Going Full Time on My SaaS After 13 Years

In January 2010 I soft-launched launched Preceden, a web-based timeline maker tool, followed a few weeks later by a larger launch on HackerNews:

Today – almost 13 years to the day since the initial launch – I’m going full time on it and I couldn’t be more excited.

A brief history of Preceden

At the time of Preceden’s launch, I was serving as a first lieutenant in the US Air Force and about halfway through a 5-year service commitment I incurred by attending the Air Force Academy, a military college. I knew I didn’t want to make the Air Force a career, so decided to start learning web development with the hope of eventually working full time on a startup after my service commitment ended in 2012.

The first web app I built during this time period was Domain Pigeon (a domain search tool), followed by Preceden, followed by Lean Designs (a WYSIWYG web design tool), followed by Lean Domain Search (another domain search tool I built while deployed to Iraq), plus a few smaller ones not worth mentioning.

By the time I left the Air Force, I had shut down all except Preceden and Lean Domain Search. I did go full time for a few months, but focused entirely on Lean Domain Search. That tool was eventually acquihired by Automattic in 2013, where I joined full time as a software engineer helping with the domain name experience on WordPress.com.

With Lean Domain Search in Automattic’s hands, I was left with just Preceden, which at that point was about 3 years old. It didn’t make much money at the time, but I decided to continue working on it as a side project and see where it went.

Four years later in 2017 I left Automattic to join Help Scout as their first data team hire (during my time at Automattic, I gradually shifted away from software engineering to more of a data analyst/analytics engineer role). I continued to work on Preceden (then 7 years old), and in 2018 I switched to a contractor role so I could put more time on Preceden.

And now, after 4 years of contracting, I’m finally going full time on Preceden.

Here was my announcement at Help Scout from a few weeks ago:

Why not sooner?

It was a combination of things:

  • I made a lot of rookie mistakes over the years that limited Preceden’s growth including not focusing on a specific niche, not spending enough time marketing, not talking to enough customers, trying to do too much myself, and just in general picking a difficult product and business to build (something I didn’t give any thought to initially).
  • I was learning a ton, doing a lot of interesting work, and enjoying the camaraderie I had with my teammates at Automattic and later Help Scout.
  • Financially it made more sense to keep Preceden as a side project.

On the last point – it’s much easier to launch a SaaS than it is to grow it to the point where it can replace your income. As the sole breadwinner in our household with 4 young kids, I was not comfortable going full time and merely being ramen profitable or anything close to it. I wanted to replace or mostly replace my other income, and with Preceden’s SaaS metrics being what they were, it just took a really, really long time to do that. The long slow SaaS ramp of death is something I now have a lot of experience with ๐Ÿ˜‚.

But here I am, finally.

Preceden in 2010
Preceden in 2019
Preceden today in 2023

What’s next?

I plan to focus mostly on Preceden, but will spend some percentage of my time on other pursuits. I recently launched LearnGPT.com, a fledgling GPT education site, and will likely work more and more on AI projects including integrating it into Preceden itself.

Also, it’s been a busy few years, and I’m very much looking forward to relaxing more and spending more time with my family including my two younger kids who aren’t in school yet.

I don’t know what my future holds long term. Preceden’s finances are good enough for now, but not at a point where I can just stop working on it and coast for years. With a little luck, Preceden will continue to grow and will continue supporting me full time to either focus on it or other pursuits. There’s also some chance I get bored with it or stumble across some promising new startup and I wind up going back full time somewhere else. We will see!

I do hope to blog more frequently so if you are interested in following along, you can subscribe via email, RSS, or just follow me on Twitter at @mhmazur.

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ‘‹.

Comments on HackerNews

21 thoughts on “Going Full Time on My SaaS After 13 Years

  1. Congratulations, Matt! What a fantastic milestone!

    Pre-Automattic, I ran my own agency, and while it obviously wasn’t a SaaS project (unless you’re referring to Service as a Service haha), I definitely ran into the Slow Ramp of Death. It was like after every big, celebratory milestone, I would run into what seemed like an even bigger, hairier, steeper climb to the next milestone. I admire folks who can keep plugging away, climbing those mountains, because I eventually decided that I was done with that journey. I don’t regret that decision, but I appreciated the learnings.

    Looking forward to hearing more about *your* journey!

    • Long time no chat Marjorie! Appreciate you sharing your story and I can relate to it. Lots of “2 steps forward, 1 step back” moments for me too over the years. But hey, at least that’s a net of 1 step forward, and they add up.

      Thanks for saying hey!

  2. Skim HNโ€™s story feeds but with added metadata about linked articles - My Blog

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  4. Going full time on my SaaS after 13 years – Latest-News-Events

  5. New best story on Hacker News: Going full time on my SaaS after 13 years – Cassinni

  6. Hey Matt โ€” we met many years ago at the Startup Bootcamp at MIT, this was around the time you were doing Lean Domain Search. Your name/domain looked familiar when I saw this post on the front page of HN. Not much else to say other than congratulations and so happy to see you taking the leap!

  7. Great story. I know the journey well. I own 100% of my SaaS business which I started in 2000 just before the dotcom crash. I now make $5M ARR, employ 15 people in London, Sydney and Singapore. I love my job and I am free. The journey isnโ€™t easy all the time but stick to it, remain true to who you are, and put yourself first before you can help others.

    • Thanks and congrats on your success! I don’t aim to have 15 employees, but $5M ARR sounds pretty nice :). Appreciate the advice to remain true to who you are too.

  8. Congratulations on making the leap Matt!! I loved reading about your journey with Preceden, and especially seeing the homepage’s evolution over time haha

    If you don’t mind, I’ll reach out separately via email, it’d be great to find an opportunity to chat with you to learn more about Preceden, but I wanted to leave a note here to just say congrats :)

  9. Turning Down $7k for a Side Project I Announced Two Weeks Ago I was Shutting Down – Matt Mazur

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