Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
My name is Austin Repp and I'm a senior in college studying Computer Engineering and Business Administration. I have experience working in software engineering roles, and that's likely what I'll start off doing after graduation, but my true long-term goal is to be self employed.
I am the sole creator of Discord Bot Studio, or DBS, which is a visual programming tool for making chatbots on Discord. This tool allows users to create chatbots using a flowchart-style editor, requiring no coding.
Since its release in May of this year, DBS has averaged about $2,500 a month in revenue, almost all of which is profit.
What motivated you to get started with Discord Bot Studio?
About a year ago I stumbled across an established tool in the market for creating Discord bots. I immediately got the impression that I could create a tool with a much better user experience. I did some quick math to work out how many sales I thought they had made in the few years they had been out. I figured that the market was large enough, and also not too crowded, so I decided to give it a shot.
The first thing I did was create a landing page with Carrd. The landing page had some information about what the tool was going to do, and a place for people to join a mailing list to stay up to date. I started seeing organic traffic to the site, and people were signing up for the mailing list. This gave me the confidence to create a listing for the software on Steam. Steam is a platform that is used to purchase and play video games, but they also allow some utility software to be sold on their platform as well. Since my competitor was on Steam, I followed suit. This ended up being a monumentally helpful decision, as most of the traffic to DBS comes directly through Steam.
At the time I began working on DBS (Summer 2019) I was familiar with Discord, but I wasn't a regular user of it. Discord is largely used by gamers, and I had stopped playing games for the most part at this point. That being said, a younger version of myself would be a target user of the product, so I felt comfortable with understanding how the tool needed to be presented.
When I started building DBS I was finishing up a rotation at my software engineering co-op job. I decided to put the project on the back burner as I returned to school in Fall 2019. I didn't want to jeopardize my grades or social life for a project I didn't know would be successful.
What went into building the initial product?
As I returned to my co-op job for Spring 2020, I knew I had the free time (nights and weekends away from school and friend distractions) and more motivation to work on the project. At this point in time I decided on a huge rework of the product, to make the user interface better. This is when I implemented the flowchart style editor that exists in the product today. I think the rewrite was definitely worth the time investment, as the flowchart editor is the biggest differentiator for my product versus the competition.
Being a developer myself, I incurred almost no costs in developing DBS, other than my time investment. The biggest cost in the whole process was the fee to list on Steam, which is $100. This kept me confident in the project, as I felt there was little to no risk with the costs being so low.
I worked on nights and weekends, eventually getting to a product which I felt was valuable enough for a closed beta, and a month later a full release (May 2020).
That original product I found is now my biggest competitor!
What's your tech stack?
The application empowers the user to develop Discord bots using a visual interface. The resulting bot code is then saved to their computer. I chose Discord.js as a base for the bot code, as it's the most popular and well documented library in the space.
DBS was not a particularly challenging product to make technically. Most of the difficulty I faced centered around finishing a project with such a large scope and creating a user interface which is intuitive for non-programmers to use.
How have you attracted users and grown Discord Bot Studio?
When I launched DBS there were about 1,100 people on the mailing list, and around 4,000 wishlists for the program on Steam. This meant that DBS sold 112 copies on day one, and a few hundred more throughout that first week. Since then, sales have been fairly steady, which each month's net totals being between $2,200 and $2,800.
The main channel I've used to acquire users for DBS is through Steam itself. That's a massive advantage to releasing on Steam, because there are millions of gamers who are using the platform daily. I get about 250-300 visits to the Steam store page daily. About 80% of that comes from Steam search and suggestions. The rest comes from organic search traffic and referrals from the YouTube channel for DBS.
Bringing new organic traffic to the product has been the biggest challenge by far. I have tried content marketing, creating YouTube videos, and even a few Reddit ads. I also experimented with micro-influencer marketing by reaching out to YouTube channels in my niche. The only method I have seen consistent traffic from is the YouTube videos I upload. They are instructional videos which help users with different features of DBS. It has the added benefit of allowing people who are searching for general Discord Bot tutorials on YouTube to find my product. This has driven some steady traffic, but growth has been slow here.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
DBS sells for a one-time fee of $10. Steam takes a 30% cut off the top. It's frustrating to lose 30% of revenue, but I know that I wouldn't sell nearly as many copies if it wasn't listed on Steam, so the tradeoff is worth it. Revenue has been fairly flat since launch. Revenue numbers so far are as follows:
It's quite eye opening to see how many sales are needed to get to reasonably high monthly revenue, especially when each copy is only netting $7.
You're a senior in college. You also mention having another job. How do you balance all that with indie hacking DBS?
I may have explained this poorly, but the job I mentioned is a co-op. With a co-op, you alternate between semesters of working, and semesters of school. So I am not working and doing school simultaneously. I found that I actually had more time to work on my side projects during the working semesters, since my nights and weekends were free from the tempting distraction of hanging out with people my age, which I can do much more easily when I'm in school.
While I was working I tried to get one single productive thing done on DBS per day. I found that was a good way to make continued, steady progress, without burning out.
What are your goals for the future?
At the moment I'm content to keep trying different marketing strategies to grow traffic, and in turn revenue. I'm only spending a few hours a week on development, if anything, so the monthly revenue is great for the time invested.
Being realistic, I don't think there is a big enough market for DBS to ever generate the revenue that would allow me to work on it full time. I've toyed with the idea of creating a hosting service which would allow people to host their bots 24/7 (think Heroku, but only for DBS bots). Hosting is in demand, and it's also a pain point for many users. The issue here is customer willingness to pay, or pay a reasonable amount monthly. That being said, I don't think it would be worth the time investment to pursue this.
I'm happy to keep supporting DBS on the side while working full time, and focusing more on new projects as they come along. My goal is to be totally self employed by age 25, and I think DBS has been a great way for me to get started on that path.
You want to be a full-time indie hacker, either with DBS or a future project. When did you decide that's what you wanted to do?
I think I decided this when I started working at my first "real" developer job. I realized that working nine to five on a set of tasks I had no control over could be very boring. I'm not averse to working hard, or working long hours. I am averse to doing so in a standard job, where it won't be directly benefiting me to do so.
What were the stakes involved with DBS? Is there anything you feel like you're risking to pursue this project?
Overall, I think the stakes were fairly low. As I mentioned, I did not invest much money into the project, so the only thing I feared I could be losing was my time. I think it's hard to commit many nights and weekends to a project when you're not certain if it will be successful or not.
That being said, I'm glad I did. The product has been relatively successful, and it's now in maintenance mode where I don't have to spend much time on it at all. Pursuing this project hasn't jeopardized my school work, job prospects, or social life. If anything, it's an added bonus to have this type of project on my resume as I am applying for full-time software engineering jobs.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
The biggest challenge I faced in the first three months was a mountain of support cases. I created a support server for the product on Discord, where users could discuss DBS development and ask for help. In my mind, I envisioned this being a place where users could help each other out, and I would be able to take a back seat. This was not the case! I would get notifications on my phone from angry users at all times of the day and night. I was spending up to a few hours a day responding to users and putting out fires. It was incredibly stressful, and I knew that doing constant hands-on support for a product with a lifetime value of $7 per user was not a good long-term solution.
Over time, a few volunteers offered to help out with supporting new users, since they enjoyed using DBS so much. This took a lot of the load off of me, and it was also around this time that I realized support cases were not worth stressing over constantly. I turned off push notifications for support cases on my phone, and since then I only check support issues when I feel like it.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest benefit for me was putting DBS on Steam. I sort of lucked into this decision; if my competitor wasn't being sold there I probably wouldn't have done the same. Being on Steam has brought in more traffic than any other source.
Is there anything you do in your spare time that you think contributes to this project?
In my free time I often find myself learning about marketing, or following what other indie hackers are doing.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
My biggest piece of advice for solo founders is to create a product that's small enough in scope that you'll be able to finish it in a few months. If you set your sights on some huge undertaking, it's very likely you won't finish building it. I read a lot of information about building micro-SaaS businesses before building DBS, which I found helpful.
Also, I think it's very important to find an idea that will be able to build momentum itself, organically. If you're struggling to find users (which you need to do before and while building) than the journey to selling the product is going to be much more difficult and demoralizing. This is obviously easier said than done, but
I think the takeaway is to hang out where your customers do, and see if they take interest.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can find me at the following links:
Please don't hesitate to reach out, I love discussing indie hacker and entrepreneurial stuff!
—, Founder of Discord Bot Studio
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