February 14, 2018

AMA: I'm Vincent Woo, creator of CoderPad ($2M/year)

Hello, Indie Hackers! I'm the founder of CoderPad, an online tool for conducting programming interviews that brings in over $2M/year. I've shared my story here recently in a text-based interview and a podcast episode with Courtland.

Ask me anything!

I'll be back to answer your questions sometime Friday afternoon, February 16th.

Edit (1:51pm PST): Okay! I answered all my favorite questions. If I didn't answer your question it's probably because I thought I answered it as part of a response to one of my other favorite questions. Feel free to keep asking, I get email notifications.


  1. 9

    Hi Vincent

    Super congrats on what you've accomplished. Loved your interview. A few questions:

    1. How much does your largest customer spend per year with you?

    I ask because you have custom pricing for Enterprises and in the podcast, you mentioned that you were fortunate to have a few large companies buy from you early on. So I'm curious to know, do you have a single customer spending, say $200k per year, and you have like 6-8 of those kind of customers.

    1. Does the bulk of your revenue come from your top 10 customers?

    Essentially the same question as above, curious to know if like 80% of your revenue comes from your top 5-10 accounts.

    If so, this encourages me to start my own project. Charging something like $10k/month for a service sound waaaay more appealing to me than charging only $100.00/month. I don't mind having way fewer customers personally, if the revenue per customer is way higher (which means less support tickets, etc.) and less customers needs to generate meaning amounts of revenue.

    3a. With your Enterprise customers, how do you accept payment?

    Do you accept POs and do you send Invoices? Or do even your largest of customer pay via credit card?

    3b. If you do accept POs, how do you perform collections?

    Large companies are notorious for slow paying small businesses, etc.

    1. Do you plan to build any additional revenue sources off of CoderPad? If so, what?

    E.g. Do you play to turn CoderPad into potentially a paid developer platform where people code the entire project on CoderPad and then "deploy to the cloud" from CoderPad

    1. What mistakes have you made with CoderPad?

    2. What do people not think about when starting a business that they should be aware of. I'm in a "I don't know, what I don't know" situation. What caught you by surprise when starting your business that you wish you had known going into it?

    1. 4

      Thanks for asking. These are my favorite questions so far.

      1. $X00,000/yr. I can't give more specifics contractually, but we have a few of these.

      2. I'm not sure if the top 10 account for more than 50%, but it's very close.

      3a. We try to push for ACH payment, but some holdouts mail checks. It's a real pain in the ass.

      3b. Most enterprise customers are very good about payment. We only have trouble with old enterprise customers on cheaper plans. The more you charge the better they are about payment.

      I definitely want someone to build accounts receivable as a service. The new Stripe invoice featureset may help with this.

      1. We may eventually move into candidate referral markets but this is pretty far out. We may also charge for a take-home assignment service. This is all very speculative, we don't have near-term plans for stuff like that.

      2. Our biggest one is definitely not charging enough early on, which is something I think everyone can appreciate.

      3. I think there's no one specific thing. I think the most obvious thing people don't think about hard enough "is this a good market? a good idea?" If you have the right market and a good idea, you are resilient to most stupid operational mistakes. If you have a bad market and a good idea, things can be very hard. If you have a bad idea nothing will save you.

    2. 4

      3c. If you accept POs, do you charge monthly or yearly to your Enterprise customers?

      3d. Do you charge in arrears for the previous month/year, or do you charge pay forward for Enterprise customers?

      3e. If Enterprise customer is slow to pay, how much long do you give before you cut off their environment? 30 days, 60 days?

      1. 2

        These are definitely my favorite questions so far.

        3c. Both. We're pretty agnostic about it. Quarterly, too, even.

        3d. Forward.

        3e. We give infinite time, honestly, since we can afford to be patient. Bookkeeping this is a bit annoying, to be frank, but being stricter is actually more work.

  2. 6

    What does the creator of CoderPad do on Valentine's Day? Jk.

    What goals do you have for CoderPad in 2018, and what are you doing to ensure that you hit them?

    In your podcast w/ @csallen, you talked about how emotional startups are. Do you think you've learned to manage your emotions better over the years, and how so?

    1. 4

      Great, definitely my favorite questions so far.

      I have no explicit goal for 2018. If I can keep doubling the business every year I will be very happy. If I can't, well, I'm still pretty happy.

      I think I always had an easy time managing my emotions, because I started without that many. CoderPad was initially a lark, so I've been mostly pleasantly surprised to see my kid grow up so well. I had low expectations, which I think is useful.

      1. 1

        i just want to say that you're an inspiration to Asian devs like me. You just ooze confidence and thats sexy as hell (in a totally platonic way)

  3. 6

    Like with any other industry, lots of advice and beliefs float around the startup space that go more-or-less unquestioned. What do you think are the most overrated beliefs that tech founders accept as gospel? And what beliefs are underrated?

    1. 2

      Absolutely my favorite question so far.

      The most overrated belief I think is irrational self-faith. It's twin is irrational self-pessimism. I'd encourage more founders to think "I hope I win, but I'm alright losing, too." People would be happier and probably get more done.

      If you mean a more technical belief and not a general attitude, I would say that many people tend to believe marketing is a solved problem that they can just throw resources at. Every successful marketing-based company has to carve out its own niche and voice, and that's surprisingly hard. The era of just throwing paid adwords at the problem I think is long over.

    2. 1

      In the podcast, I love Vincent response to the whole "the idea doesn't matter". His example of a Fitbit for dogs cracked me up.

      1. 2

        That was a good one! So Vincent, no re-using that answer.

  4. 3

    Hi Vincent

    (A) How many customers do you have?

    (B) Whats your cohort analysis look like. Eg average length usage, churn rate, etc.

    (C) Infrastructure: Can you describe how many EC2 instances you run. How you manage your infrastructure. Would you ever move off Firebase since you’ve commented before that it’s too expensive. Etc.

    (D) How did you incorporate? LLC, C Corp? And why did you choice the entity type you did.

    (E) Do you have any “large/major” customers that are NOT based in the Bay Area?

    (F) What does you typical work day entail?

    (G) What current bottleneck are you experiencing?

    (H) What will prevent you from being a $100m business. Since you mentioned you think that’s the entire market size

    (I) Whats the minimum amount of money you’d sell CoderPad for? (This is in reference

    to your same question to @csallen)

    (J) what’s your favorite video game since on YouTube there’s lots of PUBG gameplay of you.

    Thanks a lot for doing this AMA. Really looking forward to all your responses. I’ve got a ton of respect for you.

    1. 2

      These are definitely my favorite questions in this AMA.

      A) Approaching a thousand

      B) Uh, I'm really not sure. Baremetrics says about a year for self-serve customers, which misses enterprise deals. Churn likewise at 5-7%. Not amazing, but pretty within norms, I think.

      C) I use GCP, hah. Under 10. We use a lot of ansible now, which I recommend. I would like to move off Firebase, but not because it's too expensive. If it worked perfectly for our needs I would happily pay in perpetuity, but the featureset hasn't really grown with us, and there are reliability issues at scale.

      D) I was originally an LLC and switched to a C-Corp. Honestly, it was a huge hassle and I kind of regret it, but both are totally fine approaches. The new taxation rules for pass-through entities makes LLCs even more attractive now, but that's very new territory. Thanks, Trump.

      E) Yes, but I of course can't say exactly who. Financial.

      F) I get up really late and spend some time in the office guiding employees and writing emails these days, mostly. If I'm lucky I get to program something fun.

      G) I'm not sure what you mean, but I'd like everything to get done faster, in general.

      H) Hm. It's possible we could get there without changing the value prop to the point of indistinguishability. If you assume a valuation multiple of, say, 10x, 100M is ~only~ 10M annual recurring revenue. That's definitely possible by doing incredibly aggressive sales. I don't really want to do that, but a better CEO than me probably would.

      I) 20M. Send me a check.

      J) Definitely PUBG right now but I just got into Slay the Spire.

      1. 1

        can you describe the reliability issues with Firebase? Has Firestore failed to meet your needs? asking because I am considering investing more time with Firebase and am keen to hear what I need to be aware of.

        1. 2

          Firebase is very powerful if a realtime experience is core to your app. However, it is very hard to migrate data once it's in place, and you may eventually need to shard your data across multiple Firebases if you hit latency issues (we did).

          Firebase also doesn't give you a ton of visibility into what's going on. The metrics surfaced are very high-level and difficult to interpret. If you don't really need realtime functionality, or you need a light realtime layer on a mostly request-response scheme, I would recommend going with a more traditional DB.

  5. 3

    Hi Vincent! I would love your thoughts on an idea I'm working on to help people study for coding interviews.

    It's a coloring book of data structures and algorithms that helps candidates solidify their knowledge with visual reinforcement and repetition.

    Here's an example: www.coderscoloringbook.com/selectionsortcolored

    Could you see this being useful for interviewees? Any other thoughts? Thanks!

    1. 2

      Fave question here for sure.

      This is a neat idea, but you would be competing directly with my friend Parker at InterviewCake.com. It's obviously useful, the question is of course monetization. B2C is in a lot of ways harder than B2B, and doing marketing, conversion-funnel, referrals, etc is super time consuming relative to building the core product. It's a real grind where a lot of the learning is around the meta-structure of business.

    2. 2

      This is a great idea.

      1. 1

        Thanks Nick! Feel free to throw any tips/critiques my way :)

  6. 3

    Loved your interview. If you were forced to start a new business today, what would it be?

    1. 2

      Thanks, this is my favorite question. I would start an accounts receivable as a service business that I would eventually grow into a more opinionated version of Recurly. Right now existing billing/subscription providers like Recurly/Stripe are pretty agnostic about how to do quotaing inside your app, which is surprisingly thorny pain point I've hit in building CoderPad.

  7. 3

    What do you feel like is the best way to get exposed to a lot of business problems?

    1. 2

      I love this question and it is my favorite. I think the best way is to uh, do a bunch of things. I think business problems are just... problems, and the best way to find problems is to do things. I don't know that say, working at a startup exposes you to more problems than working at Google. I think the biggest driver is just how many problems you actively imagine and engage with personally.

      There's a study about lucky and unlucky people I like to reference. They asked a bunch of people whether they thought of themselves as lucky or unlucky, and then gave each of them a newspaper that had an advertisement in it somewhere for a free hundred bucks. They asked everyone if they noticed the ad, and all the lucky people did and the unlucky people didn't. Noticing problems in life is like that. Be lucky.

      1. 1

        I just read about this topic so I post the link in case others are interested.

        https://www.amazon.co.uk/Luck-Factor-Scientific-Study-Lucky-ebook/dp/B004KKX6LQ/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

  8. 2

    Wahoo. My favorite podcast is doing an AMA.

    Here’s my questions Vincent

    • how do most of your paid customer find CoderPad? AdWords, you personally selling a corporate plan, etc?

    • what do you feel like that can be improved on CoderPad

    • what do your other employees do that you referenced in the podcast?

    • what consumes the most amount of hours out of your workday?

    1. 1

      I'm glad that was your favorite podcast and these are my favorite questions.

      • At this point, word of mouth. We used to do more outbound sales, but we don't anymore. We also don't really do marketing. I guess, besides this IndieHackers stuff, but this is mostly for fun.

      • So much. So much of it sucks. A lot of that stuff I'm not as excited to improve, but the thing I really want to do is a) bring Firebase in-house and b) offer a true multi-file workspace experience that would make us more like a full IDE.

      • Programming and a bit of sales/customer support.

      • Hah, uh, no idea. Talking to my employees, maybe? Writing emails?

  9. 2

    Are you really a nihilist?

    If so, how does it manifest in your work life?

    I associate Nihilism with apathy and inaction. Entrepreneurship is about creating/affirming things of value, and requires a lot of "caring" about things. How do they blend?

    Thx

    1. 3

      Nihilism questions are my favorite questions.

      Am I really? Well, it depends. There's the incredibly stylized version of nihilism that's basically equivalent to advanced solipsism. In that I believe the world exists, I'm not like, a crazy nihilist. I would say more that the general attitude of "nothing has any inherent meaning, stop caring so much" is a pretty good general working philosophy.

      In business, this amounts to not caring as much about pissing off any specific customer or prospective, or about changing your mind about things. People get really invested in their viewpoints and self-conceptions, and I think that is often harmful both in real life and in fake (business) life.

      It's true that I definitely care about stuff, especially local SF housing policy. Nihilism is more like a good operating principle than it is a thing that can provide direct meaning in life. I mean, nothing can do that reliably, you kind of just have to make that up on your own anyway.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the answer!

  10. 2

    How do you increase productivity? For yourself, and your employees?

    1. 2

      This is definitely my favorite question here.

      The truth is, our productivity has probably only declined with time. I would love suggestions for reversing that but have accepted this as an outcome of increased complexity. I'm not the best worker.

  11. 2

    If you weren't working on CoderPad and you had a years worth of runway to work on something new, what would it be? What would you do to get started with the new thing?

  12. 1

    Hi Vincent,

    Thanks for doing this! In your podcast you mention that you could argue that optimistic nihilism is the best philosophy to be a startup founder. You didn't because you think advice is BS. Out of curiosity, if you had to make an argument for it, how would you do it? What would you say?

    Thanks!

    David

    1. 1

      I could argue it, but I want to stress that many people reach success in many different ways. Personal philosophies tend to just be enshrined versions of personal personalities more than useful frameworks for people who don't really think that way.

      Loosely, I think the argument for optimistic nihilism as a philosophy for company-building reads something like:

      1. The odds are high that you will fail, so not being surprised by your failure will help your life not implode.

      2. Simultaneously, companies do require belief in order to grow, so you need to be optimistic about your chances.

      Basically, you need to take and create opportunities, but also not get too mad when things go wrong. This demands a balance of ego and humility.

      1. 1

        Thanks for they reply!

  13. 1

    No question, just wanted to say I enjoyed your interview immensely!

  14. 1

    Read through your interview. Much respect. Thank you for the knowledge drop.

  15. 1

    Bump

    (Can't wait to read @vwoo responses :)

  16. 1

    Hey Vincent! IndieHackers newbie here. This is my first exposure to your story, and I have a lot to chew on because of it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Why are you doing an AMA if you believe all advice is fundamentally bullshit?

    2. What have been the most noteworthy outcomes of your experiences "trolling City Hall figures" in SF?

    3. In your Dropbox talk, you describe how finding things is getting harder, and every day your file management entropy just gets worse. My product, Trotto (https://trot.to), tries to solve that by assuming the entropy is going to happen and giving you a way to cut through it -- it's jailbreaking the go/ links you probably remember from Google/Amazon. Hope it's useful, and I'd love to know what you think (I can imagine it might be that I'm not charging enough).

    1. 1

      Happy to provide chewing material. These are my favorite questions so far.

      1. Courtland asked me to, and he's very cruel to people he wants things from so I caved to his threats.

      2. I got written up in the Chronicle a couple times for some of my complaints, but it's hard to get concrete results for finding stuff. I think the most concrete result is just informing people about how certain scams work. People in local politics reference my work on Slate Mailer Organization problems now (http://vincentwoo.com/fppc-reconsideration) which is gratifying in its own small way. I'm still working on some stuff I haven't written up yet that hopefully has more definitive results.

      3. Interesting, but I'm mostly after trying to find things I didn't realize I'd need to find later, which necessarily precludes bookmarking solutions.

  17. 1

    Hi Vincent, Is CoderPad the only thing you've tried and it took off?

    1. 1

      This, too, is my favorite question. I've made a few things for shits that did "well" but CoderPad has been my only real business venture.

  18. 1

    Hello Vincent -

    Your company now has a captive customer base. Would you be willing to utilize this channel to increase your revenue/profit by selling products/offerings from other companies that don't have channel access?

    For instance, you may really like an offering A that you've personally vetted to be a good fit for you to sell - you put that in front of your customers (white label or other wise) and take a 30% cut like there so store.

    Cheers

    1. 1

      Thanks Mankash, cross-marketing questions are my favorite questions.

      I actually just got off the phone with a company who wanted to do this. In general, it doesn't pan out. "Captive" is a very strong word for what we have, I think. Windows has a pretty captive audience, but look at IE market share.

      Performance wise, it's hard to make money on stuff like this. A cut of a cut is usually small compared to just selling more of our own shit.

  19. 1

    If you could distill the process of building a successful SaaS/Startup into 5 steps, what would they be?

    1. 4

      This reductionist question is my favorite one.

      I can do better than 5!

      1. Make something people want

      2. Sell that shit

      1. 1

        Woot I win the ama!

  20. 1

    Hey Vincent, What do you think about robots or bots as interviewers? Can we make them as real as possible? I am assuming recruiters or hiring managers spend lot of time interviewing candidates through tools like coderpad.

    1. 1

      Thanks for my favorite AI question so far.

      I don't know that you'd even want to do that. The approach so far is if you don't have a live interview, you might as well give the programmer a take-home problem they can noodle on. I think the virtue of a live interview is actually getting to know your interviewer (and their company) better. If you're not getting that, you might as well work at your own leisure, since it's easier.

  21. 1

    What were the biggest struggles in the early days?

    How did you manage to attract your first customers and spread the word about the product? What platforms etc.

    Thanks 👍

    1. 2

      Hi Julian, this historical question is my favorite one.

      My first customers were gotten through just asking people to introduce me to their boss or teams. We never did marketing so we don't have a "platform" per-se. Eventually people started using CoderPad and telling other people about it, so the engine got started eventually.

      1. 1

        When you have a good product word of mouth is the game!

        Good job!

  22. 1

    Hey Vincent,

    In the podcast episode you discussed getting Udacity to become a CoderPad. I was wondering how else did you get your first customers? Cold-emailing? Your Network?

    Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA!!

  23. 1

    Thanks for doing this, Vincent! A bunch of rapid-fire questions for you:

    How did you convince your current teammates to work on CoderPad full-time with you?

    How can one be both optimistic and nihilistic?

    Why does coderpad.com redirect to coderpad.io and not vice versa?

    Do you miss anything about big tech company working life?

    In your interview you said you worry 0% about CoderPad and 100% about local politics. Why should we care about SF housing regulations?

    1. 2

      Rapid fire questions are my favorite.

      • I'm not sure. They uh, want money and something to do, I think. We have a pretty lax work-policy. I think the office empties out for burning man. I mean, besides me. I don't do that.

      • They're unrelated. Nihilism is agnostic as to how cheerful you are. There are probably a bunch of pessimistic people who also don't believe things inherently have meaning.

      • I started with the .io and didn't want to switch to a new canonical domain.

      • Not having to think about lunch.

      • You should care because the future of the country depends on it. Increasingly, America is becoming fractured around the local/rural divide. One reason for that polarity is that cities are increasingly difficult for people of diverse viewpoints to live in. Only extremely high-wage people can afford to move to a market-rate rental in SF right now. If rent for a one bedroom unit was, say, $1000/mo instead, we could house a much larger and diverse population. I consider this critical to America's survival. A continued escalation of the blue/red urban/rural civil war is probably untenable. It doesn't matter how much money we make if the place we want to live is unsustainable. Please check out sfyimby.org and consider volunteering or donating to the cause!

  24. 1

    This comment was deleted a year ago.