A Review of Actual in 2019

January 2, 2020

My goal for 2019 was to launch a product that would become a large part of my income. On January 29, 2019 I launched Actual (via Product Hunt). It was the result of years of thought, prototyping (I built roughly 3 prototypes before it), and lots of work. Finalized by a couple weeks of sleepless nights when I decided enough was enough and I needed to launch the damn thing.

The launch was good — I got enough attention to generate 10-20 users that started giving me feedback. I was happy, but at the same time I got a hard, cold reality check. It didn't solve a problem that a lot of users had. Personal finance systems is a saturated market.

I've learned a lot this year. As a solo founder, I launched a product and persisted through emotional and technical struggles. I've rebuilt and re-launched large parts of a complex system without problems. I've redesigned and iterated on marketing, learned which metrics to track and what to prioritize. I've seen how critical customer support is. 2019 is the year I learned product management.

With all of this work, where do things stand? Currently I have 76 paid subscribers at $4/month. Yes I know, I priced it too cheap, something that will change soon (one of many things I've learned). That's $304/month of revenue, which is mostly profit because my operating costs are so cheap.

That might sound disappointing, but honestly I'm happy. I made a lot of mistakes, and in reality around October I started fixing major issues so that's what I consider my unofficial launch date. In October I only had 35 (out of 76) paid subscribers, and in December alone I gained 19. The numbers are starting to go up.

Honestly, I wasn't ready for a lot of users until now. I made some huge changes to the product that would have been really difficult if I had thousands of users, and I've learned how to manage customer support. For better or for worse, I am building infrastructure like offline support myself so it has taken time to mature.

I've been funding this work with contracting. The context switching has been very difficult, which is why in 2019 I took many months off to focus only on Actual. The result is I only made $75k pre-tax, which for many is a decent income, but compared to the salary I could get at ~$150k (or more) I've effectively invested $75k into Actual this year alone. Understanding this is important when considering all your options.

In 2020 I'm going to take all the lessons learned and properly nurture Actual into something a lot of people are excited about. It doesn't have to make millions, I'm just happy if it slowly continues to grow.

I will write more about everything I've learned in other posts, but I'll leave you with this: my greatest mistake was not aggressively trying to find a cofounder. There's just too much work to do, and this is an ambitious project. If you're interested in helping out, get in touch!