I Make $200,000/Year Writing Messages

I Make $200,000/Year Writing Messages
Published on
September 9, 2021

I make $200k/year writing one-off messages.

And it looks like this, to be precise:

Somebody paid $20.00 for that message. And that's it.

What is it that we do?

People pay us to tell them if their item is counterfeit or real. We tell them. That’s it.

Sometimes they pay $100.00, some other times they pay $50.00. It depends on the product. In the screenshot below, somebody paid us $100 to authenticate their $12,000+ bag.

Fun fact: after paying $100 for this message, this person later paid $60.00 to turn this message into a Certificate of Authenticity, to use it in court. Uhm… in court? Yep, in court. Legal battle. Yikes — this felt… scary, but interesting

But this $100 purchase is an outlier. It doesn’t happen on the daily.

Our bread and butter is the $20.00 service. Sometimes there’s more to it: if our customer’s item is fake and they paid via PayPal or a Credit Card, we can issue them something that looks like this for $60.00. That gets them their money back.

Finding out that Amex, Chase, etc trust a piece of virtual paper that we wrote felt… weird in the beginning. Later we got used to it.

But I jumped the gun telling you this.

One last thing I have to show, however, before going into the body of the post, is some proof to the claim:

And it’s a bit more than $203,000 actually, given B2B deals (a few, with 4 and 5 digits) + some other income. However, most of those $203,138.80 comes from us writing one-off messages to strangers

So how did we get here?

Well it didn’t start as a business.

In 2017 (I was 19 then) I was learning how to build an app and I eventually found out I hate coding. Don’t get me wrong — I love watching somebody code, just didn’t like writing it. But mid-project I realised it’s not for me and said I’ll finish the app nonetheless.

It was so basic: literally a ‘glorified bookmark folder’ into an app. I made some menus for selecting a sneaker → selecting a colourway → selecting a ‘tells’ (= a way to tell a fake from a real item) → load a page with the guide… I had hosted on… chdaniel.com.

Kinda embarrassing, but yes, my personal website.

No, not a “professional website” that a “company” deserves, with branding, its own domain etc. No, nothing organized. All improvised. Yes, the terms & conditions page was on my personal website.

Imagine people going from the App Store to read the privacy policy of this app (that they supposedly trusted for authentication guides), then reaching a random guy’s website.

I keep saying I’ll write the full story one day, but I never got round to it, so that means it’s not that important, or ever on the list of “top 5 things I have to do to grow the business in a healthy manner”.

I won’t bore you with the full story, but the short of it is:

I eventually published the app and thought ‘okay, that’s it’.

Job done. Launched it on Reddit, had a nice reception, but thought “Okay, just a one-off project”.

The app+website, however, kept garnering views. The following cycle repeated itself:

  • New milestone: 5,000 users
  • My reaction: “Yay! Nicee!!” for the next 3 minutes. Then… nothing. I just called this a one-off project in my mind, so there wasn’t much happening after.
  • Back to work
  • New milestone: 10,000 users — Yay! Nice!!
  • 🎢🎢🎢 Same for: 20,000 users
  • Then 40,000 users
  • Then 60,000 users… etc.
  • 100,000 users was a big one, we got a cake
  • 150,000… 200,000… 300,000… repeat ad nauseam

I just thought I could never do something commercial with this. Or actually wait, scratch that — that thought never occurred to me.

So I kept spending 3 minutes celebrating small milestones, but at about 350,000 all-time users, in April, something happened.

The graph looked like this

At about 350,000 users, I was:

  • Receiving about 3–10 emails per day, with people asking me to authenticate their items — I kept helping people (for free), but I couldn’t actually get to reply to all of them 🤯
  • That was… disappointing, internally
  • I thought some of these people would have to have priority. Somehow…And charging for the service felt like the best option: I could re-invest the money into making the project better
  • Depending on how much ppl pay, I’d be considering that an indicator of ‘how much is this project deserving to be grown’. If people didn’t pay that much, it meant there wasn’t much utility. If people did pay, it meant there was utility, so the project deserved to be grown
  • I involved my younger brother, David, who was then 15. This felt really scary, as he was so young and I thought “maybe it’s too much to ask of him, to act and think like an adult in front of strangers, online, and in English, a language that was not native to him. But I couldn’t have been more wrong, I now realise, looking back — a 15 year old younger brother of mine has been my role model for breaking conventions. And if you’d ask him today, he’ll be humble about it.

And yep, we’ve stared with a basic, shabby e-commerce website in April 2019. Scary as it was, we went forward. I’m skipping a lot of details (let me know in the comments if the FULL story of Legit Check would be interesting), but this marks the early stages of starting:

The first emails with Stripe

And then we took a few weeks to set everything up. Setting everything up meant thinking how to integrate the paid service within the guides.

And then doing it.

Before we knew it…

Our first $20.00 came before we even went live!! We briefly added only one link on the website.

From all the guides, there was only ONE path to buy this service. Not platstered on every page, not on an annoying pop-up. Nope, we just tested it in one place, as we were still setting things up, and wanted to see (prematurely) what would happen.

Shortly after this purchase took place, I took it down.

A couple of weeks later, when we finally went live, the orders started coming in:

And that felt… like a mixed bag. Exhilarating, thrilling, but the fear of the unknown kicked in. A teen (15) and an almost-teen (21) getting packs of $20 from strangers. In exchange for just. a. message.

“Are we doing it right?”

“Are the people happy? We just send them a message and that’s it…?”

“Are we gonna have people angry at us for just sending an email… is that what a service is? What the…?”

“Is it enough, or should we do more? Let’s do more for them. Let’s do as much as we can. But will they think it’s enough?”

That’s just 1% of what was going through our minds. But hey, leave us aside. Let’s talk about the business.

It was so cumbersome for the customers. I wince if I even think about it: you had to buy a $20.00 service. And then you, the customer, have to forward the $20.00 payment email. Wow.

Then email us with pics, and only then we’d come back to you. Like — who does that? Who pays and then has to make sure they put in the title “AUTHENTICATION SERVICE” (not something else, careful!)

But later on, I made this website, which is actually the one that’s live today. I thought: we really need to look like a trustworthy business, not just two guys that made up this scrappy, light e-commerce.

If you’re wondering who ‘we’ is, I mean myself (22 then) and my then 15-year-old brother

So in October 2019, here we were with a ‘proper’ website. We were SERIOUS now: we looked like a legit company.

Okay… imagine a “Legit Check” (that’s our name) company that didn’t look legit… that’s who we were with the scrappy store. The irony. We now had:

  • A proper domain: legitcheck.app (sort of proper… no .com, but better than Ch Daniel dot com)
  • An ordering process
  • You were able to upload pics on checkout
  • We had a proper ‘official’ email now. Let me show some examples.

We went from the customer receiving this:

This is what they received after buying through the scrappy, basic e-commerce
Eventually, when I realised that the previous picture’s message was *really bad* (amateur hour), I started adding a numbered list with reasons (amateur hour, but less).

To now, with the proper branding, the customer receiving this:

Anyway, the big unaddressed elephant in the room is: how did we get those customers?

How did we get those customers? How do they keep on coming?

The answer is: a mix of luck (no tip-toe-ing around that) and making use of that luck. Our graph of users looks like this today:

Ever since we posted this, we passed 6 mil!

We get 300-400k unique users a month.

These people come to read our free fake vs real authentication guides.

The short story is that we got lucky in the sense that we discovered a format that worked (and dare I even say, on some days when I'm more arrogant: we've invented a mini-industry, now that our efforts have birthed competitors) and then we swung for the fences.

So I won't be claiming it was my intellect, my genius or whatever bs people claim to get VCs to invest in them, or to impress highschool people they anyways hate. It was luck and then we did our best to make use of the luck.

I'll do my best to bring transparency to this by putting it this way:

We got lucky with: Traffic kept growing while I didn't do anything. I struck an SEO goldmine without even knowing SEO

What we did with that luck: I learned SEO, established our position, built moats to make sure we keep those #1 positions for 'fake vs real [name of item]' searches
We got lucky with: The demand for authentications of items kept growing

What we did with that luck: We made a brand out of it and did our best to make it as trustworthy and professional as possible
We got lucky with: People paid for a product that was far from being done. BigCartel and you have to email us proof of payment, then the pictures

What we did with that luck: It was just a hedge against a a bad bet. What if we spent all those months and we ended up with 0 business? As soon as we saw it was a proper business, we were serious about it
We got lucky with: A high-margin, low-volume, time-based service (95% margins, if need be)

What we did with that luck: Understood that I need to keep an eye on being as lean as possible, if things go bad, but otherwise diversify by investing in new things.
We got lucky with: People paid a lot of money for something we could've offered way cheaper. I am being granted the spoil of overcharging, because I want to make use of the time I get (by overcharging) to build more for people.

What we did with that luck: Offered stellar customer support, did the right thing when I had to (refunds that my ego wanted to cling to), over-delivered for the customers etc.

Now that the luck bit has been addressed, the process is this: people come to read the guides, as we rank high for keywords such as ‘Air Max fake vs real’ or ‘Air Max authentication guide’ → part of these people are short on time and not short on money, so they’d rather have us check their item.

Others want to get their money back from a scam, with the $60 Certificate I’ve mentioned above (which gets our customers’ money back with a 99.9% rate of success — or we refund what they paid us, if it doesn’t work).

But if neither of the above is true, they read a free, public guide (see below) and we’re fine with “leaving money on the table”

All in all, everything is handled via the ‘add order notes’ function of our eCommerce system. We write our message there, it gets added to that formatted email, people get the fruit of our service.

Why write this now?

Since we’re making this amount of money, we can afford to invest in new, better things. Speaking of money, I share on Twitter public + transparent figures such as:

And if you really want to tag along with the journey, I have a (free) monthly subscription where I document my strategy, thinking, financial results etc. It’s called “Dear Mom/Investors”

The monthly subscription is a place where I put together all the figures I share (randomly, in a scattered manner) on Twitter.

Moving on.

One of these new “things” we’re investing in is a brand-new ordering system: better for the customers and for us

With the current eCommerce system, we got off the ground with a ready-made solution, but now we’re making our own thing. This move has ups and downs, but we’ll get to a point where:

  • Placing an order will take a lovely user of ours about 15–20 sec
  • Handling an order will take us 10x less time

So even if we don’t increase our revenue and it stays the same, we’d have increased our margins as less of our time is tied in.

Why write this now? Because: once our new system is out, as we’ll mature (and we’re building a lot of new stuff) and we’ll no longer be a ‘We put together a scrappy process’ company.

It… just felt right to document this now.

Both to share the lessons at this point in time, and because we’ll no longer be able to make a big claim like the one in the title. If you’ll see the new system out (which I think looks… I’ll just say really well) and we say we’re making $200k, you’ll say “Nice. So what”

This is our story.

This is how we’re making 6 digits as 2 folks who together have 40 years of age. Naturally, it’s not just the two of us right now, but it would be fair to say that the two of us (David and myself) built this.

What’s next?

I wanna keep this short, to just relate the story and not make it look like self-promo

1. We’ll soon launch this new major update,

where we’re shooting our shot at becoming a more mature company. In a move that feels eerily similar to the change from the scrappy website to the ‘proper’ website (what I just described above), we’ll see where that takes us.

Plus, we’re connecting better the multitude of things we’re doing: the free guides, the service, the Price Comparison app which I haven’t touched upon, and others

2. We're building the best Notion Website Builder

Here's a problem: setting up your website has a time cost of at least a few minutes. Actually, scratch that: some have taken that down to just a few minutes.

At the same time, we (and many many others) really love Notion.com. And it's really hard to mess it up and make a Notion page look bad.

The solution? We want to make it so that no-code websites can be created in as little as a few seconds. For the moment, we'll start with "about 30 sec", hoping to take that down even further. And we're also starting with Notion. But later we'll expand into other no-code tools.

That's a side-project where we're re-investing part of those $200k — we'll see how that goes!

3. I try to share more and more of my journey

The annual shareholder letters of Jeff Bezos are where the value is at, not the interviews

The ‘process’, as they call it. But if you don’t document the process, then selective memory and biases can affect what you’ll be preaching when you’re a finished-product.

So posts like these, building in public on Twitter, Dear Mom/Investors, etc → I’m trying to document more of what I’m doing.

To conclude…

  • We’ll carry on, becoming a more mature company. I hope the story inspired+informed you. Feel free to reach out if you think I can help ✌️
  • Out of a need for our own pricing strategy, I started building (in public) PriceUnlock. If you’re a SaaS owner, I think it will help you unlock revenue and growth.
  • As of late, I’m building in public on Twitter. I started at 190 followers in April 2021.

Thanks for reading our story (originally published on May 8, 2021, on my personal blog — hence the different tone).