Keeping a side project alive with t-shirts and cash

My wife and I run a side project called - it is a fun little crowd-sourced memorial bench site. It's mostly fun, except when the bills come due!

Most hobby sites and side projects don't cost a lot to run. Lots of services have generous free tiers to (ab)use, and they can pay well in "exposure". But OpenBenches is reaching a tipping point where it is slowly overwhelming us.

We've now got nearly 300GB of photos - which means our storage and bandwidth costs are on the high side. Yes, we could losslessly transcode them all (which takes up compute resources) or store them in Glacier (which involves transit costs) and get a better CDN (as opposed to using free tiers). Similarly, we do a lot of forward and reverse geo-coding, OCR, map drawing, and other little bits and pieces.

Basically, assuming we value our time at zero, OpenBenches costs us about £250 per year.

Now, that's not extravagant, but it's also not nothing. So, how do we make it cost neutral to us?

Having a paywall is the antithesis of open data.

Placing adverts next to memorials and expressions of grief feels grim, so we've decided against advertising.

We don't think that a VC is going to invest a million bucks into this. But, hey, if someone out there wants to make us an offer...

That leaves us with merchandising and sponsorship.


We've opened a shop on Spreadshirt.

A selection of hats, t-shirts, mugs, and waterbottles with our logo.

Spreadshirt is pretty easy to use. Upload a graphic, select your products, launch. Each t-shirt brings us in about £4 after VAT. So far we've sold half a dozen things. Early days, but promising. It's a fairly low effort way to (hopefully) get in a trickle of cash.


Perhaps you have enough t-shirts from random websites? Wouldn't you prefer a shout out on the website and unending gratitude?

We've set up GitHub sponsors but, infuriatingly, it only accepts donations in USD - which means hefty foreign-exchange fees. Luckily, Open Collective accepts payment in GBP which is a lot easier to manage.

Between the two of them, we've had about £175 so far this year. Again, a promising start.

Other plans

I'm not (para)social enough to do a Patreon. I don't want a job of delivering monthly newsletters, livestreaming my coding, or keeping the hype train running. I don't want 1,000 True Fans. In short, we're not trying to make a profit out of this.

We just want to keep the site running for the foreseeable future and, hopefully, pay a bit forward to the brilliant Open Source projects we're built on.

For now we'll stick with those and see how the year plays out. If you have any clever ideas for how to make the site more self-sustaining, please let us know.

Share this post on…

7 thoughts on “Keeping a side project alive with t-shirts and cash”

  1. mike says:

    Have you considered having people’s web browser do the OCR? E.g. I suggest this while having no idea how much that would help reduce bills, just an idle thought about how to maybe eliminate a dependency on an external service which I think I’ve seen you say sometimes incurs charges.

    Storing the original photos is nice, but do you actually need to? The megapixels of a typical phone camera and hence the MBs of a typical photo keeps increasing. How about resizing all photos bigger than X by Y pixels. Could have a cronjob do it rather than adding that complexity and potential failure point to the upload process.

    1. @edent says:

      When I last tried Tesseract, it was too slow - but I'll give it another go.

      I'm wary about transcoding images. Perhaps unreasonably, but I'm worried that even high quality WebP will remove something useful.

    1. @edent says:

      I can't see a way to change the sticker size, so I've asked the product team. I'll let you know if it can be done.

      I looked briefly at LiberaPay - but it just uses Stripe on the back end; which is the same as GitHub and Stripe. So I'm not sure what else it offers us. Happy to be corrected though!

      1. sam says:

        For the stickers could you put 4 of them in the 10x10 spaces?

        The nice thing with Liberapay is that I can do occasional big payments which should be more efficient on fees, and still support several projects with small regular payments (I know is a bit hacky how they achieve that currently).


What are your reckons?

All comments are moderated and may not be published immediately. Your email address will not be published.Allowed HTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> <p> <pre> <br> <img src="" alt="" title="" srcset="">