Getting paid directly by users to craft software for them

I’m sharing an idea that I’m considering to follow: a different way for software developers to make a living out of their passion for making products, while remaining completely independent.

Are employers and clients middlemen that we can completely get rid of? Let’s see!

Introducting Patreon

I’ve recently discovered Patreon, a platform for creatives to crowdfund their work.

Landing page of Patreon.com, a service that promises recurring funding for creators

In contrast with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Ulule and IndieGoGo, Patreon pages are not projects with a defined timeline (i.e. funding, building, shipping, thanking), but rather open-ended / continuous production efforts.

For example, it’s working very well for artists who regularly produce and distribute podcasts, Youtube videos, or even blog posts.

According to Graphtreon’s ranking, top-10 performers earn between $25k and $35k per month thanks to the financial support of their fans (called “patrons”), and thus living very well from their craft!

Top-performing creators on Patreon.com, screenshot from graphtreon.com

Patreon for software creators?

Does this work for software creators too?”, I hear you ask. Well, Patreon was not designed for that, but it does generate revenue for some of them (if you take adult products into account)!

A selection of software creators that are performing well on Patreon:

Curious about the relevance of this platform for myself, I asked one of the most successful solo product developer I know, Pieter Levels:

And, even though he’s known for earning income by bootstrapping products and charging users directly, his reply was rather positive!

Nevertheless, as he mentions, Patreon will not bring you millions of fans automatically. Similarly to other crowdfunding platforms, and even if getting featured on their platform can help a lot, you have to bring your own fans in order to have a chance of success.

How can I make it work for me?

Before I explain how I could pay the bills by distributing my software on Patreon, let me give some context for those who are not familiar with my background: (with hyperlinks, if you want more details)

I’ve been programming since I was 6 years old. I got a Masters in software engineering in 2006, worked during 1 year for a consulting company, then enrolled into a PhD thesis in order to work on my own project. Because I found that the world of academic research was too slow for me, I joined a startup, Whyd, and lead the development of our product during 4.5 years: a curation platform for music lovers. Last year, I left Whyd, freelanced for clients, and took all my time back for working on my own projects again. Including Openwhyd, which I helped open-sourcing and am now maintaining and coordinating. I have 6 months worth of savings, sitting on a bank account. 6 months to find a way to live out of my own projects.

tl;dr: I’m building software on my own. I have 6 months to be profitable.

After 1 month of complete freedom (i.e. no clients, nor engagements of any sort towards other people), working on my own projects, I’m getting some positive interest (through Pitchcard) and feedback (through my newsletter “productivity tips”) on my product ideas.

Stats of my first productivity app on Chrome Web Store, 7 days after publication: 4 five-star reviews, 12 users.

…But I’m still far away from having convinced a solid crowd of users, and have made no plan on how to earn income from the work I’ve done.

So, how could I use Patreon to make a living out of my software?

  • Objective: earn 100€/month before January 31st; then 2000€/month before June 1st.
  • Promise: craft and ship small but useful products for my patrons, to help them become happier, accomplished and more efficient in their everyday life. (this is well aligned with my values, and my passion for productivity practices)
  • Interaction with patrons: attentively listen and respond to product requests and feature requests, in order to improve the quality of my products, and thus the satisfaction and loyalty of my patrons.
  • Proposed rewards for best patrons: give a higher attention and priority on their feature and product requests; thank them publicly by mentioning them in my products and/or social networks; deliver custom/personalized versions of my products just for them.

This sounds nice to me! What do you think?

Either way, let’s get to the meat: how do I get people to actually support me on my future Patreon page.

How to get my patrons

In a nutshell: similarly to what I did with my previous rock band when we successfully crowdfunded the recording of our album.

Screenshot of the successful crowdfunding camping of my ex-band
  1. I would ask my friends and family to support me, and to spread the word to their friends who might be interested in the promise to do likewise. Then, I would adjust my Patreon page, based on eventual feedback from them. As advised by my girlfriend Camille, I will not hesitate to also talk about this project and show my motivation and motives to my friends, in person. (she had to insist on this, because I hate asking favors and being pushy with my friends)
  2. I would ask the 100 subscribers of my two newsletters to support me too. I’ll still have to decide whether I’ll keep maintaining these newsletters, or not. Again, I’ll apply their feedback, because my subscribers matter to me.
  3. Only then, if I feel that this project has a chance to work, I would announce my Patreon page publicly, through Twitter and Medium posts.
  4. Finally, I would probably launch a first product on ProductHunt, and take that opportunity (of high visibility) to ask for support on my Patreon page.
What do you think of that plan?
Do you have any suggestions or tips to share with me, to help me succeed? 
I can’t wait to read your comments!

NEWS: I finally launched my Patreon Page! 🚀

If you want to support my project, become one of my first patrons! 🔥