49
32 Comments

We’ve grown an open-source project from $1k to $10k MRR in 9 months, AMA!

Hi IH! I’ve been a long-time lurker and built more than 10 mildly successful side projects already. But the one that finally worked was a side project of a side project and the only one, that didn’t had the goal of making money.

Scratch your own itch

Three years ago, we worked on a project management tool and failed to find a text editor that comes without pre-defined styling. We had enough of writing !important !important !important in the CSS. Without thinking too much about it, we’ve built our own solution and open sourced it for everyone. I guess that’s what “scratching your own itch” means. 😅

This became one of the most popular text editors:

  • 12k stars on GitHub
  • ~200,000 page views/month
  • ~800,000 downloads/month (still growing strongly)
  • $10,000 MRR through donations on GitHub and OpenCollective
  • used by GitLab, Statamic, Nextcloud and many more: https://tiptap.dev

We’re working full-time on it, and are just about to release a subscription model on top of it. Making money with open source isn’t easy, but can be very fulfilling and I’m pretty positive about the future of our open source work. 💫

The dark side of open source

But let’s talk about the dark side of open source, too:

  • Our very own company, the digital product agency überdosis (https://ueberdosis.io/), funded the first ~1,500 hours where we had less than $1k MRR. 😬
  • GitHub, npm, packagist and others don’t provide the tools to make money with open source. It’s up to us build that infrastructure, for example to give sponsors access to exclusive content.
  • Too many companies offer us jobs with 6-figure salaries, but fail to donate a 3-figure sum.

By the way, I believe that free open source software plays an important role to make bootstrapping feasible. Build cool things with the software the big players use too, but for free. ✌️

Any questions? AMA!

  1. 4

    Awesome to see you here, been using Tiptap for a while and I love it! You totally deserve the success.

    1. 1

      Thanks @ngajhede! What are you building? ✌️

  2. 2

    Thanks for the AMA Hans and congrats to you and your team for reaching this milestone!

    I'm the owner of an open-source project too and I started making some money from it this year. Open-source is definitely not easy to make money out of!

    I was wondering if you have any tips for incentivizing businesses to contribute financially or if there is something you've done repeatedly and noticed that led businesses to support the project.

    Cheers,
    Raz

    1. 2

      Amazing, Raz! Things most businesses want:

      • The attention of the creators/maintainers → offer monthly calls, a private Slack channel …
      • Hiring engineers that work with the technology they use → publish job ads
      • Brag → show their logo in the docs/repository
      • Specific features → offer custom development for a premium
      • Support → offer to prioritise their issues

      Hope that helps!

      1. 1

        All very good points! Thanks a lot, this helped me modify the messaging in my Sponsors dashboard 🙏

    2. 1

      If I can chime in here, I saw many open source projects post company backers on their READMEs and websites. From there, I thought it would be a good idea to Post those analytics publicly https://grey.software/analytics

  3. 2

    I was looking for a good rich text library for my project and came across TipTap. I started using it and I loved it compared to others I've used in the past. This milestone is totally deserved. Congratulations!

  4. 2

    Massive respect, transforming Github star onto revenue is hard work

    1. 1

      Thanks @mickaelk! I’m enjoying the journey though. ✌️

  5. 2

    This is great work!

    1. 1

      Thanks @chinchang! You’re amazing. :)

  6. 2

    Hey Hans -- congrats on TipTap and the $10K MRR! It looks like a fantastic editor. I might have used it instead of Slate for my project if I had discovered it sooner.

    My question is: how did you market TipTap? Where did you find your initial users?

    I'm also particularly excited about your real-time collaboration project hocuspocus. Any timeline on when that might get released?

    1. 3

      I know the feeling of building something and wishing “more people would see it”! This feeling doesn’t exist for tiptap. With other products we’ve worked months towards a ProductHunt launch, or tried multiple things to land on HackerNews, or whatever. Nothing really worked.

      For tiptap it’s the opposite, other people post it on ProductHunt, HackerNews and so on. If I see it, I’ll try to jump into the comments, but we don’t do anything to promote the URL or anything.

      That all comes back to us giving value away for free. Other editors cost thousands of dollars per year, our’s is free.

      So my recommendation for everyone building something: Don’t think in businesses. Think about what value you can provide to others.

      → Look for ways to help. If that works, look for ways to help others that scales (in our case a package, a documentation and so on).

      BTW our stats are public
      https://plausible.io/tiptap.dev

  7. 2

    As someone who has used Tiptap on Vue for a school project, thank you for your awesome library.

    I am happy to see that you guys have sponsors that can help you continue what you do, and I have faith that the momentum of monetization in the open-source world will continue to open doors for Open source creators like us.

    Have you tried reaching out to oss.capital?

    1. 2

      Thanks @arsala! Not yet, will check them out!

      Keep building cool things!

  8. 2

    How is the subscription model going to look like?

    1. 3

      Tiptap Pro Subscribers and Sponsors will get access to new and advanced extensions early (1 per month). :) Some of them are pretty exciting IMO.

      1. 1

        How do you plan to distribute these extensions (npm, zip archive or something else)?

        1. 1

          Private npm packages 👌

  9. 1

    Hi, congrats on your success!
    A couple of questions (actually 4):

    1. You mention some "pro extensions" available for those who support you. But I didn't find any mention or list or description of them anywhere.
    2. How do you handle the pull requests? I have a couple of open-source projects and several contributors there and it's not easy for me to manage them and decide if I want to merge changes or not.

    Last year announced that we’ll be working on tiptap v2 and asked the community to sponsors us.

    3). How did in practice you do that? I mean do you have any newsletter list or whatsoever? Or was it done via GitHub discussions?

    1. How do you find the GitHub discussions, is it easy to manage, convenient to use?

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      Thanks @SeaCat! Happy to answer.

      1. Yes, we’re currently inviting people manually. We plan to open the doors for everyone next week. :)

      2. Oh, yes. I think I could write a lot about PRs. I’d recommend to state your expectations somewhere prominent (no PRs, only PRs with tests, only PRs for the docs … whatever your expectation is) and add examples of things you don’t want (PRs for new features, PRs that introduce breaking changes …). And then feel free to close PRs. Some people think that open source means everyone can contribute, but that’s not it. For most projects more than 90 % of the code comes from the core team, but they still have to maintain, update, document the contributed code. If you want to do that, fine! If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine, too! Just keep your expectations transparent.

      For tiptap we have all kinds of PRs, some are really, really helpful. Some not. :) But I can’t remember any bigger PR that didn’t lead to additional work for us (writing tests, writing docs, fixing newly introduced bugs …).

      For me personally, it’s important to be thankful for everyone trying to contribute and I try to give helpful feedback to everyone.

      1. We had a “tiptap v2” issue for years. We used this to collect our own ideas and a lot of people chimed in with their ideas or just subscribed (48 people). That was probably like a small, but powerful mailing list with engaged users: https://github.com/ueberdosis/tiptap/issues/547

      On top of that we added a banner to the docs which already had 100k page views/month, where we linked to blog posts about v2.

      1. GitHub discussions don’t work very well for us. I miss a few features, it doesn’t have much visibility, it’s not very active … It helped to decrease the number of issues, that’s all. :/

      Discord works well for us! We have a server with more than 500 people and people start to help each other. I don’t like it that much, because it helps only those people and only at that time, nothing that can be indexed on Google and so on. But maybe I’m just getting old. :) People seem to enjoy it.

      Hope that helps!

      1. 2

        Thanks for your detailed response! I now see I just had to set up some clear rules for all the contributors. Another thing I neglected was my responsibility for each piece of code they contribute (whereas now people even don't test their changes!) My repo - my rules :)

  10. 1

    Hey Hans. Congrats. How long did it take to make your first $200 MRR with TipTap? Grüße, Dimi

    1. 1

      We released tiptap v1 in August 2018. We had a donate button, and over the last three years I think we earned $150 in total. 😅

      Last year announced that we’ll be working on tiptap v2 and asked the community to sponsors us. I think we’ve been at $200 MRR after three months or so.

      But it took really off, when we gave sponsors access to the then private tiptap v2. That was a huge motivation to sponsor and helped us to get $5,000 MRR. We then released tiptap v2 for everyone.

      1. 2

        Cool, thanks! All the best for you guys. Happy to see successful projects.

  11. 1

    Wow I didn't know about this project and I'm actually in the market looking for a good WYSIWYG editor. It looks great!

    1. 1

      Amazing! tiptap is an amazing choice if you want to control the styling and/or the behaviour of your text editor, and I’m obvsly biased, but I’d say that can make a big difference for your product.

      Seeing people building cool things with tiptap is the biggest motivation to keep going, by the way. ✌️

  12. 1

    How many people(1) and how many hours(2) are currently working on your open source projects?

    What would be a good first investment of hours to start an open source project (3) which makes so much fun, that you don’t want to work for clients anymore (but have to)? Like 30% worktime or 1month 100%? Any recommendations?

    How motivating and frustrating is it to work on open source projects? (4) Based on the users (aka Client) feedback and the community?

    What are you doing different, than others maintaining open source projects?(5)

    1. 4

      Thanks! Happy to answer. ✌️

      (1) We’re not really working 9 to 5, so it’s hard to say. Philipp is fully focused on the open source part, I’m working on everything related (development, support, docs, testing, custom development, calls with sponsors now and then …). We have two more developers focusing on the new subscription platform, currently at 50 % or so.

      So it’s a lot time we put in, but we also try to advance on multiple tracks. With tiptap, a subscription platform for tiptap, another more or less secret open source project …

      (2) There are definitely shortcuts, but with every bigger project we needed ~1.000 hours to get if off the ground. Some have been more complex (project management), some have been easier (macOS apps). With the other secret open source project, we’ve been able to get more than $30k funding after less than 300 hours, so that’s possible too, but probably related to the success of tiptap.

      Generally speaking: Making an open source project feels like building two businesses. One that’s popular and one that’s making money. They are related and benefit from each other, but still in many regards 2x the work.

      If you want to start an open source project: I think of all the ways (ebooks, courses, macOS apps, SaaS …) it’s probably the hardest. So do it, but don’t expect earning money quickly.

      (3) In open source, everything starts with helping people. It feels like we help 1.000 people and hope that 100 get back and help us. I don’t have an idea for an open source project to share, but it’s the best to start small. Once you have some people interested in your work, you might want to look into Sponsorware: https://github.com/sponsorware/docs

      (4) I enjoy working with the people on GitHub. It totally changed my mind once we crossed the $1.000/month or so. Now, I want to help everyone, because I know that a lot of the people actually make the work on it possible. Not everyone, but the community at whole. The most frustrating part is to see startups getting millions of funding, without even having 50 users … 😅

      (5) Philipp and I, we are both designers running an open source project. I think that’s a big difference. We invest so much time to present everything more like a product, put so much effort into improving the developer experience and so on.

      1. 1

        Woah, thank you for your insights and the time to reply! :) Keep on going, Hans (and Team)!

        1. 1

          I hope you know that you can reach out to me anytime. Happy to answer further questions. ✌️

Trending on Indie Hackers
I will promote your startup to 50K+ people 235 comments 📈 We raised $500K pre-seed for our Reddit Marketing Tool 22 comments How I Acquired a Mobile App on Flippa (and grew it from $700/MRR to $5.4k) 16 comments Steph Smith on making $130k w/ an ebook, creating a course in 20 days, and the latest trends 10 comments Feedback, please: does the landing page explain the product? 7 comments Helpful article on starter questions for user research 5 comments