wow man, super impressive.

    Quick question about building in public. How would you build in public and maintain your full-time job, it seems that the most prominent time to post something would be during the day, but then you have to consider that may be on company hours.

    How do you find a fine balance between building your project, building in public, keeping your full-time gig, and saving some time for your family?

    Any words of encouragement would help as well :)


    1. 3

      Thanks Tony!

      I live in SoCal, not far from Temecula. I try to wake up around 6-7 am, that way I have time to think about a tweet before work begins at 9 am.

      In order to stay consistent, I decided to publish every day, which means that I must figure out something to post during the morning, otherwise, I'll break that promise with myself. When there's a specific launch, I use Twitter Web's scheduling feature.

      My work-life balance is pretty unbalanced. In fact, I believe that work-life balance is a utopic vision. You'll never be able to equally divide your time among everything, so instead of stressing about that, I just try to be present in every single thing I do. There are days when I have more room to work on side projects. There are days when I forget everything and just spend time with my family.

      I definitely don't have a formula, but I found that micro iterations are really helpful.

      Small habits, big impacts.

      1. 1

        Small world. Just wanted to stop by and say that I'm in Lake Elsinore. I'm down for a meetup when Covid stuff settles down!

        1. 1

          That would be awesome!

  5. 2

    I'm always curious about the balance between side projects and a full-time job. Do you have any advice when working in a company that is not familiar with this culture? How would you approach this subject?

    1. 3

      It's a really sensitive subject, but I believe you can approach it from an angle that will benefit the company.

      When I look back at all the side projects I made, I always able to learn something new and apply that knowledge to a company project. When your manager sees you acquiring new skills, learning new tools, and then putting them to practice in your day-to-day job, they won't have any arguments against it.

      Side projects are like online courses - the difference is that you're learning by doing, instead of learning by listening. Companies that don't appreciate the fact that you're using your personal time to become a better professional probably don't deserve having good talent.

      Caveat: if you're building something that could be perceived as a competitor of your existing employer, then you should definitely stop and reconsider.

  6. 1

    First of all, Congratulations @zenorocha for your product. I believe generating revenue from an open source is indeed a challenging task. And my question for you is about the same topic.

    I built an open source platform of learning resource called learningin.tech and tried monetizing it by building an informational product out of it. However, it didn't yield enough results. How would you have grown such a product, if you were in my shoes?

    Thank you for doing this!

    1. 2

      Thanks @vd and great question.

      From what I understood, learningin.tech is a collection of links. You curated articles from others and presented them in a better way.

      Although this is valuable, the biggest question here is how can we prove that this path you created is the right one? I'd recommend adding social proof to the site, for example, successful stories of people who followed the "Game Development" track and now got a job in that area.

      Another challenge here is how you bring people to the site. I'd recommend writing more articles about related topics instead of only linking to external resources. At the end of the day, your site is designed in a way where it sends people out of it, instead of keeping them there.

      I feel like you could start an email list too, for people to get weekly updates about those different areas.

      In summary, I'd say that curation is nice, but you could add more value to people's lives. The more value you add, the more they will be willing to pay you.

  7. 1

    What's the exact difference between regular dracula and the pro version?

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