How I Made $200,000 When I Was 16
About three years ago, I published a story about how the Twitter app I built in high school, Follow, reached 150,000 downloads in two years. In that article, I alluded to the even larger story about how I got into software. Well, here it is.
Nine years ago today (wow!) I got my first remote gig writing software. I didn’t have an official title or anything, but I was writing scripts in Java. To give you some perspective, 10 years ago I was in 9th grade, 13 years old, with just three months of self-taught coding experience. Over the next couple of years, I would go on to make ~$200,000 of gross income. Here’s how I did it.
From gaming to coding
It all started when I found myself lost in the gaming world. Most days, I would spend the majority of my time playing Call of Duty, Gears of War, Runescape, and whatever else I could get my hands on. All of my friends would meet up on these games daily to play, and we slowly shifted from being outside most of the day, to playing online.
The most addicting game of them all was Runescape. It didn’t take long before I was hooked on this popular online role-playing game.
For those who don’t know it was built with Java. After numerous times waiting for the game to load, my interest in Java was piqued and this led me down the rabbit hole of software development.
With every Google search, I started to realize that if I knew how to write code, I could build my own software. That thought alone blew my mind. This was only the beginning, and over the next month my interest in programming continued to grow.
Not too long after I realized the power of Java, I found a book online called Teach Yourself Java in 21 days. I downloaded Eclipse and got started. The book fascinated me, and although I was still an avid gamer, I found myself growing more fond of my new hobby everyday.
After school, I would come home, do my chores, play games and code like clockwork. It didn’t take long for me to put my new programming skills to use. I wrote scripts that scanned documents, built random GUIs, and even wrote software to complete my math homework.
At that point in my life, it was like having a superpower that nobody knew about. Excited, I told my friend that I was learning Java and urged him to learn with me. He shrugged it off and stuck to gaming. At that moment, I knew I’d be alone in software, so I continued on my own and nobody knew — not even my family.
Digging deeper into programming
Months went by, and I started to become frustrated with the speed at which I was progressing in Runescape. So, I started to go on the hunt for cheats. To my surprise, there were many macros, bots, and scripts that you could run 24/7 to automatically play the game for you. This fascinated me. I tried every bot I could find, but found that most were garbage. I continued this until I stumbled upon a community that offered a free bot client. It could even run custom scripts. I joined the forum not knowing that within a couple months, my entire life would change.
This community was everything a kid like me could ever dream of! Over the course of a month, I must have tried at least 20 scripts. There were some that cut wood, some that fought monsters, and others that did quests for you. It was amazing what these bots could do automatically without any supervision.
I noticed the scripts were in Java but hadn’t considered trying to make one. Shortly after using those cheats, my account was permanently banned for reasons other than botting (just my luck). I was completely broken. I remember being in my room, on the verge of tears because the account I had spent hours and hours of my life on was banned. I begged Jagex, the company that made Runescape, to lift the ban but they wouldn’t, and I was out of luck.
Turning lemons into lemonade
For a week straight I was angry, sad, and somewhat confused. I was angry and sad for obvious reasons — I had lost something of value to me. However, I was also confused. What would I do now? How would I spend my time? What would I tell my friends?
There were many questions, but I had no answers. It wasn’t long before a lightbulb switched, and I decided I’d make a new account. My idea was that I could use the cheats I found to level up to my original accounts stats, and fast. I was on a mission to get back to where I had fallen from, but there was one problem.
My previous account had high fighting stats, and at the time the community didn’t have many bots that could fight for you. So I went looking. I stumbled upon one bot that could fight chickens, and thought to myself: Why just chickens? Why not any monster?
I looked through the code, and that’s when I realized that with a few modifications, you could make a bot that could fight any monster in the game. With my freshly learned programming skills and some added creativity, I created GenericFighter, the first all-in-one fighter bot.
After some touch-ups and tests, I was confident that GenericFighter was ready. Any monster that I set it up to fight was taken down flawlessly, and I was excited not only to use it, but also to publish it to the community.
Within a few weeks, it was one of the most popular bots on the forum and my Runescape account stats were up. I received a lot of praise, but it didn’t end there. I started to get feature request and bug reports. I became addicted to programming, and the rush of building a product that people loved kept me going.
This went on for a few months. The maintenance of the bot forced me to become better at writing code, which ultimately led me to acquire a deeper knowledge of Java. At this point in time, I was completely unaware of the bigger picture. I had no idea the founders of the forums had a plan to take things to the next level.
I was addicted to code. People noticed.
I began to spend much less time gaming, and the majority of my time developing my bot. I worked hard, and people noticed. One day, I was approached by the founders of the community. They were building a premium marketplace for bots, where bot makers could sell their scripts. I was skeptical, but I decided to join the cause. Soon after, I teamed up with the owner of RSBots.net to offer a premium bot called AutoFighter Pro.
In comparison to other scripts, AutoFighter Pro was offered at a low price of $12.99. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of how the money was distributed between authors, merchants, and the founders. But I will say that AutoFighter Pro had over 30,000 sales from early June, 2009 to late October, 2011. You do the math.
Sales grew every month, and there was hardly ever a down turn. As the platform expanded, the founders invited more authors and merchants to sell scripts. The once tight-knit group became larger and extremely competitive.
It wasn’t long before authors were building copies of others’ scripts and competing over functionality, usability, and price point. Not only were you forced to code, but also to sell yourself and your product. I learned quickly that every detail counts in competition.
I didn’t know it then, but I was balancing between the roles of Product Manager and Engineer. I listened to user feedback, planned features, stayed engaged in forums, and constantly pushed new updates — this was the norm.
In this game, downtime was unacceptable. Users were not only running these bots for personal use, but their businesses also depended upon them. Selling GP (Runescape’s currency) and high stat accounts was a widespread phenomenon, and you had to work hard to meet demands.
Trouble in paradise
From the summer of my freshmen year to the beginning of senior year, my life consisted of a full day of school, an hour of chores, and a night of coding. To some extent, this affected my school performance, because I was so focused on making a better product. Coding became my priority, and I poured all my time into AutoFighter Pro.
When it was all said and done, it could fight multiple monsters simultaneously, automatically heal you, auto-respond to real human players, and many more unique features. But as you might’ve guessed, this didn’t go on forever.
After about one year of selling scripts, there was a lawsuit against the founders. They fought hard for another year, but ultimately lost the case a few days before my 17th birthday. This led to the closure of all sites that were selling premium bots and their forums.
I’ll be honest: when I first started, I didn’t plan on telling anyone about what I was doing. I was excited because things were taking off, but I was also nervous because I didn’t know what I needed to do.
So whom did I tell first? I told my Mom. Her reaction? Intrigued, somewhat confused, and a bit concerned. She didn’t understand what exactly I was doing, how I got into it, or why people paid for it. My Dad also had the same reaction, but they were happy for me and as long as I was protected legally, so they supported it. I never told anyone else until I graduated High School.
At this point you’re probably wondering, what did a kid like me do with all that money? To name a few things: I helped clear family debt, took my family to Disney World, and invested in myself. In hindsight, this opportunity couldn’t have came at a better time for my family and me. It was during the last U.S. recession, and like millions of others during that time, we had our struggles — but I’m proud to say this softened the blow.
Gaming and Programming changed my life.
I’ve been coding, designing, and managing products ever since. Shortly after I stopped working on the bots, I took my extra free time and learned Android development.
In February, 2012 I launched Follow, an app for Twitter that tracks who’s unfollowed you, whom you don’t follow, and who’s followed you. Within a few short months, the app reached 20,000 downloads. I wrote about how it reached 150,000 downloads, and today it has over 200,000 downloads.
After three semesters in college, I dropped out to start Puricode — a product company. We wanted to build products for small businesses and start-ups and release our own internal products. Our first project was Runn, an on-demand delivery app for colleges. We launched a beta test on Wayne State University campus that got a lot of buzz, and led to us cold-emailing Mark Cuban and negotiating an investment.
After two years, we stopped working on Runn, and focused on other opportunities. In addition to my own ventures, I’ve engineered at some great companies: Nexient, Ford, Nima Labs, Gigster, Bird and Upfront Ventures.
I’m now in Venice, California, working on Safe — a privacy and security company.
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RJ /// Rodney Gainous Jr /// @RG2Official /// (424) 334–8004
Life is a game.