I started learning HTML/CSS in February 2015. It's been just over 3 years since then, and I've gone from being a UI/UX Intern ($16/hr) with little tech experience to being a freelancer ($105/hr) and business owner with unlimited earning potential.

Figuring Out What I Wanted

I always wanted to be an orthodontist. After my 1st semester in college, I realized it wasn't for me, so I changed to communications. I thought about advertising. Then, I thought I wanted to be a professor. I didn't even know for sure what I would want to teach!

I started my real journey into tech as a "Business Management" student with a Marketing emphasis. I loved business, and it made sense for me to learn some marketing skills. Every time I had an idea for a product or company, I knew that I would need to put in a lot of time and money. Just about every idea I had came down to something like, "hire a developer to build [insert any tech idea anyone has ever had]...".

Who says being broke ain't cool? 💸

The problem was cost. I was a poor student, making $16/hr at my peak, and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to self-fund a venture like that. I had to resort to the biggest waste of time for any entrepreneur... Building something myself.

I truly don't recommend that to everyone. If you are interested in business, partner with someone interested in the technical side of building a product, right? Well, it worked out for me somehow.

For a while, I stayed up every night for about 6 months after my wife was already asleep, just coding away. I would typically code for about 1-2 hours. She would occasionally wake up, hearing the *clack* of my keyboard, stare down my laptop as if it had just personally offended her, then fall back asleep. Terrifying, really. But I kept at it, because by golly... I was too cheap and prideful to hire a developer!

NOTE: I used YouTube, Free Code Camp, and Team Treehouse mostly to learn. Out of those, only Team Treehouse is a paid service.

Early Results

Don't get me wrong. I didn't that have much success at first, even after 6 months. I actually got that job as a UI/UX Intern during this time, but I hadn't even told them or anyone else that I was coding on my own time.

I built a ton of really poor websites, but I was so proud of them. I built one for my wife that was sorely under-appreciated. I built one for a friend's band that was quite terrible (the band and the website... sorry, guy). I even made a website that would quiz you on facts about me! I wish I still had that one. That would be amazing. Oh, wait! Here it is in a Codepen!

See the Pen Quizr - Main by Dustin McCaffree (@AdPie) on CodePen.

My Realization

I felt like I had truly mastered HTML/CSS and JavaScript. Woohoo! Well, that's what I thought anyway. I mean, look at it. It sure isn't beautiful, and it doesn't do much. It probably took me 10's of hours to make... But I was still so proud!

I loved learning to code, and it was suddenly taking over more and more of my time. On the other hand, my Marketing studies in university were of less and less interest to me. I still loved entrepreneurship, but I was specifically becoming more interested in running a SaaS business. One that I really understand as both a developer and a businessman.

This all solidified when I left my intern job to sell pest control door-to-door for a summer. I know, right? I'm that guy. Suffice it to say that it didn't go extremely well (what, that isn't enough information for you? Well, I came away about even and worked ~50 hour weeks for an entire summer. Happy?!).

I decided after that I would never again do something I didn't want to do just to make a pretty penny. I contacted a few people that I knew owned tech businesses and sent my resume over. I knew my resume lacked any and all relevant tech experience, but heck if I wasn't going to go for it.

My First Big Win

I ended up getting 2 offers and accepted an entry-level web developer position at a small company only 10 minutes from my house! They offered me a salary for the first time in my life, with competitive compensation (for not having a degree or experience at all) and some great perks. I was over the moon.

I couldn't believe I had gone from $16/hr to a full-time salary job doing something I actually loved doing. That was the most important part to me. I was actually getting paid for my cool, new hobby!

Scaling Up

After working at that rate for quite a while and not knowing how I could possibly charge more, I moved to a platform called Upwork. We aren't at all affiliated with them, but if you're to this point, I highly recommend this.

I only sent out proposals for 3 job listings and got 1 offer. It was for $86/hr. WHAT. I couldn't stop thinking about that the rest of the week. I sent proposals the next week for $105/hr. 1 was accepted.

I think we only so rich BECAUSE there's no ceiling.

From that point on, I knew that there was no ceiling to the money I could make as a freelance web dev. Imagine scaling that to an agency, while increasing rates! I knew there was more to be had.


For the time being, I still have a full-time job. I also do 10 hours a week as a freelance developer. On top of all that, I've started Rocket Note with Jordin! And we're working hard to build it into something truly worthwhile for you guys.

The potential for Rocket Note is where all the excitement of going from $16/hr to $105/hr really just keeps accelerating for me. I don't buy into all the "passive income" nonsense that people go on about online. It takes hard work and determination above what the average person is willing to put in.

But look at the SaaS market. If we can build a product that even just 1000 people are willing to pay for (thanks, Tim Ferriss), we could make anywhere from $5k/mo to $40k/mo extra. That's on top of anything else we're doing and could be a real sustainable income.

What if we can get even just 2,000 paid users? Or 3,000? Or 10,000? Then getting bought by YouTube? Well, it all comes down to building a good product and working hard every single day to push the product in every way you see fit.

With that in mind, it's time for me to get to work. And no matter what step you are at in this timeline or where you want to head from here, the same goes for you.

It's time to get to work.