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posted on May 21, 2024

Lunch Money:
The New Era

How a divorce redefined my one-person business

Lunch Money, a personal finance management web app, started as a side project in early 2019 to rekindle my love of programming after burning out from years of working corporate, co-founding a startup and freelancing. It was deliberately void of any aspirations or pressures to become an income-generating product. By an interesting turn of events (24 hours on the front page of Hacker News), Lunch Money turned into a viable business overnight and became my full-time focus for the next number of years.

Screen grab 2 hours into my post being on the front page on Hacker News, August 2019

Despite the original intent, it felt incredible to hit all the milestones of varying magnitudes for an “Indie Hacker” project. 100 signups. 1,000 paying subscribers. $100,000 ARR. Getting interviewed on podcasts and seeing Lunch Money randomly mentioned in articles. Finding my niche within the Twitter community of other folks building tiny businesses. Amassing an audience for my blog where I was building in public. I proudly told my story time and time again, excited to inspire others, that as a software engineer by trade having tried every career avenue in the industry, I had finally found my calling in a mish mash of keywords: bootstrapped, solopreneur, SaaS founder, company of one.

For the next 3 years, I put in the work fulfilling feature requests, fixing bugs and answering every support email. I tested my amateur design skills using Sketch, read every article I could on SaaS marketing (it still escapes me..) and played product manager by organizing and assigning tasks to myself on Asana, all while building and managing both the front-end and server-side code for the app. I was truly a company of one, playing every role that I had the chance to observe during my years working in a corporate environment, and I loved every bit of it. I equated working on Lunch Money to playing an addictive video game that got more challenging and fun with every level up. I often went to bed late and woke up early, always energized for another day of “work”. There truly was never a dull day.

Having experienced my fair share of discrimination being a minority female in a predominantly male industry, I found it extra satisfying to finally have something substantial to gain the respect of my peers and prove my worth in this industry. I had an insane itch to prove to the world, and to myself, that I could build and run a business all by myself. I dove deep into the company-of-one mindset, priding myself on doing it all to the point where I felt if someone were to help me, it would strip away all my accomplishments. I often ran into people who would assume my ex-(male) partner was the brains behind the engineering or that I used a no-code tool to build Lunch Money. All that only fueled my desire to make a louder statement that it’s 100% me.

Proudly proclaiming all my roles in our company About page

Around the time I hit $100k ARR, I had reached some level of personal satisfaction and stopped Tweeting new milestones. I was also at a point in my life where I was married for a few years and excited at the prospect of settling down somewhere and quitting the nomadic life I had been living for the last few years. My aspiration was to be a stay-at-home mom by my own power and volition, and Lunch Money would allow me to sustain an income while primarily being a homemaker. I even talked about this on the Indie Hackers podcast. It would be my way of asserting agency within a traditional gender role I was choosing for myself.

Then, everything suddenly changed..

The divorce was a complete blindside that happened overnight in September 2021. It was easily the most traumatic event of my life that upended every minor and major plan and vision I had for my future. I had very little bandwidth for Lunch Money and came online sporadically for the next 1.5 years, mostly for critical bug fixes or low-hanging fruits for some quick dopamine hits. In large, my one-person support team and the existing Slack community of users kept everything afloat while I slowly pieced my life back together.

My Github contribution graph since starting Lunch Money

When my ex-partner left, I happened to be in Los Angeles visiting friends for the first time since moving out of the US to travel and live abroad roughly 5 years prior. Being the only one in my friend group of 10+ years to do so, I often felt like I was missing out on their milestones and key events while everyone else grew closer.

At first, it felt uncomfortable to reach out for help and support after the divorce. After all, I had a dominating recent history of never asking for help and figuring it all out on my own with Lunch Money. I was worried that the rift I was playing up in my head was just as apparent to them, but I was quickly met with love, warmth and hospitality.

For the first time in my adult life, I found myself completely relying on others which eventually helped me become a more resilient and stronger version of myself. If it weren’t for my wonderful friends, I would have spent most of my days horizontal– lying in bed, locked up in a dark guest room. The silver lining is that I realized, in my darkest and most depressed times, how valuable a well-formed community is. Living life as a digital nomad for the last 5 years, I was used to being in places for a few months at a time, chasing the novelties of life and forming quick friendships based on commonalities like being an expat, while having less opportunities to deepen those relationships by putting them through the test of time, hardships and distance.

I ended up staying with a number of generous friends in their homes for the first 4 months. It was monumental for me to get back to a healthy mental state. That summer, I went on a “solo honeymoon” mixed with a friends trip in Europe and spent time back home in Toronto while waiting for my visa to get approved so I could officially move back to the US for the 3rd time in December 2022.

As I was getting further along in my healing journey, I started to ask myself where I want to take Lunch Money. I no longer had a desire to be a stay-at-home mom. Hell, I completely abandoned the idea of ever even having kids. I felt strongly that I wanted to focus on building my legacy now. Life is short and we have no idea what could happen at any moment. As I gradually ramped up hours working on Lunch Money, I came to realize a few key things:

  1. Despite a period of a few months where I was mostly offline, Lunch Money never decreased in user growth or revenue!
  2. It's already incredible what I have built and I shouldn't break my back continuing to do everything on my own.
  3. I am now more excited about the overall impact I can enable in this world, rather than proving my individual abilities.
  4. I started to feel more comfortable asking for help and leaning on others for support.
  5. At the end of the day, what makes me happiest about working on Lunch Money is the engineering aspect– everything from feature development, bug fixes, performance optimizations and overall app improvements.

There is a noticeable slowdown in growth in the months post-divorce, but we kept growing!

All this led me to see new potential in Lunch Money. I want to see Lunch Money grow to new heights, but in a meaningful way. As a bootstrapped business, we aren’t constrained by quarterly pressures to prioritize user growth and revenue. Critical mass, such as having millions of users, is often the goal for many companies, but it’s not ours, nor do we need it to be successful and to continue being profitable. Fostering critical connections by building a community around our app, where users can pursue their personal financial goals in a shared, collaborative environment is how we’ll thrive.

Where we are today

My late-blooming and newfound appreciation of community fostered 4 major changes in Lunch Money in the last few months that I’m really excited to share.

1. Lunch Money is now a team of 6!

At the beginning of the year, I set out to make a few key hires and 4 new folks officially joined the team by April 2024. I’m convinced this is the dream team! Hiring for these roles means I can delegate important tasks to others such that I can spend more time on what I enjoy most and am best at: coding!

2. We are heavily investing in our developer ecosystem!

As a small, bootstrapped company without the budget for an entire engineering/product team, we are leaning into our existing developer ecosystem and inviting folks to contribute to the longevity and evolution of the platform.

Our developer API was one of the very first major features we ever released due to popular demand. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of really cool plug-ins and apps made by our users. With the recent hire of our developer advocate, we are working out how to best support the developers on our platform.

A sample of mobile companion apps created by Lunch Money users

If you’re a developer interested in contributing to the Lunch Money ecosystem, come join us on Discord! 👇

3. We have a home for our community on Discord!

In August 2023, we moved our community from Slack to Discord. Previously, the Slack community was only opened to paid subscribers. The Discord community is open to all– even if you’re just trialing. We have over 2,300 users on there happy to help and share their experience!

4. We made our pricing more accessible!

To open our community up to more people around the world from different countries and economic backgrounds, we made a bold move and changed our annual pricing plan to a pay-what-you-want model starting at $40 in February 2023.

Our previous pricing model at $100 per year shuts people out who could really benefit from Lunch Money, and doesn’t account for regional economic variability, big life changes, hard times, etc. We decided to prioritize accessibility to our app and deprioritize maximizing profits. After all, what good is a budgeting app that takes up a big chunk of your budget?

We want to give back to all our users– past, present & future, who support our journey, helping us achieve something we never thought imaginable. We aim to truly be a people-first company and we love giving a whole new meaning to “gain control of your finances”!

What will never change?

While I’m super excited about the recent changes at Lunch Money, some things will remain the same.

We will stay bootstrapped.

Staying bootstrapped means we’re not operating to pay off a debt to investors who want the highest returns possible. We are, and have always been, 100% customer-funded!

We will continue to prioritize our users.

We’re not banking on an exit strategy. We’re here for the long haul and we’re committed to making the best product for our users for as long as we can. Stay posted on our latest updates via our changelog!

We will keep the spirit of building in public.

We will continue to share the ins and outs of Lunch Money where it makes sense from the newly minted Lunch Money blog, Jen’s personal blog and Twitter. We hope to continue inspiring budding and current solopreneurs, entrepreneurs and SaaS founders.

So, where does this leave us?

Sky’s the limit! The Lunch Money community is booming and I’ve officially graduated from the ‘company of one’ mindset. The first 5 years have been quite the roller coaster and I’m excited to see where the next 5 take us. I could never have imagined how much I would grow as a person through all this, and consequently how Lunch Money would evolve through my personal experiences. It is a truly special experience to build this company as my authentic self with everyone’s love and support over the years, especially through my temporary absense. I appreciate all of you so much!

Jen is the founder of Lunch Money, a personal finance management tool for the modern day spender. She is proudly Canadian, is currently based in Los Angeles and loves running the business while traveling the world. Follow her on Twitter: @lunchbag

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