Apex Ping

TJ Holowaychuk talks about walking away from grueling 14-four workdays at a startup to invest in himself and build his own business.

Who are you, and what are you working on?

My name is TJ Holowaychuk, and I recently started my own small software company Apex Software, where I plan on building elegant solutions to a variety of problems, however I'm focusing on some developer tools for now.

How'd you get started with your business?

I had been working in the industry with small to medium startups for the past 8 years, and decided that it was time to prioritize life over work.

I spent a good 4 or 5 months being burnt out, then finally decided to bootstrap my own company Apex Software, with my personal savings. To get started I wanted to keep things small and simple, so I chose to build Apex Ping, an uptime monitoring tool focused on simplicity.

Focusing on such a seemingly simple product allowed me to focus on other aspects of the business, such as coming up with a design language, familiarizing myself with front-end again (having been an infra engineer for the past 3 years), and getting more familiar with the legal side of things.

How'd you find the time and funding to build your business?

The initial product took me a few months to build, working 3-4 hours per day.

The biggest mistake I made here, which easily cost me 2-3 weeks, was that I made up the design as I went. I was nearly finished, and decided I wasn't happy with the design direction, so I effectively rebuilt the front-end.

If I learned anything here it's that you should absolutely nail the design ahead of time so you're not designing on the fly.

How have you attracted users and grown your business?

I launched with a Medium blog post.

Apex Ping was later featured on Product Hunt, which really drove the bulk of the traffic to the site. Within the first few weeks I had roughly 2000 users, and at the time I also provided a free plan, which certainly drove more traffic by word-of-mouth.

From then on I have not really done any marketing. I very briefly tried Google Adwords: I tried $15 to see what the results might be, and that really only provided 20-30 clicks.

I later introduced team support and status pages. Team support has driven up sales nicely. For an individual $9/month it could be subjectively considered expensive, however $30/month is very little for most companies.

I had dozens of people tell me the prices were initially too low (the base plan was $6 USD), so I raised prices slightly, which has also given me room to provide discount coupon codes.

What are your goals for the future?

I'd like to continue refining the product and learning more about the marketing aspect of business. I'm happy with the growth so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it does a year from now.

I'm spending time actively prototyping and brainstorming new products as well. As a bootstrapper I think it's wise to not put too many eggs in one basket, so I'd like to have redundancy in the company. Working on other projects also satisfies my need for being creative and exploring new ideas.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I would have dealt with legal issues before creating anything. Having an existing product complicated the incorporation.

As previously mentioned, I would also have spent more time on the design initially, and only preceded when I was happy with it.

I did my best to estimate the overhead as well, but I clearly failed with that part, as the free users were costing me ~$1000/month. Cost analysis can be difficult without real data, but I would probably spend more time here.

What have been your biggest advantages?

Being a single person team can be really advantageous. You don't need complex workflows like a team would require, you don't have to run decisions by anyone else, and you can work at your own pace.

What advice would you share with aspiring indie hackers?

My number one piece of advice would be to take your time, plan properly, and fill the gaps before you get started so you don't leave anything as an unknown.

Where can we learn more about you?

You can also leave a comment below, and I'll try to get back to you!

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