Bootstrapping my "company of one" without a line of code

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hey, I'm Ben Tossell and I run a small side project called Makerpad where I teach people how to build projects and workflows without code. My "day job" is Head of Platform at Earnest Capital, an alternative funding model for bootstrappers. Before Makerpad and Earnest I used to lead community at Product Hunt.

Makerpad has tutorials, templates, and deals to teach others how to build things. The community includes folks from all backgrounds and experiences (24% are engineers!). Makerpad revenue every month from January to April 2019 and is currently at ~$22K/month (as of July 2019).

Makerpad homepage

What motivated you to get started with Makerpad?

When I was working at Product Hunt I'd see so many tools launch. Many of them could help someone from a non-technical background like me actually build something. I started tinkering and got the maker bug. I ended up launching 30 or so products without code and made a bit of a name for myself as a "no-code" person.

When I left Product Hunt I wanted to figure out what I could do to set up my own business. I did some consulting and client work here and there to keep my head afloat; then I came across some interviews on IH from people running screencasting businesses.

This intrigued me and the businesses were generating a really decent amount of revenue. I thought I could do something similar for building things without code. I emailed some subscribers saying what I was doing to do and I had several people pay straight away (pay per month, new screencasts released weekly).

To cut this part short, it really got away from me. I tried to build "the next stage" using the help of my friend Mubashar. I kept pushing to build a platform, then build this thing and another thing. And then try to sell things to companies (which was so far from where the initial idea started). It became a mess and it was clear nothing was really working, but I was clutching at straws.

At the end of 2018 I started re-evaluating what I wanted, what kind of business I wanted to run, and exactly how I wanted it to work. I read Paul Jarvis' Company of One and decided to strip back everything and focus on doing less. The result of that was Makerpad.

Month Revenue
Jul. '18 38
Aug. '18 2878
Sep. '18 708
Oct. '18 1075
Nov. '18 3358
Dec. '18 1138
Jan. '19 3615
Feb. '19 6850
Mar. '19 13233
Apr. '19 27654
May '19 19880
Jun. '19 22145

What went into building the initial product?

My new focus was do less — so that's exactly what I did.

I set up a Webflow site in a few hours and some password protected pages and pages for tutorials. That's it. I set up a separate site using Carrd so that I could accept Stripe payments easily and then used Convertkit for my welcome emails, etc. I used Airtable for my database and Zapier to stitch all of the tools together to automate it. Not a line of code in sight. :)

I then went to work on putting out some tutorials. The screencasting business was a lot tougher than I thought and it took a long time to produce the final videos, so I decided to try out screenshots with text. It was less pressure, took less time, and I could get tutorials up and publish really quickly.

Not much has changed and that is deliberate. I built the platform so that it wouldn't require double my time or costs if the amount of members double. And that is exactly what it has been like. I've started working for Earnest Capital, but Makerpad is built so I can put in as many hours a week as I like.

I've created more features when needed or when I wanted to test something. The site now uses MemberStack to handle proper memberships and profiles on Webflow, and we have a Slack community. I added those as templates on the site so members can just DM me and get it sent to their account.

It's completely bootstrapped with less than $100/month in running costs.

I look at what I'm doing that isn't making money, isn't easy, or isn't helping users, and I'll re-think the process.

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How have you attracted users and grown Makerpad?

One big thing which is kinda weird for Makerpad is that I would experiment and build things without code whether I was making any money or not. I have a job that I love but Makerpad is more like a bit of fun. Ultimately I want more people to realize they do not need to code to be able to build something. That's a message I'm keenly pushing.

The whole "attracting users and growing" thing is not a big focus for me. I did do a Product Hunt launch a while back but I didn't even measure how well that did. I have all the stats open at Makerpad.co/open so you can see when the launch was (the big spike). I think I got around 3K visitors on launch day.

Mostly what I do is just tweet what I've built with a little detail on what it does/how it's done. Then I'll link to the site and tutorial. I have a newsletter which is at around 6,500 subscriptions. I look to send it out every week with new things I've built but if I don't have much to share, I don't send one! I want the emails to be quality over quantity.

Month Pageviews
Oct. '18 13
Nov. '18 3263
Dec. '18 2443
Jan. '19 13271
Feb. '19 24289
Mar. '19 30927
Apr. '19 31085
May '19 39610
Jun. '19 46280

Makerpad has 152 paying members right now, but probably close to 300 Pro members. This is because I've given some free accounts to women in tech and other communities.

I don't do any press, PR, guest posts, content marketing, or even SEO. I know it's something I should probably look into, but as Makerpad is fun I only want to do the things I enjoy.

One big and growing part of Makerpad is the marketplace where I list tools I recommend for certain types of things people may want to build. I've now started reaching out to companies to put together educational content that will help non-technical folks build something. Five companies have agreed so far and tutorials are underway which I'm very excited to shout about when they are launched.

Makerpad tools and templates

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

I charge members a lifetime membership of $169. The reason I've gone for a lifetime model rather than monthly is because when I tried my previous idea, the pressure of having to produce that much new value for users each month was huge. Trying each week to get new users to add $19/month each just wasn't a healthy situation for me. If someone comes in with the mindset that they can get the full $169 value within the first week of signing up, that's way better in my eyes.

I also charge companies for a company page on the marketplace and collaboration on educational content. This is something recent I've decided to do and I think it's going to be a huge (if not the majority) of the Makerpad model. I completely stole this idea of course from Lynne Tye's interview here on IH, where companies pay to have their own page on Key Values and she works with them on producing content. That is what I'm doing with Makerpad at the moment.

I've always had the opinion of making up price points on what feels right, so that is how I came to the current $169 price point.

I use Stripe exclusively because I'm just looking for convenience and automation.

Find a few people who you can be friends with that can also help you figure shit out and make you re-consider your choices.

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What are your goals for the future?

I don't have big number goals because I think, for one, my revenue goal has already surpassed what I thought Makerpad would be doing after a few months. I'd love to get to $300K/year but not at the cost of having to hire people, spending a lot more time on the site, etc. I'd categorize that as a huge milestone for a side project if I could get there.

At the end of the day, I'd love to teach as many people as possible to build without code. I think that's a tough goal to put a number on, too.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

As Makerpad is my "start over," I'm pretty pleased with how it is currently going. There's always more I could be doing but I've been very tough on myself to try and not let that get in my head and cause me to do things I don't want to do.

I keep a list of how I want Makerpad to work and revisit it every now and then. I look at what I'm doing that isn't making money, isn't easy or isn't helping users, and I'll re-think the process.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There's actually a lot of noise around with interviews, podcasts, articles, books, etc. (Yes, I get the irony here.) But I think it only takes one or two of these pieces of content to really speak to you and make you think about what you're doing.

Company of One by Paul Jarvis was great for me. I won't pretend that everything in the book was completely eye-opening, but it really gave me a kick up the arse and made me realize, "This is what I want to do and this is how I want to build it."

Listening to Lynne on the IH podcast and learning about how she built the exact type of business I had been looking for was also helpful. We're now friends and she gives me a kick up the arse on Whatsapp or a video call every now and then, which helps.

Find a few people who you can be friends with that can also help you figure shit out and make you re-consider your choices. You only need a few. Too many and you're screwed.

The no-code movement is something I didn't choose to go into necessarily; I just didn't want to code. My view was always that I wanted to build [insert new idea here], which could've been like an "Airbnb" for whatever. So with that in mind, I don't want to spend nine months learning different programming languages to build a mediocre version of something. It may never work! So I'd rather find tools that get me 80% of the way there. I built an Airbnb clone with Webflow, Airtable, and Zapier and it's the most viewed tutorial on Makerpad.

No-code seems to be more and more mainstream with more people seeing the power of it. Lots of technical folks see the benefit of building something and validating without all the technical faff. But I don't see this as you're either on the code or no-code team. Use whatever works best for you.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Figure out the type of business you actually want to run. What does it look like day to day, or week to week? How do you want to spend most of your time? How do you want the business to look with 50 customers? 100? 500? What do you really want to get out of it? Is this something you want to get $300K a year from with less than $5K running costs? Or do you really want to be doing the startup/VC route? Really think about that and be real with yourself about it. I think a lot of people make assumptions and don't think enough about it.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find me on Twitter @bentossell and Makerpad at Makerpad.co.

Feel free to ask me questions, or better yet if you have an idea and don't know how to build it without code, let me know and I'll try to recommend the tools you should use to get started.

Ben Tossell , Co-founder of Makerpad

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