Louis Nicholls (@louisnicholls_) never intended to build the audience he serves. He just wanted to help people, even if it meant doing it for free. Thousands of email subscribers later, he's been able to build a successful course teaching sales to founders, and he's made over $40,000 in its first three iterations. In this episode, Louis and I talk about SaaS vs info products, the importance on starting small and making incremental improvements, and why "be helpful on the Internet" is possibly the best advice for startup founders.
What’s up, everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you’re listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show, I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes. How did they get to where they are today, how do they make decisions both at their companies and in their personal lives, and what exactly makes their businesses tick?
And the goal here, as always, is so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own profitable internet businesses. Today, I am talking to Louis Nicholls. Louis, welcome to the show.
Courtland, thanks for having me, excited to be here.
Excited to have you on. You are one of the oldest members of the Indie Hackers forum. We were just talking about how you’ve been on the site for three years now and I’ve seen you launch several different projects and side projects and stuff.
Today you’re working on Sales for Founders. Tell us a little bit about what that is.
Sure. So, it’s an online course which I’ve been putting together over the past couple of months which, as it says in the name, teaches bootstrap founders how to do sales. And we focus mainly on the journey between “I’m a new bootstrapper and I have an idea or maybe I don’t even have an idea yet,” and all the way up to getting to somewhere around the 10k in MRR mark which is generally the thing that most founders seem to be working towards.
Yeah, 10K in MRR – that’s well beyond (inaudible) profitability. That’s all the way at the point where you can pretty much replace your job, for example, as s full-time software engineer.
That’s a huge range to be walking people through, from $0 in revenue, the pre-idea phase, all the way up to replace your job amounts of revenue. How do you even conceptualize what that road map looks like?
Sure. So, the reason I chose 10k in MRR – it’s kind of arbitrary, I guess, in the sense that all businesses are really different. But also, I think there are basically kind of four stages that I’ve seen to sales and to building a business.
And I think the first stage where you’re trying to find the idea, a product that you’re even going to build to sell to people, that’s kind of the first challenge. And then the way you approach that is very different to the way that you approach finding your first one, two, five, maybe even ten customers. You know, you just have to get them on board any way that you can.
And then, somewhere between 10 customers and about 10k in MRR, you tend to change the way you do sales again and you tend to put some kind of process, some kind of structure in place.
So, that’s kind of the cutoff point that I wanted to stop at, because after that, it becomes less about doing sales yourself, and it becomes more about removing yourself from the picture, right, and involving other people.
So what’s your revenue like for Sales for Founders? Your product page on Indie Hackers says $8,300 a month. Is that up to date?
Well, it isn’t really a monthly revenue because I’ve opened enrollment three times. The first time I think I made – I don’t even know. It was open for 17 minutes. I think I made about $2,000, maybe $3,000. (Inaudible.) The second time it was more like $10,000 and that was open for two weeks and now this is the third time. It’s just closed again. I think we made around $30,000.
Yeah, so I think when I created the course page, it averaged out to about 8.3, so that’s what I put in. But I guess you’re built more with SAAS in mind for right now.
Yeah, exactly. The product pages on Indie Hackers are definitely built with monthly recurring revenue in mind but however you want to do it. I think averaging it out for three months makes perfect sense.
What’s cool is you’re taking founders through this journey but at the same time you’re going through this journey yourself. So, you’re building this course. You had to go from idea to launch to early sales, all the way through beyond 10K MRR. Let’s talk about the beginning of your journey. How did you come up with the idea for doing a course like Sales for Founders?
Sure. So, there were kind of two reasons, I guess, two bits of impetus. On the one hand, I’d been through this a couple of times myself before, right? So, I built a couple of businesses in the past and I have a newsletter that I wrote for founders helping with this kind of stuff.
I’ve been pretty active on Indie Hackers over the past couple of years. So, I was getting to this point where I had maybe five, six founders on an average day who would reach out and ask about something sales related.
So, I kept getting the same questions again and again and I was kind of fed up with answering the same emails to be perfectly honest. So, I was kind of seeing people having the same problems and I really wanted to point them to somewhere else. So, I really wanted to point them to, for example – one place that I would point people to is Rob Fitzpatrick’s “Mom Test,” which is a really great book but it doesn’t cover everything. You know, it only covers kind of the first bit of the journey.
And there are other places you can kind of point people to that covers some bits, and some of the stuff they talk about is great. Some of it’s maybe not exactly the way that I would recommend doing things. So, there wasn’t really one place that I could point people to.
And then what I realized at the same time is that for another idea that I’d been working on that I really want to do a course for that at some point in the future. And I wanted to kind of find a way to learn, I guess, how to do a course myself.
So, I thought, well, not kind of put this information that I know like the back of my hand into a course, learn how to do a course while I’m doing it? Because I know the contents so well that it’s going to be easy on that side. And that’s kind of how it came into fruition, I guess.
You’ve worked on stuff in the past that’s a lot more scalable than courses, that was a lot more product like, a lot more subscription-ey and that’s kind of the dream of most people who are starting internet businesses. They want to build something that basically can scale well beyond the labor that they’re putting in. But courses are kind of the opposite.
So, you’re almost going backwards in a way where you’re now putting in a ton of work. Does that worry you at all? Are you concerned about the lack of scalability with courses compared to building software?
Not really. I like what you’re saying there by the way. Everyone says that to me; I’ve taken the opposite path to the one that most bootstrappers take.
Yeah, most people go the other direction. They like start with a course or something and then move on to a scalable SAAS product. But you’ve gone in reverse.
Yeah, I’ve done the opposite to what everyone recommends you should do. So, that’s very weird, going from a VC-backed SAAS all the way back to consulting and doing an info product, I guess.
It hasn’t really been – like I haven’t really worried about scaling so much. I mean the course does scale. Kind of each iteration of the course that I’ve done has been built from – you know the first version was very hands-on. All the teaching was live. It wasn’t really worth if you broke down kind of the amount of money I was making per hour. There was no way I could scale that.
But by talking to people, by learning what their problems were and seeing how I was teaching it, whether that was working well or not, and the second version was kind of half hands-off. There was a mix of evergreen content and some one-on-one stuff. And now, this version is basically all evergreen so it scales pretty well.
Yeah, I like the way you’re doing it in these iterations where it’s becoming more and more scalable, more and more profitable with each iteration as well.
You had this point early where people were emailing you and asking you the same sales questions over and over and you were kind of fed up with it. What kind of questions do founders want to know about sales?
Yeah, so, the point wasn’t so much what kind of questions people were asking, because they were asking very kind of activity-driven questions, right? So how do I write a good cold email? What’s wrong with this cold email? How can I get people to talk to me? How can I close a deal? Why aren’t people buying? That kind of thing. How do I come up with a good product idea? How do I find people to talk to?
But the real trouble I’ve had with the course or the real reason I kind of also really wanted to do the course and why I’m taking so long to make it work properly is that, like I said before, there’s already a lot of good information on sales out there, right? So, if you want to write a cold email, no one – even though I’ve got some really great people in the course talking about cold emails, all of that information is available somewhere online.
The problem that founders tend to make is that they misdiagnose the problems they’re having. So, for example, people won’t reply to their cold emails and they’ll think that’s because they’re writing bad cold emails, where nine out of ten times, they’re either emailing the wrong person or they’re emailing the wrong value proposition. So, they’re trying to sell them something that they’re just not interested in. So, they can spend as long as they want trying to improve their cold email. It’s not going to help them.
And that was kind of the thing that I kept seeing over and over again was well, look, your problem isn’t actually the problem you think you have. You’re wasting your time. I’ve done that before as well. Let’s put together something that’s going to help you work out what your problem really is.
Yeah, I love the way you put that. This has come up actually on some recent episodes of the podcast, this whole problem-cause-solution framework where instead of just rushing headlong into a solution for a problem you have, take a step back and figure out: Do I actually understand the causes of this problem?
And the internet makes that hard because it’s throwing solutions at you left and right. There’s so much information out there. But if you pick the wrong solution because you don’t understand accurately the cause of the problem you’re having, then you’re basically going to get super frustrated when it doesn’t work and everything you try doesn’t work. So, it’s super important to diagnose your problems correctly.
Pretty much nails it, yeah.
So, the first version of Sales for Founders you launched on May 1st of 2019. I’m looking at your timeline now on Indie Hackers. You said you launched an alpha version of the Sales for Founders course. You sold out all seven spots in under 17 minutes to make about $2,000 in revenue. How do you sell out seven spots in 17 minutes for the very first version of your course?
Spend three years helping people with the kind of problems you’re fixing in the course, I guess, for free. You know, I had a newsletter of – it’s not a massive newsletter, I suppose – at that point there were maybe 3,000 people on the newsletter which is quite big. But I only emailed very few of them. I only emailed the ones who had reached out to me with sales questions in the past which was, I think maybe 180 people.
And I just said, “Look, I’m doing this thing. You’ve shown interest in sales in the past. If you want to sign up, it’s here. This is how much it costs. Click the link if you want to buy. First come, first served.” And that’s basically how it worked.
So you were charging them, what, like $300 a person?
Yeah, I think it was $299, I think. Yeah.
$299 a person. And all seven slots got claimed within 17 minutes of you sending out this email to your list. I want to go back I time a little bit and dive into the details behind how you grew this list. How do you build an email list with 3,000 subscribers?
I don’t know. I never did it on purpose. I just wanted to learn how to write I think. Because that’s what I really liked about Indie Hackers, was I came from this kind of VC-backed world where I was working ridiculously long hours all the time for a couple of years straight. I never had any time or really any opportunity to help other founders, I think. You know, I was helping my team and worrying about my own stuff.
And then, kind of I left that and I had a lot of time all of a sudden and that was when I was kind of becoming disillusioned with kind of the VC-backed world at the same time. And that was when I saw Indie Hackers and saw all these people making, I guess, the same mistakes that I’d just been making and felt very strongly that someone had to save them a lot of time and pain, even if it took me five minutes of keyboard bashing to do.
And I guess it was just kind of one comment after the other and then a lot of the people, where I saw a trend of them having the same problems again and again, I would turn that into a blog article or something like that. I guess people just wanted to sign up and read about that. I never really – I wasn’t building an audience to build an audience. Definitely not.
But nevertheless, you ended up building an audience of your own. You kind of inadvertently followed my favorite advice for how to build an audience on the internet, which is be helpful. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Be helpful.
Most people are not that helpful. They’re trying to get help. But if you’re on the opposite end of that spectrum and you’re giving help, then you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb and people are going to come to you and of course, they’re going to sign up for your mailing list because you’ve figured out what it is they want and you’re giving it to them.
On Indie Hackers what that looked like is you talking to a ton of early stage founders who didn’t know how to come up with an idea and didn’t know how to sell and get the product into the customers’ hands and didn’t know if they should build a landing page and all that kind of stuff. And so, of course, your audience is full of early stage founders who want your help with this kind of stuff.
And this doesn’t really come all that natural to most people. Most of us are just trying to get help but you’re just a naturally helpful person, I guess.
I think it was partly just me having the time and realizing – I was kind of burnt out when I came out of the VC-backed stuff, obviously, and I just spent a couple of months not really knowing what I wanted to do.
And having Indie Hackers there at that time and seeing these people struggling with things that I had struggled with before, it just kind of, I guess, pushed a button somewhere inside me and I really wanted to just help people. There was no ulterior motive.
All the time – it’s kind of ironic that I’m doing the Sales for Founders course now because I’ve always said founders, especially bootstrap founders, are the worst people to try and sell to because they’re time rich and cash poor. So, I was telling people all the time, you know, don’t sell to these founders and now I am.
Now look at you.
Yeah, well I hope at some point to be able to make the course free. That’s my ultimate goal is not to have to charge for it. But until I kind of get to a point where I can afford to do that for the next couple of months, I think it will have to be paid.
Give me an overview of where Sales for Founders is going. What’s your roadmap? Because it started off with you doing these live group coaching sessions and also one-on-one sessions over video chat. What’s it going to look like in a year or two from now?
Yeah, I don’t know what it’s going to look like two years from now, to be completely honest. What I’d like to happen is I’d like to be doing less and less of the actual teaching myself. Or this time, I’ve realized online courses – it doesn’t have to be all one person. It isn’t cheating to ask for help. At a university you wouldn’t expect one person to teach all of the courses. It’s fine to go and get other experts who know much more about specific topics than you do. And it’s just for me to kind of help them put it all together into an easily understandable, digestible format.
So, I’m looking forward to bringing on kind of even more experts and helping them to help people. I’m starting to work with some kind of sales enablement and kind of bootstrapper tools like close (ph) (inaudible). I know you had Stelli (ph) on the podcast recently and hopefully they can get involved a bit more as well.
And then we can kind of push the price down and make it as cheap as possible for people to just have that one-stop resource, I guess, where you go and you say, “Look I don’t need to know everything about sales. I just need to know enough and very quickly to be able to solve whatever I have in front of me.”
The aim is within six months, within a year, I’d like this to be kind of a free resource that you can go and pick up as a founder and it just helps you work your way through it.
How do you make money in a situation if your course is free for readers and users?
Well I don’t from this. But I mean it’s helpful to help people. You know, those companies hopefully, especially if I’m helping them, they will grow bigger. I’m okay at sales because I’ve done a lot of it and I was very bad when I started off. So, I had to kind of learn the hard way.
But what I’m actually really good at is marketing, like conversion rate optimization. And that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of consulting on and that’s what my next course will be about, about social proof. And so, I know I’m going to make a lot of money from doing that.
So, if I can – you know, I’m not really worried about making money at the moment. I just want this to kind of help people.
See, this is a perfect example of you just being helpful on the internet. Because your course is already making money. It’s not like it’s a question mark, “Can this make money?” But you want it to be free just because.
And it’s also not completely branded around you. I think I see a lot of course creators where it’s all about them, it’s their face front and center, plastered everywhere, it’s the first name, last name course. Where yours is just Sales for Founders and it’s not really about you. It’s about the material and the education and the students and the community where they’re helping each other. You’re even bringing in other people to help you out. Even the way you’re doing your course is you being helpful on the internet in a relatively selfless way.
I think a lot of people go about this kind of the opposite way to the way that I did. They kind of – I mean they really build up an audience around themselves first and then work out something they can sell to people who are in their audience. So, it makes sense for them to put themselves first, right?
Whereas, for me, I think this kind of stands alone by itself without me, and most of the people who are signing up, they hadn’t really heard of me before. It was recommended to them by someone else. They’re not here because it’s me. So that makes it easier for me.
I don’t think it does really hurt me because it’s not like I’m internet famous like (inaudible). Like it’s fine that it’s not connected to me. It doesn’t really help for me to be the figurehead of it.
Yeah, but it definitely helps for you not to be the figurehead because then it’s, like you said, more scalable and you can sort of extract yourself from it and grow the team and not necessarily have it completely depend on your involvement on a day-to-day basis, which is great.
Yeah, for sure. And it’s nice, you know, if I can bring in other people, other experts, it’s useful for them to be associated with it as well. It gives them more of an audience. They can help share it because it promotes them as kind of the expert for their topic, their subject.
So, it’s that kind of – I guess it’s just good sales at the end of the day. It’s just creating that kind of win-win situation where it helps everybody and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Yeah, you’re helping your collaborators. They’re helping you in return because they probably have their own audiences they bring to the table and they take a lot of work off your shoulders. It doesn’t have to all be you.
It’s also better for your course if there’s different people contributing. If it was just Sales for Founders according to Louis Nicholls, that would be great. But if it’s Sales for Founders according to all these different sales experts, that’s even better.
I think about this all the time with Indie Hackers. It started off as just interviews on the website. Now it’s interviews on the podcast. I’m interviewing you. It’s not just the Courtland Allen Show. It’s not just me sharing my story over and over and over again. That would be extremely interesting. I’m sure everyone would love to hear that. But it’s much better to hear from lots of different people. I think if you can sort of own the stage where other people come and perform, rather than being one of those many thousands of performers yourself, that’s a huge advantage.
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I like the way you put it.
So May 20th – we’re skipping ahead on your time line now by 19 days. So a few weeks after you launched the very first live version of your course, you launched what you call the first real cohort of Sales for Founders.
In this one you charged just under $2,000 a participant. So, you jacked up the price by like 7x. You got eight participants to sign up and you also updated the course. This is a lot to do in three weeks. So, give me a rundown here. What evolved? What changed in that three weeks from your very first $300 course to your second iteration that was $2,000?
Sure. So, the first version, it was basically just four lots. It was a Slack group and then four lots of kind of one-hour group coaching sessions, which we did over three weeks or so.
Then for the second version, I realized, okay, I can kind of put some of this already into evergreen content, so into worksheets and videos and text lessons and stuff like that, bring in some templates and stuff.
But I also realized that – well, actually, I did it the wrong way. So, I thought that I could help everyone kind of on like – you know, like have you ever seen the lean canvas, the lean startup canvas?
Yeah (inaudible) worksheet.
Yeah. I thought I could try and do the same thing for sales, so how to go from zero to 10k in MRR and kind of teach it in 12 weeks. So kind of: Week one, we’ll look at this and there will be a one-on-one lesson; week two, we’ll look at this and there will be a one-on-one lesson (inaudible).
And it was a terrible idea. It didn’t work. People were kind of falling off because some of them slower, some of them were faster. Some were working full-time. Some were doing it a couple of hours a week. Some of them just had longer feedback loops because they were selling into enterprise. So, it was kind of a catastrophe in that sense. But it was so much more hands-on that obviously the price had to be higher to do it.
So the problem was that it was crafted like a funnel and you had these week-by-week lesson plans and people would sort of drop off from one week to the next and by the end you had fewer people left in the course than when you started?
Well everyone was still there. So, we were still doing the weekly one-on-ones and the coaching stuff. Just a lot of people – like some people came into the course kind of already thinking about week five’s content and ended up on week seven. And some people came in at week zero and ended up on week three. And some people kind of repeated week zero 12 times in a row very stubbornly as (inaudible).
Makes sense. So, this is basically an ad for why you should iterate on your product. Right? Because essentially if you had just decided, “Hey this course is going to be this big massive thing that I’ve going to spend three to six months putting it together and then just launch it and that’s going to be it,” then you wouldn’t have learned all these lessons.
But here it is, barely three weeks in and you’ve already done two iterations of your course, learned a whole bunch and then tweaked it and tweaked it again and figured out what works and doesn’t work, which I think is the best way to do it.
What are some other lessons you learned in these first couple iterations and how did it change since then?
Yeah, and I mean that was a total mistake by the way. I didn’t realize I was doing that at the time, but it worked out really well and I recommend anyone else doing a course to definitely do at least one or two live versions first. The first people you’ll have in the course when you do like one-on-one coaching with them and stuff, you’re basically being paid to do sales, to do product development.
Some other stuff that I learned was – one thing that I really underestimated was the value of having a lively community. So, we have a Slack group which is pretty lively where everyone’s helping each other out, where we’re asking for feedback. I’ve, because I’m a developer, had to build a small tool for us to use to track accountability and stuff. So that is being used and it works pretty well. It keeps everyone accountable. It keeps them motivated. It keeps them coming back and working on their stuff.
At the beginning I thought this was going to be completely hands-off. You know, I’ll give them a link to the course, they can go and work on this stuff, and maybe some people will email me. And it’s just been so useful for everything really, for kind of people’s progress to give them this community where they can kind of chat and keep each other motivated and keep each other going.
The things that surprised me about the course was that when I originally did it, my aim or my hope was the value, or most of the value, would be in the evergreen content I was providing, so in the actual lessons and kind of templates and stuff. I think they are working really well and they’re always getting better, especially now that they external experts are coming in as well. But I really underestimated just how valuable the community aspect would be as well.
So, I now think of it as kind of there are four real challenges that the course will solve for someone coming in. So, you have kind of working out what you’re doing wrong which is, I guess, the big problem. You have working out how to solve that problem. Then you have the accountability and the motivation as well. And there was no real way before, unless I was kind of acting as their mini-CEO, to kind of hold them accountable and keep them motivated.
But having this Slack community and this little tool that I built has just helped so much in keeping everyone coming back every day and kind of encouraging each other, helping each other out, giving feedback, sharing stuff for each other, giving introductions.
And what I’ve recently seen which is kind of – I feel almost like a proud father – is the other day someone asked a question in Slack and I saw it was about a cold email. So, I thought okay, when I’m finished in the gym, I’m going to have to go back and kind of answer this with my stock answer. And I got back and two people from the first iteration of the course had said basically everything that I wanted to say.
Oh, so cool.
Yeah, it was a very proud moment for me.
That’s how I feel about Indie Hackers, too, sometimes.
Obviously, it’s a community. You go to the website and it’s just thousands of founders helping each other get started and I don’t have to do anything. I can sit at home watching people help each other. I don’t know, the power of people helping each other is so much more efficient than this sort of top-down, you have to teach everybody everything yourself method.
Yeah, for sure. And it’s having the community and having people helping each other out in that way – it allows you to scale yourself in a way that, like you said at the beginning of the call, it feels like you can’t scale yourself in that way but it turns out that with a community you almost can to a certain extent.
Let’s talk about the side project that you built during all of this. It’s called DoINeedaLandingPage.com. And the whole purpose of it is to help founders answer this question of whether or not they need, obviously, a landing page.
And I think it fits perfectly with what we were talking about earlier, doing this root cause analysis, trying to figure out what the source of your problems is, before you go out looking for a solution. In this particular case, assuming that the solution is you just need a landing page. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what this project is and why you built it?
Sure. So, it comes again, from Indie Hackers where you have all these people asking for feedback on their landing pages. Some of the landing pages are absolutely beautiful. Some of them are really good as well, I’m sure.
But very few of them, if they’ve been made before the person already has customers, aren’t going to be very effective. They will be basically a waste of time in most cases. Because if you don’t have any customers yet, if you haven’t sold to someone, then how are you going to kind of navigate through their objections? How are you going to convince them to buy? How are you even going to be sure that what you’re selling them is the right thing for them to be buying in the first place?
So, kind of with that background, most of the time when I was giving feedback on someone’s landing page, I was thinking, “Well, really you shouldn’t be building a landing page yet. You should be doing more boring and less fun work of talking to people and selling to them and working out what they want, and that’s going to save you so much time.”
Because, you know, when you have a landing page and you haven’t sold to people yet, you don’t understand their objections, the value proposition and that kind of stuff. When someone goes to your landing page, they give you binary feedback. It’s either yes, they buy or no, they don’t buy. And you can see kind of how they scroll and maybe some stuff they click on, but it doesn’t really give you any context.
Whereas, if you go and do sales and talk to people, then you understand why they didn’t buy. You can ask them follow-up questions. You get so much more information. One sales call is worth 100,000 landing page visits (inaudible) because there are so many things that could be going wrong, and it’s going to take you so long to kind of eliminate those different concerns by kind of an A/B test approach.
Yeah, I think that’s one of the least intuitive things for new founders, and it’s worth repeating over and over and over again that the fidelity of information you get by actually having a conversation with somebody is so much higher than you get by building a website or a product and just watching people either sign up for or not sign up for it. You learn almost nothing, which makes it super hard for you to iterate and improve on what you’re doing.
It’s kind of the genius behind your course too because you’re launching your thing and trying it out with people. But because you’re doing a course that’s really hands-on with you teaching, and it’s not like a hands-off course where you just put the materials on line and see who signs up, you actively get a lot of feedback, too.
Yeah, for sure. And I think, you know, if you look at the way that the bootstrap community has kind of evolved its best practices over the past maybe 10, 15 years, you know, I think it kind of – I can’t remember the exact quote but it’s something about the end product, the end community, is obviously a result of the people who created it at the very beginning.
And a lot of people who came into bootstrapping in the early days, they’re developers. They didn’t fit in well to working with authority, working for a bigger company. They didn’t necessarily want to do a lot of talking to people.
So, they were building this framework which maybe isn’t the best way, the quickest way to build a company, the most reliable way to build a company. But it is the best way if you’re that kind of person who doesn’t like talking to people and who prioritizes not talking to people over making lots of money quickly. Right?
So, I think you have to kind of view the best practices around putting up a landing page and stuff kind of in that light of, yes, this is a good way of doing things, but it’s been built for people who are like this, if that makes sense.
It does make sense. You’ve got to do what’s right for you. And on a related note, you posted about this on your product page on Indie Hackers. You had a post that’s called “Forgetting to Stop and Smell the Roses.”
You said, “Today I had an important realization that one of the biggest killers of early stage startups and side products is a gradual loss of motivation.” How do you avoid losing motivation as a founder?
Yeah, that’s a good question. So, I think there are a couple of different answers to that and I want to look at two of them, I think, that I think are really important.
So, one of them is a big mistake that I see a lot of founders, especially technical founders, making, which is to focus as, I guess, they get taught a lot, to focus on a problem. And what we do as technical founders when we see a problem is we get really excited about defining that problem and finding the best possible solution for it. But the thing is people don’t pay for the best possible solution to a problem. They pay you to provide or to create value for them.
So, it may be that you get super excited about solving this problem with your app and it turns out a couple of months later that the best way to provide value to the customer isn’t actually with an app at all. It’s by doing something different. Maybe it’s an online course. Maybe it’s a different kind of app that doesn’t make you use React or whatever you want it to work on. Maybe there’s no machine learning. Who knows? Maybe a to-do-list app isn’t a solution to your problems.
So, what happens then is if you’ve been focusing on solving this problem in a way that you’re excited about, you then get very demotivated and you lose momentum and you go and work on something else; or even worse, you keep working on the same problem, you keep building the same app but just try and find some different audience who do need this product, which is crazy because 50 percent of the time, at least, there is no audience that needs exactly the product you’ve been building because there isn’t an audience for every product. Right?
So, what I’d like to kind of recommend people do instead if they can is to focus in the early days on the pain and on the person that they’re helping, the person they’re providing value for, because if you spend time talking to them, getting to know them and really understanding how you’re helping them, they you will be more motivated by solving their pain and helping them than you will be by some fancy framework you get to use. Which makes it much more likely as your business evolves two years, three years, five years down the line, that you’ll still be happy working on it.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. It’s so important to just enjoy the actual process. The day-to-day things you do working on your business, if you don’t enjoy that, then what’s waiting for you at the end of the road might be six months of happiness or something. But if the two years you took to get there were miserable because you didn’t really enjoy what you were doing, is that really even worth it? Probably not.
So, I’m totally with you there. People should think more about how to enjoy their business and sometimes that means making sacrifices and making changes to your business model just to make it enjoyable for you.
I talk to my good friend Len Tai (ph) all the time about this because she’s super obsessed with making sure she has a business she enjoys. She was on your podcast as well. There’s lots of stuff she doesn’t do that you “should do” as a founder but she doesn’t enjoy doing it.
Ben Tossell from Makerpad is the same way. He just won’t do certain things if he doesn’t think they’re fun to do as a founder. And maybe that means he grows a little bit slower. Maybe that means things don’t go quite as well as he wants them to but at least he likes his life. And what goal is there other than that?
Yeah, and I think – you’re talking about Ben Tossell. I was speaking to him recently. And I think he was really, really mature and clever about the way he did it, and I was I had been like that the first time that I went out and started my own product, in that he started with – I can’t remember what Makerpad was called in the early days. But he started kind of solving the same problem roughly two or three times.
And every time he kind of stopped once he got to an interesting amount of revenue because he realized that wasn’t the kind of company that was going to motivate him. That wasn’t the kind of product that he wanted to be running. And he was so – I don’t want to say “lucky” because I think he did it on purpose. He was clever or mature to realize that after two or three months and not after two or three years and to be able to keep changing and iterating until he reached something that he did enjoy building, which I think I wasn’t that kind of – when I was doing my first couple of projects, I was nowhere near mature enough to realize that.
I’m many projects in and I am still working on the whole maturity thing. A lot of people listening in, Louis, are on their very first couple of projects. What’s your advice for them and what do you think they should know as brand-new founders?
I guess I’m going to kind of wuss out slightly and just say I think the most important thing is start talking to people, to start working out how you can help people. I know it’s what a lot of people will say and I guess it’s kind of one of those things you’re expected to say.
But I’ve done B2B, I’ve done VC-backed, I’ve done bootstrap, I’ve done eCommerce, I’ve done marketplaces, I’ve done a lot of different types of products selling to a lot of different types of people. And whatever I’m doing I feel like I’m confident and I have a good chance of succeeding because I focus on putting the people first and understanding them and trying to help people.
And I think that’s just the most – if you think about starting a project or a startup as kind of de-risking by kind of removing layers from an onion, I think that’s kind of the first, most important one to focus on.
Focus on the people. Well listen, Louis, it’s been so great having you on the show after three years of having you on the website. Hopefully, I can have you on again to catch up at some point in the future.
But until then, can you let listeners know where they can go to learn more about what you’re up to with Sales for Founders and any other courses you might happen to be working on?
Sure. So, you can follow me on Twitter if you’d like to see what I’m working on. That’s @louisnicholls_ with an underscore at the end, Nicholls with two l’s’ And if you’re interested in learning sales and how to get from zero to 10k in MRR, you can head on over to salesforfounders.com.
Alright, thanks so much, Louis.
Thanks for having me, Courtland. It’s been great.
Quick note for listeners. If you’re interested in coming onto the podcast like Louis to have a quick chat with me, go to indiehackers.com/milestones and post a milestone about whatever it is that you’re working on.
It can be pretty much anything. People have posted about launching or finding their first customers. They’ve posted about growing their mailing list or hitting a thousand followers on Twitter. They’ve posted about getting to $100 or $1,000 or $100,000 a month in revenue. The sky is the limit. So, whatever it is you’re proud of, come, post it on indiehackers.com/milestones and the rest of us will help you celebrate.
And what I will do is at the end of every week, I’ll look at the top milestones posted and reach out to people to invite them to come onto the show for a quick chat.
So, once again, that’s indiehackers.com/milestones. I’m looking forward to seeing what you post.
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