How I make a living working on SerenityOS

This post describes in detail how I support myself while working on the SerenityOS project.


Hello! My name is Andreas Kling and I’m the founder of the SerenityOS project. If you’re not familiar, SerenityOS is a from-scratch operating system that I started building in 2018. It combines a Unix-like core with the look & feel of the late 1990s. Although it began as a one-man project, it has since blossomed into a lively open source community with hundreds of amazing developers working on it.

Since May of 2021, SerenityOS has been my full-time job. This terrifying but exciting leap was made possible by recurring donations from generous people who like what I do and want to see it continue.

With so many people having my back, I’ve grown a bit more courageous with taking on large projects, which has led to SerenityOS expanding into both a new memory-safe systems language (Jakt) and a new cross-platform browser (Ladybird) in the last year.

“Okay, but how do you actually make a living?”

I get this question regularly, so I’m going to do my best to answer it. Please understand that I’m publishing this for transparency, not to brag about making so much or complain about not making enough.

All currency amounts below are in USD.

Main source of income: Individual sponsorships/donations

I created a Patreon back in April of 2019. I felt a bit silly at the time, with thoughts like “who do I think I am” and “what am I even doing” echoing in my head. I still did it though. I was too curious to see what would happen, even though I expected nothing. Amazingly, a couple of people actually signed up!

Later on, when GitHub Sponsors opened up, I got in as early as I could. Not only did they have zero fees, but they also offered to match the first $5,000 in donations. And once again, some people actually signed up!

On both platforms, people are invited to donate to me personally so that I can spend time working on SerenityOS. No goods/services are offered in return.

Here are the current numbers as of 2022-10-29. They tend to fluctuate as people join and leave as supporters.

Platform Supporters $/month
GitHub Sponsors 263 2,136
Patreon 268 1,411
PayPal <5 <200
Cryptocurrency <5 <50

Early on I would monitor these numbers closely, as I found it fascinating. Eventually it became a source of stress, so now I only check on them once a month when I do my accounting.

Secondary source of income: YouTube

I’ve been fairly active on YouTube since early on in the SerenityOS project. I started uploading development videos about ~6 months into the project. They were awkward and clumsy, but people seemed to enjoy watching someone incrementally building a new operating system from scratch.

Once the channel grew large enough, I was able to enable monetization in the form of ads. I felt a bit weird about this, since I use an ad blocker myself, but I figured that the kind of person who watches my content is perfectly aware of ad blockers and can make their own decisions about them.

Income from ads varies wildly depending on how often I upload new videos, and how many views they get. YouTube’s terms & conditions don’t allow me to disclose analytics in detail, but my estimated revenue this month is $315.

Outside of ads, I also have 58 people enrolled as “channel members”, which nets $65/month (part of the $315). YouTube allows you to create separate content for channel members, but I don’t make use of this feature as I prefer that everyone has access to everything I make. The one thing that channel members do get is the ability to use our fancy SerenityOS and yak-shaving-themed emotes when commenting/chatting the channel.

Finally, YouTube also allows people to send “super chats” during live streams. These are irregular, but this month I have received $50 across 8 super chats (also part of the $315).

Tertiary source of income: Merch

People kept asking me for SerenityOS related merch like t-shirts and tea cups, so I ended up making a print-on-demand store using Teespring. Afterwards, people have told me that they felt much more comfortable supporting the project if they got something in return, “like a laptop sticker or something”. This makes perfect sense, but had not occurred to me before.

Monthly income from merch varies greatly. Last month it was $0 and so far this month it’s at $101. People are not going to buy the same t-shirt over and over again, so you have to put in some effort into making new designs/products available.

Non-income: Sponsored/native advertising

I’ve been approached to advertise a number of products, including (but not limited to) mobile games, VPN services, programming courses, zero-day exploit brokers, cloud platforms, etc.

So far I haven’t accepted any of these offers, as I made a rule for myself that I wouldn’t advertise something I’m not personally using.

The only thing that came somewhat close was when I started using the CLion IDE, the folks at JetBrains gave me three 1-year license codes to raffle out to my YouTube audience. Since I use CLion daily, both on and off YouTube, I would be happy to partner with them, but so far we’re just friends. :^)

Non-income: Venture capital

I’ve also been approached by a handful of folks from VC firms and while I have nothing against them, I’m not taking any meetings. I’m not interested in selling influence over the things I work on, and I’d much rather have many small donors who believe in me than one huge investor telling me what to do.

Accounting and taxes

All of the above is a fairly unusual way of making a living, so there isn’t a lot of guidance from Swedish tax authorities on how to report things, etc. I wanted to make sure that everything is done correctly, and that I pay all the taxes I’m supposed to, so I ended up hiring an accounting consultant.

They advised me to start a business, since it would make accounting much more straightforward, so in 2021 I formed Cerphus Software AB. The name comes from the imaginary software company I had as a child. :^)

I’m extremely glad that I hired an accountant. It cost a bit of money to get everything up and running, but we’ve settled into a comfortable routine, and they only need to spend a little bit of time per month on filing everything for me.

In fact, other than the occasional computer part, accounting services is the only real expense I have.

Summary & closing thoughts

As you can see, the numbers above put me at roughly $4200 this month. My wife and I live a modest life, and while taxes in Sweden are high, this is enough to break even where we are right now.

I know I could make a lot more money doing something else, but having the freedom to work on SerenityOS (and Jakt and Ladybird) in peace is worth infinitely more.

It’s incredibly humbling to have so many people support me financially so that I can continue my work. My massive heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me in the past and present! ❤️

In the future, I would love to be able to pay more people to work on the project. Especially now that we’re making a truly independent open source cross-platform web browser, I think there’s a lot of room to grow. I don’t know exactly how to do this yet, but when/if there’s enough support, I will find a way to restructure so I can hire people.

YouTube | Patreon | GitHub Sponsors | PayPal | Teespring | Ethereum

Written on October 29, 2022