I might be a touch late, writing my 2015 end-of-year post in February.
It’s been a pretty good year in some ways, not a great one in others. First off, let’s hit some numbers:
- Rebuilding Rails revenue: $7478.82 on Stripe, $2269.00 on Gumroad
- Special summer sale revenue: $4500-ish
- Rails Deploy In An Hour revenue: $1683.30 (there may be more refunds happening, though.)
These are net of refunds, Stripe and Gumroad fees and so on.
That’s pretty decent Rebuilding Rails revenue, very much in line with
the last two years. I also finally made the switch to Gumroad, so I’m
not doing my own invoicing any more. The remaining chunk of time I
spend on it week-to-week is debugging problems people hit with the
software, and that shouldn’t go down much – the whole point is
helping new people learn Rails. If they’re doing it right, they’re
debugging. And talking programming with me isn’t something I can foist
off on a remote assistant.
The summer sale was the big package thing I did with several other
Ruby authors. Looking at the final tally, I wasn’t quite the worst
performer in the group for drumming up sales, but I’m honestly
embarrassed. The other authors basically wound up cutting me a check
for them selling their own products, and I didn’t contribute nearly as
much as I got. On the one hand, that was very nice of them and I
appreciate it. On the other hand, I really need to up my game. And not
count on being invited to the next sale. I did email my list and put
out the word on Twitter. But I’m pretty clearly not in the same class
as several of those folks. I just didn’t realize how far off I was.
The Rails Deploy In An Hour revenue won’t be increasing, and may
class is shut down at this point, and it won’t be reopening. The
open-source Ruby Mad
Science software is still on GitHub, but won’t be updated with any
If you’ve been watching me carefully you know I’m releasing a database migrations ebook. The
current revenue on that is a nice even $0, though I hope that’ll go up
over time. There’s a beta ebook, I’ve sent my mailing list a few
chapters and I’m recording some videos to go with it. High hopes,
little or no actuality yet.
The big thing I’m missing from last year’s roundup: I was going to
release some kind of microproduct. I started a couple of them and then
just wussed out and didn’t, unless you count the migration ebook (and
you shouldn’t, it’s too big.) I keeping looking at putting something
together for $5 that would otherwise be free and thinking, “but that
doesn’t help anybody enough to be worth getting out their credit
card.” Which is often true, but I’m still not doing myself any good
by not getting it done. So: this year that needs to happen, preferably
quite early in the year. Maybe a screencast or recording for the
database ebook, released independently but also bundled with the
database product? Eh, we’ll see.
(Also not shown: other income from places like my day job and
retirement account. I’m not living on this little in the SF Bay Area.)
Things I’ve Noticed
Sending stuff out about Rails Deploy In An Hour or No More Lost Data
still helps keep people interested overall, and still sells copies of
Rebuilding Rails. So that’s nice. I did a little better at posting to
my blog monthly-ish and emailing
people maybe half that often.
I feel like the quality of my writing has gone up a fair bit. I also
feel like I can routinely churn out decent writing on demand. I need
less specific inspiration.
I haven’t done great at keeping my tempo – at doing a similar amount
week after week. Some of that is just the amount of work in my life.
I work full time, currently for Daqri,
I built the class and shut it down, I wrote the initial version of the
Database Migration book, and I do a lot of that in short bursts. I’m
still more of a sprinter than a marathon runner, but slowly getting
Working Toward the Future
I’m working hard on video. Specifically, I’ve taught myself to use
Final Cut Pro, I’ve bought some lighting setup, I can use my camcorder
reasonably comfortably, my editing doesn’t feel utterly terrible… I
have plans for a series of short videos for No More Lost Data. I’m
sure they’ll fall short of my imagination. But the important part is:
I need a stream of money from videos so I can start to afford the bits
that cost ongoing money (e.g. music and stock video, lighting gear,
professional hosting.) Rails Deploy In An Hour has reminded me what a
good idea it is that I don’t take on a bunch of new (expensive) site
memberships without a stream of money to pay for it. I thought I was
doing it on the cheap, but it still never made enough money to even
pay back its initial investment. I seriously considered paying for,
say, a real membership site like Summit Evergreen, and that would have
been really, really stupid. Start on the cheap.
With video, that’s hard. But I can still do “cheap for video”, and
mostly I’m doing that well.
I’m slowly learning what makes a good product and what doesn’t. It
turns out, the kind of customer pain that makes people buy things is
very specific. People often complain in ways that don’t translate to
spending money, or spend money in ways that don’t let me sell a
product to them (e.g. Heroku vs RDIAH.) “Pain” isn’t nearly specific
enough, and “specific pain” sounds good, but it’s more “there’s this
one specific kind of pain that counts and a bunch of other pains that
don’t.” Working on it.
At some point this year, I acquired the self image that goes, “I’m a
person who makes products, and will continue to make products.” It’s
surprisingly useful. Amy Hoy talks a lot about just getting stuff
done whether you’re motivated or not. I’ve made a big step up on that
front. I’m on a weekly schedule, not a daily schedule for that – not
perfect. But I get some useful stuff done every week, because that’s
just part of what I do. So soon or late, I’ll manage some level of
I’ve also been watching the folks who do this long enough to have a
feel for what counts as “success.” It’s gonna be ridiculously hard to
beat my Silicon Valley salary doing this, for instance, without hiring
employees. That’s the kind of thing I used to have no perspective on,
and which other product folks won’t tell you. I’ve been reading and
doing this long enough to have the beginning of a sense of
perspective, and a bit of gut-level intuition about what results are
Other Things That Happened
The big news this year was my wife taking our two kids on a
nearly-six-month road trip. We’re home schoolers, this was planned
(for years) and it was awesome. I stayed home and worked to pay for
the trip. When our youngest turns ten, we’re planning to go on a
trip around the world which I will get to go on.
The kids had loads of fun and learned an amazing amount. And the big
thing my wife wants for them is a sense of perspective, of how people
are different from place to place. The trip was fabulous for that.
We’re adding a bathroom to our house. My wife has very specific ideas
about what it should come out looking like. So next year we’ll either
have a fabulous bathroom or a contractor horror story. I’m hopeful –
the guys she found seem very competent.
For Next Year
I still need to create some kind of mini-product, something genuinely
cheap and small, dammit. So my “homework” on this is: create something
tiny, attempt to charge for it, swallow my pride on whether it’s “good
enough” or “big enough to be a product.” The worst that happens is
nobody immediately decides to buy. Coincidentally, that’s where I
already am. And the way I learn what kind of pain makes for a good
product is to fail and fail and fail. There are many folks who will
tell me they have the secret formula for this – I have already paid
several of them. There is no secret formula, not even the ones
involving lots of research. Mostly, you have to fail a lot, sometimes
while pretending those failures are successes. I’m off to a fine
I need to clean up a few loose ends while closing down Rails Deploy In
An Hour. I don’t expect they’ll be anything interesting enough there
to be in next year’s wrap-up, it’s just one more set of things to do.
So: for next year, I need to be 100% finished cleaning up RDIAH, to
have created at least one tiny mini-product (probably some kind of
$5-$10 video) and to have created some kind of video product, probably
a video series as the high-end package for No More Lost Data.
I’ll keep an eye out for doing some consulting work on the side this
coming year. It eats a lot of time, but realistically, it’s hard to
beat a good consulting rate with product work. In theory, that’s
offset by the fact that you do no marginal work for the product
(“passive income”). In practice, I do enough continuing work on my
book to take it to a just-pretty-good hourly rate, plus of course it’s
lots of work up front (and some money up front) for a not-guaranteed
This wrap-up doesn’t have the (mistaken) triumphant tone that I had
last year, where anything felt possible and I thought I had come up
with a great new product. But it feels good and sustainable. It just
feels like it’s a lot farther from me to, say, making enough money to
do this for a living.
Which makes sense. That has always been far away. The people who
make a living out of this immediately either get very, very lucky or
do a lot of consulting, in fact if not in name. It’s always been true,
I’m just seeing it now. It’s not frustrating, it’s just how things