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 decrease. The 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 real frequency.

If you’ve been watching me carefully you know I’m releasing a (edited to add: now defunct) 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 better.

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 significant success.

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 reasonably possible.

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 start.

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 eventual result.

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 work.