Greg Rog (@greg_rog) is one of the few indie hackers I know who's actually managed to build a passive income business. His website, LearnUX.io, makes over $10k per month, yet he spends less than a day each month updating the content and answering questions. His secret? A combination of hard work over a sustained period of time, obsessive focus on making a 10x better product, and embracing no-code tools to support automation despite knowing how to code himself. In this episode, Greg walks me through his story, his successes, and his failures, and we discuss why teaching what you know is an underrated path that anyone can embrace.
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 in 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 Greg Rog, the founder of a website called Learn UX. Greg, welcome to the show.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
We got coffee when you were in San Francisco a few months back. I believe at the time you told me that Learn UX was averaging over $10,000.00 a month in revenue and you were only working on it basically one day a month. Is that true?
That’s partly true. It’s nice to talk about this and think about this, this way. This is how it works right now. I basically spend one day improving Learn UX, recording new tutorials, basically updating the content that I have on the site and also answering some questions. The things that are not automated I have to answer myself. Beforehand I had to spend a lot of time creating the content so I probably spent about a thousand hours to create the content and create the website and put it live. And from there I made everything so that it’s running on autopilot and I don’t have to work that much on this project anymore.
Super cool. So that’s the closest thing to passive income you can get to. A day a month is not that much to keep it maintained and keep it up to date. Even a thousand hours, that’s about 6 months of working 40 hours a week, which is a pretty reasonable time frame to create something that can make you 10 grand a month on auto-pilot. I want to dive into how you build a business that’s so passive. I rarely talk to someone who has done that. But first let’s talk about what it is, exactly. So Learn UX.io is the website. UX stands for User Experience Design. I think pretty much everyone knows what a user interface is but not everyone knows what user experience is so in your words, what’s the difference between UI and UX?
I’m going to explain it with a short story. Imagine you have an app and UI is User Interface so it’s everything that you can see. It’s the colors, the typography, basically how it works. UX is broader so if I give you this app and after five minutes, I ask you, “Okay, how was it?” You give me an answer. That’s basically UX. That’s how you feel about the app. That’s the overall experience. You might say that UI is a subset of UX. UX is broader and UI is just the interface, the colors, typography and stuff like this.
UX is the overall experience and your website is literally teaching people at how to get better at User Experience Design through videos that you record yourself.
That’s basically it. That’s a library of high-quality courses that I recorded myself. The courses cover UI Design tools and also some topics from UX. So you have tools like Sketch and Framer and Principle, LOB Experience Design so it’s LOB XD. The difference between Learn UX and other resources, I really focus to bring real world examples and some beautiful examples and some practical approach to UI design. This was the idea that came naturally. This is a mix of what I really love doing, UI design and education, which I have been doing for many years now. I started by defining the program so I basically thought that there is a lack of materials for professionals but also for people who are willing to be professionals as UI/UX designers. There’s a lack of knowledge in terms of the newest tools. There’s a lot of tools that are brand new and they have to constantly update their knowledge. On the other hand there weren’t a lot of materials that were great quality and logically connected, specific, well-paced, engaging, and good quality. So I spent a lot of time creating the content, preparing the content. That was the main part from this thousand hours. Then it took me a long while to record them. It was one of the toughest things in my life to record all those courses. I feel this was really the advantage of this project and why it went so well. I really put the content first and the quality of the content really matters here.
I talked to Vlad Magdalin, the founder of Webflow recently, and he was telling me how he was inspired by this single YouTube video of a guy named Bret Victor giving a talk about programming and design environments. That launched his entire career. I think about my journey as an Indie Hacker and I was inspired in 2008 by a video of David Hunter Mayer Hanson giving a talk at Y Combinator Startup School. He was yelling at all these startup founders saying, “Hey, you don’t have to raise money. You can just build something that generates revenue on the internet and do it yourself.” Is there anything like that that inspired you? Is there any talk, person, or idea that got you started on this course?
To be honest, I don’t think there was a single thing for me. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve been seeing some patterns. I also saw some leverage that I have because I used to record courses for years now. I’ve been designing UIs and I’ve been searching materials for myself, basically. There was no one inspiration I got but I really feel that this was pretty natural. Apart from this, talking about YouTube videos and getting inspiration from there, there was a thing that was really unique about Learn UX because I started a YouTube channel with Learn UX with four videos. After a month I got 5 or 6 subscriptions from those videos alone. One of them hit 100,000 views, I guess. I think that this content-first approach is pretty prominent on Learn UX. This is something really valuable and I made a huge effort to create 10X better content and it paid off. With the videos on YouTube, you don’t have to create hundreds of them, you just need to create four and you can get a really big audience from there, in my case I believe over 10,000 subscriptions on this channel.
What was your plan when you went into creating these videos? Were you like, “Hey, I’m going to make these videos and if they work out and do really well I’m going to build an entire website full of courses and make money off of that and help people learn”? Or were you doing it for some other reason?
I already had a plan. I already knew that I’m going to create this website with those courses. I did the research before. I knew that people are paying attention to the new tools and there is lack of material like this. So I already knew that I would do it in some way. But I started with some easy steps that would validate the idea. I first put some Medium articles. I recorded those videos and then I combined them and mixed Medium articles with YouTube content, which was like recycling this content. It went pretty successful on Medium. There’s a little tip there because you cannot put a pixel inside your Medium articles but if you embed a YouTube Video you can then remarket those people because you can create a Google Ad that will remarket those people who watch your video. That’s how you can embed the video inside of Medium article and then reach out to those people. What I tried to do initially is I started recording but in the same time I tried to evaluate the idea that I had and I tried to validate it as much as possible before I put a lot of effort into creating all the content.
Would you say the idea you had back then is different than what you ended up with? Or did all the evidence and validation and tests you ran just confirm your first shot at what the idea would look like?
What I managed to do with the validation techniques is getting out to an audience and gathering some audience from there, and not really validating the idea, which didn’t change that much. I thought someone would give me advice or hints on what they want, what has to be done. But no one was doing that. If you ask people what they want, they rarely tell you. This is also true. You have to ask better questions or just observe what they do and how they behave and then decide what they want. I stuck to my plan and I think the side effect of putting all those materials out was that I quickly built some subscribers. I always asked them for an email and I asked them to subscribe to – on Medium you can’t ask for email, they can’t leave an email but you can embed a form or something like this. There were people pretty excited about what I do already. It wasn’t like I launched something from day one. I tried to reach the audience. I tried to communicate a bit earlier.
You weren’t really validating if this is the right product to build or what kind of features it should have, rather you were validating, “Are people excited about this?” Are the people you’re writing for, does your message resonate with them? Do they exist in the numbers you need for this to be successful and are they going to subscribe and watch your videos?
Yes, you might say that. My initial idea of validating it and sending out some forms, it didn’t really work. It was more like telling people, “Look, here I am.” I’m going to check whether this is interesting enough to reach a big audience and, yeah, that was it.
I’ve been talking to indie hackers for years now. I go to a lot of meetups and I ask people who haven’t gotten started yet, “Why haven’t you started?” A lot of people are super excited and energized by this idea that they can create their own online business and it can start off as a side project and make enough money to be their own boss and be a free, sovereign individual. But then they still don’t get started. Far and away the number one reason people don’t get started is they don’t know what to work on. “I don’t have any creative ideas,” and they’re waiting for inspiration to strike. And here you are, you’ve been working in UI/UX design for a while and you look out and say, “Hey, I want to create a resource to help people learn how to do this thing.” One could argue people already know how to do this thing. There’s already millions of people doing UI design. There’s already tons of resources for people to learn. Why did you consider in the first place this would be a viable idea? More broadly, how can people look out on the world and see ideas that are right in front of them?
It’s difficult to define what to work on if you don’t have any idea. I believe that all of my good projects began from my own urge to fill some blanks in the market by deeply understanding the field that I’m working with. It’s like solving your own problem, except that by teaching people how to solve it, it might not be your problem anymore because you already know it. That’s pretty much all of my projects, that’s what I try to do. I try to pass the knowledge that’s already helped me. I think the best idea for the project is basically that you know that it’s effective and you don’t have to research for ideas on what to do. The thing you said about not launching anything, I agree it’s about just putting something out there. But I am a strong advocate of not rushing that much. When you’re at speed, everything is blurry outside. It’s really hard to concentrate. If you slow down and focus on your thing and you discover the flow, then I think you can end up with a really interesting product. It’s always best to create a product that’s an answer for your problem, that solved your problem. Obviously, everyone will say that. Also, to make the product for people who you like working with. I love UI/UX designers. We hang out. We go to the conference together and we can talk for hours. So that’s the audience I want to talk to with my product. I don’t want to go for a product that’s trendy because some think there’s money in it and then you end up with people who use it who you don’t really care about and you don’t really want to talk to them. In terms of the speed, I think there’s more to it. Today’s start up culture is all about pushing it quick. YC Startup School started again and it aims for, I think at four weeks from idea to validation. So four weeks of work and then you launch. This is the market first approach, you might say. If there’s an exceptional market, even the crappy products or idea will stick and then as a VC you can put a lot of money in it and a lot of resources. It might just play well but that model is basically meant to serve VCs and I don't know how many companies there are now for startup school but probably 30 or 40 thousand companies so they don’t really need a lot to succeed. But for you being one of them, the odds might be one to ten thousand and I don’t really know a better definition of luck than this. On the opposite side you have this product first approach where you put a lot of effort in your product and the development of your product and you polish it first. Then you launch it when it’s ready. You did the homework first, for example, solving your problem, talking to potential clients, delivering value, et cetera. You don’t really need to heed this exceptional market to be successful, right? Again, what’s common knowledge in the startup world I bet that this market is everything. It’s really for exceptional markets and it’s not really for indie hackers who will suffice with smaller markets but niche enough to not be crashed by huge players and probably survive this way. I really think that was the case for Learn UX. I pretty much did it because I took this product-first approach. It can be pretty dangerous if you think too much, if you procrastinate, if you put a lot of work and then something ends up not really being successful. To be honest, I’ve seen a lot more companies and you can tell me that, probably. I think I’m seen a lot more people succeed with this product-first approach, putting a lot of work in the product and then the ones that just put something out to the world, like a quick MVP and then try to polish it and work on it. You’ve had a lot of guests on your podcasts. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that.
You wrote a really good blog post or article on Indie Hackers years ago, I think just a couple of months after you launched Learn UX. You were talking about the process you went through to get the product built and how you validated the idea in every step along the way. It was fascinating because you went super in-depth about everything you learned. I think what struck me is how meticulous you were at the strategy and planning thing. You really weren’t just throwing spaghetti and a wall and seeing what stuck. You were being very thoughtful about what you were doing and why you were doing it and that didn’t mean that everything necessarily worked out but it did mean that you were aware of why things could work out. You weren’t just crossing your fingers and hoping you’d get lucky. When I interview people and talk to them about their business ideas I see the whole gamut. I talk to lots of people who didn’t put that much thought into what they were doing and they kind of got lucky because the things they didn’t think about just worked out well. I think I talked to fewer people who were thoughtful about things and who planned it all out. But I would guess if you looked at the denominator, which is really hard to see, out of all the people who succeeded because they got kind of lucky, how many people tried that approach? I don't know how many people are trying. It might be much higher than the number of people who are trying to be strategic. Even though you might see more people who get lucky, your success ratio might be higher for the people who are planning and really trying to think things through. It’s hard to say. I’m like you. I’m more of a meticulous planner. I don't want to leave things to luck. I want to make sure the product is good and I want to understand who my market is and I want to understand what the distribution channels are and what is going to work and try to, as best I can, come up with all three of those things together and figure out if it makes sense, and if there’s any holes in there, figure out why it won’t work.
I think it’s a safe bet, right? It’s rarely that it’s one or two or three out of 30,000 companies that the hockey stick effect or product market fits right away. It’s safer to prepare yourself and learn more about what you can do, when you can launch. Obviously, the more you do, the more products you launch, you get this intuition. I think that I am slowly getting this intuition. But, also you realize later that they appear random. There’s this book, it’s called “Black Swan”.
Yes, by Nassim Taleb.
Yes, so one of the takeaways is that almost all of the predictions fail and big things that can change history, those great things, can happen as a result of a mixture of linked events but often unexpected events. Like the butterfly effect, right? If you take small steps you can often reverse engineer those events and drag them down to a minor cause like connecting this flapping wings of a butterfly to a hurricane in China being caused in New Mexico. The thing is it only works backwards. You mentioned my post on Medium. This is what I do. I try to give all the knowledge of my learnings, I have to put it out. If I learn something, if I get something valuable, I have to put it out. I have to record a course, create a tutorial. I have to write a Medium post. I go meticulous. But I’m not saying that everything I did there and everything I put in the post is good for today. This might be sad but you can’t really establish a framework for future success from past learnings. So predicting a catastrophe every time you see a butterfly is useless. The same thing applies to all those things you read about how to go from $10,000 to $100,000. It’s really tough to give good advice. I figured out that the best advice might be the one that’s a case study of something, pretty technical. For example, I put this and this amount of money for Reddit or Quora advertising. I put the same copy that I put out there for an ad and then I can say that from this I got that many people signing up, that many people paying. This is something that might teach us something but it’s really difficult to give some great advice, as you know.
Yes, you don’t know how advice is going to work out in the future for other people who are not you in the exact situation that you were in when you did this thing. Even when you look back on why your particular project succeeded, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to correctly analyze why it succeeded. I think about the path to Indie Hackers all the time. Sometimes I’ll tell people, “Oh, I did this thing. I did that thing.” But who knows if I didn’t do that thing if it still would have worked out? Maybe it would have. It’s really hard to say. In your particular case, I think what’s interesting and consistent across all the different projects you work on is that you're really an educator. Like you said, if you learn something you have this burning desire to tell other people what you learned and how you did it. Education is such a powerful force in the world. If you’re driven to teach other people, you’re probably going to be successful because people love learning. People love figuring how they can improve their lives and their careers and their relationships, and they’re obviously willing to pay a lot of money to learn things, otherwise courses and colleges would be out of business. The fact that you have that bent, maybe if you’re wrong about everything else, all your strategies and tactics didn’t make sense or were completely in the wrong direction, the fact that you’ve glommed onto this desire to teach other people might be enough to swamp all the other factors and overcome them.
Yeah, and I always tell people, because sometimes I try to pass some knowledge. I try to teach something that I’ve just learned and had some success with. It’s powerful, but people are not really encouraged to do this because they think they’re not experts in the field. They didn’t spend years on the topic, and they don’t find themselves good teachers in the subject. They are intimidated. So I don't think this is the case. I pretty much work with a hundred others here in our studios in Poland. I’ve worked with experienced ones, with inexperienced ones, and I often see that people are really experienced in the field. They probably have some difficulties transferring them over. They don’t see this line between basics and advanced stuff. Everything is easy for them. I think that it’s better to teach what you’ve already learned, not even being an expert on it, if you know that it brought some effect. For example, you want to teach people how to write code. I think that even if you don’t know the next framework, if you don’t know React but you are a software engineer, you are a frontend developer and you’re just learning React, you are in a great position to teach this technology because you know all the common problems that people face when they learn. Obviously, you can have a lot of experience and still be an exceptional teacher, but it shouldn’t intimidate you to start teaching others that you don’t really have that much experience. I keep saying to people, and I think that everyone can teach something, has something to teach. This is a great way to start your online business or just personal niche the internet. Now you have so many different opportunities to do that.
So in other words, if you’re one of these procrastinating indie hackers who doesn’t have an idea, you can just teach something. You no longer have an excuse. Figure out what you want to learn, or something that you’re already good at, and figure out a way to teach other people. What’s great about teaching is there’s so many different places where you can teach. You can teach people over an email newsletter. You can teach people through YouTube videos or setting up your own website like Greg did with his courses. You can teach people over Twitter. You can teach people in person. No matter how many other schools or educational websites or products exist, there’s always some way where you can teach people through a new channel using your own style and your own experiences and probably find some people who are willing to pay to learn. I think that’s my favorite way for people to get started with their very first business.
Yeah, that’s it. That’s a great way to start. Also, you can say that there are many courses on the topic that\t you want to cover, but still it’s a good thing to put it out, put the content out. This is because people like to learn from different people who are similar to them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have another course on React or Angular or whatever, because someone will like your teaching style or yourself as a teacher. There are a lot of people out there who might choose you as a teacher for whatever reason.
So that’s always a great way to start.
I was just in South Africa earlier this year, and it opened my eyes to the fact of the stat that something like four billion people still aren’t even online yet. The number of people who are coming online every day, who are hungry to learn things and improve their skills, is massive. Like you said, they want teachers and they want things that resonate with them. If you could target a course or something that you’re teaching to these new people or any specific niche of people, they’re going to choose you over all the existing stuff cause it resonates with them.
I would also say that, and I have experience in that. I also, for the past 10 years, I’ve been recording course in Polish. I run a big website here with video courses on different topics. It’s great to start from the local market as well. This might be an interesting thing. Running a project locally may sound weird, but initially for me, for example I never thought of running a business in English. That might be because I didn’t know English so well when I started. I started early. It was pre-YouTube. I was recording things. Partly it was culturally. Maybe I got it from home, from my parents. But I tried to give back to the community that shaped me in Poland and gave me all the skills that I have. I learned programming. I learned design through the help of those people. Doing things locally might be beneficial. There are a few reasons, but the one I find really important is how rewarding it can be. There have been many people I’ve met during the events and conferences who benefited from my work. Sometimes it somehow influenced their life in a positive way, or they found a new job or they opened their own business. It gave me a huge drive. If I started in English, I’d probably only see comments. It’s not the same. But I met those people. I can tell you a story. There’s a story of a guy. He retired as a fireman. He had some time to kill so he started to learn technology. At that time, it was pretty early, back in 2005, ’06 probably because it was pre-iPhone. I’d been a teenager and I recorded a course on the groundbreaking technology which was Flashlight. I’m pretty old now, I realize.
Yeah. Flashlight was technology that would enable you to build apps for mobile phones. It was a lighter version of Flashfire that worked for Nokias, old phones before iPhone. So I spent a few months developing a course. It was the most exciting time of my life. I said, “Mobile apps, this is the next great thing.” But I put it online and just a few people enrolled into the course, including the fireman. But this was pretty much of a disaster. I spent a lot of time on this and no one really cared. So I was devastated, you might say. But ten years later, I met the same fireman. I didn’t know him. He recognized me. It was one of the best offices in Warsaw where I met him. He recognized me. He ran towards me and he hugged me. He explained that he purchased this course. He explained how the course I made inspired him to start the company, and now he runs one of the biggest desk shops (ph) with mobile apps in Poland. Putting something on the internet is like sending a message in a bottle. Cross the ocean and lots of those bottles will drown or end up being unseen, but sometimes someone will see it and return the message. I bet it’s true also for Indie Hackers. There are hundreds of people who can give you similar stories with Indie Hackers, and I think you should be really proud of it.
I like the point about doing things locally. This is a local fireman who you ran into in an office in Poland. With Indie Hackers, it’s not a very local project. I did not make it for other people in San Francisco, but when I go to other parts of the world I meet all sorts of indie hackers working on their own projects. There’s nothing that can replace the feeling of meeting somebody in person who’s seen what you’ve done online. I wonder how much having that experience has motivated you to do what you’re doing now, with Learn UX and with your other projects. What is it that gets you out of bed to work on these projects, and how much of that is a component of helping other people and how much of it is a component of heling yourself and improving your own life?
That’s a valid question. I thought about it a lot the other day. I think that it gave me a huge drive to pursue what I do. Stories of people, what they say when they meet me, how it influenced their path. Obviously I’m not that important. They could have learned from YouTube, or you can learn anything anywhere, but the stories that I hear, I think it’s the biggest drive. I’ve never cared more about anything. Making it local is a good idea for multiple reasons, but to make it straight, right now I probably wouldn’t start it in Polish. I’d probably go global first. I’d do English. But if you are, for example, creating content, you can always localize it to your mother language and you can simultaneously create an English version into your language version. The language is important. Recently I’ve been searching for a Chinese nanny for my two year old son. There’s a huge study on how certain language can affect thinking and acting. For example, Chinese is a tonal language. It means that you can say one syllable and it can mean different things depending on how you intonate it. It’s proven that it develops the hearing, music skills and things like that, and that’s one example. But once in a while I surveyed a large part of my audience in Poland who spoke good English, and they clearly stated that they’d still prefer a course in Polish. So maybe as an indie founder abroad, you also have some edge over those big companies, like American companies. Those people don’t know your language. They will probably never localize their product as good as you can. So this is a great advantage. You have to think of different languages different ways of thinking. That’s another story. I’m a lawyer. I finished law in Warsaw. I was translating contracts, and the contract that has four pages in Polish usually has one page in English. It’s very different how you state sentences, how you explain things, and how you understand things. If you take Chinese, for example, this is a completely different language and completely different structures that you might use. So I think that there’s a huge advantage in local markets. Companies that you might want to compete with, big companies with online video courses like Skillshare or Lynda or Udemy is doing this locally. But they won’t take as much effort and they probably won’t be as successful as I am on my local market.
This reminds me of what you were saying earlier, which is you don’t want to be opportunistic about ideas. You want to do things that resonate with your personality, with what makes you feel good. But at the same time, there’s so many opportunities. You start thinking this way and you’re like, “Well what about this language? What about that language?” But everybody listening has something that makes them unique. They have something that they really care about, something they’re passionate about, and it’s almost always the case that you can start a business that has some of your own personality and care in it. With me for Indie Hackers, for example, I live in San Francisco. Everyone around me is obsessed with startups. I just happen to be the one person I knew who didn’t really care about raising venture capital. I just cared about generating revenue. That was the spin that I put on helping people start startups. For you, there are probably lots of people who are helping people learn UX, but for you, you’re in Poland and you really care about this local feel. So you started courses and videos in Polish, helping people around you. I would encourage anyone listening to think about what makes them unique. Don’t run away from that. Inject that into your business and do something that you’re authentically passionate about, because it’s going to be a slog. I know with Learn UX, we’re going to get into it, but your first early days making these videos weren’t exactly the most fun thing that you’d ever done. Now you can rest on your laurels and say, okay, I’ll work one day a month. But in the beginning, it was a huge slog, and if you were doing something you didn’t care at all about, I struggle to image that you would have gotten through it.
Now if someone tells you that if you do what you like you never work a day in your life, it’s a lie. I love creating content. I love putting it out there. I love high-quality content. But I hated it in the studio. It took three months, and I was repeating myself over and over again. It was frustrating. My English was so bad and I had to repeat and I had to re-record every time, and I really hated it. And then I hated it when I had to fix all the marketing stuff and then sales and probably deal with some paperwork and set up a company and accountants and things like this. Man, I hated it. So this is the outcome. I love the outcome. I am grateful for the outcome and what I feel when I finally see it live. But the process, sometimes it’s really painful and you have to account for that. It’s not the most beautiful thing. The other thing I try to do is, I try to automate all of the boring stuff. That’s why I try to write some pieces of software that will help me run this seamlessly, especially the boring parts.
How do you get through this process of working for months, doing something that ostensibly you love but in reality the actual nitty gritty of it is just boring and frustrating. You don’t have any customers yet and you’re not getting paid. What drove you to keep going despite those months of just drudge work?
I had to finish. I don’t like to give up. I don’t really like to give up and I really pursued this idea because I believe in the idea. So I knew that when it’s painful, because I did it in parts, I knew that if it’s painful, the results might be really good. If it goes too easy, sometimes it’s just pure luck. But oftentimes you will fail. So I believe in hard work. You can get lucky on the way. That’s fine. But I think that the safe bet is just work it out, blood, sweat, tears. Eventually you come up with a good product. And then trust in your guts and follow it. Just be systematic. Just don’t give up at the beginning, because it might be hard at the beginning. But ultimately, it will pay off.
That’s a good point, that if you don’t want to rely on luck, you really need to put effort into what you’re doing. If you want people to talk about it, to share it with their friends, to tweet it, to retweet it, to be excited about what you're doing, you also need to put some hard work into it. I think that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work hundreds of hours per week or anything crazy. You can work a totally normal schedule and just focus. Ruthlessly prioritize. Cut out all the other stuff that’s not really core to what you’re working on, and make sure you’re focusing all your attention on the main thing so you can work hard enough on that to do a really good job. That’s what you did with Learn UX. You spent three months putting together these videos and making them the best that they could possibly be. Even the UX of your website, you’re teaching people UX and so you figured you needed to have good UX yourself, so it’s a beautifully designed website that you obviously put a lot of time and care into. Somebody’s who not working hard is not going to be able to compete with that, and somebody who’s not focused, who’s doing a million different things, is also not going to be able to compete with that.
Yeah, that’s another thing. This is one of the experiments I run on Learn UX, because there were many of them. But I decided to make the website itself a bit unique. I spent some extra time on layout and most of those learning sites, they have some simple landing page. They’re all the same. They give you some credits about the author. They give you some information about the course, and that’s it. They are really the same. The one I created was different. I knew that UI and UX people care about details like this. They are also searching for an inspiration on the website, such Dribbble, such as AdWords (ph), you know, the DFWA. I thought that would be really cool if I sign up for some contests, like CSS design awards. I received a few awards, and it gave me the exposition to UI and UX designers and some high-quality links as well. So I got more hits from single websites like Awards or CSS design awards than from Product Hunt, which I think was first five on Product Hunt. I don't remember exactly. But I got a lot more traffic from those websites, and those were people who were really interested in my product. I think I got about 8,000 hits from awards the day or in the wake of the day they gave me the award. Those were UI, UX designers. So exposing the website to them gave me a lot of subscriptions and a lot of people interested in the idea as well.
So looking back with the benefit of hindsight, you were working super hard to get this website out. Is there anything you think you could have just skipped, any of the hard work you didn’t need to do for Learn UX to get to the point where it is today?
I think a lot of things I could skip or just not spend as much time or effort. There were things I thought matter but they were not so important. First, I guess that I put a lot of effort into communicating to other people who are UI or UX designers that I am going to do this. A month or two before I recorded myself. I took an iPhone, I recorded myself, and sent out a personal message to all of the influencers I knew from the UI and UX world, to announce to them that Learn UX is coming. To be honest, I don’t know why, now. A lot of people do it. I guess a lot of people reach out to some influencers, but no one will answer your call. So I think the good advice would be to just put it out there, then search for some people who support your ideas. If they can see it, they probably would be interested to not. But reaching out to people was really time consuming, and no one really cared. I wouldn’t care. Right now I know it. But there are a lot of things that I’d probably skip, and influencers were one of those things.
You were trying to generate buzz before your product even launched, and it doesn’t seem like it went well. How did your launch itself go when you finally released Learn UX to the world?
Oh, this is another thing that went wrong. I tried to make this big launch. I put a counter on the website. Then I did some announcement that I’m going to launch this website here and there. It was super stressful. I think at the time that the counter went down to zero, I was probably the most stressed person out there, and there were only 10 more people on the website. So I would never do it again. I would just put it out. Don’t tell anyone. Just publish the website, fix some bugs and then spread the news. Because the launch itself is really not that important, I think. A lot of times you can see a website that has a great launch and they do great on Product Hunt. They do great Hacker News. Then after a few days you can see the traffic is going down, and you get frustrated and depressed. First you are on this high but then you go pretty low. So I wouldn’t aim for a big launch anymore. I would just try to launch as often as I can. So instead of doing a big launch, just aim for one launch a week, so that you can launch a new feature every week or every two weeks, and it will get better from there.
Yeah, I completely agree with this whole idea that people put launch on a pedestal as if it’s going to solve all of their problems. I’m going to have this one big launch day and then I never have to figure out how to grow my product again. Everyone’s going to keep coming eternally after my launch day. And the reality is, even if you do have a big launch day, it’s one day. After that, you have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to get people to come back to the thing that you’re building unless you have some incredibly viral sensation, which in all likelihood you don’t. Most apps aren’t that viral. So I wonder what your strategy is nowadays. Your launch is a thing of the past. How do you continue to get people to come back to what you’re doing at Learn UX?
Every once in a while I sit down and I try to update the material. I think once every two years I will have to re-record all the content.
All of it?
Yeah. I think that probably all of it would go down. I think that the tools change, the processes. I want it to be current, to be of an exceptional value, and something from three years back is not anymore in the software world especially. So I think I will re-record the content, but it wouldn’t take me 1,000 hours anymore, because I have some smart ways to organize myself around the content and probably I’d then lock myself for a month and then re-record the things that I need to, and that’s it. I want to keep it current. But the thing is, you asked me about passive income. A lot of people will tell you to put all your resources in one project and update it constantly. The thing is, you might be aiming for a billion-dollar exit from your company, and then you don’t have to work anymore, but it’s not the case for most of us and it might just be lucky. But how I define passive income is, I can work whenever I want. So I can set up for three months of work from January to March, and then I can take a holiday. Then I can work on some other projects, and I know that I have this time fixed for the project that will then generate some revenue. Passive income, for me, is mainly about organizing myself so that I have time for everything whenever I want. Of course, especially indie makers are often deeply involved in the project that they create and they want to put a lot of effort in it every day and refine it so that it’s perfect. You know, no IT project is every perfect, and you have to admit that. So what I also discovered over those years is the more you scale the project, the more cost it generates and the more effort it generates. So there is this exponential growth in costs for a medium sized project. So if your company starts to earn more, but then you as a founder start to earn less. So I know it’s strange but this is how it works, and it’s relatively easy to grow your project to 1K, 2K, 5K or 10K MRR while still keeping it low cost. Then you can use some ready-made solutions for ecommerce, accounting, customer service. Automate everything and keep it simple and you can have one to five, ten projects like this. It’s pretty easy. Then you can organize your time around these projects and work wherever you can. So this is ultimately the Holy Grail of passive income for me.
James Clear has this great tweet and a point that he’s written about in some of his books and blog posts, that real wealth is not about how much money you have but it’s about your freedom to make choices about how you live. What you were saying is you want the freedom to choose what months, what hours you’re going to work, where you’re going to work from, what you’re going to work on. Because you've created these sources of quote/unquote “passive income,” you have that freedom to choose.
That’s absolutely the way I think of it. I once came upon 4-Hour Work Week, which you obviously know. At first I thought that this must be for people who really hate their work. Then I read the book. Obviously I realized it’s about working efficiently. I prefer my work weeks to start Monday morning, and then I could start another four-hour work week the same day in afternoon and deliver the value. But it’s all about staying focused and staying efficient at what you do. So what I really try to do is not to procrastinate too much and really put the time where it belongs. You mentioned competition. I think that those who are doing a better job than you do probably work harder, as you said, but also it’s possible that they just work on the right thing, while you are pretending to work or procrastinating or organizing yourself around your work. I really focus on working efficiently, and then leaving the time for the other things. This might be work as well, because I really like what I do, and why would I just spend four hours a week on that?
Let’s talk about some of the practical realities of how you're able to work so little on Learn UX. What are some of the techniques you’re using to work more efficiently and what are some of the things you’re not spending your time doing that other founders might be spending time doing?
I try to automate as much as I possibly can. I try to use a lot of no-code tools and low-code tools to put the project on autopilot, with marketing, with customer service, with accounting and things like this. There are a lot of things that you can automate. Probably I think you can automate 90% of online business depending on what the business is. But in my case, automation is the launchpad for anything else, because it gives me time to spend and focus on the other things. I’m using a lot of different tools. I can code myself, so I can code small pieces of software that will help me. But there is a lot of no-code tools or low-code tools that will allow you to connect some things. For example, I use Zapier and Integromat a lot. Those tools allow me to glue together different tools, such as mailing lists with spreadsheets with different things that I use for marketing, and I can have a chat board on Chat View World that will allow me get some customer service. I use intercom a lot and there are tools to organize yourself and to answer questions, to batch answer questions and automatically answer questions. I use a lot of marketing automation, some flows that I built around emails that I sent. So you can automate a lot of things with tools like this, but on top of that, there’s another layer that I often used. As I said I’m using Zapier and Integromat to glue those tools together. Because ultimately you want to have one output from all those tools. This is what I do. This works really well. You can automate a lot nowadays.
Yeah. You showed me Integromat when we hung out last year and I was blown away. It’s a cool visualization tool for making a lot of these automations, and it strikes me that you know how to code. You can write code yourself, and yet you’re still using a lot of these no-code tools, presumably to save yourself time. It goes back to what you were saying where it’s not just about working hard but you also have to prioritize. What should I work on? Just cause I can code something doesn’t necessarily mean I need to code it from scratch, cause there are already-existing tools where I can just sort of duct tape things together, that might free up months or weeks of your time to spend on other things.
I think I learned to code when I was 15 or 16, but then I switched to web design. And although I probably could code I think, I don’t find it too exciting and it was taking too long. For me, I missed this instant gratification that you get from graphic design, motion design and UI. When I discovered those automations, bots, kroon (ph), AWS Lambda, I stuck at it for a long time. It felt like the missing piece of the puzzle in my life just got in place. So the results are really quick and there’s little code required to make software that works. This is a huge advantage that those tools can give you. Still, you have to understand some things that are going on under the hood and understand the web, how web works, how APIs work, how you can connect and combine these tools. The greatest benefit of no-code is when you know how to code and you take shortcuts with those tools.
It’s a pretty rare combination to both know how to code but also not be so passionate and obsessed with code that you don’t just use it as the solution to every single problem. I think most no-coders don’t know how to code. Maybe they’re confused about some of those technical details and how the web works, but most developers I know are either afraid of no-code or very skeptical of it and have no interest in learning any of it because it’s not their passion.
There’s a huge range out there of tools you can use and I think it’s easy from the outside looking in to form these judgements about what’s used for what, but you have to try it to really understand where it’s useful and where it’s not. It has its own learning code. Even if you’re a developer, you’re still going to have to take the time to learn how Zapier works or how Webflow works or how Integromat works. You can’t just skip right by that. But anyway we’re running low on time. I would love to have you on the podcast again at some point because I feel like we barely even scratched the surface of how Learn UX works. I know you have other projects and things you’re spending way more time working on and those would be fascinating to talk about, too. Before closing out here I’d love to get some of your general advice. You spent so much time building these projects and learning a lot about UX and generating passive income and helping others learn to improve their careers. What do you think other indie hackers listening should take away from your experiences and your goals as they try to build their own online businesses?
The one advice I already gave you and I want to underline once more is not to rush, to take your time. Not procrastinate but take your time. Put the project out there, but not try to make it in three or four weeks. Take some time to create valuable content. I think that most cases, for me it paid off. But another advice would be not to worry too much. Sometimes something can occupy your mind for days, and people can write mean things and you can also have this problem with knocking on too many doors and hearing no a lot, which is common when you run internet projects. I think that it’s really useful as a founder to get the state of mind that will help you to patiently create your product and not rush, but also clear your head from time to time and not worry that much. I’ve seen a lot of founders who were stressed out. It’s very difficult being a sole founder. There’s a lot to take. There are things that still juggle in your head. You hear it all the time. You hear about depression and anxiety in the context of founders and company owners. I think Learn UX is successful because of how much attention I pay to it and how I try to not kill this project by interrupting it to grow by itself. I think it’s really valuable to let it go sometimes and not respond to everything that you have to respond. You don’t really have to. You just need to put your head to work and improve the product. That might be my advice.
Something that I’m still learning how to do, to just sit back and let things run on their own every now and then and not stress. I was just on vacation earlier this year. Vacations for me are a pretty rare thing. There are days where I didn’t work on Indie Hackers and it was weird to do that and see things not explode. Then I come back home and it feels like I have to work on this thing for 10 hours today otherwise this email’s not going to get responded to and this other thing’s not going to happen. Usually it’s okay to just let it go. I love that advice, Greg. I hope to see you back on the show sometime soon. Can you let listeners know where they can go to learn more about what you’re up to with Learn UX and your other projects as well?
You can reach out to me at Twitter. I’m @greg_rog. You can go to learnux.io or calldesk.how and just send a message. I’m here and I’m very happy to answer all the questions. I’ve been in a position where I tried to reach to many people and I couldn’t get an answer, so now I read carefully all the messages and I try to help as much as I can. Feel free to reach out to me.
Thanks so much, Greg.
Listeners, if you enjoyed this episode I would love it if you reached out to Greg and let him know. He’s on Twitter @greg_rog. Also if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts and takeaways from this episode, you should subscribe to the Indie Hackers podcast newsletter. You can find that at indiehackers.com/podcast. Thanks so much for listening and I will see you next time.
Did you know Indie Hackers has a newsletter?
Sign up to get insights, takeaways, and exclusive content from each new episode, directly from the host, Courtland Allen.