Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hey! I don't come from a tech background, and I studied politics and Spanish at university. But I've always been intellectually curious, and I like knowing how things work. Over the last few years this has kindled an interest in technology and startups as they become more important in our lives.
I recently made Tech Press List, which gives startups 100 email and Twitter contact details for tech journalists from 18 countries. It means startups can find exactly who to contact, rather than spending ages raking through the internet.
It also means they can get international coverage, and it appeals to makers not based in the US. Getting news coverage is so important for startups as it means they can attract new investors, users, and revenue. So people are basically paying for the convenience, as I'm saving them the boring work.
I've made $620 in less than a month, $506 of which is pure profit.
What motivated you to get started with Tech Press List?
I've followed the startup scene for a few years, and really I felt that if I didn't make something I'd be missing out.
The barriers for indie hackers nowadays are so low. So part of the motivation was just wanting to insert myself and not be a wantrepreneur forever! Also, I'm a creative person, so I have a lot of ideas. It's great seeing something you've thought of come to fruition, so I wanted to put my idea out there and see what people thought of it.
I saw Pieter Levels had made a spreadsheet looking for press contacts, though he was looking for publications, not individual journalists to contact. I thought it was a cool prototype but needed greater detail. (I've worked as a freelance writer before, and you really have to pitch to the correct person to have a chance of being heard.)
So the idea was pretty much validated there and then. Here was someone with a problem looking for a solution. I figured others would be in the same spot.
What went into building the initial product?
It took just over a month to go from the initial idea to launching Tech Press List. I went through the technology sections of websites, searched on Twitter, and generally did a lot of Google searches to get the press contacts.
I decided I wanted to cover more than one country, since a lot of online products are obviously available to anyone, anywhere. I asked Pieter Levels some more questions, and he told me to focus on Western countries more, which makes sense.
I decided on countries based on their measure of wealth and/or whether they were English-speaking, the result being that I now offer contacts mostly for North America and Europe, plus a few Asian/Pacific countries.
I have a full-time job, so this was a really busy time for me. I would work on finding press contacts on my 7am train, during my lunch hour, on my train home, and in the evenings. I wanted to get it done ASAP, so it was pretty exhausting!
Was there any coding involved?
So when there is a successful payment, Zapier emails the customer the document from Drive. I'm a big believer in automation, so I wanted that to be included straight away.
When did you launch and how have you attracted users to Tech Press List?
I launched Tech Press List on the 25th of August 2017. I was actually ready slightly earlier, but I wanted to wait until my girlfriend was out of town so I could focus on it 100%.
My main target was Product Hunt. I had joined the community a week before and had gone through the steps so I could launch there. I didn't have any type of following there, so I was bowled over by the reaction I got.
I launched at 12am West Coast time. That was great because, due to the time difference, I already had some social proof from European users by the time US users were logging on later on. People dug it immediately, and it made the top ten that day!
Bear in mind this is the first time I've launched a website, so it was an awesome feeling. I got $180 on my first day, so that was beyond my expectations. In addition, I think Product Hunt users have a reputation for giving off positive vibes, so it's a nice place for almost any newbie to start.
I'm active on Twitter, so I also sent out a slew of tweets and messages there. I tried to launch on Hacker News and reddit but got nothing there. I'm not active on either, so perhaps that's why. I've found other makers having trouble there as well though, so you can't win 'em all.
None of my friends are in the tech world, so I didn't have any connections to shake. Since the launch I've been approaching early stage startups by email and posting in forums.
I've recently made a subscription box on the website so I can add a newsletter in the future and perhaps keep people in the loop who aren't quite ready to buy yet.
I've also started blogging on Medium. I really like that people are getting more transparent nowadays, so I aim to share the ups and downs of my progress there.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Tech Press List's business model is refreshingly simple: customers pay $20 and get 100 journalist contacts in a spreadsheet emailed to them automatically. Since launching a month ago I've made 31 sales, so I've earned $620 in total.
I spent $49 on the premium Carrd membership for a year and $10 on Namecheap for the domain. On my first day I was profitable. More recently I spent $55 for a logo from Logojoy. So I've made an overall profit of $506 so far.
I charged people from day one really because that's the best way to get feedback on whether something is good. I use Stripe mainly because it's the favourite system of other indie makers who are more experienced, so it stands to reason they should know what's good.
What are your goals for the future?
My first month has been really great so in the short term I'd like to maintain that and aim for about 30 sales ($600) a month. The big roadblock now is maintaining traffic and interest post-launch. I'll be honest in saying I didn't do enough planning for this stage, so it's something I will learn from for future launches.
I'd also like to expand the coverage of the list to more countries both to increase the quality of the product and attract more customers. I'm also interested in the possibility of perhaps offering PR services to startups. I see lots of cool websites and I'm like, "Oh man, that should definitely be in the news!" But it's not.
In the longer term, I'm definitely interested in launching larger-scale websites. I have various ideas I'm intending to make, but they are more technically demanding so I have to get my coding chops up to scratch first.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
The biggest difficulties were just getting my head around the ways the different tools work with each other — how Stripe, Zapier, and Drive, in this case, work together to make an automated business. AJ from Carrd and Pieter Levels were both really helpful. I would ask them a ton of questions on Twitter, and as they replied, eventually the penny dropped and I found the technical solution to what I wanted to do.
One mistake was I should have set up a Mailchimp subscription box from day one, as I feel I missed out on a lot of initial interest from the launch. Perhaps if I had done this I'd have been able to convert people later who weren't quite ready to buy.
I was totally blindsided by the negative/aggressive responses from some journalists. I suppose I could have engaged with them more, but at the time I thought of the old adage, "Don't wrestle with a pig; you'll just get covered in mud and only the pig will enjoy it."
You are always going to get haters, so you have to accept that.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I would definitely recommend Pieter Level's Make Book. Aside from missing the subscription box, I more or less followed the launch chapter to the letter, and that had a lot of useful tips.
Also, I think using Twitter is essential. If you see a website that you like, just send the maker a nice message about it and ask questions. There are loads of helpful people online who will give you advice, and it is all free!
For instance, there is no way I would have known about Carrd without using Twitter. It is an excellent way to make a website with zero coding involved, and the paid version includes Stripe integration. I paid for the premium tier membership after six hours of sales.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
Definitely know the value of your product, and don't set it too low. If your idea saves people a lot of time and bother, people will pay for it. I used to DJ, and I would see people charging $2/3 for a concert; that doesn't communicate high value! That communicates "bedroom DJ"! So be proud of your product, and price it accordingly.
I would also find an indie hacker who was successful and study their successes and their failures. It is a lot easier to make something if you can see someone up ahead who has been where you are. Read their interviews, find out what tech stack they use, and really study them. Plus, the founder who makes $3,000 a month is far more likely to answer your email asking for advice than someone like Mark Zuckerburg.
I think validating your idea by asking friends and family is deeply flawed. They will either be super nice and not say your bad idea is bad, or they could be unduly negative and put you off. On the internet you are selling to strangers, so the market will tell you if it is a good idea or not.
Apart from that, my best advice is just launch the damn thing! The biggest mistake I see is people worrying about whether their idea is good. Get an idea, put it online, slap on a big "buy" button, and tell everyone about it. Your life won't end just because you made a website that isn't profitable, so you may as well give it a shot.
Where can we go to learn more?
If anyone has any questions, let me know!