3 years of Timestamps

It’s been three years since I launched https://timestamps.me, and a little less than three years since I stopped working on it.

Since March 25th, 2020, here are the stats:

  • 4465 uploads
  • $437 revenue earned

This works out to about 4 uploads per day, which for me, is a great success.

Rough recap:

  • Feb 2020: I was taking my gap year and wanted to code again. I had the idea to work on a little tool for exporting locators from Ableton Live sets. I thought it would be fun to just quickly make it into a web app, and ship it. I ended up hyperfocusing on the problem space and making it super high accuracy (handling tempo automation). I also made it work for FL Studio which was difficult but a fun challenge.
  • March: I launch the web app (timestamps.fm at the time) and start trying to get users. I was extremely difficult. I posted on subreddits for DJing, Ableton, FL Studio, and Rekordbox.

Learnings and mistakes:

  • I wasted a ton of time porting to Google Cloud in an attempt to make the site run for free. It was an utter failure and I ended up porting back to Heroku.
  • I spent a ton of time DM’ing music producers that were performing at “e-fests” which were popular at the time (due to Covid-19, which was in full swing at the time). This was doomed to failure โ€” none of them would find value in this niche product.
  • Ironically, the customer and user that got the most use out of it reached out to me, not the other way around. The CEO of a company that makes a high volume of DJ mixes for hotels and restaurants DM’d me on LinkedIn asking to set up a call. He found me via SEO/Google search and was able to find me on LinkedIn because I had been bold enough to put myself as “CEO, Timestamps.fm” on my LinkedIn profile. Lesson: Be bold!
  • If I really wanted to do this in a time and capital efficient way, I should have put in way more customer research before building this whole product (including super advanced features like hyper accurate tempo automation support). I didn’t care about this though because I was on my gap year, and was first and foremost doing it because it was a fun programming challenge.
  • I wasted a ton of time hand coding HTML and modifying a free HTML theme I found online. I eventually rewrote the whole site in Bootstrap which took a bunch of time. The breaking point was when I was trying to make a pricing page with different subscription options. It was going terribly with my hand-hacking of the HTML page, and Bootstrap included great looking UI components for this already. Learning Bootstrap was probably a good investment.
  • If I were to do it again: I would use no-code WAY more. I would try to avoid hand-coding any HTML if at all possible, and just do the minimal amount of code to have an API server running for doing the actual processing.
  • I put up a donation button. In 3 years, I’ve had 3 donors, for a total of $25 in donations.
  • I eventually learned that the majority of DJs don’t care about time accurate records for their DJ mixes. A small subset of them do โ€” those that operate in the radio DJ world where they have licensing or reporting requirements. One DJ said they were required to submit timestamps so a radio show could show the track title on their web ui or something like that. But I was later surprised to see the site continuing to get traffic. Clearly there are some people out there that care. I haven’t bothered to figure out who they are or why. The site continues to be free, with no accounts necessary.

Smart things that I did right:

  • I had a lot of requests to support of DJ software like Traktor. I ignored them which was a great move โ€” it would have taken a lot more time and wouldn’t have moved the needle on the proejct.
  • I negotiated a good rate initially for the commercial customer’s subscription โ€” $40 a month! I then did a questionable move and lowered it significantly to $15 or a so per month when I made it free. The deal was that I would make the site free, but the customer would pay to help me break even on it. I later lowered it even more for them when I switched to Timestamps.me ($~20) which is a much cheaper domain then timestamps.fm ($80). It was a good move to move domains โ€” that domain was a risky liability โ€” if the customer ever left, I would have been stuck with an expensive, vanity domain for no real reason. I wasn’t going to become the next “last.fm” anytime soon.
  • SEO is the main driver, and continues to be until this day. I dominate the results for “ableton timestamps” etc. Posting on reddit and the Ableton forum were good calls.
  • I experimented with different monetization strategies. Pay per use was an interesting experiment and I made a small amount of money.

If I were to actually try to start a business again, I would do a lot of things different:

  • Be much more deliberate about picking the market and kind of customer to server
  • If you want to make money, make something that helps people that already make (and spend) money make even more money (the fact that they already make and spend it powerful and important)
  • Pick a product idea that isn’t totally novel so that it’s not so hard to sell it or introduce. It’s great to be able to say “I’m like X, but different because of A and B and specifically designed for C”

Any thoughts?