December 3, 2018

Don’t make stuff for makers

Revealing stats that Pieter uncovered this weekend: 41k makers or so have launched a product on PH. You could comfortably 50x that for folks not on PH or haven’t launched yet but either way still feels like a tiny market.

Anybody else building a product for makers that is discouraged by these numbers?


  1. 59

    The market size isn't the problem. Makers are a terrible market for other reasons. Namely:

    • They are time rich and cash poor - so it's hard to make them pay for the value you deliver

    • They fail often and fast. So even if your product works, churn will be high.

    • They are looking for premium results on a shoestring budget - so they'll take up the bulk of your customer success time while paying way less than 'good' customers.

    I'd say those are the three main reasons makers/indie hackers/early startups tend to be a terrible market.

    1. 9

      THIS!

      You can also extend it to markets where "makers" have access easily and tools that fix issues they encounter often, like lightweight CRMs, to-do list apps, etc

      Very early stage startups without funding are not a great segment also. They'll be looking for free alternatives and demand a lot on lower tiers if they actually subscribe. I understand this since I was there, but as customers aren't that great.

      1. 1

        @virgil Really good point. Was wondering, how do you solve this problem at FirstPromoter and focus on attracting the "high-value" startups? Do you have any issues attracting larger companies that might be looking for VC backing to consider you credible?

        1. 1

          TBH I still have this issue of getting many early stage startups that think affiliate marketing is the magic bullet, even when they haven't found product-market fit, but not so big like 6 months ago.

          The (featureless) competitors that popped up lately actually helped and I haven't seen any decrease in growth, just more sales on top tiers.

          I don't seem to have that credibility issue anymore, I haven't heard a question about having investors, customers count or revenue for quite a while. I think when you get some "street cred", things get much easier.

    2. 8

      And one more: We're often hard-headed and want things exactly the way we see it in our heads. And on top of that, we have the knowledge to build what we want (even when it's not in our best interest haha).

      I think the last part is what leads to the proliferation of maker tools - we build what we need, then assume other makers would want it as well.

    3. 7

      I agree and it kind of amazes me how much some people here are focused on selling here rather than getting to know and learning from the community.

      I spend 10x more time here than reddit and have, to the best of my knowledge, gotten a couple of hundred subscribers on /r/elixir and zero here. I've sure learned more here, though.

      1. 2

        How would you go about attracting new users from reddit with out seeming too self promotional? How do you personally do it?

        1. 5

          Providing good content to the subreddit you're in. It didn't matter oif its your own if it is valuable. Also focus on niche communities. /R/elixir is small so less general interest trolls and @alchemist provides some of the best content related to it so it's a natural fit.

        2. 1

          I do it carefully in a subreddit which is a strong match for one of my sites. I make sure to make a lot more posts without my link than with it, and then when I link, it's a deeplink to something directly relevant - e.g., to a profile that would be useful to the OP.

          So many marketing guides for blogs/etc tell you to get involved in various forums, communities and so on. I just don't see how any sole operator or small team would have the time to do that justice while taking on everything else that comes with side hustle territory. Best to pick one or two and get involved with them more deeply. Otherwise your content looks like drive-by spam.

    4. 4

      Great points Louis but for argument's sake, let me play the devils advocate here;

      • Makers are very community driven. They would rather support another maker's product than some corporate alternative.

      • Makers will use other maker's products, if only to try it out. Do you remember the feeling you got from your first customer? Getting to that point fast even if to fail later is still a rewarding experience.

      • Makers will ask the world of you in return for a pittance, it's true. But they will also provide you the valuable feedback to iterate to a product that will inevitably be more valuable in the longer term to better clientele.

      If you are inspired to make a product for makers, don't let the arguments in this thread deter you. Do it! Sometimes we forget that this is a journey and you are not expected to get it right first time. At least get it wrong in a market that you enjoy building for.

      That's just my 2 cents.

      1. 5

        Makers arent from what I've seen particularly well monied so most of their support comes in the form up upvotes and retweets.

        It's not rewarding when every product fails as soon as it falls off the PH front-page and your whole audience moves to the next thing. You might end up eating time and money trying to market a product that has no hope of holding interest because of that temporary surge.

        Why would their feedback lead to a better product for people not like them?

        If your goal as a maker is to have fun then I totally agree. If you want to start a business that makes you money though the journey doesn't matter if you're on a dead end track.

        1. 1

          I think the key difference in my opinion is that I want to do both. I want to have fun and make money. That's the journey I'm all in for.

          Making money is easy, having fun while doing it is the challenge.

          1. 3

            But you're proposing a route that just makes the other half of your goals extremely difficult/unlikely. Having fun is easy, making it pay for itself is extremely hard. Trying to target budget sensitive, early adopter clients is just playing on hard mode

    5. 3

      I like this and you made similar points in the Manypixels thread.

      The focus really should be on the customer segments that have a working business, need your product (but don’t rely on it), and where price is generally of mild concern.

      The negatives of the better market are that they tend to be harder to reach online and they’re “boring” or uninteresting.

      But I hope we’re all learning to embrace that Indie Hacking is really Indie Businessing

    6. 1

      For these reasons, I think indexes and communities are better plays at the maker space. Forums, interview sites, directories and so on.

  2. 27

    I might be downvoted to hell, but I I never understand this obsession of makers making products for makers. And you know why I think that? It's because of fear of failure.

    We all know that the likes of PH, Indiehackers and HackerNews are very inviting for product launches. So, people who hang out here think they gotta make products for people who hang out here because it's gonna be easy to sell. But like Louis Nicholls points out, they are a terrible market. If makers get over the fear and accept that their product may not be an overnight hit with lots of upvotes, they could maybe learn more marketing tactics and new strategies and even potentially untapped markets.

    So, I think it takes more courage to target market outside the box. I know that one should target the market they are really familiar with and not go too outside the box but if people actually moved just a bit beside the box and not too far like a miles away, they could find great potential. Recently, I really like what @primer is doing right now and following up with his journey is exciting.

    1. 7

      I've just upvoted you because what you say is exactly true.

      You can't make a business selling to people who are trying to make a business selling to people who are trying to make a business selling to people who are trying to make a business.

      At some point, any successful business needs to find real customers with real, continuous needs.

      1. 2

        Yes, exactly! That's the nagging sense I always seem to get when perusing through indiehackers and I became so tired of it a while ago that I rarely visit the site now. The "Yo dawg, I heard..." meme is so applicable. "Yo dawg, I heard you are trying to sell a product for makers who are trying to make a product to sell to makers so I made you a product you can sell to people who are trying to make a product to sell to makers." Or something like that...

      2. 2

        Sounds like 99% of chamber of commerce network events.

      3. 2

        Dear Thomas...I laughed so hard when I read this..it's so very true

        1. 2

          As we say in the UK, I'll be here all week!

    2. 2

      Wow thanks man. I had no idea anything I was doing was resonating with anyone on here. Good to know. Thanks a lot.

  3. 8

    I always cringe at the advice to always build products that you yourself would want to use. Only a small subset of the total population has the skills and interest to start a new software company. If we limit ourselves to only building products that we want, the vast majority of humanity isn't being served by technological advances.

    Or to put this in a more opportunistic way: non-tech/maker/startup customers are currently being under-served because no one wants to build software for them, so that's where the opportunity is.

    1. 5

      You get the same nonsensical advice in the writing world as well. I have lost count of the number of people who have said "Write what you know".

      Well, most people know school, possibly University and then an office job. For the majority of the rest, take out the University element.

      So that's Wind In The Willows, Alice In Wonderland, StarTrek, Discworld, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein, Miss Marple, The Wizard Of Oz, all fairy stories and just about any work of imagination you care to mention having to be unpublished and unwritten because the authors plainly didn't know the world they brought to life.

  4. 7

    Given that 40k of those products are basically 40 data points with a nice front end that stopped being updated as soon as they were launched on PH not really.

    Pieters latest project is a good example of why I'm planning to avoid the maker community in 2019 though. It's almost entirely focused on looking inwards at the moment.

  5. 6

    Market size isn't the problem, we're supposed to niche down, and then niche down again.

    Depends what kind of "stuff" you have. Makers seem to spend a lot money on educational products, ebooks, etc.

    Apps on the other hand seem to do very poorly, for many of the reasons that people have stated already.

  6. 5

    This doesn't say to me "don't make stuff for makers". Instead, it informs the type of stuff you make. Makers may not be a good market for high-priced or high-service needs, or for recurring costs like SaaS. But I bet they're still great for small one-time products; basically anything that helps reduce the transaction cost of exploration.

    Which sounds like, for example, Logojoy or Park.io. And they seem to be thriving.

  7. 3

    I am not discouraged at all by these numbers.

    I think the key to focus on is pain. What pain are you removing, reducing or solving. If that pain happens to focus on makers, great. Makers exist at tons of companies. Makers exist all up and down the stack.

    Stripe had great docs and was easy to spin up for makers. But big companies love it too. It solved a huge pain.

    Find the pain.

  8. 2

    I went to several maker fairs and tons of tech trade shows. My feeling is that makers are hobbyists and I felt there's an barrier for them to become a business. Mostly business side. Even tech side is a bit lacking.

    Just remember, most tech companies' products are barely working and most makers are below the sell-able quality.

  9. 2

    I disagree. Makers are a subset of a different group. Developers. You can build products that can be marketed to makers to gain traction as makers tend to also like to support each other, and expand out to others in the same group.

    If you think the maker community is too small to market to, bump yourself up to the next level, developers. Now you got millions of potential customers.

    Also remember, if you can gain traction with makers, you can build a pretty successful business. $5/mo for a small service geared towards makers, 41k+ makers, 10% of them pay, $240k ARR for something that could potentially take you hours a week to maintain. That's right in the maker mindset.

    1. 2

      There's a difference between Indie developers and corporate developers. Indies don't care too much about their code base and structure. On the other hand, corporate devs try writing as clean code as possible. They try getting their hands in every tools for developers just because their lead engineer tells to do so. So, dev tools among them are a hit. So, all the tools like dependabot and the IDE plugins are a hit among the devs. It's because they do whatever they can if it adds value to their code. Us Indies? Nah I'll just move to the IDE with free plugins.

      1. 2

        Just a comment on "corporate devs try writing as clean code as possible"... I think as corporate grow, this statement will fail. I've seen small teams with better code than most large corp. I almost feel devs in large corp makes code as convoluted as possible for job security.

        also, I can say my indie code are better than most of my corp code by far.

    2. 2

      A lot of the maker community isn't devs anymore and solo devs aren't great customers and tend to be very price sensitive. You want corporate ones with a charge card. Assuming you can get 10%+ of a diverse market does sound like a lot of maker mindset and is exactly why most of those 40k releases are abandoned. How do you acquire customers reliably in a way that is cost effective at $60/annual gross per customer on a self funded budget?

  10. 1

    Agree totally with Shawn O'Neill, "A lot of the maker community isn't devs anymore." It's so true, the PH makers festival is exhibit A. Try building something "for" makers without actually being one yourself and you will find yourself hitting a wall you can hardly breach. As much as I love the Maker movement, it's not very inclusive, which is bad for the "makers" of this world.

    I tried being the guy who has the marketing chops and wants to help others make by tweeting out to 5 prolific makers, got 0 responses.

    To succeed as a Maker (make money in a sustainable manner), you need guys who can take care of everything else while you do what you do best.

    Here are some things I came up with:

    1. I can be your spokesperson. I can talk to the right people about your ideas to gauge interest.

    2. I can do detailed research for you to help you understand your competitive landscape.

    3. I can create customer surveys that can help you uncover what you need to know before you build your next product.

    4. Once you're ready to build, I can take care of all your copywriting needs.

    5. Once you've built your prototype/MVP, I can get beta testers and gather feedback.

    6. When you are nearing launch, I can take care of all your launch-specific needs.

    7. Once you've launched, I can help with all your content needs.

    These are just some ideas but when packaged together, can add a whole lot of value for serious makers.

    What do ya makers think?

    1. 1

      That sounds like a cofounder. How makers would pay for your service?

      1. 1

        I think of this is more of an incubation program for makers where there is a small fee + profit share/equity. Of course, this is still an idea that I haven't thought of enough but there ought to be something like this for indie makers if we want to encourage them to keep building stuff!

  11. 1

    Don't make products for IH, PH. 100% agree. But makers in a general e.g. people that want to create and might not even be here that's certainly a group you can target.

  12. 1

    On the other hand, startups with some traction (defined by me with 10+ FTE) are good buyers, because they can make decisions fast and need fast solutions.