Joe Masilotti — Building in Public and Monetizing Open Source

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Arvid Kahl 0:00
Hello everyone and welcome to The Bootstrapped Founder. Today, I’m talking to Joe Masilotti, the founder of RailsDevs, a reverse job platform for Ruby on Rails developers. We talk about monetizing an open source project, building in public and marketing yourself and your business both to employers and developers. Here’s Joe.

What I love about your founder journey, your journey as an entrepreneur is that it starts with a spreadsheet, that is really cool. So can you take me back to the day when you first created this magical document and what you were doing at the time and why that inconspicuous spreadsheet ended up jumpstarting this amazing indie business of yours?

Joe Masilotti 0:40
Yeah, I’d love to. So I had been a Rails consultant for going on three years now. Actually hit my three year anniversary in just a month and have been doing Rails for like over a decade and got to the point where like, I was pretty solid with my freelance business. And I had too many leads, like great problem to have and too many people that wanted to work with me and couldn’t offer them anyone to like, anywhere to get help. There wasn’t really this place where I could say, oh, yeah, here’s, you know, some folks who are looking for freelance work. So I kind of just started asking my network almost entirely on Twitter. Do you do Rails freelancing? If so, when are you available? And just kind of collected those names onto a list with their email addresses. And the next person that reached out to me, I was like, hey, sorry, you know, too busy right now. But if anyone on this list looks good, I’ll happily introduce you to them. And within like, two weeks, someone had a new freelance gig. Within a month, someone had a full time gig. It was like, all immediately almost, it was seeing success and people getting hired. And not just for freelance stuff, but for full time gigs as well. And I was like, okay, this little Google spreadsheet that I’m sharing around, like, there’s something here that I think there might be a business here. And I want to say like three or four weeks after that first entry to that spreadsheet, I started writing the first line of what will eventually become RailsDevs.

Arvid Kahl 2:10
That’s so cool. You have the magic touch or you just know the right people. That’s probably what it is.

Joe Masilotti 2:15
It was a good combo, a good combo of the two because the folks that are recommending where he’s been hired twice through it already, Jared White, who was local to Portland with me, creator of Bridgetown is working with two different clients that found him both through RailsDevs. So you know, he’s like my big success story for the freelance side of things. And he was the first one and one of the more recent ones to get hired through it. So it’s like, knowing all those folks that are getting involved and spreading the word on Twitter has been awesome.

Arvid Kahl 2:45
Yeah, I bet it does. It’s nothing better than having actual, like an impact in somebody else’s life twice. This is quite intense. One thing that I wonder always when I see people building marketplaces, particularly bootstrapping marketplaces is like, do you ever say this? Like, do you like to kind of punish yourself? Because I always feel like marketplaces super hard, you know, to just bootstrap both sides at the same time. You have clients, you have customers, you kind of need to connect them. Was that intentional from the start? Like, did you know this has to be a marketplace? And how did you go about this?

Joe Masilotti 3:20
Yeah, so this is my third marketplace. And the first one was what my full time job was before I went freelance. We were connecting folks who were looking for a specific type of beer to bars that were selling that type of beer. And obviously a very, very clear marketplace. You can’t have one without the other. My second foray into that was a board game event matching system. So like you find your local area, what are the board games that are happening now? Needed buy in from the businesses, the places that were hosting along with the players that were going. It just started to get legs and then COVID hit so like that kind of totally fell off. But I pretty much every time I leave one of these marketplaces, I’m like, I’m never doing a marketplace again. Like, every time I leave, I’m like B2B all the way. Maybe even B2C, but like, I am not doing a marketplace again. And then relatives came about and I was like, no, this isn’t a marketplace. This is just a list of developers and businesses will find them. It’s not a marketplace. It’s just businesses getting hired on one side, you know and hiring on the other. It’s not, etc, etc, until I finally realized I’m, you know, I’m building a marketplace. But I think that the difference this time for me was that once I recognized that I was actually building you know, a marketplace here, I leaned in entirely to one side of that business. So if you popped her on the website, if you’ve seen anything on Twitter, I very rarely talk to the business side of things. I’m always talking about the developer experience, getting hired, how it’s easier to find a new contract jobs, how juniors can get their first role. I’m leaning 100% into the developer side of the marketplace. And this has really helped A. bootstrap it. Like it pretty much solved the chicken or the egg problem, like the cold start problem. But it also really helps me hone my marketing and my branding for the business. Very rarely will you hear me talking about, oh, this business hired three devs, you know, yeah, I’ll post some screenshots of revenue. Sure, because it’s exciting. But everything that I build and I make is all about these developers just having a better hiring experience, the initial problem I’m trying to solve. And I think that that’s really helped in A, you know, like I said, the branding. But B. really figured out that marketplace problem where I’m flooding one side of the marketplace, where if you’re a business trying to hire a Rails developer, it’s silly to not be on my platform. It’s like it’s the biggest already in just a year, it’s the biggest amount of developers that are looking for Rails jobs, specifically available online. Like why would you not use it? And I think that that’s really helped to get like a good kickstart for it.

Arvid Kahl 4:34
Did you ever consider doing the opposite of that, like focusing almost exclusively on the business side on the clients or people looking for developers?

Joe Masilotti 6:13
Yeah, so I considered it briefly. But I think that it was never really a starter for me because I had the spreadsheet to begin with. Like I had kind of the core of the business without any product, just the business. To begin with, why would I go and try and change that. And the more I thought about it, I was like, if I did it again, would I have leaned into the business side and maybe I’d have more businesses using it. And I say to myself, I don’t think so because you can have this marketplace with 1000 developers and one business and still change someone’s life. You can still change one or two or three people’s lives. If you have 100 hiring businesses and two developers, you’re not doing anything. You’re not solving a problem anymore because those businesses aren’t gonna find who they want in just two developers or three developers. So flooding one side of it and having the opportunity for the businesses to have the kind of the pick of the litter, but still giving the developers that opportunity to sell themselves how they want to be sold and market themselves, how they want to be marketed, is just in my mind a way better way to go about it.

Arvid Kahl 7:22
Yeah, definitely. It kind of speaks to the indie hacker spirit, you know.

Joe Masilotti 7:26
Yeah, yeah

Arvid Kahl 7:26
Like you’re on the side of the little guy. You’re trying to make this an experience for the individual person trying to build something in their lives because most people freelancing either do it because they want to be doing some something else, right? Either built their own business or just get their family through this weird pandemic, all these things or you know, they wanna build an agency. Like, there’s always some other goal beyond freelancing for at least for most people. So it’s nice to see you enabling those people. Whereas companies, you know, they have their own goals. And they might be rather repetitive, rather boring in many ways. It’s nice to see you leaning towards that side. How do you monetize this? Or rather have you thought of multiple different angles of monetizing and then chosen one in particular?

Joe Masilotti 8:12
So I went through a huge exercise. I think that the Notion doc is actually still public or the GitHub discussion. We could link to it, if I can dig it up, where I decided that, okay, there are businesses now that want to hire through this platform. And there, I think it was, like 150 developers already, like, you know, a month or two and what’s the way to monetize this? So it’s sustainable for like I can continue to work on it and continue to make it better and actually become a real thing. And my three options for monetization were ads and sponsorships, which felt really good because I didn’t have to worry about hounding any businesses. It’d be free for businesses and but then I kind of realized that I’m always going to be chasing that next ad or that next business and I really didn’t want to be in the business of ads to be like, it just wasn’t appealing to me. The second was to monetize the developers. So this would be something where developers could pay $1 or $10 or $100 to boost their profile to the top of the results or maybe put a yellow border around it, you know, all the fancy. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yellow background, maybe the blue background for $150. And it just felt so wrong, that I’m monetizing the folks who need the help, who need the help getting hired. And what I ended up deciding on was option three, essentially asking the people who have the money to pay for me to provide the service. These businesses are hiring developers for 100, 150, 200K, right? Like that’s a ton of revenue being or money being passed around. If I took a just the tiny bit off the top of that, not the developers getting less, but I’m just getting a share of it. All of a sudden, I’m solving a real problem. I’m making enough money. This could become a real thing for me maybe even full time I’m in the future. And that developer has their life changed by opportunity that they would not have gotten elsewhere. To me, it’s a win win win. And as you always say, I’m gonna butcher this quote, but what is it? A business is an idea that makes someone money. Rephrase for me.

Arvid Kahl 10:16
That’s pretty true.

Joe Masilotti 10:17

Arvid Kahl 10:18
That’s right. Yeah, it’s a project, right? It’s something that could have been a hobby. But someone’s making money of it. So it’s a business. It’s kind of what it is. That is awesome. I love this. So it’s this kind of a subscription model where people pay like a fixed fee? Is that what it is for you?

Joe Masilotti 10:31
Yeah, it’s a subscription model and the hiring fee. So businesses have to pay $300 a month to be part of the platform. And this is where you get full access to the developer database, where you’re able to message folks on the platform, you get full access to the website, no restrictions. And that is a really good way for me to vet these businesses. $300 is a lot of money to just like, put your credit card down and try something you know. So every single person that comes through, I’m emailing with them. Sometimes I hop on the phone with them. I’m figuring out what they’re looking for. Are we the right fit? Before they even can pay, I’m vetting these folks. And I’m not vetting them on terms of like is their business a quality business? Because I’m not in the position to do that. But I’m vetting them in terms of if we’re right fit for each other. Once they pay that 300 bucks a month, they have access for as long as that subscription is active to like I said, message any developer on the site. They have access to all the fancy searching tools and filtering algorithms and stuff that has been built into the app over the past year. And then if they hire someone, they have to pay a 10% hiring fee off from their salary. So if they hire a freelancer, that’s cool, no extra fees. But if they hire a full time developer, let’s say for 100k, they’re required to pay RailsDevs $10,000. And that’s significant. That’s not only like significant in terms of each hire, substantially improves, you know, my outlook and my runway for this. But it’s also way less than what a traditional recruiter would pay or would charge. Recruiters in the tech space charge 20, 30, 40% sometimes, so I kind of fit that middle ground where it’s great for that business that is willing to get their hands dirty and put in the little work, a little more work to save a ton of money, but doesn’t want to do it all through like, you know, LinkedIn cold messaging, so to speak.

Arvid Kahl 12:25
Yeah, right. Yeah, it sounds like particularly like with 300 bucks a month for a company that hires a lot of developers. You know, that’s like a rounding error, comparatively, you know, to the salaries and then saving almost 20% on the hiring fee too. That is very lucrative, sounds awesome. So you’re doing a lot of vetting on that side? Do you do vetting on the side of the developers as well?

Joe Masilotti 12:47
No, I do zero vetting on the side of the developers and I am upfront with that with the businesses. Like, I’m in charge of gathering some profiles of people for you. I’ll help you narrow them down. And you know, maybe I’ll send you a list of folks that are good potential good fits, but I’m assuming that what they write in their profiles is the truth. And I’m not going to go an interview for you. I’m not going to go and like read resumes for you. I’m not a recruiter. And that’s not the business that I’m building. If these developers are consistently getting feedback that they didn’t meet expectations, I will take action on that. But what I do help out is that any developer who is maybe not getting the results they want or expect or aren’t getting reached out to or feel like they could be doing a little better on the platform, I work with them one on one to kind of tweak their profile. And it’s not so much resume rewriting as it is self branding and self marketing. Like it’s so crazy how all it comes back to marketing. You have your little title and your little description on who you are as developer. That’s what someone’s going to click. You have to think about your showing up in search results like Google, what is going to make a business click to hire you. And I work on that with a lot of developers individually and anyone who wants to do that definitely send me a DM or an email, happy to help anyone. I’ve helped a ton of people do that. A few of the folks have actually gotten their first job through that, which is super exciting. And it doesn’t work for everyone, but it definitely helps. And that’s like as much of the, not even to use the term but like the vetting process that is involved on the developer side.

Arvid Kahl 14:24
Yep, sounds like a great opportunity for an info product. Like this could be like a 30 minute course or an e book or something, you know, like that kind of information probably gets stale rather quickly in the moving world. But still, right? It’s information that people could use. I’m happy you’re doing this because honestly I love this for the mere fact that you kind of let the developers run loose, do their thing, you know and you’re keeping pretty close eye on the company’s in that relationship from a developer’s perspective. And I guess also from businesses perspective. I really like this because you make sure that people get hired by quality companies. But there is a very diverse range of people of developers that people can choose from, that companies can actually hire. That is nice. It’s a great job board. And I think now I finally understand why you call it the reverse job board because it’s very different from the traditional company centric, like hiring manager centric of platforms that I see all over the place. Was that a consequence of the spreadsheet? Or is that something that you thought this is gonna be different than anything else in the market?

Joe Masilotti 15:32
I think it was both. It was a consequence of the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet proves some sort of product market fit, that having a list of a very small niche of developers, Ruby on Rails developers, and presenting that to people that are hiring Ruby on Rails developers, there’s obviously something there that I hit on. But when I set out to create RailsDevs, I didn’t want to just do a job board because A. it’s been done, it didn’t feel unique enough and I wasn’t excited about it. But it also didn’t feel like I was doing anything new or interesting to these developers that they couldn’t get elsewhere. So the reverse job board came about as, the more I dug into it, the more I researched the recruiting process, the more I just heard horror stories of people going through three hour interviews, eight hour interviews, 20 hour take home tests. I was like, this is broken. This is so broken right now in the tech space. How can we flip the script and give more power to the developers themselves getting hired? And that’s really the single value that I built all of RailsDevs off of, it’s how can we empower the individual developer to have them find their next job on their own terms. And that’s how the reverse job board was built. That’s why you can say what type of role you’re looking for. I don’t ask you if you’re a senior developer. I asked you what level role you’re looking for. It completely changes the script. It shows what you’re looking for next, not where you’re currently at or what you consider yourself or what your current title is. And that’s also why I removed compensation entirely from the website. I don’t want developers to sell themselves short by saying they charged 50 bucks an hour if they could be getting $75 an hour or $150 an hour or a $10,000 project from these companies. And it’s all centered around that. And it’s all centered around having these organic conversations between the developer and the person who’s going to hire them with no one in the middle. And that’s really where it all stemmed from. And that’s what the features are that exist. And you know, that’s how it’s continued being built.

Arvid Kahl 15:32
Yeah, I was going to ask you about this, like, how do you prioritize for which side you build features. But it sounds like you might be skewed quite heavily towards one of them, right?

Joe Masilotti 17:48
I don’t think I’ve had the problem of like, well, no, I take it back. Compensation was almost entirely request from the businesses. The businesses wanted to be able to sort and filter by developer rates. I was like, yeah, let’s do it sounds great. And it had a bunch of people work on it was, you know, live within a week and almost immediately was like, oh, crap, this sucks. This sucks for developers because they’re only going to sell themselves short. And it was removed within like two weeks after that. There’s a whole post on GitHub discussions about why I removed it. And even if you create your profile, it links still to it just because I want to make sure people are aware. So I think that that’s proven. And I’ve got a couple other small things. But if there’s ever a disagreement between it is better for the developer or better for the business, I’m going to lean strongly towards the developer side. And you know, there’s other things that will benefit the business that don’t hurt the developer that I’m happy to add. But if there’s ever that conflict, the developer is always gonna win.

Arvid Kahl 18:49
That makes perfect sense. And honestly, you’re building features that add value to the whole platform quite visibly, by the way. I watched you built your referral system in public in a live stream recently. I found that very interesting. And I have two questions about this. First of, how is building software in public? Do you enjoy it? Is that something that that is actually something? Yeah, not just a marketing thing, but something that you really like? And two, what parts of your software, of your system itself do you need to build yourself? Because referral systems are notoriously one of these things that you know, like authentication and all these kinds of things that developers like to build but probably shouldn’t? So what’s your stand on this?

Joe Masilotti 19:27
I’ll start with the second question first. I’m probably going to end up building the referral system out and then realize I need some crazy feature and then rip it all out and add a third party. That’s why I’m not letting anyone else build it because I feel bad ripping out their code in the future. I’m doing it myself. When I get there, I’ll know and I’ll change it. But for now, as you watch the live stream, it’s as simple as setting a cookie and adding a model to the database when someone signs up based on that cookie. I’m not getting crazy with it until I need to. To answer your first question, do I enjoy building features in public? Do I enjoy coding in public? I love it. It gives me so much energy and motivation. I got my start my real development start at a consultancy shop where I was doing pair programming eight hours a day, five days a week. Like, it was called Pivotal Labs at the time. It’s now changed a bunch and kind of like what ThoughtSpot is these days or Test Double even. But I thrive in that environment of having someone to bounce ideas off constantly. And I don’t really get that as a solo developer anymore. Yeah, I can pair with people every now and then. But I don’t have any coworkers, right? My one and a half year old isn’t coding with me yet, so. Not yet, at least. So the live streaming and the building in public, I kind of feel like I have that second or third or 100th pair of eyes watching me and being able to ask ideas and bounce stuff off of. If you follow the Twitter chat I use, you know, throw in air quotes, it was just the replies to the live stream. Marco was in there and Andrew was in there. And they were both debugging with me through Twitter chat. It was a terrible interface to do that. But I was like, they were helping me fix issues through Twitter, you know, replies to a tweet that I like, you know and things that are way more complicated than just syntax errors or like, oh, you forgot a semicolon at the end of that. More things like, oh, here are the docs for this method. You’re actually passing in the wrong parameter order. Stuff like that, where I was like, holy crap, you’re totally right. I didn’t nest the parameters the right way. Thank you, Marco, like crazy stuff like that. And that’s really where I get a lot of energy and a lot of motivation from.

Arvid Kahl 21:44
Yeah, I bet. For a developer, I think building in public is one of the most literal things that you can do, right? Like for a writer, for a marketer, building in public is more like an abstract term where you can build something in public. But for a coder, you can literally build your software in public and have this incredible feedback loop like you just described, that is so incredibly tight. It’s real time with other experts that are not even paid or interested in finding compensation. They just like helping. That’s really cool. I love this. Did you ever consider that this might be problematic? And I mean, not just like writing code. I mean, like, building in public in general, because, you know, I’m a big fan of building in public. But I also want to be realistic about it that there might be certain drawbacks, depending on what you do. Did you ever encounter anything like this? Or do you protect yourself against something when what would that be?

Joe Masilotti 22:41
Yeah, great question. So I think that building code in public from my opinion, with the small exception of leaking a API key or something that’s like secret, like a credential. To me, I see zero risk in building code in public almost entirely because the code base that I’m contributing to is open source. RailsDevs is the whole code base is open source and things that are secret are the credentials that connect to you know, my database key and Heroku and all that stuff. So if I am writing proprietary information or a proprietary algorithm, it’s going to be on GitHub in a few hours anyway. There’s very little risk in me building in public. Again, the exception being leaking a credential or like command tabbing into my email client or something like that. But that’s just poor behavior. But I think that building in public in the more general sense of building a business in public carries way more risks with it that I’m starting to realize as I slowly make RailsDevs into a thing that is becoming more and more of my full time income. And it’s letting go of trade secrets when they are the core to your business. A lot of what I do on RailsDevs is public. I’d say that 90% of what I do on RailsDevs is public. I have the codebase is open source, all my metrics are public, my analytics are public through fathom. My business decisions are all done through GitHub discussions and people can weigh in on them and comment and reply and all that stuff. But there are definitely things that I don’t keep on those that I do like to keep quiet following Zero To Sold. I have an Operations Manual, right? Where when a new business signs up, I send them an email. I have a copy paste template that I am not going to share with the world. When a business kind of ghosts me and says that they’re not going to pay the hiring fee, I have a process that I follow. Those are the things that are very core to my business that I don’t think people will find interesting, but I also that’s what keeps the business alive. And the email and support that I do, those are the things that I’m not going to make public and those are the things that are what makes RailsDevs, RailsDevs. That it’s me running this thing and it’s my personality and you know me, Joe, that is not going to be made into a public doc or anything like that. So that’s where I draw the line with it all.

Arvid Kahl 25:06
You just turned this conversation into a build in public master class. And I’m very grateful for that. Because like finding that line, first of, understanding that there is a line that not everything should be transparent. But transparency doesn’t mean complete transparency, particularly not in front of your competitors, which is everybody on Twitter, potentially. But there’s more to gain by sharing certain things than not sharing them. And there is more to gain by not sharing certain things that can be shared, but probably shouldn’t. So it’s great that you drew this line. And I love the idea that your process, your internal structure, your procedures, the things that you set up, to keep the business humming, like the engine humming of your business, that these as the lifeblood of your business are your trade secret. And that’s the stuff you don’t talk about or you don’t share in the specificity that would allow others to duplicate it. And that’s what you usually see when businesses who used to be very transparent, reduce transparency. They just add another layer of, you know, diffusion of abstraction. They don’t talk about the specifics anymore. But they do mention that, right? They do mention that they have this particular process or they do this or they don’t do that, you know, that kind of information still gets out. Transistor is a good example. Transistor FM by Justin Jackson and Jon Buda, this business that used to share everything. And that was just, you know, talking more about general things, but it’s still sharing and I love that you’re on the same path. Good to know. And also good to know that you know because you will encounter moments where you might overshare a little and then over time, you know, have to reduce it or talk about things differently. But I love the fact that you already have this, you know, in your visor, you already see where this is heading. That’s great. I love this. And I love that you take openness to a new level because many software service businesses or generally software enabled businesses, like a job board would probably count very much as both, I don’t know, depends. Many of these businesses are not open source. They don’t really use the source code for that. But you do. And I love that fact that there are forked versions of RailsDevs out there, making people money connecting people in other fields of technology or even complete other industries, with people that they need for making business things happen. How did that come about? How did you set that up? And do you monetize this? Like how do you approach this in terms of a business choice? Because you spend time on it. So you know, better give you something in return.

Joe Masilotti 27:35
Yeah, I think there’s two big questions there that I want to dive into. It’s why RailsDevs is open source to begin with? And then how do these other businesses that are forking RailsDevs? How am I involved, if at all? So the first question is kind of a silly answer. Working in Rails, you know, day in and day out, I always want to contribute to open source. I always want to like cracking, open the rails source code and like add a new method. But I’m always so intimidated by these kind of lower level framework type things, framework type gems. So I did a bunch of Googling and there was no real products that were open source that I could find that weren’t like, ginormous things like, you know, Dev.2 is, you know, open source both on forum and a number of others. There was no like, entry level small, medium sized projects that were products. So it’s like, you know what? Let’s make RailsDevs open source. What’s the worst that could happen? I can always closed source it later once it takes off. And I’m so glad that I did that. Because I’ve gotten 80 something people who contributed to the project, like a ridiculous amount of people in the year. And I think 20 of them if maybe 15. It’s their first open source contribution ever. That’s huge. That’s more exciting, right? That’s more exciting to me than actually getting people hired sometimes because it’s like, I just brought someone into the world of open source by reviewing a pull request. That’s all it took. But it actually took a whole year of building out a product that is boring and the technology isn’t exciting on that is open source to get there. So one of my big things with RailsDevs is that the code is kind of offensively boring. There’s nothing exciting going on. There’s barely any like front end JavaScript, even hotwire with Rails seven. It’s all boring rails straight out of the box, like convention over configuration stuff, which makes it really easy to contribute to because you kind of know where everything is and how it all works if you’re a Rails developer. And even if you’re not a Rails developer, a couple of Python devs have contributed over the year too, which is cool.

Arvid Kahl 29:35

Joe Masilotti 29:36
So I really love that. I really have been able to contribute back to the community by saying like, oh, how does one do, you know, to integrate devise with this other third party library? Here’s my source code. Here’s the code that you could look at. Here’s the pull request. You can share that whatever who you want. It’s MIT license, copy, paste it, do whatever you want with it. You find a bug, maybe contribute back. That’s all I ask. So that’s been really cool and I would definitely would not change that for anything. But to answer your second question, forks. How do I deal with forks and clones and copycats and stuff? This is where things get interesting, right? Copycat of RailsDevs are encouraged. I have even in there, if you want to do RailsDevs for your own technology or own sector, follow these instructions, you’ll start here. And at the end, you’ll deploy to Heroku. And you’ll be live in production in like, a couple hours, depending on your level of skill there. And to my knowledge, there are about seven or eight forks of RailsDevs that are live in production right now. And they range. There is one for blockchain developers. There’s one for JavaScript developers. There’s one for private home chefs, which is really cool. There’s one that’s starting in the solar industry that’s coming out pretty soon from another local Portland Dev. Really cool stuff. And most of these people reach out to me and they say, hey, we’d love to pick your brain on this. Want to do a fork of RailsDevs. Like, can you answer a couple of questions? So we do all that. We answer a couple questions. And I say, oh, by the way, if you want to do this more often, I offer an advisory style engagement, whatever want to call it, where we can chat for a few hours a week or a month, whatever works for a small revenue share. So this is what I’m doing with a lot of these businesses now. I help them get deployed. Some of them, I read a little bit of code. For some of them, I only do support. Some of them, I only do marketing. Some of them, I do only like one call a month. So it varies. And they share revenue with me. And this is obviously a big bet on my end because I’m not getting paid for probably about a year for any of these businesses. And I’m putting in a lot of time and effort in making sure that they can get deployed and they can get live and ask me all these questions. But in the long run, there’s a double benefit to this. The first one is obvious. I make more money by only, by just helping people without having to write code and put in time and trade time for money. But two, there are no more code bases online that are built on rails. And that’s awesome. If they don’t open source it, that’s fine. But they see in the bottom of it. It was written by, you know, forked from Joe and they can see the code base. So having more Rails code out there in the wild, in my mind, is better for everyone.

Arvid Kahl 32:23
Wow! All of this is such an open source kind of long term perspective mindset that I’m just blown away by this, you know, because open source is notoriously hard to monetize for everybody. Like even MongoDB and all these rather sizable projects have trouble just justifying, monetizing it and then doing it in a way that doesn’t kind of mess things up for people that are not too big or not too small, like somewhere in the middle, right? It’s always hard to find these, like continuous spectrum of serving these kinds of people. But I love your approach is like, okay, let’s just give it to people. Let me give people even more of my time to make this good, which I think is also a rationale somewhere in there, right? You want their platforms to be the best they can possibly be, thus increasing their chance to succeed. And then eventually, potentially, hopefully, monetizing. That is so cool. And I love of course, I’m not a reels dev. I come from the JavaScript and elixir background, but I do have to pick X in my library and I was there a couple must have been like, eight, nine years ago, in that community for a little bit. So I do understand how important it is to keep projects like this going into the world and allowing people to see that this technology is still relevant, is getting better, you know, with every year and allows people not just from the technology perspective, but also from the just the openness of the community around it to do things and make money of them and improve their lives. That is just awesome. And you enabling this with this particular method of allowing the fork and then monetizing kind of around it in the future.

Joe Masilotti 34:08
Yeah, yeah

Arvid Kahl 34:09
That is really smart. I would have expected some kind of flat licensing fee or you know, a revenue share with a minimum or something, right? Like where people try them immediately monetize something, but I see you playing the long game, the infinite game, really. And I can only applaud you for this. This is really cool.

Joe Masilotti 34:29
Thanks. Yeah and the revenue share terms are what I think are pretty beneficial to both parties. It’s a certain amount of time depending on the agreement after their second customer. So what that means is that they can spend all the time that they want building and making this thing perfect and we can work together. But it’s not until they actually prove that they have fit that they’ve actually sold to their second customer. Does my like, does the clock start ticking on how much revenue I receive and it works out really well because it means that they don’t feel pressure to launch slow, so I make less, so they lose less money to me. And they’re not pressured to launch fast. So they feel obligated that I forgot my revenue share. They can work at their own pace. And when it takes off, if it does, it’s then the clock starts.

Arvid Kahl 35:17
Wow, yeah, well, you are very respectful with your fellow developers. I really, really appreciate that. And they probably appreciated much more than me. That’s just really nice. You were talking about that this is currently still I wouldn’t call it a side project, but a part time project. Is that right?

Joe Masilotti 35:34
Yeah, it’s a one of the many businesses under my umbrella.

Arvid Kahl 35:39
How’s that going? Where is this going? Do you intend to, you know, full time this eventually?

Joe Masilotti 35:45
I don’t have any, I don’t have concrete plans to full time this in the next year. I don’t know where this will go in two years or three years or four years. As you can go find online, it went from zero to 150k in 12 months, like it is making substantial income for me right now. But I’m also still doing a lot of work in the turbo native space and kind of my more traditional consulting and advisory type work. And for now, I’m still playing both. I’m still working on both. I’m still doing workshops for turbo native. I’m still doing, you know, pair programming sessions. I’m still consulting. I’m still advising. RailsDevs is at the point where I can kind of, it’s definitely not just like sitting there and letting it simmer. But I don’t have to do as much active work to get new businesses anymore. I can tweet about it every once in a while. I can build a new feature every once in a while. I can send a couple cold emails and get a client and get a new customer too. It’s at the ideal state right now where it’s not growing, it’s not shrinking, but it’s bringing in substantial income every month or so. And that’s really perfect to me because I feel like if I want to go any bigger than that right now, I’d have to invest way more time and money into it. And then I worry that it wouldn’t become as fun as it is right now. Right now, I only deal with 10 businesses at most at a time. And that’s all I really need to be sustainable. Business comes for a month or two and then they leave because they hired someone, that’s a winner on everyone’s book. And if I am dealing with 50 businesses at a time for five times the revenue, is it worth it? I probably need a whole team. And I want to keep this solo for as long as possible. So for right now, I don’t have plans to 10 exit. I don’t have plans to make it my full time. I have plans to let it continue to grow organically as it’s growing now. And in a year, we’ll talk again and maybe my opinion will have changed. But maybe my forks will bring in more revenue, you never know. But that’s where I think about it now. And it’s still really fun and exciting even a year later. And I want to keep it that for 10 years. That’s my goal.

Arvid Kahl 37:57
That sounds like a good plan. I love this kind of very sustained and non hypergrowth approach to building a lifestyle business in the best sense of the word, right?

Joe Masilotti 38:09

Arvid Kahl 38:09
A lifestyle that you want, that you enjoy, that doesn’t stress you out where don’t have the managerial responsibilities of managing a team. That’s something that I’m currently experimenting with because I’m feeling it’s time in my life to involve other people. And it’s enjoyable, but it is work, right? It’s not I can do whatever I want. I still can most of the time. There are responsibilities. And I understand that not wanting these is a perfectly valid approach to business. Now, since you’re saying this is not going to turn into anything major, but it’s also not like going down, right? It’s not much up, not much down. It’s just where it is. Have you ever considered selling the business for a significant multiple?

Joe Masilotti 38:53
Yeah, I talked about this with my partner pretty often, just in general in terms of like, what’s the magic number? What’s like the life changing number that one of us could sell one of our things for that would be worth it. And that number is substantial, right? Because you think about 150k year, three years, even if it doesn’t grow that’s starting to get substantial money. That’s full income, practically. What is that number? We have an idea in mind. And if someone were to come to me and say, hey, here’s that number right here. Will you take it? I probably still say no. So I think that right now, I’m still so excited and passionate about this that I can’t possibly think of selling it in the near future. There’s always a number for these things. If someone came to me and said, hey, here’s $25 million for RailsDevs. Like I’d be silly not to take that. But that’s not gonna happen because the business isn’t worth $25 million right now. It might be in five years or in 10 years, but it’s not right now. And what I like and what I enjoy right now is growing it and being the face of it and talking about it online and continuing to build it and grow it in public. And if I sell it, I’ll have other things to work on. But right now, I’m pretty passionate about this. And that’s what I want to keep.

Arvid Kahl 40:07
That’s a great perspective. But there’s nothing wrong with keeping your business. And there’s nothing wrong with selling a business or anything you want to do as an entrepreneur. I mean, even like, quitting your business is an option, although you might just as well wanna sell it. But yeah, if you’re passionate for the thing that you do and you have a wish for how you want your life to look like and if you love giving workshops, if you love doing consulting as well, because it gets you, you know, involved in other people’s things that always knew always something challenging and it’s not just keeping the thing running, well, then you don’t need to sell. And if you ever get bored of something, if you ever get want something different or want to level up, build something even bigger and need the funds to do it, that’s a good opportunity to sell your business.

Joe Masilotti 40:53

Arvid Kahl 40:53
If it’s not, well then it’s not. Let’s talk a bit about the workshops and the Turbo Native. From what I understand and you can probably tell I’m not very active in the rails and people who made rails and now run businesses that use Turbo Native in their client space. But talk to me a bit about that particular technology and the work that you do around it.

Joe Masilotti 41:20
Yeah, so Turbo Native is a way to take your Ruby on Rails website, your mobile website and kind of shove it into an iPhone app. And you can deploy this app to the App Store. You can deploy it to Google Play if you have it on Android. And what it does is it renders your web views, it hits your server, it renders your HTML, your CSS, your JavaScript inside of a native kind of like frame. So you can have like a native tab bar and native navigation. But you have all the benefits of web inside of your mobile app. What this enables is really small teams to do crazy productive things. So you think about Basecamp and Hey, the 37 signals folks, they have really small, relatively dev teams for the number of requests and the number of customers that they have. Both of their apps are built on Turbo Native. Their mobile website is shoved into an iPhone app with Turbo Native and that’s their iOS app. And it goes a really long way because you’re not building this like transcompilation or language where you kind of have like, what’s that one called? The one by Google, but like Dart or is it called Dart?

Arvid Kahl 42:31
Transpilers, I guess.

Joe Masilotti 42:32
Yeah, Dart. Yeah. So like, Dart’s the one from Google or whatever it is. It’s not a thing where you’re writing, you know, a new language just to write your mobile app. So you’re actually leveraging all of the existing logic and views and design that you already have on the website. But you’re showing it on a native screen. And you have hooks into like, fully native screens if you wanted to. So if you wanted to integrate with like the contact book or native maps or push notifications, you have hooks into doing that, that drops you down into native code, Swift or Kotlin or depending on your platform. So what I do is I work with clients that have a Ruby on Rails website and they want to get in the app store for whatever reason, usually, it’s push notifications. And they come to me and they say, hey, Joe, we have this mobile website. Can you put it into the App Store? And I say, sure, it’ll be two months and it’ll cost you this much money or it’ll take three months or seven weeks is my record, actually and I do everything for them. I write the Rails code that’s needed to work with Turbo Native. I build the iPhone app for them. I get all their assets ready. I deploy to the app store. I write their copy for the marketing. Pretty much, they just sign off on a bunch of things. And we’re good to go. So that’s what I do. That’s like my bread and butter. What I’ve realized is that I’m very expensive for what I charge because it’s so niche. I’m like one of the only few people that do it, that not everyone can afford that, which is fair. So what I’m doing now is I’m enabling individuals to learn how to do Turbo Native on their own, which is exactly what this workshop is that I’m actually hosting in from the recording three days from the recording. My first one of these, which is a three hour hands on interactive, like live coding workshop, where we go from like brand new X code project brand new Rails app to what you could, in theory, deploy to the App Store in three hours. And you’re gonna be able to leave that workshop with everything you need to know to like get your hands dirty and enough to be dangerous with Turbo Native. So you won’t be able to you know, copy and paste this thing into your production app, but you will be able to then make the tweaks you need to go and get that live.

Arvid Kahl 43:10
In an ideal future, five years from now

Joe Masilotti 44:51

Arvid Kahl 44:52
Would you rather be giving workshops or going down to Turbo Native style rabbit hole or would you want to be solopreneur running a fully full time, SaaS business or something like that?

Joe Masilotti 45:09
This is a question that I asked myself every month in some shape or form and I give you pause because, I give pause because it’s always a struggle and internal struggle with me. Right now, I can’t think of doing anything else besides RailsDevs. I want to spend every waking minute working on RailsDevs. And this workshop is like, oh, that’s Thursday? I forgot about that, you know. But last week, when I was putting the final touches on the workshop and tweaking the UI of the demo app we’re building and adding a really new awesome native screen, I was like, RailsDevs, what is that? I want to be full time Turbo Native workshop guy, day in and day out. So I think that my answer to you is, I don’t want to do one single thing for the rest of my life. I think that I get way too bored with individual things. And I need variety in my life. My life and my business more importantly, that if I pigeon holed myself into one thing, I would get bored of it and burnt out and stop caring and probably stop working on it. So having this balance of solopreneur, low touch SaaS along with high touch consultancy, along with like, middle touch, workshop or whatever, that’s my sweet spot. And maybe those three things will change throughout my life and my career. But right now, that is perfect for me.

Arvid Kahl 46:33
Yeah, who knows what you’re going to add to this or subtract from it at some point in the future. I think Daniel Vassallo would be very happy with that approach, you know, because it’s many small bets. It’s the idea of having different things, different kinds of things that you do low touch, high touch, time for money, you know, just money for time, like all kinds of variety somewhere in there. It’s really, really cool to see your reasoning about this because obviously, there is no perfect path. There might be a perfect path for you. But that is not for you to know until you walk it, right? So and it’s definitely not for me to understand before either. So I’m just really trying to figure out what your thought process is behind this. Because I know that so many founders struggle with this, that kind of what should I do? Where should I go? What should I not do? Like, what are the things that are keeping me from reaching the other thing, but having a balance between things and splitting your attention, almost like kind of a shiny object syndrome situation where there’s always something that is more exciting, I think that’s perfectly fine. Honestly, that’s how I work too, like sometimes I write for days at a time. And I just over the last couple days, I think I wrote three or four articles for the next couple of months because I thought I want to talk about these topics because I know, I’m gonna have interviews with these people around those days. So I want to kind of push that in there as well. I was super excited. And today’s like, no, I’m not gonna write. I’m gonna deal with the video stuff because that is also really cool. And I want to do it. I think too often are we pushed into, you should only do one thing and do it right and do it forever 50 years, get your watch and then you go into retirement, right? That’s the perspective that is still pushed onto us, even though it’s very much unrealistic. So I’m glad to see what is going on for you. Okay, one question I have. Oh, please go ahead.

Joe Masilotti 48:18
Yeah, one more thing on that. I think that you said it really well there, you kind of summarized a viewpoint that I have on it. That following your passion doesn’t mean following one thing forever. But it also doesn’t mean following a passion for weeks or months. That could be your passion of the hour or your passion of the day. And leaning into that is when you’re going to do your best work, it’s when I do my best work. And when I try to fight that when I say I have to write for three hours on Tuesday, is when I write crap or I don’t write at all and I have three cups of coffee. And I’m you know, on my Instagram the rest of the day or whatever. Like, it’s when I follow my passion and I say, oh, I have this great idea for an article and I wake up at 5am. And I write that from start to finish. It’s published at 7am. That’s when I do my best work.

Arvid Kahl 49:00
Yeah, creative work knows no timeboxing, right? It happens when it happens. And hopefully you have a pen and paper or an ocean dock or something to yell into, hopefully with a recording function. Otherwise, you’re just yelling into a phone. But you know, it’s really important to understand that creative work and that is coding too. Like the other side of the brain level, that is creative work, right? Like if you come up with new algorithms, new modules or an extension for something that you think could actually be a new feature or whatever also greater, right? Just as much as creating a new slide for your course or writing a new cold email. And it’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about because I saw over the last couple days you’ve been talking about cold email and marketing and since you are entrenched in two very different spaces, like in the job boards world and the course or workshop creation world. Did you find any overlap between these in terms of marketing or do you have a completely distinct approaches to this? How do you market your self and the things that you sell?

Joe Masilotti 50:02
Great question! I have found little overlap in the marketing of these two products. We’ll call them selling RailsDevs to businesses and selling my workshop or my consultancy work to businesses. The cold emailing that I’m doing now is almost exclusively to businesses that have posted interest or expressed interest or posted a job on a job board and said, I’m looking for a Rails developer. Here’s the job description. Those are people that I know are my target audience. I need a way to just get them to reply to me. If I get them to reply to me, there’s a good chance I can get them on to try RailsDevs for at least a month. Those cold emails are where I’m really experimenting with sending cold is interesting. But the word cold is interesting because they’re very customized. I’m finding the person’s real name, the real email address there, the job description. I’m sending them five links to developers who like could be a good fit, like I’m putting in 15-25 minutes of work into each one of these emails. So it’s still cold, but it’s not automated. And that’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever do. Marketing to other developers for the workshop and marketing to businesses for my Turbo Native work is practically 100% content marketing. It’s me tweeting about Tturbo Native, building in public and releasing small open source libraries. It’s being a maintainer of the library itself and getting my name in there and commit access and stuff. It’s blogging about it, it’s writing tutorials on it. It’s my newsletter that I talked about Turbo Native almost every single month. It’s all of that stuff to generate inbound leads. I rarely, if ever will reach out to companies and be like, hey, do you want a Turbo Native app? Because odds are, they don’t. If they do, they probably know who I am at this point. And they probably either don’t want to work with me for whatever reason or I’m too expensive. And that’s fine. So I let everything with that side of my business become inbound and everything with RailsDevs or that isn’t, you know, organic is cold email marketing right now.

Arvid Kahl 52:14
So that’s the kind of business side of RailsDevs. But the developer side, how do you reach these people?

Joe Masilotti 52:19
Yeah, that’s kind of exactly how I reach the developers on the Turbo Native side, it’s all building in public, it’s having the open source library. A lot of where I’ve seen developers come from, is like, I’ll post a question on Twitter and be like, hey, I don’t know how to do this in Rails, like, here’s some code and I link to the RailsDevs repo like a pull request or code. And it’s like, it’s very innocent because I’m posting to the code that I’m talking about. It just so happens to be in the repo that I want someone to sign up for. So it’s this nice little feedback loop where I ask for feedback, there’s genuine questions, I get someone to, you know, help me with a reply or telling me that I’m being silly and I should use other jam or whatever. They sometimes submit a pull request, which is even better. I close that out. They now are aware of RailsDevs. People have seen that conversation happen in public, maybe someone learned something from it, maybe now someone knows to use this gem instead of doing what I was trying to do. And in the future that’s documented for everyone on the repo. The best way that I’ve seen this work is having issues on the GitHub repo that are open for new contributors. This gets new people into the platform. It gets new contributors to open source software. And then when it gets merged, I can shout them out on Twitter with a link to their pull request and say thank you, which has actually gotten someone a job before. So it’s like this really cool full cycle loop where I’m able to, you know, amplify developer work, while getting quote free labor from them that they were totally willing to offer for me and free exposure. I mean, it just checks all the boxes. It really does.

Arvid Kahl 53:55
That’s so cool. Yeah, that is also such a clear brand that you’re building around the business and yourself. Like you’re almost quite literally a job creator. Even, you know, if you take the job away from this, it’s still true. I guess it’s really, really cool to see like all your efforts aiming at empowering software developers to find work or to make things that make them find work. That’s just really nice. And I think it comes around to you too. I’ve seen a lot of very positive testimonials out there about this platform, the process how people got jobs, like how you helped. Have you been like actively looking for these? Like I’m also always looking for testimonials, right? As a creator that’s the thing that that gives us credibility. Are you using any particular tools or particular process to capture these and then use it again to find more people?

Joe Masilotti 54:46
Yes, I’m collecting all the testimonials through You had Damon on just recently, right?

Arvid Kahl 54:54
Yeah, number two. Interview number two.

Joe Masilotti 54:55
Yeah, I just finished listening to that. So I use his tool, which I love. It’s a great way to just send a link and someone can do a video or a text testimonial right there and it’s all beautiful and like this wall of love that you can embed on your website or I copy paste because I’m finicky with my included JavaScript. I like to have everything the way I want it. But the website still works great in terms of collecting. And my approach for collecting it is that if I know that someone got a job or I am aware that someone may be setting their profile, they’re no longer looking. Or it’s been a while since they had contact with someone, I’ll reach out and say, hey, you know, how are things going? Keep me updated, anything exciting going on. It’s not a cold email. But it is a manually copy and pasted generated email with some tweaking going on. And I got a pretty good success rate on responses on that. If someone says they get hired, boom, where can I send you some some stickers, a mug, handwritten thank you card? And if you’re up for it, can you write a testimonial for me? Like, I’m gonna send you all this awesome stuff in a really cool box. It’d be great if you could just write a sentence or two about how you found your experience with RailsDevs. And that’s worked really well. People are really excited to share. I mean, what better achievement do you have than getting like your next job? It’s a huge upgrade, usually a huge milestone. They want to spread the love, they want to share where they found it, they want to help other people. And those testimonials really reflect that. And they then share their testimonial on their own Twitter and you know, just like this loop keeps happening and happening. It’s great.

Arvid Kahl 56:29
The feedback loops of building in public and empowering people in public, that are just incredible. Like they make things happen that you could not imagine if you were just sitting there hiding from public, the public world and doing your thing. What you’re doing is wonderful. It’s amazing. Yeah, my mind has been regularly blown over the last hour about like how thoughtful you are, in how you engage with the community, how you focus on the people with the least power in this very complicated job dynamics, how you make absolutely sure that they get the best deal possible while still empowering also the companies that choose to work with you, how you teach people to do stuff, to sell to other companies. It’s just wonderful, man. That is so cool. I’m just so happy that you’re on and sharing all these nuggets. Where can people go to find out more about you and your wonderful build in public work?

Joe Masilotti 57:25
Yes, so most of my content is published on Twitter. I’m Joe Masilotti. There’ll be a link in the show notes. I blog on That’s been a little less frequently, but starting very soon, that will change. I have some surprises coming for the new year. And then I also have a newsletter there that you can subscribe that’s only monthly. So it’s pretty light rounds up a bunch of links about hotwire and what I’m working on.

Arvid Kahl 57:50
Very cool. Thank you so much for sharing all your insights here today. That was really, really cool.

Joe Masilotti 57:56
Yeah, I really appreciate it, Arvid. This has been a blast. I’ve been really looking forward to this like all week, especially after two rescheduling. So thank you for dealing with that. Thank you for having me on. And I can’t wait to listen to this when it comes out.

Arvid Kahl 58:08
Absolutely. Thanks so much.

And that’s it for today. Thank you for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You’ll find my Twitter course and my books there as well. And if you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your podcast player of choice and leave a rating and a review by going to ( Any of this, will really help the show. So thank you very much for listening and have a wonderful day. Bye bye.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.