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Ruurtjan
Ruurtjan

Posted on • Originally published at nslookup.io

I quit my job to make free web tools

I quit my job. I'm now unemployed. It feels great to finally be able to write this blog post. I remember daydreaming about making an aggregation site for flash games back when I was 10 years old. Teaching myself rudimentary HTML and CSS, I managed to build a page with tables and iframes. It wouldn't be until I went to university that I started shipping my side projects. It's been a long time in the making. Of all the side projects I've done over the years, most failed, with only two standing the test of time.

Project Why it failed
Flash games aggregation site ❌ Lack of tech skills
Line number remover ❌ Search volume too low
winkels.in ❌ Search volume too low (Dutch only)
gazelle-kopen.nl ❌ Search volume too low (Dutch only)
iplocation.tools ❌ Couldn't get it to rank in Google
Road cycling analytics webapp ❌ Drowned in technical debt
Pascal number visualizer ❌ Passion project, no growth potential
stars.ruurtjan.com ❌ Passion project, no growth potential
Avro file format parser ❌ Learning project
Tech talk aggregation site ❌ Hard to get high-quality data
Pastebin for Markdown files ❌ Hosting anonymous user-generated content is a legal minefield
Doing Project Euler exercises ❌ Learning project
Mobile game that divides the earth in hexagons ❌ Couldn't figure out the math
Automatic audio transcription ❌ Couldn't find a better angle than the competition
Linear algebra implementation in Scala ❌ Learning project
WhoIsMyISP.org ✅ Started 8 years ago, profitable and growing
NsLookup.io ✅ Started 2 years ago, profitable and growing

Only two projects ended up becoming profitable. The first one, whoismyisp.org, was a bit of a lucky shot. I didn't do any research before starting, and it was only a single page when it launched. It took years before making even a small profit. Since then, it has grown slowly over the past 8 years, and now has partnerships with NordVPN and ipinfo.io.

Nslookup.io was more deliberate, with basic SEO research, financial and time investment upfront. It is a site where you can do DNS lookup online. If you're interested, I'll write a follow-up blog on how to pick the right side project some time next month.

Autocompleting DNS lookup on NsLookup.io

What about money?

Quitting my job obviously means missing out on the largest part of my income. The opportunity cost is massive. I sat down with my wife to discuss if we want to make this investment, and how we'll sustain our family in the meantime.

I'm lucky to work in an industry where the demand for workers is growing faster than the supply, so I'm confident I could get a freelance gig (or a job) within a month if things don't work out. That means that the risk of this endeavor is capped at my missed income.

We were able to save up during the past for 6.5 years of working a tech job. Not owning a car and living below our means definitely made a difference here! My wife still works part-time, so we'll be able to survive for more than a year if I don't take any earnings from my newly formed business. I'm optimistic that it should be possible to grow to €4000 ($4600) revenue with €3000 ($3450) pre-tax profit within 12 months. That's the goal I'm setting for myself, and is enough to do justify doing this long-term.

So here we are. Two active projects, a laptop, and a year worth of runway.

The master plan

Do I have a plan? Of course! Well, actually three. Each with a different amount of uncertainty and payoff. I'm not pinning myself down to a fixed plan. Instead, I'll work on multiple things simultaneously, and double down on what works.

Plan A
Stage 1: Grow SEO and add more landing pages.
Stage 2: Passive income through ad network (BuySellAds or Ethical Ads).
Stage 3: Partner with CDN or hosting provider.

This is what I've been doing so far. Build free web tools, get them to rank in Google, and sell ads through an ad network. This has a high level of certainty. Spend more time on SEO will almost definitely result in more traffic. So does adding more landing pages. Growth in traffic means growth in ad revenue. The payoff isn't very high, though. I'm currently getting a bit under $400 in monthly ad revenue from NsLookup.io. Growing to 3-4x traffic should be possible, but won't get me to my goal yet. Finding a CND or hosting provider that's interested in buying these ads would get the pay up, but that would still barely be enough to hit my target.

Plan B
Stage 1: Grow SEO and add more landing pages.
Stage 2: Sell an API to visitors.

Plan B is to sell an HTTP API with DNS data on a monthly subscription. It has a bigger potential payoff, but also more uncertainty. There's a bigger upfront time investment to build the API and a developers portal, track usage, set up metered billing, and write documentation. I also don't have a clear picture of the use cases of this yet. Nor do I know if I can make something that's better than existing DNS APIs.

The good news is that I have already set up a very minimal API, a wait list, and two paying customers. There's still a lot of work to do to automate everything, and to position it well.

Plan C
Stage 1: Make a one-off DNS dataset, give it away to founders, and find out how they'd use it and what they need.
Stage 2: Sell an updating dataset through nslookup.io and the Snowflake Marketplace.
Stage 3: Hire sales representative to do enterprise sales.

Enterprise sales are much more involved than selling to SMB's. On the other hand, it's about as difficult to get a one-off $250 payment approved, as it is to get a $250 subscription approved. So the potential for low maintenance recurring revenue is there. I have no experience selling to large companies, so if this proves feasible, I'd like to hire a sales representative. That's not something I'd be comfortable with before I've sold quite a few subscriptions. So I'm not confident that this plan will work out, but I want to give it a shot nonetheless.

Here and now

It's good to have a dot on the horizon, but what am I going to do this month and the next? I'll mainly focus on plan A. Grow NsLookup.io by improving the site, adding more tools, and investing in SEO. I'll also explore plan B by expanding the API, and talking to users. Plan C will get the least attention for now, but I'd like to talk to at least a couple of potential users.

Want to see how this unfolds? I'll share my progress on Twitter. See you there!

Discussion (75)

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natescode profile image
Nathan Hedglin

Great writeup! I've always been too scared to take the leep even though I could.

It is good to see the process. Despite many failures, you've found success. You only need a little success to sustain you.

Best of luck!

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thanks @natescode! It's been quite a long time in the making for me as well. So don't feel like you've 'missed it'. It's never too late to start something new :)

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happping_min profile image
Min

Wow impressive all your hard work on side project! very impressive!
I am also taking a break from being employeed.
Good luck for your planA and I will look forward to see more update from you!

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thanks! I hope you'll get what you're looking for in your break :) What's your plan?

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happping_min profile image
Min

Hm... not exactly easy to answer.
I am not actually a full developer, rather I've been a digital artist working in film/game industry.

Since I left a job a few years ago, I did a few freelance work but mostly my own project and study.

I sometimes feel concerned if it's really fine not to focus on fianallical profitable activity, but luckily like your own industry, my industry's demand for worker is very high. so when I think that, "hm I am never going to be starving even it's the worst case" and make me feel relaxed.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

💯
It was kind of surprising to me, though, that once I quit my job it didn't feel as 'free' as I thought. The power dynamics of a corporate job are gone, but it's replaced by a self-imposed pressure to make this once chance count. I can rationalize the risk by remembering that I can go back to financial security and try again later, but it still feels risky and I still feel pressure 🤷‍♂️ Still super glad I made the jump, and enjoying every minute of it! Mixed bag.

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happping_min profile image
Min

Yeah not feeling “free” as expect.. totally agree with that!

It’s definitely a big jump.
While the key point is being independent and self driven person, but also I discovered that lots of companies started to offer me way more than previous employer.

Unfortunately I couldn’t take the latest offer since my stupid visa takes forever for covid but you know… I can push myself alone even more.

Anyway you gonna be great. Congrat! 🎉

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jorgemadson profile image
Jorge Madson

Cool! Thank you for sharing your failed projects and the whys, I really liked the idea and I will do same with my projects.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Great! Send me a DM on Twitter if you'd like feedback on any of your projects :)

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jorgemadson profile image
Jorge Madson

Okay I am gonna organize it and create a Twitter account hehe

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aloneguid profile image
Ivan G

Well done, brave! If not a secret, what % of past salary are you earning from the last 2 projects?

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thanks @aloneguid :) I'm now making around 1/3rd of my past salary in profit. That said, no matter how much a side project makes, it's still 100% of your salary that drops when you go full time ;)

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khokon profile image
Khokon M.

Hi, we would be very happy if you share the story and development process behind your nslookup project. Great Article

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thanks, you can DM me on Twitter about this :)

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khokon profile image
Khokon M.

Sure, in a minute

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maxmarrie profile image
maxmarrie

Its a good decision that you quit your job to make free web tools. It will increase your experience and you will learn a lot of new things. I want to make a tool of my website UniPrint. If you can do it please do let me know. I am ready to pay you for this task.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thanks for the encouraging words :) You can contact me via Twitter DM or at hello@nslookup.io to pitch your proposal.

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vinniyo profile image
Vincent Martin • Edited on

How far did you get with your STT project? I left my job a while ago to build apps and one of them requires that I transcribe a phone call audio. Started to play with coqui go bindings.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

I got the basics working, but lost focus and motivation along the way. My idea was that users could upload audio without logging in, get a 30 second sample from 3 different AI's (managed services from AWS, GCP, Azure maybe?), select one and transcribe the whole file for 1.5x the cost I'd have to pay the managed services. Much more light weight than existing tools, that require login and a credit card upfront. I didn't research the market lately, but there might still be an opportunity for this. Take the idea if you'd like :)

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emmanuelthecoder profile image
Emmanuel Aiyenigba

This is great. I also have a project where I leveraged the IPinfo API to do exact same thing you did with whoismyisp.org

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Nice, which website?

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emmanuelthecoder profile image
Emmanuel Aiyenigba

I just re-checked (it's been a while actually). I realized I used Ipify not IPinfo. Here ipchecker.netlify.app/

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mangor1no profile image
Mangor1no

Financial is one of the most important thing in life. I'm excited to see what's coming next to you, quitting a fulltime job is not an easy decision to make, specially when you have kids. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

Best wishes for you in the future brave man!

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chaocyu profile image
Chao

Very cool, other than SEO, do you recommend other approaches for growth ?

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

I'm by no means an expert, but for my projects, SEO makes sense. People who need these tools will search for them, so that will always be the primary source of traffic.
Once I start making products (like the API), it could make sense to join communities of people that need those products. If only to understand the pain points you can solve and improve the product.
Other possibilities are blogging, podcasts, ads, setting up an affiliate program, but that depends on the product and niche I guess.

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chaocyu profile image
Chao

Thanks @ruurtjan , best wishes on the projects and adventures ahead!

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cacilhas profile image
Arĥimedeς ℳontegasppα ℭacilhας • Edited on

I envy you! (In a good way…)

You got 17 ideas to explore (plus the ones you decided not to mention); I’ve been in the business for over 20 years and I haven’t gotten even one idea ever, even less a viable one, only making other’s idea grow. 😓

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

No need to come up with ideas! You can just be mindful of whatever you're using at any point in time. If you think you can do the same thing better, just take that concept and improve on it. The great thing about this approach is that you know there is demand for it, and you know at least one use case for it :)

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danvin001 profile image
Dan Vin

Great article! One thing I noticed, you never stop trying and that’s a very good thing 👍 I wish you success. You gave me courage to move on with projects whenever it is a success or not, we get experiences through all of these.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

💯

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liviufromendtest profile image
Liviu Lupei

Thank you for sharing this.
And best of luck!
I just tried both of your services, it was a good experience.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Glad to hear!

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jzombie profile image
jzombie

+1 for the article. +1 again for linking to and mentioning your passion projects.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Glad you liked it!

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jzombie profile image
jzombie • Edited on

I have a passion project, called ReShell (reshell.org/about-reshell), that I'd be interested in making an application around one or more of your APIs, if you're interested.

Reach out to me if that's something you'd consider. My LinkedIn is: linkedin.com/in/jeremyharrisconsul...

The code is open-source, and would just be an experiment of course, so this isn't some ploy to try to make any $$.

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renanfranca profile image
Renan Franca

Hi @ruurtjan ,
Thank you for sharing ☺️
How did you make partnerships with NordVPN and ipinfo.io? What Do they gain?

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Hi Renan, NordVPN gets immediate sales through my site, as well as brand awareness and a bunch of traffic they can retarget through social media ads. As for ipinfo.io, they sell an API that gives precisely the info I'm displaying on whoismyisp.org. So they can also get sales through people that click on their logo on my site.
I've contacted one of the folks at NordVPN and asked if they would want to trial ads on my site, and they agreed. We're still optimizing the ads, but it's going well so far.
ipinfo.io actually contacted me to ask if they could by whoismyisp.org, but we ended up doing a partnership where they give me the API for free, and a small monthly fee.

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renanfranca profile image
Renan Franca

Congratulations 🎉! Thank you for the complete answer! I am already follow you 👏

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rogiervandenberg profile image
Rogier van den Berg

Very cool, congrats! 👏

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thanks @rogiervandenberg :)

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Find something that already has multiple sites dedicated to it with decent traffic. See how they approach it, and think about how you'd do it differently. If you're confident you can do significantly better, give it a try.

I started NsLookup.io when there were already a lot (hundreds?) of similar sites, but none of the popular ones were any good in my opinion.

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hseritt profile image
Harlin Seritt

Sounds nice. It always does. But, I would like to see your update on all this in about six months. Good luck.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Absolutely! The trouble is that if it fails, then my write-up won't be as exciting and won't have the reach that this post had. Selection bias in action..

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hseritt profile image
Harlin Seritt

Hah hah true man! :-D but at least it could be helpful to anyone considering the same. Maybe adding some pitfalls and experiences would be kind of cool.

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bramburn profile image
Bhavesh Ramburn

interesting so the lesson is not to quit before you make money?

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

I'm relatively risk averse, so I wouldn't be comfortable doing that. Some people do, but it's not for me. In fact, I've heard people growing it on the side until it surpasses their salary before quitting their job.

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casperrubaekm profile image
Casper Rubæk

It would be awesome to have the side project surpass the salary. It would make it a no brainer to go all in.

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zaxwebs profile image
Zack Webster

Congratulations, this has always been a goal of mine, since when I first got introduced to the concept in my early internet days. I'm currenty saving for this. Hope to be on the same path!

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Nice! For me, it really helped that I already had something going before quitting my job. A lot of these things just take a lot of time (as in calendar days). SEO for example doesn't just take effort, but also has a delayed effect. So doing it on the side works quite well. DM me on Twitter if you have anything you'd like feedback on :)

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007hyno profile image
Paras Rawat

Inspirational story.😊
I do make projects for fun but never thought of launching them live on internet.
but i think now is the time.

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bradcederberg profile image
Brad Cederberg

This is great! I am relatively new to being a software engineer. But I feel like we are very similar.
Me and my family have spent the last ~20 years living below our means, paying off and staying out of debt and creating a bit of passive income. Just recently dropped everything and made the move to Costa Rica.

I would love to hear more about your story.

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Hi everyone! I'll hang around in chat today, so ask me anything :)

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marcomoscatelli profile image
Marco Moscatelli

Great article mate!

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

Thank you <3

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sokirill profile image
Kirill

I'll write a follow-up blog on how to pick the right side project some time next month.

Please do!

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0zeroauthority profile image
Zero.btc • Edited on

I too have been cautious to take the leap. Great information

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tykok profile image
Tykok

Wow, it was really interesting !

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mherrera1987 profile image
Marcelo Herrera

Good luck. I remember when i quite my job (outside IT) to work freelance un IT. Good decission at this Time.

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alexlqi profile image
alexlqi

Hey! If you need help on this journey I'm glad to help. Free of charge!

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author

If you'd like to help, you can check out the browser extension. I'd love to hear your feedback, and a rating in the extension store would help too :)

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alexlqi profile image
alexlqi

Which extension?

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ruurtjan profile image
Ruurtjan Author
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hannudaniel profile image
Hannu-Daniel Goiss

Great! It's a big step to resign and depend only on yourself! Good luck!

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casperrubaekm profile image
Casper Rubæk

I would really like to see an article about picking the right side project. I have the same goals as you do.