How Many Customers Does a Successful Side Hustle Need? Just 99.

PUBLISHED ON NOV 26, 2020: 1646 words, 8 minute read

The founding stories of big tech companies get people pumped on the idea of starting their own thing, from SaaS products to paid newsletters . The concept sounds awesome. Build something, it picks up speed, and swiftly grows into a multi-million dollar company. It’s a crazy success story, you’re set for life! Silicon Valley has no shortage of examples to be gawked at: AirBnb, Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Netflix, etc which all exploded in the last 15 years.

Once you start trying to create it, though, odds are your idea is not a runaway success. There are ideas where the problem is so important, so valuable, so sticky to businesses that you can give them the worst pile of garbage in the world and they will fork over bajillions of dollars. If you are in that camp and pulling in cash is as easy as drinking water, stop reading, this isn’t for you.

Getting users is really freakin’ hard. Getting customers who will pay you to use your idea is even harder. When you’re struggling to acquire new users, it’s frustrating to look at the big tech companies and realize they have millions, if not billions of users. How are you ever supposed to convince that many people your idea is awesome, but you’re struggling to get just 10.

Divorce yourself from the notion you need to match those giant tech companies. How many customers does it actually take to support one person? Is it a million? 100,000? 10,000? Try 99.

I’ll back it up with the math in a second, but for now, think about how awesome this is. 99 is an achievable number. You know more than 99 people on a first-name basis. You’ve waited in lines longer than 99 people! But, I’m just some guy on the internet saying this. Heck, for all you know I’m not actually a person, this is just a pile of words GPT-3 thinks sound nice together. So let’s break it down and see how you only need 99 people’s support to make a drastic change to your life.

Assumptions & Definitions

Assumptions first. I’ll be calculating this for one person, but it should scale up if you have a team. When it comes to making money, I see several inflection points of Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR).

  1. $1
  2. Beer Money (BM) MRR - $100
  3. Rent MRR - $1,000
  4. College Grad (CG) MRR - $5,000
  5. Magical (MA) MRR - $10,000

Stage 1, you’ve made your first dollar. Somebody out there thinks your idea doesn’t suck. Celebrate this, it’s a big achievement! One caveat for your dollar, it does NOT count if it came from your mom.

At Beer Money MRR, you are making $100 every month. You have cracked the 3 digit barrier, and can buy a lot of beer/wine/cheese/whatever without feeling too guilty about your budget.

Rent MRR is where things get good, this is $1,000 a month. In some places this isn’t enough to live on by itself, but it is life-changing money no matter where you are. It likely covers all or a good chunk of your rent, hence the name. If you are poo-pooing me for saying $1k MRR is a big deal, you should get your head out of your ass and look at the rest of the world outside your bubble.

College Grad MRR is $5k a month. This is $60k a year, which is near the average for a college graduate in the U.S. and more importantly, the math is easy when it divides nice. No calculators needed to read this article!

Magical MRR is the last stop for this train. This is $10k a month, which is a TON of money. You’ll have taxes and expenses and junk, but to have people paying you $120k a year to use your idea must feel fantastic. I call it magical because $10k gets thrown around a lot in indie hacker articles & community as a magic number to reach.

Show Me the Money!

Ok we have some definitions locked in, now we’ll go through 2 product examples: Product A at $10 and Product B at $50, again keeping the math easy. This could be a SaaS charging monthly, an eBook, a course, paid newsletter, whatever. We’re looking per month, so the specifics of what is pulling in the dough don’t matter for this article. I took a couple liberties to knock off 1 sale here and there to keep it to 2 or 3 digits, because seeing those inflection points is what inspires me personally. Only 2 digits of people? I can do that.

Product A, $10:

BM = 10 people

Rent = 99 people is all it takes

CG = 500 people

MA = 999 people a month need to feel like your idea is worth it


Product B, $50:

BM = 2 people

Rent = 20 people is all it takes

CG = 99 people

MA = 200 people a month need to feel like your idea is worth it

You can reach a life changing amount of money from your side hustle, and you need to convince less than 1,000 people that what you do/create/build is worth it. It’s often thrown around that you need 1,000 true fans, or as the math would suggest, just 99. Out of 7.8 billion humans, you only need 99 in your corner to break the threshold to Rent MRR. It’s still a large group of people, don’t get me wrong. I would be terrified to give a speech to that crowd, but it’s small enough you can comprehend it. To make it even easier, let’s do some visualizations and connect these numbers to concrete concepts in our lives. Recognizing a connection with something you already know helps it feel achievable.

20 People

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

At some point in your life, you’ve been in a class greater than 20 people.

Your extended family gatherings are close to this many people.

You’ve likely been forced to give a presentation to at least this many listeners.

99 People

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

You’ve waited in lines longer than 99 people.

This is a small lecture hall, mostly full.

You could reasonably have a short conversation with 99 different people over the course of a day.

200 People

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️ - 🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️🙅‍♂️

A couple hundred people could fit in a crowded bar or a conference presentation.

You can know the names and faces of 200 people with very little effort.

The majority of you have more than 200 friends on Facebook.

If you’ve ever worked in a customer facing job, you’ve probably talked to more than 200 people in one shift!

500+ People

This article gives a great rundown of audience sizes from 50 to 100k people, and it’ll have to cover for the 500+ user visualizations. I won’t make you look at another 1499 emoji people. Okay, just one more. This is you making something awesome for all these people 👩‍💻 .

The Real World

The real world can be brutal when theories come into contact with it. It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about how you only need 99 customers to change your world, but you want to see something to back it up and show it still rings true out in the wild. Luckily, there are a lot of companies that share their stats as a part of being Open Startups, many listed at https://openstartup.dev/ and https://baremetrics.com/open-startups. You can also find great interviews on starterstory.com, where they go in-depth on how people started their businesses and their current revenue. Diving into a few data points from Nov 2020:

$1.3k : 124 users - Grip https://grip.baremetrics.com/

$5.3k : 49 users - **Friendly **https://friendly.baremetrics.com/

$7.0k : 144 users - Bannerbear https://www.bannerbear.com/open/

$7.6k : 513 users - Simple Analytics https://simpleanalytics.com/open

$9.0k : 479 users - Software Ideas (Paid reports/newsletter) https://softwareideas.baremetrics.com/

$11k : 728 users - Hypefury https://hypefury.baremetrics.com/

. . . . and then a crazy one

$133k : 871 users - **Baremetrics **https://demo.baremetrics.com/

These companies are in all sorts of industries, they all have less than 1,000 users, and yet are making at minimum Rent MRR. While most of the Open Startups I listed are SaaS products built by developers, don’t be discouraged if you are non-technical or not interested in building software. There are examples out there of people growing non-technical products like ebooks, courses, newsletters, and more to sustain their livelihood if you take the time to look. Starter Story, mentioned above, is a collection of interviews & ideas built up to $18k MRR in ~2 years. Twitter and Indie Hackers are great sources if you need even more inspiration.

Find 99 people that love you

If you haven’t gathered yet, the takeaway from all this is you don’t need to gun for crazy scale like the Facebooks of the world. You can aim to just support yourself. Find your true fans, as Kevin Kelley calls them in his essay 1000 true fans, and create for them.

This is not to trivialize the work needed to get to $100 MRR , or 10 users that love your product. It’s hard to get users. But making your vision more achievable helps keep the fire burning. It feels different pulling in the 1st of 99 people than the 1st of 100,000. So go forth and make something, you have the power and the global reach of the internet at your disposal. Go find 99 people that love your idea enough to pay you for it, and change your life.


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