What Does It Cost to Run the Friendliest.app?

Friendliest.app Cost Cloud
What does it cost to run the Friendliest.app?

For those of you who like to skip to the last page of the book: about $35 per month.

And for those of you who like a bit deeper (content editor's note: probably too deep) explanation, here we go:

The Friendliest.app is a completely bootstrapped endeavor. We launched the Public Beta knowing it would be some time (finance editor's note: if ever) before it generates income so we took an extremely cost-conscious approach with the tools and services used to run our application.

Here is a quick rundown of what it currently costs to run the Friendliest.app, six months after launch. Please note that while we do mention products and services we use and why we chose them, we are in no way compensated for our opinions.

Hosting

Our Ruby on Rails web app, Postgres database and Gatsby blog, the main hosted components are all on Render. We pay $7/month each for the Starter application and Starter database plans. Our blog uses Render's free Static Site hosting, keeping our total hosting bill to $14/month. But it did start this way...

Our app and database started on Heroku, taking advantage of their developer-friendly free tier of hosting. A couple months in, we were reaching the 10K row limit of Heroku's free Postgres tier and needed to start paying.

Unfortunately, Heroku's db hosting has some steep price jumps between tiers, which did not align well with our app's projected growth. We did some research and decided to migrate to Render, which offered more iterative pricing tiers that better aligned to our apps growth (and resource needs) than Heroku's pricing "shelves".

In addition to hosting, our $14 bill also covers some incidentals like SSL certs for the app and blog and 7 days of Postgres backup.

CDN and Asset Storage

I'm lumping these services together for no other reason than they are both from the same provider, Amazon AWS.

We are using Rails Active Storage to serve images directly from S3 buckets. After the last round of menu updates at the beginning of September, we now have about 1,800 images (and variants) stored in S3.

We use CloudFront as our main Content Delivery Network (CDN) for our app. Pushing our javascript and CSS, among other things to the CDN takes a decent load off our application.

Our current monthly average for all AWS services is $.05 and we can easily predict future growth costs based on our customers' usage patterns.

AWS Monthly Costs, August and September 2021
By decoupling our blog from our Rails app and moving it to Gatbsy, we were able to take advantage of the CDN Render provides with their static site hosting. This gives us a free 100GB/month of bandwidth and if (encouragement editor's note: not if, when!) we surpass that, we'll be looking at $.10/GB for any overages. Though, this is not an immediate worry.

Transactional Email

Personal complaint time. I hate it when email doesn't work. I especially hate it when you are performing an action that requires receiving an email (registration, password reset, etc) and it doesn't work. Or maybe it does work, but the send job doesn't run immediately and you get ten emails an hour later. And maybe you don't see those ten emails because they all went to your junk folder and you go through the whole process again...

While initially sketching out our infrastructure, one of the easiest decisions was to let someone else, someone who knows what they're doing handle email for us. For us, that someone is Postmark.

We are still scraping by on Postmark's free Developer plan which allows up to 100 emails per month. But, we have budgeted $10/month for their 10,000 emails plan which we will be needing very shortly. It's also worth mentioning that Postmark offers a $75 credit to bootstrappers who are actively charging for their services.

Domain Registration

This one is simple. We use namecheap to register our domain. It is about $18 per year for a .app domain, including all fees, or about $1.50 per month. Done.

Office 365

This one might seem like the outlier, but O365 it critical to running our application. Planning, research, to-do lists, feature roadmaps, interface doodles and the like are all managed in OneNote. OneDrive stores and organizes our image library.

Friendliest.app image assets in OneDrive
Yes, we could probably get by moving everything to Google and eliminating a line item, but I've been an Office user for over 20 years, it works for me and there is value in comfort. $69.99 per year or about $5.84/month.

Payment Processing

Since the Friendliest.app is completely free during our Public Beta, there are currently no payment processing expenses. But, once we do introduce our paid tier of service, this will be by far our greatest monthly expense.

We have Braintree subscriptions fully implemented and waiting for our emergence from Beta. With an intended launch price of $2/month, we had expected to pay around $.36 (2.9% + $.30) in fees to process a subscription payment, or 18% of the subscription price. But...

Last month Braintree (and its parent Paypal) announced a pricing change that makes the platform a much less appealing solution for our pricing model. With new processing fees of 2.59% + $.49, we are looking at $.54, or 27% of the subscription price. Ouch.

We are currently re-evaluating subscription processing options. We had initially selected Braintree over Stripe since the latter had additional costs for subscriptions over their standard processing fees and keeping our costs down allows us to keep our pricing down. Other options would be look at a higher price point, like $2.50/month or to reconsider a yearly subscription option.

Assets

We've purchased a few assets for the Friendliest.app so far, including an allergy icon set from iconscout and Lineicon's line icon font. These asset purchases have totaled around $40 or $3.33/month.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

The age-old question. How much is your time worth?

The Friendliest.app is currently consuming around 50 hours/month. That time is divided between coding, research, content creation, writing (like this blog posts you're reading), social media management and everything in between.

I'm the first to admit I am neither the most skilled nor the fastest Rails developer...or Gatsby developer...or DBA...or researcher...or writer...or anything else really. For example, I'm about three hours into this blog post and it's going to take at least one more dedicated hour before I finish.

But, in an attempt to roughly, very roughly quantify the BS&T, let's assume:

  • $40/hour average cost of all work, from coding to tweeting.
  • 50% fewer hours needed by more competent individuals.
  • 10% total overhead for resource management.


We end up with something like:

$40 * (50/2) * 1.1 = $1,100


That feels somewhere in the ballpark.

So, if you've made it this far, running the Friendliest.app currently costs somewhere between $35 and $1,135 per month, depending on the value of time and effort. And speaking of time and effort, I'm now at the four hour mark now, which is which is plenty of both to dedicate to this post.

Happy bootstrapping!

Kevin Williams | Tuesday, September 14th 2021