January 10, 2019

Moving from employment to indie-hacking full time

Currently employed as a developer at an awesome startup with great people, but also trying to find a way to go full time on my indie saas project. I've thought about a handful of ideas, switching to contract or freelance work, switching to a non-dev or less-houors job so that i have more mental capacity for outside hours dev work.

I have a wife and 2 kids and a mortgage.

I've gotten my Saas up to 2-3kMRR on the MVP with < 10 users, I just need more time to build out the next iteration (to make it more scalable data-wise).

What are some other [creative] ideas or approaches i could take to minimize risk as I work on the transition?

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    My two cents as a husband, father of two, and homeowner: if you have an awesome job at a company with great people, why quit it?

    Treat your side hustle as a 10 year experience. You’re in no rush to dive into it full-time because you’re in it for the long haul.

    Personally, I’ve just started a full-time job after a few years of being self-employed. I joined for the team because I think having co-workers you like is totally underrated.

    Eventually, I plan to spin off into my own business again. I’m only going to do so once I have my house paid off and kids in school, because then my wife can cover our monthly expenditure and I can spend 40 hours/week not making much money for a couple years.

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    From other comments, sounds like the immediate goal is to get the churn-reducing fixes in place. Depending on how long that's likely to take, some possibilities include:

    Take a week or two of vacation to get that out the door, then go back to the job until MMR ticks up a bit.

    A slightly more extreme version is to ask boss for a 3 month unpaid hiatus, with the option to return afterwards (this sounds like they would hate it, but most employers are happy to leave the door open to an already-trained person).

    Another option is to switch to freelance/consulting, using your old employer as your first client. Obviously only quit to do this if you already have the first few clients confirmed, cuz otherwise you've just traded "job time" for "work-seeking time" and you're no better off.

    A small boost is to negotiate with your partner for them to take on more of the at-home (or whatever) responsibilities for some period of months to free up a couple extra hours for you per week. I recently did this with mine over the matter of dog-walking. Sounds silly, but buys me an extra 60-90 minutes per day in my peak creative period.

    Or a dramatic (temporary) cost reduction. This has more moving parts, but the idea is to rent out your house/apartment and move the whole family to a cheap vacation spot for a 3-6 months. If you happen to be in an expensive city (say SF or London), you can end up cutting your total monthly expenses to half or less by going somewhere fun like, say, Portugal. Only works if the family sees it as an adventure/opportunity, which to be honest it can be. I did this once by moving onto a sailboat for a year. (Paid for itself after 3 months of not paying London rent, and I ended up with a "free" boat.) And another time by moving London -> BCN (though I would pick somewhere even cheaper if it was a purely financial decision).

    And of course, leaning on your savings. I was recently feeling cashflow squeezed, so I moved about $20k out of long term savings and dropped it into my business. I don't think this answer is always the right one (it can seem like a tempting easy way out while destroying your long-term assets), but I was in a similar situation to you where I really needed to buy myself a couple months of focus, and I was losing a lot of time on trying to generate short-term income. So this allowed me to get the next product out the door, which I see as a far better investment than whatever that cash was previously doing. But again, caution on this one, and definitely a conversation to have with the Missus.

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      You can also do a calendar audit, where you look through the past 2 weeks on a per-hour granularity, and look for places where you could eliminate that activity without harming either your life or your family. Content sites like IH/YC are always the obvious scapegoat, but also stuff like having to run out before dinner to pick up a missing ingredient, when a more organised weekly list/shop could eliminate that task. If you look at all the miscellaneous places where time actually gets lost (as opposed to where you think it goes when looking forward), you can build a lot of little time-saving life processes.

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        Thank you @robfitz this was a plethora of ideas. I think squeezing my days is step one. Becoming efficient in day to day life to free up time is a huge one. I think I could easily get 2 more hours out of the day if I do that.

        I really like all your suggestions, just replying from my phone now. Thank you 🙏

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    Hey Alex,

    Don't know if it's possible at your co, but you could try negotiating to a 4-day work week. I do this (8 hour days, Fridays off), and it's pretty magical.

    @amyhoy has written about this before, and here's a case study from her site: https://stackingthebricks.com/guest-post-how-30x500-alum-chris-hartjes-bootstraps-on-the-side/

    Best of luck, and congrats on the 2-3k MRR!

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      I at one point asked to be able to do 4x10hr days per week. That was rejected haha :( I may try a different approach in a couple months to see if maybe a pay decrease and fridays off is an option. Thanks for this!

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    2-3K MRR is solid. How long does it take you get a paying customer? One approach is to focus on getting 10 more customers and hit 4-6 MRR instead of coding the next iteration.

    When I did indie hacking alongside my full time job, I found it easier to focus on the sales aspects of my indie project vs. coding all day and all night.

    Since you clearly have something going, perhaps just focus on sales till you sufficiently minimize risk of the transition.

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      How long does it take you to get a paying customer?

      Not too long, but the churn is high because of the extreme simplicity of it currently. Requires a deal of education/training to get them to buy into the simplicity, and stick around.

      AND :/ unfortunately due to data modeling decision I made for sake of MVP trying not to over-engineer, I didn't plan for a way that the user would want to make changes to a particular thing. It has caused some problems already with every customer so far and required education/training to prevent them from doing it again, and adding sales would add problems and support time I don't think I can afford.

      I tried letting in a few low-touch conversions, and the churn on them was high. So there was too much hand-holding necessary, and the product felt too simple for the low-touch converted customer to justify the price. So CAC is still high especially on time invested, the new iteration is more self-serve and completes enough of the feature circle to make it feel stickier and provide more immediate delivery of value.

      I've thought a lot how I should just try to sell more, but each time I feel like I get bitten by a bunch of sunk cost on time/effort with the new sales.

      That's where this second iteration is solving the data model issue, and solving one other core problem the user has in their workflow.

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        If the churn is high I will focus on reducing it, make sure to understand what your users are doing every day (hotjar, inspectlet, etc, are the best tools for this), why they are leaving (the real reason, not only what they say), retention is a lot more important than acquisition if you are looking for stability.

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        I see. That makes things a little more challenging. Have you asked some of the non-flaky customers whether they are willing to pay you in advance to solve these issues?

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        Sounds like customer support is one of the bottlenecks. Would you consider hiring a temp. resource to provide support?

        Side note... I am available and looking :)

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    What are some other [creative] ideas or approaches i could take to minimize risk as I work on the transition?

    I think you need a hard numbers approach -- with mortgage and kids, you need income stability or large savings in order to go full time. (I recommend large savings for everyone, even people without dependents and large fixed household expenses).

    How long can you run off SAAS profit and savings before calling it quits? Figure that number out and focus on raising it.

    Finding contract or part-time dev work is doable but also requires quite a bit of effort if you don't already have a large network -- better have a contract signed if you're counting on it to pay the bills before jumping ship.

    Alright that's enough wet blanketing for today, good luck with your SAAS!

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      This is a great reminder, thank you. I need to nail down those numbers. My wife has actually built up some income utilizing my saas as well, so in that sense the "total" MRR gain from the saas i much more than 2-3k, if I count her ability to earn more because of it.

      And I definitely wouldnt call your comment wet blanketing. I prefer it to false inflation of hopes haha.

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    I ended up selling everything I owned, quitting my job, moving to a cheaper country and moving [back] to part-time contracting. This sacrifice means I can get by comfortably with only 10 hours of paid work every week.

    I couldn't imagine building a SaaS any other way. I was way too exhausted as a full-time employee, and 4 days is still too much. It is bliss to only have to work 2 hours a day.

    I've managed to keep this up for 12 months and my client wants to keep me on for the next 12.

    Highly recommend this strategy!

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    Care to share your SaaS?

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      I will when I officially launch, just in private beta right now still feeling vulnerable :) And i'll definitely share a lot more details once i've established a bit more stability and am ready to scale. Maybe 3 months away?

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        Ah ok, gotcha. How did you find your customers?

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          That's a great question, and a topic I feel pretty strongly about. I started getting involved in an industry, and had an idea, we'll call it a guess, of something that would be cool to build. But instead of just building what I imagined sounded like a good idea as a product, I did roughly a year or more of research.

          I found the type of person i imagined would need it, and contacted them via cold email, and asked them if they'd share with me how they worked, what their daily workflow was like, and where they spent most of their time while working. Most of them I just told them I was doing research and wanted to interview them about their work.

          Phone interviews were the best, but I settled for emails if i had to. After I had gathered probably 30 solid phone interviews and found the same workflow patterns and insufficiencies / problems, I planned out my MVP.

          Mind you I hadn't mentioned to any of these people about some product idea i had or that i was building something for them. I just wanted to hear them talk about their work, and ideally get them to complain or vent about their work flows - this helped me uncover the true pain points. - Sorry this reply is getting long, perhaps i should post my process in a post of its own.

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            @alexparker - would love to hear more on this with concrete details once you announce your project.

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    What about using your MRR to hire some dev to do part-time development for you?

    I can imagine it would be a great deal for another indie hacker (for whom 2k is enough to make a living) to work with full focus for you for 2-4 days a week and the rest of time spent on his own side hustle.

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    The strategy I used when going from full-time to indie hacking was having a lot of side hustles that added up to "pay the bills." Sounds like you are doing the freelance stuff which is great. Other avenues I've found are teaching online classes, real estate, teaching, etc.

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    I just need more time to build out the next iteration (to make it more scalable data-wise).

    @alexparker - I would like to challenge you on this. Making your service more scalable is unlikely your biggest risk at this point in time.

    For most startups the biggest risk in early days is your ability to attract more customers. I would suggest that you let number of servers go up by 10x if you need to (and yes I understand that the server bills might be high then), but the risk based focus area for early stage companies would likely be the sales/marketing challenges.

    I love that you are asking about minimizing risk - doing that is extremely important.

    If churn is a challenge/fear, then focusing there makes a lot of sense - likely by putting together great content and presenting it to your users at the right time. (If you feel like the only solution to churn is more features, then be careful - you might need to get better at managing expectations. You need to make sure that customers are not always asking for 'one more feature'.)

    Finally, instead of switching full-time right now, I would suggest you reinvest those revenues into growing your sales pipeline. And if to make that happen you need to hire a VA, then doing that might be your best bet.

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    How about if you get a partner / co-founder and retain part-time employment?

    This way you could share the risk (and reward) with someone else while retaining some part-time employment to offset the income gap. Hedge the risk.