Exactly four months ago, Jason Kottke found my project, NewsBlur, and tweeted:

Looking like @newsblur is the @pinboard of Google’s deliciousing of Reader.

— Jason Kottke (@jkottke) November 1, 2011

In that time, every measure of traffic, paid subscriptions, and community feedback has cleared new heights on my revered munin charts. But I kept my full-time job and only worked on NewsBlur as a side-project, as I have been doing for the past two years.

I’m at a slow but steady trickle of users, enough of whom convert into paying premium subscribers to pay for the increasing number of servers (now costing almost $800/month!). But a vocal support forum and an ever-increasing trickle of payments aren’t what convinced me to dedicate myself full-time to my humble project.

What convinced me is that life’s too short.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do

Yesterday was my last day at Tasty Labs. Today is my first day as a full-time indie developer.

— Samuel Clay (@samuelclay) February 23, 2012

I’m following the better-half of my inner-Jobs and choosing to follow the path of doing what I love to do.1 It’s going to be expensive on my part. There will be no paycheck, health insurance runs out in a few months, and even on an exceptionally good day, premium subscriptions bring in only about half of my former salary.

Paying customers are keeping things afloat

It’s not that big a risk. Users are choosing to pay and choosing how much to pay. Some users opt to pay a $12/year at a buck a month, while some choose to pay $36/year at $3/month. The servers cost roughly .75x what premium subscriptions bring in. That gap between cost and revenue is growing steadily, as the servers I have are running at 25% capacity.

Maciej Ceglowski, of Pinboard fame, has written extensively about the scourge of free services not taking payments from users. From a recent February 2012 presentation, he writes of the three types of services [pdf]:

Business Model #1: Charge Money

This is a groundbreaking new approach where a site accepts fungible tokens of value in return for a product or service.

Business Model #2: Burn Money

Find a sponsor with deep pockets and run at a loss indefinitely.

Business Model #3: Offer a Free Service and Fail

The most popular business model has been to offer a free service and then shut down (or transition to model #1).

You can look forward to new features, bug fixes, and an unending stream of progress, all because you’re paying me for the work I do. It’s a simple setup that helps me sleep at night. I’m building an honest product. You know what you’re paying for. And NewsBlur will continue to be ad-free, because ads are not part of the product that I want to use myself.

So much time, so little to do. Strike that! Reverse it.

In what I can only consider a bizarrely wonderful coincidence, I see this the morning after I declared freedom:

@samuelclay Good luck!

— Google Reader (@googlereader) February 24, 2012

The wind’s at my back, and I’m feeling pretty good about this.2

The worse-half of my inner-Jobs insists on perfection and never gets anything shipped. The balancing act between better and done is about the only constant in this crazy dream to be a self-sustaining indie dev. ↩︎

You should follow NewsBlur’s development on Github. I live on props, so that’d make me feel even better. ↩︎