Author Topic: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?  (Read 2689 times)

damyst

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I work as a software engineer, still a few years away from FI. Fortunately, I LOVE creating software. I expect to continue doing so for many years to come.
Having FI would mean the ability to work on whatever project I want, whenever I want, for however long I want. That's awesome! But I suspect that I'll be more motivated, and ultimately happier, if my projects end up generating some sort of revenue.

I've been trying to come up with a (subjective) list of characteristics for great post-FIRE software projects. Here's the crux of it (leaving out requirements that are optional or easily satisfied):

1. Generates some income.
2. Generates only modest demand for customer support, and can be walked away from completely without inflicting pain on others. I'd be wary of selling a product or service that people depend on for their livelihoods, since I may not be able/willing to support them well enough. I'm also not looking to do contract work.
3. Can be scaled up (to generate more income) or down (to take up less time).

There are different ways to make money selling software. Some are probably more suitable to the RE lifestyle than others.
Is it best to set up free web-based services and rely on ad revenue? Sell subscription-based online services? Create mobile apps? Build traditional desktop products? Something else entirely?
I'd love to learn from the experiences of those who have been there, or had thought along these lines.

Metric Mouse

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2017, 05:37:37 AM »
As a topic I have almost no knowledge of, I'd love to hear more about this.

scottish

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2017, 09:01:27 AM »
Mobile apps are pretty saturated.    You need a novel approach to get attention these days, especially as an indy developer.

I think a good service is the way to go.   YNAB is a good example of this isn't it?   This approach has a number of advantages
- you can offer a free trial period so potential customers can try it without having to fork over a credit card.   This eliminates reasons not to try the product.
- if it's good, you get a steady recurring income
- if it's web based, your upgrade and maintenance problem becomes much easier.   You don't have to ship upgrades out to all your active customers, you just have to upgrade your software at origin
- cloud services like AWS and Azure remove a lot of capital requirements

The hard part is finding a novel application that thousands of people will like enough to pay for, that's small enough in scope you don't need a big organization to build and maintain it, and that has a competitive silo so some bigger player won't come along and eat your lunch.


damyst

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2017, 10:51:32 AM »
Thanks scottish, these are great points. However, they're not specific to FIRE.
You can make a great career as an independent software vendor, and I've been reading some good content on https://successfulsoftware.net/.
But that's still work - not retirement. I'm basically wondering whether it's feasible to scale down the ideas expressed there to something even less demanding, given that I won't be relying on this income to pay my bills.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2017, 10:59:19 AM by damyst »

scottish

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2017, 11:29:35 AM »
Nice blog, thanks for that.

I suspect your requirements will lead to a blog-style approach where you make money off of advertising somehow.    See if anyone else posts...

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2017, 11:38:36 AM »
I'm in the same boat here, Software engineer who loves to build!

My suggestion is to work on Web based stuff. If you can find something you are passionate about which you can build a website on, you can monetize it with google ads and affiliate advertising. Unless you are a writer and have an unique viewpoint on a subject, I would not recommend a blog. Of course, a blog which is ancillary to the web site might be useful. Since I am an engineer, my writing skills are lacking and my writing style quite terse.

The passion and quality for the subject is more important than the need for monetizing (look at great project like cFireSim, where passion comes thru)

My requirements were that I could run a website anywhere in the world and needs less than a couple of hours work every week. It did not need me to put in content on a regular basis (e.g blog posts).

One of the things I did was a vocabulary game (vocabking.com). It was fun to build, helped me learn (I was a back end developer, did not know web stuff) and it makes me a few hundred dollars a year. Zero maintenance (well, I have to make this mobile capable...) and no customer support. I made an mobile app (iPhone native app) for this, but it was a huge waste of time. The big lesson here was to use the web and do not get pigeon-holed into a very company specific environment.

I also tried building an online wine store. I built the store, and a friend who had the wine store would fill the orders. I thought this separation of duties would be great. Again meeting my requirement of minimal continuing work. This had a potential of a 6 figure payout per year if it was executed well, but unfortunately did not work (not due to the online store, it failed in fulfilling the orders). I had  a great time building it and learning about this area. The big lesson that I learned is that I do not want to do any project in a partnership where the partner failure to execute can cause your work to go down the drain.

I have a couple of more ideas, but have not got the patience to work on them (my drive has reduced since I got FI).
« Last Edit: January 01, 2017, 11:43:02 AM by CowboyAndIndian »

Ben Hogan

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2017, 11:55:31 AM »
Can you guys do what the digital nomads trend seems to do, and get contract jobs from the pay per project programming sites?

http://digitalnomadsforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=35


AnonymousCoward

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2017, 03:34:11 PM »
You could contribute to an open source project you care about, and promote yourself via a blog/twitter and get consulting gigs that way.

GuitarStv

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2017, 03:37:32 PM »
You could contribute to an open source project you care about, and promote yourself via a blog/twitter and get consulting gigs that way.

+1

I think that open source is the best approach.  There's only your love tying you to a desk . . . but it keeps you coding and sharp in case you need to pick up a job for more income.

bacchi

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2017, 03:41:32 PM »
Can you guys do what the digital nomads trend seems to do, and get contract jobs from the pay per project programming sites?

http://digitalnomadsforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=35

Hahahahahahahaha. *wipes tears*

Competing with Indians for short-term remote jobs would mean minimum wage, at best, for those of us in the west. Getting piecemeal work is a possibility if your work is known (from a former boss or on a recommendation); bidding on short contract jobs is a race to the bottom.

damyst

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #10 on: January 01, 2017, 04:00:46 PM »
Thanks to everyone who's commented so far. CowboyAndIndian especially - thanks very much for this perspective! Super helpful. You're definitely undervaluing your writing skills, by the way.   

Something I tried to clarify in the OP and maybe failed, so trying again: I have zero interest in contracting gigs.
I get paid handsomely as a full-time senior engineer. I'm very engaged in what I do, and would rather work an extra year or two before retiring than bail early and go in search of part-time work later.

What's I'm looking for is a way to spin private for-fun projects into a side income, to be used to buy... I dunno, boats, or fancy ski trips, or give to charity or whatever.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2017, 06:02:07 PM »
Thanks to everyone who's commented so far. CowboyAndIndian especially - thanks very much for this perspective! Super helpful. You're definitely undervaluing your writing skills, by the way.   

Thank you. Let me know if you need any help or a second viewpoint.

scottish

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #12 on: January 02, 2017, 07:49:26 AM »
The open source approach has lots of appeal if you're not worried at all about short term income.    You work on it when you're not out skiing, kayaking or whatever you decided to do when you RE.      Minimal financial commitments.

If your ideas work out, there are lots of ways to leverage them to develop an income source.   (Look at Linux or ffmpeg for example.   I'm pretty sure the core developers can pick and choose interesting assignments)  This will still be work, but you don't have to make a big commitment until you see how things are going...


FIRECracker

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2017, 03:40:00 PM »
Interesting question! In my opinion, unless you're doing software consulting, if MONEY is the main motivation for a side project, it's very likely that the project will fail. Most projects that end up generating large income streams started as a passion project, where the creator didn't care about money at all. They were just building a community and trying to use their skills to help people. The money only came later, and even then, very gradually over a long period of time.

That being said, if you find people who've successfully built a side income and get them to mentor you, you could probably learn from their mistakes and get there faster. Still, if the passion is not there and the willingness to do it for free or very little money, you will run into obstacles, and without the immediately gratification of money, you'll want to give up.

I would say be a part of the community first (eg, if you're building FIRE software, be apart of the FIRE community), find out what their pain points are, and built products to solve those problems. The key is to start simple and small, test to see if anyone finds it useful, refine it and then iterate. Nothing is perfect on the first try so you have to keep testing to iron out the kinks.

Hope that helps! I don't think there is one magical answer to this question. There are many paths to take to make a successful product, but it takes a lot of time, testing, and refining. So if your motivation is passion, you will last much longer than if it is money. The money will only come when the product proves its worth.


AZDude

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2017, 07:16:10 PM »
As someone who is a software engineer(well sort of, I used to be now I just collect a paycheck and once in awhile write some semi-useful automation code), I would definitely suggest open source projects as well.

I have done some side gigs writing code, some successful, some not. If I was writing something for someone else, I hated every minute of it. The few things I wrote just because, or hoped they would make money were more fun, but ultimately did not get anywhere.


damyst

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Re: Software developers: what does a great post-FIRE project look like?
« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2017, 01:56:07 AM »
Thanks again to everyone who chimed in. You gave me some great points to consider.

The subject of open source came up repeatedly. When I think of open source, I think of contributing to large projects (e.g. Linux, or Chromium, or GIMP, etc). That sounds like a great way to promote yourself and to hone your skills, but I doubt that I would find passion in fixing other people's bugs, or in submitting features to maintainers with inflated egos who play politics and/or look after the interests of corporate sponsors.
Any open-source contributors out there want to dispel that impression?
One can also start their own open source project, but those are a dime a dozen, and less likely to make an impact than contributing to established, popular software.

I'm tending towards the idea of contributing an online service, without necessarily contributing the code that runs it (at least at first).

Thanks for encouraging me to worry about passion now and leave the monetization aspect till later. As an aside, that's terrible advice for a startup company... but I'm not looking to set up a startup company.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2017, 09:03:21 AM by damyst »