Tarsnap reaches profitability

[I meant to write this last week, but instead I spent several days tracking down a nasty bug in tarsnap. The first rule of software engineering: Schedules slip. I'm sure I made the right choice, though, in setting this aside to fix the bug -- fixing bugs in tarsnap will always be more important than writing blog posts.]

One of the most common questions I receive about tarsnap is this: What guarantee can I provide that the tarsnap service will continue to operate? This is a reasonable concern; after all, with services like Omnidrive and HP Upline shutting down, what guarantee is there that tarsnap won't also shut down? Until recently, the best answer I could give was "trust me"; but now I can give a much better answer: As of the end of February, tarsnap is profitable.

Now, this is only under the most limited definition of profitable: In February, tarsnap had more income than expenses; but it isn't paying me a salary yet. Tarsnap isn't making enough profit to pay for my living expenses (Paul Graham uses the wonderful phrase "ramen profitable" to describe this), never mind matching what I could earn by working elsewhere; and it hasn't made enough profit to cover its accrued losses (either those in the three months between moving into public beta and becoming profitable, or the expenses during the lengthy unpaid private beta testing period), never mind matching what I could have earned over the past two years if I had decided not to work on tarsnap.

Nevertheless, I think this is a sensible definition of "profitable" to use, for the following reason: Tarsnap pretty much runs itself. The most time consuming thing I do each day to keep tarsnap running is read daily accounting reports to see if there are any accounts which have had negative balances for too long and need to be deleted (for obvious reasons, this is something I'm very wary about automating): While I still spend most of each day working on tarsnap, I'm working on making tarsnap better, not simply on keeping it running. If for some reason I decided to stop working on tarsnap and find other employment -- and at the moment it would take a lot to convince me to do that, since I really enjoy what I'm doing -- it would mean that tarsnap would stop getting better; but as long as tarsnap is profitable and essentially self-running, there's no reason why I would ever shut it down.

Do I hope that tarsnap will become more profitable? Of course -- my hope is that someday tarsnap's profits will make up for the two years I spent writing code without income. But things are moving in the right direction now; all that remains is for tarsnap to grow, and so far -- at least based on everybody I've talked to -- the existing tarsnap users are enthusiastic enough to convince many times their number to try tarsnap.

Time to go back to working towards passphrased key files... expect some interesting cryptographic news here later this month.

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