Danielle Johnson (@dinkydani21) is no stranger to the challenge of building an online business. So when she hit on a new idea for a product that could solve a problem better than the competition, she made sure to learn from her past mistakes and do things differently this time around. In this episode, Danielle and I chat about how she went from an idea to an MVP with 50 beta testers in just two weeks, her strategies for successfully launching her product multiple times, and why she and her co-founder are committed to building their business transparently.
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’m talking to Danielle Johnson. Danielle, welcome to the show.
Hey, thanks so much for having me.
You are the founder of a company called Leave Me Alone which has to be my favorite name for a product ever. I just want to say it over and over. Leave Me Alone. What does Leave Me Alone do exactly?
So Leave Me Alone is a service that makes it easy to unsubscribe from unwanted emails. So, it’s super easy. You can sign up, connect all of your email accounts. We show you a list of all the subscription emails, so like mailing lists and newsletters that you’ve received and then you can just click a button and unsubscribe from them all.
Very cool. It sounds super useful. Your Indie Hackers product page says that you’re making $1,700 a month in revenue. Is that accurate?
I think the Stripe verified revenue on Indie Hackers is the last 30 days rolling, so it is accurate. But before about last week, we had a huge spike because we were featured in Lifehacker and also recommended in a newsletter with 28,000 subscribers. So that gave us a huge boost. So, before that it was about $500 a month so we’re kind of slowly growing that. But yeah, last month and then a Product Hunt launch yesterday kind of, I guess, inflated that. But let’s hope it stays. (Inaudible.)
Yeah, let’s hope it stays. That’s a lot. That’s a lot of things to happen in basically just the last few weeks. Let’s talk about – let’s go in reverse order. Let’s talk about your Product Hunt launch yesterday.
You were number two at the top of Product Hunt. You had 100 comments, a lot of love for you in the comments. How do you get to number two on Product Hunt?
So this is our version two launch. We actually launched version one back in January. That was like a really, really big launch. We actually ended up number one of the day, and of the week which was completely insane.
Then yesterday we were number two. But that’s totally fine because we did a whole thing around the launch where we actually livestreamed the whole day and had a load of sessions and interviews of other Indie Hackers and founders, other nomads from around the world, and made it more a kind of event than, I guess, a focus on our launch.
But to get the amount of engagement and the amount of comments and people sharing it, I think has come almost solely from communities that we’re a part of; ones like Indie Hackers or (inaudible) which is a task-tracking community. It helps keep you accountable; Women Make, which is a super safe space like a telegram group and a forum for women in tech that support each other when there’s launches and milestones and feedback and things like that.
So, that really helps. Some people have a lot of followers on Twitter, so if they’re kind enough to retweet or share something it can really, really help.
Yeah, it’s a crazy amount of work that you put in. I can tell just from your icon on Product Hunt. You’ve got this cool animation that shows a mailbox being filled up with spam and exploding and it says 2.0, and it’s just that alone you put a lot of work into.
Then you’re in the comments responding to almost everybody and also, like you mentioned, you had this huge livestreamed day for your On Twitch interview and all these founders and just talking about different things. How did the launch go in terms of what you expected and what you hoped?
I tried really hard not to have high expectations because of the success of the first one and how much – how well we’d been doing with the Lifehacker feature and people recommending it in basically the last couple of weeks.
I tried not to set it too high and be like, “Okay, we’re going to have to get number one or it doesn’t mean anything.” That’s really an important kind of side note that the Product Hunt launch, although it’s obviously incredible to get number one or number two or to rank for the day, it’s also not the be all and end all.
The launch is great for a little boost, maybe some press or some sort of getting people interested in your product. But if you don’t do well on Product Hunt, it doesn’t mean that your product’s not a success. Product Hunt is a really niche market and there are a lot of makers and a lot of founders and a lot of other people who will help you and support you and give you comments or feedback and up votes, but they’re not necessarily your target market. I would say not even – not necessarily, I would say, they’re definitely mostly not your target market. So that’s important to remember regardless of how successful the launch day was.
Yeah, I can tell you sort of internalized that by the fact that you’ve launched twice. Launch is not like this one giant event that you put on a pedestal and you do it once, you can never to it again. It’s just like you said. It’s like one sort of step in the road. It’s one way you’re growing your product. And you can actually launch over and over again. So, you launched, as you said, Leave Me Alone 2.0, yesterday but back in I think January, you guys launched Leave Me Alone 1.0.
We did, yeah. I know some people might feel like version two, three, four launches might be a bit cheeky. Maybe it’s not a new product, it’s not an official launch. And version two was actually – we kind of quietly released that in July, so it wasn’t kind of like a big push to version two and then we committed and shipped it and then launched like two hours later.
But I think it’s important that people don’t think, “Okay, we have to build something and then immediately launch it on Product Hunt.” We needed to get a foundation and feedback and everything before the official launch. So in the blog post titles where I’ve been sharing it, it’s our official launch so it’s ready for like actually to be shared. It’s actually version two and it’s okay now. It’s done.
Yeah, exactly. So, let’s talk about these early pre-launch days, not before your latest launch but before your earliest launch. You started Leave Me Alone in November of last year. I’m looking at your Indie Hackers product page. You came up with the idea, I think, November 18th. Do you remember how you came up with the idea for Leave Me Alone?
Yes, I can. So, my co-founder and I – co-founder James and I – we spent a lot of time in our emails. We do a lot of freelance work and we needed to figure out what was important and what was not important in our inboxes.
We have mailing lists and things that we subscribe to or maybe something I signed up to a year ago and they started sending an email every day. And it’s annoying and frustrating to have to go and open that email, go the bottom and see the unsubscribe link and click it. And then some of them have extra steps like do you want to definitely unsubscribe or click here to confirm. It takes time and it’s frustrating.
So we started searching for a service that would do this for us and show us everything that we were subscribed to and be able to unsubscribe from stuff. And we found a couple, one of them being Unroll.Me, which you might have heard of. But unfortunately, after a little bit of digging, we found that they actually make their money by selling all of your data. So, the service is free but you have to agree that they’re going to use your data and sell it for marketing.
One of the biggest things is actually that they curated all of their users’ information about Uber, and so all of the Uber customers, and they sold that to Lyft. And there were some really big news articles about that a couple of years ago. And that’s – obviously, that’s not great.
So, we wanted to build something that would let you unsubscribe from emails but without having to compromise your privacy, your data, your security or any of those things. So, we built Leave Me Alone and that’s how it was born.
I love that method of coming up with an idea which is that number one, you have an actual need yourself, and so you’re like kind of your own potential customer. But number two, you see a competitor, you see somebody already doing it. And that doesn’t dissuade you from doing the idea but it actually encourages you, because you’re like, “Hey, this is an actual need. Enough people will care about this that another company exists. And hey, there’s this huge glaring red flag with this company. They’re stealing your private data and selling it to Lyft and other start-ups, so there’s room for us to come in and basically build a competitor that doesn’t do that.”
How did you go about validating that this would be a good idea for you to work on, or was it just good enough to see that Unroll.Me existed and that there was demand for this in the market?
So, we’ve actually built a few products before this kind of product. So, we had some lessons that we learned before that. We had a couple of previous product failures where we built products for months and months and months without any users, any feedback, any validation. We basically just built in our own zone, in the quiet, in the dark, and launched and got no feedback; no users and no customers.
So, this time around we decided to validate super early and validate before even building anything. So, we built a landing page and that was it and shared it on social media and in social communities like Women Make or (inaudible), a couple of Slack groups, and on Twitter as well.
I think at the time I didn’t even have that many followers, maybe like a few hundred on Twitter. But some of the community aspects, people helping, again, sharing our idea, within a couple of hours we had like 50 beta users. People that were like, “Yeah, this sounds awesome. We want to use your product.” And there was nothing – there wasn’t a product.
So, that really showed us that we were doing something right this time. We wanted people to say they needed it. And that’s like super important when you’re building anything. You need to make sure people actually want what you’re building, otherwise you’re just going to waste your own time.
So, then we had – about a week later, we had a product but really, really cut down core functionality product, just scanned a week’s worth of your emails, showed you the subscriptions, and had a little toggle to say, “I want to unsubscribe.” We shared that on Twitter again and in the communities. But with the people that were beta testing, they were the people that were allowed to use it.
They used it and it worked and they loved it. They were like, “Wow, this is so easy. I can’t believe you’ve unsubscribed me from 10 emails in 15 seconds.” That’s like validation, step two. So, this is like – the timeframe here is 10, 15 days between we’ve got this idea and now we’ve got 50 people who have already used it and said that it’s awesome.
Yeah, I really like the timeframe, the fact that you’re doing this so quickly. It seems like you’ve learned a lot of lessons from previous businesses that you’ve started or things that people have written, because you did a minimum viable product that you got out super quickly. You didn’t spend like nine months working on something and you’re telling everybody about it at every step of the way. How many projects have you worked on in the past to sort of learn the “right way” to do these things?
One of the biggest ones is a product called Release Page that we were actually working on before we left. So, about three years ago we left to go nomad. But I guess we left to travel for a year and while we were traveling, we were like, “Okay, we like this lifestyle. Maybe we can carry on with freelancing and try to build our own products to earn some money while we were on the road.”
That was nearly three years ago now. One of those products was, like I said, was Release Page and we built that with absolutely no feedback and we built it in the dark. No one really said they wanted to use it. And we kept trying to explain it to people when we met them, other nomads were like, “This is awesome, this is (inaudible) idea.”
One of the biggest red flags was that we couldn’t explain it in – not even an elevator pitch. We couldn’t even explain it in like a good 10-, 15-minute chat. They’re like, “Okay, so what does it do?” So that’s like – we should have really listened to the people saying, “Yeah, I mean that sounds cool, but I don’t really see why I’d use it.” And we’re just like, “Oh, you just don’t get it or we’ll be able to tell you where you need it” but only after spending a month on the landing page.
So that’s like so totally backwards. You should be able to be like, “Hey, I built this thing that lets you unsubscribe from emails.” And everyone was like, “Wow, that’s awesome. I love unsubscribing from emails. Well that sounds useful.”
That was one of the big things about Leave Me Alone is that everyone has this thing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be tech-focused or there’s no real – I guess like there’s not a niche for it. It’s just like everyone has emails. Everyone has too many emails and mailing lists and they want to unsubscribe from stuff.
So, you can tell your mom, your grandma, maybe – I mean it depends how tech savvy your grandma is. You can tell everyone about it and they’re like, “Yeah, definitely I know what unsubscribing from emails is.”
Yeah, that exact experience you had with your previous product is like one of the most common stories ever. It’s so hard when you’re a founder and you believe in a thing that you’re building and it just seems to make so much sense to you and you’ve invested so much time into coding it and creating it.
When people don’t give you good feedback or they kind of scrunch their eyes at you and they don’t really know what you’re talking about, just sort of dismiss that and be like “Oh, you’ll get it. It’s going to work anyway” because you’re in this sort of reality-distortion field of being optimistic as a founder.
Yeah, it’s really hard to look at yourself and look at your products and be objective about what you’re building and whether people need it or want it.
And it’s not just if people aren’t using it. It’s just – it can be like you have a thousand sign-ups but no one is converting to pay. Or you’ve got free trials and everyone is like, “This is awesome. Can I extend my free trial?” Again, not really validating that they want it enough to pay for it. And being able to recognize that it’s time to say, I don’t know, sunset a project – that’s really tough. But if you can do that, it’s going to make you better and more objective in the future at looking at what you’re doing and make it faster for you to move on and work on something else that actually might be successful.
At what point did you start attempting to charge people who were beta testing Leave Me Alone?
Immediately. As soon as it was off of our – we had staging environments, like a specific server just for the very first 50 people. And then after that, we put it on a live environment and it was payments. So, yeah, the people who were beta testing, they were makers and indie hackers so they probably weren’t going to pay anyway. They were just helping us iron out some of the technical issues.
But yeah, we were like this time we’re not going to say, “Oh, here, have a coupon. Please tell us how it goes.” And the price wasn’t high. We didn’t really think too hard about the price. We were just like, “Right, here’s a price, let’s just do it.” It was from like $3 to $8 depending on a timeframe that you wanted to set your inbox. And yeah, I mean $3 – it’s a coffee, right?
Yeah, it’s so little.
Yeah, and people paid for it and we got our first payment and that was amazing. And then actually some people in the community decided to really, really help us out. So, at the time we had a gifts kind of thing, a gift setup. You could buy scans or Leave Me Alone scans in bulk for your whole company or for your friends or family, and we did like a kind of Christmas theme around this. We’re like oh, “Secret Santa, give the gift of a clean inbox,” which was really cool.
We had a couple of friends who actually bought scans for their whole company at secret Santa. So, Steph Smith who I follow on Twitter and Huff now, met in person here in Bali – she bought like 25 of them for her team in Toptal and that was insane. People used them and that was ultimate validation, right, the ones willing to share your product with their whole team and saying, “This is awesome, go and use it.”
It’s such a cool marketing idea to like offer your product as a gift because people don’t really typically think of something like an email unsubscribe, give the gift of a clean inbox. It just stands out. It’s a really unique, fun gift to give. I wish I had known about it.
The other thing that’s cool is you charge right out of the gate. And even though it was only something like $3 to $8, your competition was big and established. Unroll.Me has been around for a long time and they’re free. They’re not charging anything. What gave you the confidence to be a new entrant into a space and charge more money than the incumbents?
I’m not sure if it was confidence or just that we were like, “If we don’t charge for this, then we can’t do it.” Because we needed to be able to at least have a little bit of money to be able to run the product.
So, there’s two aspects to it. The first thing is obviously we need a little bit of revenue to be able to run the service and infrastructure, Cloudflare, all those kinds of things, and they’re not a lot of money. Our expenses are all public. On our Open page it’s like $150 a month now.
But at the beginning, that’s a lot of money to be putting into something. And in our previous products, we were putting money into stuff that we weren’t using. We had development staging and production environments, so three different servers for something that we weren’t – people weren’t paying for, all these sorts of things.
So that’s aspect one which is kind of the – I guess it’s like the boring answer, but we needed some money to run the product.
The second thing is that that was, again – it was validation for the user for why or like security for the user to know that they were paying. So what we said we were going to do – not sell their data – was probably what we were actually going to do.
If it was like, “Hey, we’re this tiny little Indie-made product that also does what Unroll.Me does, here you go.” And they’re like, “Are we really going to give you access to our Gmail inboxes and let you scan all of our emails if you’re – you say you’re not going to sell it, but how do we know?” So, if they’re paying for it, then it’s like, “That’s how they’re making their money,” so I think that really helped.
Yeah, it’s such a good way to stand out, because if you had the same business model as Unroll.Me, basically charging users nothing and then just selling their data, then number one, it would take you forever to monetize. But also it wouldn’t differentiate you from Unroll.Me at all. There would be no reason for anybody to use your very new, very bare bones product over using the existing incumbent that’s basically the same.
Yes, I agree.
Let’s talk about some of this early feedback that you were getting because you had these successive waves of people coming in to use your app. You had people just looking at your landing page and you had the early beta testers and you had your first paid customers. What are some of the lessons that you learned by talking to all these customers early on and sort of bringing them on at different stages?
So, the biggest thing that we wanted by doing this iterative process was to get feedback really early and to mitigate any huge technical issues that could cause us really big problems down the line.
And that’s basically what beta users did for us. Beta testers – they’re really forgiving. They don’t mind if things break because they know they’re using an unfinished, unpublished version of the product. And they’re happy to help you and happy to sit there and refresh or keep trying to go through the same steps again because they’re – yeah, they know they’re helping you.
So opening up your product to beta testers, regardless of knowing that, is still scary. You’re like things are going to break and people are going to judge us and it’s going to be really hard. But they do break and they break really hard. And some of the lessons that we really took away from this is beta testing is absolutely, 100% something you need to do before you launch a product, or letting people use it that aren’t you because you’re not the user. You aren’t going to go through weird flows. You’re not going to try to do things that you hadn’t thought of. You can’t even try and anticipate what the user is going to try to do.
It’s like, “Oh, wow, why did you click that button to try and unsubscribe or why did you try and click there or” – you know, that’s really, really interesting and super important.
So this is about what, three months of work from November of last year through January 2019 when at the very end of January you launched version one, Product Hunt. Do you remember what you did to get ready for that particular launch?
Yes. We actually – we launched from a beach town in Peru. I just have to say if you’re a traveling nomad, do not go to South America. The internet there is not good. So, we had some problems in Bali so streaming was difficult and whatever, but in South America it’s super flaky.
So somehow we found one cafe that had WiFi and we just camped out there all day. We had three meals and sat there for like 10 hours. That was kind of crazy. But the build-up to that – again, we went straight back to what was working well for us. We did open – being open about everything. We were like, “We’re going to launch. Come and show your support in like a week or two.” We prepared all of our assets, did all the usual Product Hunt stuff.
And then thanks to the community and people that we were connected with, we had people from Product Hunt we could ask to hunt us which is really, really helpful. I know a lot of the rumors around Product Hunt and how it works and how getting featured works – I mean obviously, the chance of being featured and being more successful is increased if you have someone who works there or someone who has a big reputation in the community if they hunt your product.
So let’s talk about this whole process of you sharing and being open, because this has come up several times and it was something you were doing back in January. It’s something you’re still doing today. What’s the point of being open? What’s the point of sharing what you’re up to transparently? It seems like a lot of extra work but I’m a big advocate of it. I wonder what do you think the advantages are and how has it worked out for Leave Me Alone?
So I think there’s two or three really core points for this. The first point is that it’s helping us build our product and shaping it for what the users actually want.
So, from a Leave Me Alone perspective, it’s sharing everything about our decisions, asking people, “Hey, we’re charging this much. Do you think that’s right,” or “This is our color scheme or this is our logo,” really simple things, down to asking what other email accounts they might want to connect. “Do you have AOL accounts? Do you have Yahoo? Do you want to connect those?”
And when people say “yes” and they have feedback about it, that means that, once again, everything’s driven by validation and people saying yes, we want this rather than – as a developer, you can get really carried away with all these amazing features and nice little UI things and focus too much on stuff people don’t want and people aren’t going to use. So that’s number one, putting things in that people actually want.
And then the second thing is hugely around community. We’ve built a whole community around Leave Me Alone and around ourselves as nomads. We’re a couple that travel together like permanently and built this together and work on it the same. We both do the technical stuff. We’re both developers. So, our story and our whole thing – I guess our personal brand. But everything we’re doing people are really invested and they want to see us succeed. And they love seeing people behind a product. They want the journey.
So, something that I really wanted when I was building a couple of years ago, some of the failed products, was following people like Josh Pigford from BareMetrics, founder of Gumroad, Sahil – those two people and I’m sure plenty of others, sharing everything, the ups and the downs, which is a thing I’ll continue talking about failure, but the ups and the downs and the journey to get to this success that people only see, that’s so important to know that you’re not just alone in this whole little failure bubble and you’re not doing very well. Like other people had to go through all this, too.
Yeah, it’s so easy as a developer to sort of look at this whole world of building companies and apps as like a mechanical thing with inputs and outputs and you just code it and it works.
But at the end of the day, you’re dealing with people, and people really like connecting to each other. They like knowing each other’s stories. And people are a lot more likely to buy what you’re selling, they’re a lot more likely to support you when you launch, if they actually know your story and they’ve been following it.
So, the fact that I can scroll through your product page or the fact that I can see you in the comments on Product Hunt or follow you on Twitter and see that you’re posting about what’s going on behind the scenes and you’re a digital nomad is what makes me way more likely to support you.
I think that’s also – it is definitely a really big positive and it has worked for us so far. But some people have other views on that and think that it could be a negative because if you’re sharing your revenue – if your revenue is $0 or $500 a month, there’s a lot of people or a lot of companies maybe that won’t want to use it because it doesn’t seem like a big product or it’s not made by a big company, so maybe we’ll go away soon or maybe we’re too small for them to really invest or roll out in that whole company. You have to be careful.
Yeah, it’s a concern. But I also think that for the most part if you’re making $500 a month, your first customers probably shouldn’t be Microsoft? It probably shouldn’t be some huge faceless organization. You probably are better served by dealing with people who are interested in reading your story. So, I really like the way that you’ve done it.
Thank you. Yes, I agree with that 100% because you shouldn’t be selling to enterprise as an indie founder. Enterprise being Microsoft or whatever. You can sell to SMB’s – small and medium businesses – and other teams and people that are doing the same sort of things, same sort of scale. But trying to go straight up there, $500 a month, “Hey, Microsoft, do you want to use my thing,” that’s not going to work.
So you’ve had some other events that have helped you grow besides just sharing publicly and besides launching on Product Hunt. One of the posts on your timeline – and you mentioned this earlier – is that you were featured on Lifehacker. I think this was last week this happened?
Yes, it did. That was crazy. So, we launched on Product Hunt yesterday and we were actually supposed to launch a week ago. But because of some terrible internet connection stuff in Bali, we had to postpone it. And thankfully we did, because we would have launched on Tuesday last week which is when the Lifehacker article came out. The server would definitely have set on fire. So that was kind of a good thing, I guess.
But yeah, Lifehacker, that just kind of happened out of nowhere. We had a newsletter that recommended us. They have 28,000 subscribers, which is huge and it was like personal recommendations, like a weekly newsletter. And the irony of a newsletter recommending a newsletter on a subscribing tool is not lost on us. We get that that’s like the newsletters are helping us out.
Yeah, you posted your stats about it. You said you got almost 15,000 article views, 421 people visited your website. You did almost $1,000 in revenue that month and hit $8,000 in total revenue. You made 29 sales from the article. So that was such a huge boost for you.
How did you get this to happen? How did you get in the newsletter that recommended you, and what kinds of things do you think you were doing that led to that?
Honestly, I don’t know where it came from. We only kind of promote our products on Twitter. I say “promote.” We only share Leave Me Alone on Twitter, a little bit of Facebook, maybe one or two articles on Linked In. So, I think someone used it. It was someone who bought a package of credits the day before. He put it on Lifehacker or maybe he saw it in the newsletter or maybe there’s some journalist newsletter or like a tip or something. But yeah, we didn’t do anything. We’ve been trying to reach out to publications for a little while without much success, and then this happens, so total luck.
Well it’s good luck. At least it’s the good kind of luck.
You’re building a platform that sort of relies on other people’s platforms. So, you’re reliant on Gmail’s API and various other APIs, and you’ve got what’s known as platform risk where at any point in time, Gmail can make you obsolete with a new feature or they can suddenly decide to subject you to a $15,000 audit to make sure you’re not doing anything sketchy. How do you deal with that as a founder? Gecause I’ve also built apps on email and it was very anxiety-inducing.
Yeah, so we – obviously a lot of products are built on other products. You can’t always get around that and you get a lot of benefits from this. You would assume that building on the Gmail API would be a pretty good bet because it’s a really big product. It’s Google. And I know they’re well known for shutting down products but I really hope they’re not going to shut down --
Gmail’s not going anywhere.
Well, you know, Google has done some crazy things, but let’s just assume Gmail’s not going anywhere.
But yeah, they hit us with their audit. They’re like $15,000 to $75,000 to do the independent audit based on – and it’s every year. So, we had to look really hard at whether or not we could afford to do it, whether or not we could basically put in, you know, a lot of revenue or all of our revenue into this one platform.
But it’s not all doom and gloom because there’s ways around – well, we’ve got some ideas on how we can continue to support Gmail without using their API and we’ve got other providers. So it’s not just Gmail that’s a thing. I mean Gmail is on my inbox. Most of the accounts that connected are Google. But you don’t need the Gmail API verification if you’re doing G Suite, so (ph) we can continue to support teams and businesses who might want to use it. Then we’ve got Outlook and (inaudible) Microsoft accounts and anything else you can think of using IMAP, so Yahoo! and AOL and iCloud and all of those things.
So, we’ve got some ideas and some plans. The deadline’s December, the end of this year. And I know a lot of people who have been really stung by this. I understand why they’re doing it, but it kind of sucks that the price doesn’t scale with your revenue or the size of your business. It’s kind of like, “Hey, independent person trying to build something cool on my platform. Pay $30,000 or whatever it is – $15,000 to $75,000.”
Yeah, it’s pretty tough building on another platform and sometimes it’s just tough being an indie hacker running a smaller business, because you encounter these rules or even some of these regulations and laws passed by governments that target all businesses. But it’s kind of like, “Hold on, not every business is the same size. This thing that Google can afford to pay for maybe I can’t as an Indie Hacker.” So that can be frustrating.
On the flip side, what are you most excited about with Leave Me Alone? What do you like about running a business like this?
The fact that I’m building something that people love and they tell us every day. We get messages from people like, “Oh, my God, this is amazing. How have I not found this before” or “this has changed my life.”
And we started having Tweets right from the beginning of people saying, “This is awesome, this is so cool. James and Danielle have built something. They are super cool founders. They always reply to the feedback. I love everything that they’re doing.”
We put them on a wall of love, taking inspiration from BareMetrics, having a wall of love of Tweets, and now it’s a wall of love of actual testimonials, people are willing to spend time to tell us how awesome it is.
And it just feels really good to be able to help people, have someone saying that we’ve changed something, given them some more time in their life or more time to spend with family. They spend an hour less on their phone in the morning because they’ve unsubscribed from all this crap they didn’t need. That feels – yeah, that’s all we really wanted. The money helps pay the bills. But the fact that you’re working on something that actually makes a difference and actually helps people, that’s it for us, or for me.
Yeah, honestly, I’m super bad at email. I deliberately check my email only once or twice a week because otherwise I’ll spend so much time on it, and I spent two hours today cleaning out my email box and at least 20, 30 minutes of that was just unsubscribing from stuff. So, I need your service.
I know the tool.
Yeah, exactly, I know exactly what I’ll be signing up for.
Danielle, what would your advice be for early stage founders who are sort of in the same position as you, or maybe even earlier, where they haven’t quite started yet, and they’re trying to think about whether or not they should start something? What would you say to them?
I have two really big bits of advice around – yeah, anyone from who hasn’t started who is early stage or even people who are still early and seeing some success: It’s okay to fail and it’s okay to admit that you failed or to pivot from something unexpected happening and changing what your app does or how you’re approaching a situation based on feedback or other situations.
Don’t let that put you off getting started or building something in the first place and don’t let that put you off carrying on building or trying to be a founder. Don’t let the failure get on top of you. It will help you be a better entrepreneur if you learn from the mistakes. Failure is really good but only if you learn.
So, a lot of people have a lot of failures and they don’t talk about them. But talking about failure and where things went wrong is so, so important. Like I said from other founders like BareMetrics and Gumroad sharing where things went wrong as well as where things went right, it’s really important to see.
And I think as a community, we don’t talk about failure enough. We get so many success stories and positive milestones, positive articles, things that people can just see this product growing and growing and growing, it means that you’re getting sort of – it’s biased. And this Instagram kind of view of the world where every single day there’s success and happiness. But it’s not always like that, and it’s so important to share both the good things and the bad things. So, I think that’s number one.
And then number two is that impostor syndrome is so incredibly real. I have suffered from it my whole professional life, probably even before that. Two years ago, I would have been listening to this podcast, I never would have imagined how I would even get on it or do something that other indie hackers would be interested in or that you would reach out and say, “I want to learn stuff from you.”
And then one year ago, I turned down podcast requests because I was too terrified to do them. And now, somehow, I’m sitting here giving other people advice and it feels so surreal.
But I finally feel like I have some advice and some experience to share. And something that’s really helped me in that kind of impostor syndrome journey – it comes and goes – but is documenting my journey. It’s so easy to see where you are now and not see where you were two years ago and to say, “Oh, I’m really scared of doing this podcast.”
I was nervous. I don’t know everything now but I was nervous. And it’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m struggling with all this stuff now and I’m failing at all this stuff, and my product is doing x amount a month, a year, but that’s not – a month or a year – and it’s not good enough. But if you look at where you were two years ago, that’s really a good comparison and a good way of measuring what you’ve achieved and how you got there.
If you can’t do that publicly, do it privately. Write it down. Blog for yourself or just do some bullet points somewhere and say – yeah, like I just said, two years ago, I would never have wanted to go on a podcast and now I was like yeah, “Definitely, that sounds awesome.” So, to recognize that and recognize the achievement and where I’ve come, that’s really, really important.
I love that advice. It’s so true that you really only pay attention to how you felt a couple weeks ago or a couple days ago. So much change can happen over the period of a couple of years that you just don’t appreciate unless you do exactly what you’re saying and write it down and make it a point to revisit it.
I loved your first piece of advice, too, which is that admit to your failures and recognize them and share them because it’s an honest thing to do and also you learn a lot from your failures if you’re really deliberate about learning from them. I think a lot of your story and why you’re able to do so many things right early on with Leave Me Alone is because you had done them wrong in the past. And you didn’t just sort of brush it off and ignore it but you actually focused on it and asked yourself why it went wrong and of course corrected.
So, Danielle, thank you so much for coming on the show and giving us your advice. Can you let listeners know where they can go to find out more about Leave Me Alone and follow your story?
I can. Thank you so much for having me. So, you can find me on Twitter. It’s @dinkydani21. You’ve got Leave Me Alone – it’s leavemealone.app, nice and easy. And then you can also see some of other stuff and some of our remote journey nomad stuff at squarecat.io and the blogs and links to some more stuff around that.
Alright, thanks so much, Danielle.
Thank you so much for having me.
Quick note for listeners. If you’re interested in coming onto the podcast like Danielle to have a quick chat with me, go to IndieHackers.com/Milestones and post a milestone about what you’re working on. It can be pretty much anything. People posted about launching or finding their first customers. They posted about growing their mailing lists or hitting 1,000 followers on Twitter. They’ve posted about getting to $100 or a $1,000 or even $100,000 a month in revenue. So, the sky is the limit. Whatever it is you’re proud of, come celebrate it on IndieHackers.com/Milestones and other indie hackers will help you celebrate.
We love supporting each other and encouraging each other when we hit these milestones. And what I do at the end of every week is I look at the top milestones posted, and I reach out to the people who posted them 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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