Sergio Mattei (@matteing) might be the most energetic founder I've had on the podcast. After discovering the world of online maker communities, he built his own from scratch—Makerlog—and grew it into something special through his passion for sharing and celebrating others' achievements. In this episode, Sergio and I discuss the importance of finding balance in all things as a founder: gathering insights from users vs your personal vision; seeking feedback from the market vs chasing validation from other makers; and getting things done on a consistent basis without letting productivity hacks and hustle culture overshadow the people and things you love outside of your business.
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? 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 Sergio Mattei Díaz. Sergio, welcome to the show.
Hi everybody. I’m Sergio Mattei. I’m an entrepreneur student and, of course, an Indie Hacker.
You’re also the founder of Makerlog, a community that helps makers very similar to Indie Hackers. We’re related to products, we’re both catering to makers, we’re both helping to inspire them and pump them up and helping them to be more productive, so it’s pretty cool to have you on the show and I’m sure we’re going to have a lot to talk about.
Absolutely. I’ve been watching what Indie Hackers has been doing. It’s also been a constant source of inspiration. I remember when I first added the Makerlog product to Indie Hackers and I had no stats to go along with it. It has been fundamental in my progress as an Indie Hacker.
Tell me about why you started Makerlog because when I started Indie Hackers, it was primarily to help myself. I knew that I really wanted stories about founders that would inspire me and teach me how to do what everybody else was doing. Why did you start Makerlog?
Makerlog was all started when I first found the maker community, per se. Since I was a child, I had been building little things for me and my friends. In fact, I’ve always had a knack for business and technology.
I grew up watching Facebook and all these huge companies coming up and I wanted to make my own versions of them, so I started making little products when I was a kid. I thought I made Facebook killers and what-not, which were obviously not true. Eventually, after a while building start-ups and slowly progressing, I found out about the maker community through very curious means.
There’s this very famous maker that everyone knows, Pieter Levels, go follow him on Twitter. If you don’t, awesome guy. He had launched this thing that was called Hoodmaps and I checked out his profile, I was like, “He’s a maker. Maker community? What’s this?” and I started exploring the whole community. I stumbled upon this site that was called WIP.chat by another awesome maker named Marc Köhlbrugge.
Essentially, I was like, “This is a site that is a community for makers. Wow, it’s the maker community, cool. I want to join.” Sadly, it was really expensive, so I just decided, “You know what? I really like this concept. I’m going to build my own little productivity app like WIP.chat for myself.”
I start building it and, at the time, I was in another maker community called The Maker’s Kitchen, so I had built it and I start using it and I start posting about it in the Maker’s Kitchen. People started picking up on it. People wanted to try it and some people were like, “This is really cool.”
They kept using it and I started building for features, or what-not, and eventually, it was made public and launched and it’s been growing since then.
It’s funny that you were inspired by WIP.chat. I was a member of that community back before Mark started charging for it. Luckily, I snuck in there. I’m also a member of Makerlog, but I’m sure people listening might not be a member of either community, so give us a sense of what goes on here.
If I’m a brand new Makerlog member, I sign up for the community, what am I going to be doing there?
Makerlog is, essentially, your world-wide community of makers shipping products together in public. It turns out shipping in public, logging your daily tasks and letting other makers, for example, comment on them, praise them or generally just being really public about the process of building your products is a great strategy for staying productive.
We also have this thing called the Streak model, which is also taken from the genius you live with, which essentially allows you to gain streaks for everyday that you ship consecutively, and it’s really effective at maintaining productivity over long spans of time. Essentially, it’s just that. A community of makers building in public and maintaining streaks.
Let’s talk about these streaks for a little bit because that is the main feature that I think of when I think about Makerlog. “I’m going the ship, I’m going to check off some tasks today, and then, tomorrow, come back. I don’t want to lose my streaks, so I check off some tasks tomorrow, over and over again” and people have built up some insane streaks, hundreds of days where they’ve worked on their projects.
The Streak model is really great because it also allows for gamifying your productivity. When you log on to getmakerlog.com, you immediately see on the side bar “Top Streaks” and you see that and you’re like, “You know what? I want to beat them.” So you’re able to gamify productivity in a way and it turns out really valuable for Indie Hackers that are trying to start their businesses because they generally stay really productive over long spans of time.
I saw a post on Twitter. I can’t remember who posted it, but he basically was asking a question, “Has anybody seen an example of a social network that makes you more productive?” I think he was railing against Instagram and Facebook culture where everybody is spending so much time envious of others and posting photos and doing stuff like that, but it’s really sapping humanity of its productivity.
Then I look at something like Makerlog or WIP.chat or Indie Hackers and all of these communities are explicitly geared towards making people more productive and I don’t know if there’s any more hardline feature to do that than the streaks, which are literally saying, “The only way that you can win at this game, the only way you can really be on the top and be popular here is if you are putting in work every single day.”
Why was it important for you, when you created this community, to make sure that other people could be more productive?
It all started because I really just wanted to become more productive myself. I also struggled with that problem. I’m a maker in my free time. I am a full-time student, basically, and I’ve been a part-time maker for as long as I can remember.
Something that really does sap my time is scrolling through feeds and my generation grew up with that and it’s a hard problem to fight. Makerlog helps me really become much more productive due to its Streak model.
I also think it’s not only the Streak model, but that sense of public accountability that comes with making everybody see what you do on a daily basis. Knowing that if you don’t post one day, there’ll be a huge gap in your feed and people will know that you’re unproductive.
All of that plays into creating a very interesting alternative, a niche alternative, to mainstream social media or a productive alternative to mainstream social media.
One of the things that makes social media so addictive is the fact that we are, inherently, social creatures who care an immense amount about what other people are doing, especially if those people are people we look up to or if there are friends or relatives.
That domain is so different than work, especially if you’re an Indie Hacker, work tends to be a pretty solo endeavor. You’ve got your own to-do list that no one else is looking at and no one is even assigning tasks to you. It’s all internally driven.
You’ve got your own email inbox, you’ve got a solitary environment, you’re probably not working from an office and what you’ve done with Makerlog is you flipped the script here. You’ve made it so that all these tasks are social. So, I’m not just working at my tasks by myself, but I’m showing them to other people, I get to see other people’s behind-the-scenes tasks instead of just see whatever marketing message they’re putting out on Twitter.
I get to see what actually went into that Product Hunt launch, what were they doing in the days leading up to it, etc. I think it’s a great perspective to have, to see what others are working on. What are some of the coolest things you’ve seen people working on and their task lists on Makerlog?
There’s a lot of diversity within Makerlog. There are people that aren’t strictly tech people, so you have designers, we have people building physical businesses, we have a huge variety of people on site that are shipping something in public. There’s a lot of projects, there’s a lot of individual content creators, which is really cool.
In fact, one of my favorites is definitely Fajar Siddiq. There’s this person from Singapore that is named Fajar, you should all check him out on Twitter, Fajar Siddiq. He, essentially, is a content creator and influencer and, also, a bit of a digital nomad.
Seeing him ship all of his personal projects, seeing him ship all of the content creation he does, which is an incredible, insane schedule, this dude is pumping out podcasts, videos, if you can create it, he will ship it.
Seeing all of that stuff is really inspiring. Generally, there’s a large amount of projects, Leave Me Alone from James Ivings and Danielle, that’s also been an insanely successful product. In fact, they launched something today. There’s a lot of products, there’s a huge intersection between industries here and people inspiring each other.
How did you find these people and convince them to start using Makerlog? Because there’s so many different makers all over the world. Quite frankly, they arguably have better things to do, they should be working on their projects, they should be Hacking away. How do you get a community like this off the ground and get your first users in the door?
It all comes down to creating a sense of community. Traditionally, making is a really lonely activity. For a long time, I was creating products in a really lonely way. I would launch them into the void, I would get feedback from close people and my family and friends.
I think Makerlog just panders to them. Makerlog solves this problem. I think a lot of people from the maker community felt that same thing I felt for a really long time, that making was really lonely, that I had nobody to connect with, nobody to discuss these things I was building with.
When I started finding out about the maker community and how it actually exists, there were a lot of people feeling that way and I guess that helped boost Makerlog’ s growth.
I think about this when I think of any product, any company: What problem does it solve for people? What is the actual desire that they have that’s currently not being fulfilled that is going to get them to use your particular creation?
With something like Makerlog, or even Indie Hackers, it’s actually quite a lot of problems and a huge one is one you mentioned, people are lonely and we’re social creatures. We don’t really want to be alone all the time, especially if we are working on a new project, we don’t have co-workers. We don’t have an office we can go to.
You’re solving that problem for people and there’s also the problem of being productive. How do you motivate yourself to get to work on something every single day if you don’t have a boss who’s timing you, coming into the office or expecting you to turn in some deliverables or co-workers who are depending on you?
I think having this accountability, this public Streak system where others can say, “Why did you lose Streak? What happened?” is super motivating and it’s actually a great trick for making sure that you can live up to your goals and your expectations that you set for yourself as a maker.
Absolutely. Quite frankly, when you’re starting up, we all know that starting up is a very risky activity. The odds are stacked against us. You need something to motivate you and Makerlog, a lot of the time for me, is the thing that motivates me not just because I made it, but because, for example, I’m feeling down, I log in and all I see is people shipping things.
I see people getting things done, people that say, “I received my first client,” and suddenly, I feel like, “You know what? I really want to ship right now.” I find myself opening VS code or something and next thing I know, I’m coding. Makerlog is a whole thing that inspires you. It’s a place where you find inspiration, it’s a place where you find motivation through gamification of productivity.
It helps us, who don’t have bosses, stay accountable, too, because we need to be accountable somehow, as you mentioned. I think it helps us combat the risks and downsides of being entrepreneurs, which are finding inspiration, and, as you mentioned, not having a boss, which is more of an upside, but at the same time, in accountability sense, it can be a downside for those of us who just need that kick to get started.
The tricky part of any social product, like a community, is all of the problem-solving aspects, all the value that you’re describing, being motivated by seeing other people, having accountability, being inspired, that comes from other people.
On day one, when it’s just you coding Makerlog and no one is using it, it seems like it can be pretty tricky to get those first few users in the door and have them keep coming back to a community that’s essentially empty. How did you get over that hurdle with your community?
Social media. The first big boost of users, aside from getting on Maker’s Kitchen and getting them to be early adopters, was social media. It turns out that most of the maker community, which is Makerlog’ s niche, is on Twitter. A genuine interest, and this was something I learned when I was marketing Twitter, that I really never had even thought about before. This is also a little inspired on Pieter Levels’ methodology of being a really honest marketer.
At first, all I would do is go on Twitter and look at what people were building. I would start following a bunch of Indie Hackers and makers. I would look at what they were building, and I would think, “This is truly an interesting share.” I started sharing with people, I started motivating people and all from not just trying to market because, of course, it is marketing, that’s what it is.
Also, from a genuine place of interest, I think that was a big part of what made Makerlog really special, at first. It still is part of Makerlog’s core marketing philosophy. We try to be as genuine as possible.
We are genuinely interested in people’s projects because Indie Hacking, we’re all in the same boat together, trying to make it in this world and the initial strategy was definitely to be genuinely interested in people’s projects and that actually helped Makerlog get a really long way.
In fact, most of the followers that we got in the first place were just people that I retweeted personally, coding and having tweet deck on another space, on MAGOS. It all came from a place of being genuine with the community and not trying to see the more than I was, too, because Makerlog started out as just me making a thing for myself and I never really tried to hide that.
It also plays into that sense of genuine marketing. Makerlog has always been a small thing. It’s growing, but we don’t try to hide that we’re small.
What does small mean to you? Give us a sense of Makerlog’s size and what’s your revenue?
Our MRR is close to $200 or $150, it does fluctuate a little, but sure. It’s not a lot compared to other things, but generally, I’m pretty happy with it and it’s growing slowly.
What is the business model, exactly? Who pays for Makerlog?
Gold members. We have a gold membership that gives you a lot of things, like that elusive dark mode, which everybody likes. Dark mode, removing ads, posting milestones, which are like posting updates; a few little features that people really like and generally wanting to support the platform. Most of the people that pay for gold are just people who really want to support the Makerlog’s mission of staying a really open and inclusive platform.
Let’s talk about effort and hustle a little bit because as somebody who has started a community, just listening you tell your story, I know it’s an incredible amount of work to get a community off the ground. Quite frankly, when you don’t have a lot of people in the community in the early days, you have to be bringing all of that energy and effort and communication and sharing to the forefront.
With Indie Hackers, that was me on the forum making all sorts of posts, dozens of posts every single day, hundreds of comments. With you and Makerlog, that was you on Twitter promoting people’s projects and celebrating them and motivating them and inspiring them. Where did that energy come from with you in particular? I mean, you didn’t have anyone who was looking at your streaks yet and who was supporting you. How did you find all of that energy to be such a hustler?
A genuine place of interest. I really care deeply about the maker community. I care about seeing everybody being successful, I care about everybody trying new things out, experimenting, creating projects. I really enjoy going on Twitter and seeing what people are building because I want to see other people succeed, because it’s inspiring.
Just as I got really inspired by looking at the Makerlog feed, I hop on Twitter and I start “marketing”, but it’s just me looking at things that I do like and retweeting them. Generally, this sounds corny, a place of love.
I really am grateful for finding the maker community because I was really lonely before it. Makerlog was my way of giving back to this new community of people that I found.
Tell me about the way that you’ve infused your personality into your community because every community takes on some of the personality attributes of its creator. I know that Makerlog has its own very specific culture. What do you think belongs in Makerlog and what doesn’t belong in there? What characterizes its culture?
I think what belongs in Makerlog is everybody. We strive to create a really inclusive culture. In fact, the reason Makerlog was created was said earlier: because other communities were a little exclusive in that sense.
We strive with being inclusive, we love seeing really hardworking people, pretty much everyone in Makerlog creates something and that’s amazing. It’s amazing hopping on there and seeing what everybody is building. What we don’t want in Makerlog are spam bots. Go away.
Yeah, I don’t want those either.
Nope, but generally, yeah, we strive on being inclusive. We just want anybody. Anybody who creates a product, tech or no tech. In fact, if you’re doing no code, that’s actually really cool. No code design physical businesses, there’s some of them out there. If you create something, you belong in Makerlog and we will welcome you with open arms.
I love it because Makerlog has a little button at the end of the register thing that allows you to tweet, “I just joined Makerlog #togetherwemake” and one of my favorite things is going on Twitter and seeing those things and replying to them, “Welcome home,” because generally, Makerlog strives to be really inclusive and I love bringing new makers in.
It’s been said that if you build something for everybody, you’re really building something for nobody, that people like niches, people like really specific products and services that appeal to them and they are always going to choose something that’s specific to people like them over something really general purpose that applies to everybody.
Yet, you with Makerlog have been able to build something that is super open and inclusive and that people really like. What’s your secret? How do you build something that people like while also being open and inclusive to everybody?
Generally, the Streak model, in the first place, which is at the core of Makerlog right now, encourages quality over quantity. People that tend to interact the most are people who have either really high streaks or that really are generally interested in other people’s projects.
If you go on Makerlog, you are not going to go there, probably, to waste your time. You’re going to go there to either get inspired, ask for help on the forums, for example, or post achievements and tasks you’ve done. The fact that Makerlog is so limited in terms of—well, not limited, but the fact that it encourages this productivity culture, which is a huge part of the whole thing.
The culture that encourages is a huge part into why people see a lot of value in Makerlog as a productivity tool. The culture that it encourages in terms of becoming a sustainable business, in terms of becoming an Indie Hacker and a successful maker. I think it all comes down to culture, generally.
It’s not that Makerlog is for everybody, but it’s for everybody so long as they care about quality over quantity and so long as they care about actually shipping and building real projects?
Yeah, of course. I think that that’s one of the strengths of Makerlog. If you’re on Makerlog, you’re probably being productive, which is really helpful in terms of keeping quality up on the site and I moderate a lot to make sure that people, for example, don’t spam on the feed and what not, which is a problem that happens when you start growing and it gets a little annoying. Luckily, Makerlog hasn’t hit too many roadblocks.
Yeah, I know all about spam.
Oh man, I can’t not imagine.
Yeah, moderating a community is very rewarding, but there’s also a lot of challenges, especially as a community grows, because then you have 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 people in your community, you start having to deal with these 1/1,000, 1/10,000, 1/100,000 people where they’re just outliers. Let’s talk about moderating--
There’s been a lot of challenges.
Yeah, I bet. Let’s talk about some of the social challenges with moderating a community and having it take the shape that you want because, for example, you’ve got this Streak culture, this sort of hustle culture, where you’re motivating people to work harder, to work longer and not miss a day, which is really great if people are trying to be more productive.
There’s a downside to that, too, which is that, potentially, people can burn out. People can work too hard, people can get too obsessed with putting in the work and working long hours and not focus enough on making the right decisions or taking care of themselves. Have you seen that become a problem at all with Makerlog?
It has been a problem. Over time, as Makerlog started growing, I started noticing that I encourage a culture that I didn’t necessarily like. The Streak model, it has a lot of ups, it has a lot of downs, too. One of those downs is that, generally, it can tend to cause burn out.
When you see people having 365-day streaks, crazy stuff like that, you start to wonder, there has to be a lot of balance there. As we all know, everything in life is about balance and sometimes makers and that whole motivation to hustle and get things done, we can get a little too carried away.
Makerlog has tackled this problem, trying to innovate around the Streak model, in a way. I start thinking, “What is a way that we can encourage people to rest while at the same time keeping that incentive to come back and continue their streaks?” One of the things we came up with, well, I came up with, was basically was rest days, which work like vacation days.
Essentially, overtime, as your streak grows, every ten days, you gain one vacation day, which you can use to take a day off and not break your streak. It has helped a lot of makers out with their health, especially since a lot of people really don’t want to lose their streak. That’s the one thing you got to really acknowledge when working with the Streak model.
People hate losing their streaks. There’s a lot of angry support messages to back this up. Generally, people hate losing their streak, but a way to encourage health while letting people keep their streaks is by allowing them to take breaks without breaking their streak. It has turned out pretty well. We call them Streaks 3.0 and it really has helped boost overall health in the platform.
What about you? You said that you’ve been burned out before. You’ve been over worked and maybe hustling a little bit too hard. How do you recognize when you’re burned out and also, what’s your strategy for taking a step back?
For a while, when Makerlog started growing really hard, I started putting a lot of work into it. A lot of sleepless nights, especially since I’m a full-time student, so I have a lot of studying to do. I started putting a lot of extra time and generally not caring for myself well as I should have.
I got a little too carried away there to the point that I was unsustainable. The stress was getting a lot to me and I decided, “You know what? I’m going to take some time off.” A little after realizing that Streaks 3.0 was needed and the culture I was pushing was not necessarily something I aligned with, the fact that that happened to me personally confirmed it. I didn’t have much balance at the time and I took four or five months off, which is a long time.
I thought Makerlog would just crumble in the meantime. Actually, this is kind of a funny story. I don’t know if this happens to a lot of people, but makers feel a lot of guilt when they step away from the products, which is a big part of why makers don’t take breaks. We feel this guilt that we’re not working, we’re not hustling and we’re wasting time.
You get to where we’re just focusing on ourselves and that was something that I had to battle through those five months, that feeling of, “You’re not being productive, stop what you’re doing.” It was really tough, but eventually, I got through it and I started finding balance in my life.
I found a lot of things that worked for me, I found a lot of things that make me more productive, more energetic, more focused and it started going well. I reconnected with family and friends and I came back with a new approach with Makerlog and generally, this year, we are going to push a lot more health related stuff because I think it is the path forward for this community.
I think I cannot continue pushing that culture when I saw the effects it had on me. Even though the streaks are really useful and they still love them, which is why the rest days feature is really useful, the model definitely needs some work.
The hustle culture is a culture I do not approve of. I don’t think that hustle, grind-hard mentality is a great thing. I’m working really hard to fight that on Makerlog and make sure that everybody takes a break, everybody has their balance, and encouraging that through the platform, which is a huge challenge considering we’re a productivity platform, but we want to encourage healthy productivity.
Another thing I’ve seen you be vocal about on Twitter and elsewhere is what you call launch-and-dump culture, so what’s that about?
My problem with launch-and-dump culture, what I call launch-and-dump culture, is essentially the maker community at times can be a bit of an echo chamber. Makerlog – well, not specifically to Makerlog, but the maker community in general.
It’s everywhere. Yeah, a lot of times, Indie Hackers. It happens on every platform.
Of course. The maker community has a bit of a problem, especially with makers launching the products and this happened to me, actually. With makers, launching the products in the community and believing they are validated just because of the amount of clout they receive or feedback from the community, even though it’s pretty much all an echo chamber.
Launch-and-dump culture is strongly correlated to this. It’s, essentially, launching projects just to feel validated in the sense of feeling validated within the community, not just necessarily validating a product idea, per se, a sustainable business.
That’s just a thing I personally have a problem with, not the official community of Makerlog in any way, I think makers can just create whatever they wish, but in my opinion, I align more towards creating sustainable businesses.
The echo chamber has been a problem constantly in trying to educate people into what validation is in terms of creating a start-up. It’s really misleading. Launching something on Twitter in the maker community and everybody retweeting it on launch day and people going crazy.
You can mistake that for validation, even though it’s not. That’s something I’ve been trying to educate and change the culture around it, to turn Makerlog into more of an honest feedback tool, but not a validation place.
You don’t go on Makerlog to validate your products unless you’re targeting the maker community, which is not a great target either.
It’s fascinating how many of these Goldilocks problems there are, where you don’t want things to be too hot but not too cold either. You don’t want to hustle too hard to the point where you’re not making good decisions, you’re not sleeping, you’re burned out, but you also don’t want to not work or ever get motivated to get started on your dream, and so you have to find the right zone.
With the launch-and-dump culture, it’s the same thing. You want to talk to other makers, you want to rely on their support and their feedback to feel good about what it is that you’re doing, but you don’t want that to completely replace your need to build something that’s useful for your actual customers.
If it’s just your colleagues pumping you up and saying, “You launched this thing, that’s great,” but no one is actually using it and you’re doing what you’re saying and being validated entirely by the feedback from your colleagues and not from your actual customers, then you’re going to end up building things that no one really wants and not maintaining your motivation and launching things and then dumping them the next week.
I actually faced this problem when I was launching Cowork, which we can talk about later. What happened with Cowork is I set my mind out to not validate based on the initial launch reaction from the maker community but likes can be a powerful tool.
The whole echo chamber tricks you into believing your product is validated and people really do want it. As you mentioned, it’s all about balance. You have to look past all of this stuff, sure. You can receive feedback from the community, have a balance in the sense of receive feedback from the community. Feel good about yourself. You created a product and people are cheering you on, people are inspired by your work, but don’t take it as validation, as you said.
Balance out your thoughts here. That is probably my biggest lesson that I’ve learned in a while now that it’s undergoing a pivot and I figured out how wrong I was in a lot of things. That whole experience alone made me realize that this a culture problem that I need to tackle because a lot of makers are probably going to fall into the same trap. Echo chambers are powerful stuff.
Let’s talk about Cowork, which is this new product that you started building and you had a different validation process for it. What is Cowork? Why did you start working on it?
Cowork is basically a productivity tool for research teams, so that’s quite an odd audience for me to tackle. After Cowork did not work, it was initially a tool for remote teams to stay together; basically, a Makerlog enterprise, which I thought was amazing as every entrepreneur thinks when they build their idea.
It didn’t really work out. I started building features and what not, but I wasn’t really listening to the actual signs. I had zero customers about two or three months, and I said, “You know what? No.” I entered into this customer discovery bootcamp that was recommended by people at the amazing University of Puerto Rico Center for Innovation, shout out to those folks, really amazing people.
They recommended this camp that’s a customer discovery boot camp for validating your product ideas through a whole, lean focused approach. It’s called I-Corps, it’s here in Puerto Rico and from Grupo Guayacán, which is a local charity for entrepreneurs, for pushing forward the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem in Puerto Rico.
We started talking to customers because, at this point, I had a teammate, I still have a teammate, and once we started talking to customers, we realized, “Wait, nobody wants this.” We realized that we were tackling the wrong problem and the wrong people.
We started listening and we found that academic research teams have a lot of problem coordinating their tasks, not just in coordination, but also in time management. We found a bit of a problem there in that niche, which is a really interesting tackle. We started pivoting and that’s where we’re at right now.
I’m currently building an MVP to validate this or start the learning process because I-Corps taught me a lot of things and the lean-stroke methodology has really influenced the way I think. I’m looking forward to start learning from the MVP and seeing if I can find a problem to tackle and then some customers to build a business around.
It went from Makerlog for the enterprise, which after a few months, you didn’t get any customers for. Then, you joined this customer development bootcamp, you learned how to talk to customers, validate an idea, started building a tool for scientific researchers and now, you’re pivoting again.
Going back to the whole echo chamber thing, I think that number one, if you’re in a community, if you’re in the maker community, the Indie Hacker community, things of that sort, don’t mistake that initial rush of makers promoting your products as validation. It’s not. Talk to your customers.
Absolutely go out there and talk to your customers. It’s the best thing you can do. Your community are not your customers, so you can absolutely listen to them, you can get feedback, people spotting little bugs in your homepage or whatnot, it’s really useful. Don’t mistake it as validation is the most important thing I’ve learned in the past couple months.
Another thing I’ve learned was that sunk cost fallacy is a powerful thing. One of the things that was really hard for me to accept when I decided to pivot Cowork was that –. I had the customer data, I had empirical data, massive spreadsheet of people’s problems and then their feedback.
I was looking into some empirical data and I couldn’t spot anything to tackle because I was still in that sunk cost fallacy of, “Cowork will work, my idea’s great,” and what-not. That was very wrong and I learned to not be afraid of listening to the data you have. Empirical data is data. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons: data is data.
When your customers are telling you something, don’t go for your vision. Listen to the customers. They’re the ones who are going to buy your product. I often say that in the past few months, I’ve learned to become a true entrepreneur.
Becoming data driven, listening to customers, going out there doing those customer discovery interviews—a lot of them, like 100, was one of the best things I’ve ever done in terms of me coming out of my shell and learning to listen to customers and forgetting that even though vision is a great thing you got to have it if you’re going to become an entrepreneur, customers are the ones who matter here.
They have the wallets and if you’re going to build something, it’s going to be for them, so listen to what they tell you.
It all comes back to what we were talking about earlier again, just balance. You can’t go 100% vision as an entrepreneur, you have to balance that with real data from your customers.
I say the same thing a lot and I’ve also been in the same position a lot, where I’ve had this blind optimism, this absolute confidence and whatever it is that I’m building is going to work. There were projects that I worked on for literally years that were not working, that were very clearly not working.
If I hadn’t been so bought into the sunk cost fallacy, I would have just cut my losses and started something new. When I did, things worked out really well. It took years to get there, so I can’t agree with that advice enough.
Absolutely. Sunk cost fallacies are really powerful. For me, it was a matter of looking at the data right in front of my eyes and not wanting to act on it. That was really tough. Looking at the data telling you, “Your vision was wrong. Everything you’re doing is absolutely wrong,” and still thinking, “But I built this, but I built an app, I spent so many hours.”
“I wrote so much code.”
“I wrote so much code,” but one of the most precious things in life is time and eventually, you might have spent a month building the MVP, but if you’re going to waste years chasing something that will never work, that costs right out, stop what you’re doing and focus on something else. It’s an investment in your success.
It’s one of the most insidious things about the hustle culture gone wrong, as well, where a lot of people, it’s not that they’re not working hard enough, it’s that they’re not working on the right things, they haven’t asked the right questions, they don’t have the right hypotheses, and so what they really need to do is take a step back and change their approach.
There’s so much of a focus on, “If things aren’t going well, what you need to do is work 90 hours a week instead of 60 hours a week, then things will break through,” and number one, that usually doesn’t help you win. You end up adding lots of features and doing lots of things that don’t matter to an already bad idea.
Then, you feel worse because you invested so much time and effort into it, it’s harder to pull away, you feel worse when things don’t work out, it’s yet another reason not to try to solve every problem by working as hard as possible.
That’s another problem. You touched on another problem of the hustle, really hard grind mentality. A lot of entrepreneurs think that the solution, especially engineering folks, us engineers tend to think that these kinds of problems can be solved by adding features.
When you might be adding features, but the core value proposition is not there. You’re not offering value and, at the end of the day, you’ll end up with enterprise software that nobody wants.
Exactly. Tell me about what’s going on in your life right now. You still got Makerlog, you still got Cowork, which you’re working on pivoting. What are you really working on the most? What’s absorbing most of your time?
I’m currently working on two things at the moment—well, three things. Makerlog, getting a new version, a whole redesign and re-think of the Makerlog interphase and the core idea of the community. I’m getting that out the door.
Right now, it’s currently one of my biggest priorities. Building the MVP for Cowork, so as I said, Cowork is currently pivoting and I want to start that learning loop as soon as possible. I’m building an MVP, it’s really simple. I often joke that us engineers, we have a little demon.
You know those movies where the guys have demons right on their shoulders saying, “Do this,” and then the angle’s right here, “Do that.”?
I’ve been fighting that engineer demon. A little engineer that stands on my shoulder and says, “Two little features, stop what you’re doing, keep building.” No, this time I’m actually building an MVP.
Building that MVP to start learning as soon as possible is one of my biggest priorities and last, but not least, turning my ventures data-driven. For a long time, I was focusing a little too much on vanity metrics and I was measuring the wrong things.
Instead of measuring user behavior and core metrics to optimize, I was looking too much at the gross, which is something that I learned back in I-Corps. Focusing on the statistics that matter, measuring and experimenting a lot, is part of my mission for this year.
Tuning Makerlog into becoming much more profitable while still maintaining the inclusive aspect and generally optimizing this year and experimenting a lot, not just with tuning core metrics, but also pivoting Cowork until something sticks and creating new things from new problems that I find that customers may have.
That’s a lot of stuff. Having not one project, but two projects and also wanting both of them to become data-driven. How do you avoid burning yourself, working too many hours while having all these projects while also making sure you’re productive enough to actually move forward and it’s not going to take you five years to get to where you want to go?
Balance. Definitely, balance. I try to squeeze out the most of my day, but I also prioritize friends and family and my partner, which has been a huge help in the process. I prioritized them over anything making related.
Going out with friends, going out to the beach, hanging out with my partner, focusing on what really matters in life and prioritizing that over my work, in the past it was the inverse, has been instrumental to keeping my health in check. Also, maintaining routine. I found that I really do work better with routine.
I set up my university schedule so that I finish most of my classes really early in the day, so I have the rest of the day to plan and do whatever I need to do, which can be marketing, coding, ops, anything. At the same time, plan to do things with, as I said, friends and family.
Generally, just balance. This year, in the past few months, has been all about finding balance for me and it’s really giving great results. I feel much more focused, I feel great, honestly, and that’s definitely going to reflect on my work on Makerlog.
You look happy. You look like you have all of the energy of a healthy college student. I don’t know very many people who could juggle having all those projects and a personal life and a partner and go to school at the same time, and yet, you’re managing to do it and you’re a pretty prolific maker, as well.
I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to paint a rosy picture either, it gets tough. It gets really tough to manage so many projects and dividing my time. I have a lot of problems especially with dividing my time.
Figuring out what to work on next, coding is really attractive versus marketing, for example, but I have to market, too. Finding time to stream on Twitch because I also stream on Twitch a lot. Follow me, twitch.tv/sergiomattei.
Finding time for all of those things is hard. It’s not a rosy picture at all, but I am confident that I can be healthy while I’m at it and feel happy because of the balance that I am finding.
That prioritization work is extremely tough and I think focusing always meaning, as an entrepreneur, that there’s a lot of stuff you want to do, a lot of stuff that people might say you should be doing that you still don’t have time to do and it never feels good not doing things you feel like you have to do, but that’s what focus is about.
You can only do the most important things. A lot of people listening in are Fledgling founders. They’re trying to figure out how to focus, they’re trying to figure out how to prioritize, they’re trying to figure out how to come up with maybe even one good idea, whereas you’re working on several.
What’s your advice for someone who’s just now getting started as a maker? What do you think they should take away from your story and your learnings?
Join Makerlog. I kind of say that as a bit of a joke, and also plug, but finding a community that’s supports you and encourages you to do what you love and helps inspire you into finding passion to apply to other projects is really instrumental to at least all of them.
I am confident to say that this period of self-growth couldn’t have happened if I had not had the community behind my back. Find a community that really supports you. Find a community that you can be inspired by, feel more productive when you’re in it and join places like Makerlog. Join places like Indie Hackers. Plug to you guys, you guys are awesome.
Find people you can really connect with because it really does help. Another thing is find balance. Don’t prioritize your work over everything because it seems attractive to spend entire nights coding and getting things done and it really does give you a nice little dopamine booster to take something off your checklist.
It’s not healthy in the long run and I learned the hard way. A few days of break, weekly, could have solved that problem all together. Prioritize your friends and family over hustle because at the end of the day, this is something that Makerlog does struggle with too.
We see that people are being really productive. We see that they’re doing everything and it makes us want to hustle and grind really hard too, but think about yourself, too. Think about your health, think about your mental state, and think about how to stay healthy in the process.
Makerlog is definitely going to focus on that this year, trying to help encourage this whole health first culture. I think those are my biggest lessons.
Join Makerlog, find a community of people who inspire you, but don’t get carried away and make sure to maintain balance.
Sergio Mattei, thank you for coming on the podcast. It was a pleasure talking to you. Can you tell listeners, again, where they can go to find Makerlog and what you’re up to online?
You can follow me Twitter, twitter.com/matteing. You can also find me on Makerlog, getmakerlog.com/atsergio and you should also, really, join Makerlog or a community of really encouraging people. We love seeing new projects, we love helping Makers achieve their dreams.
If you’re a no-code person, if you’re starting to learn to code, we can give your resources, we can give you that framework of support that everybody, every human, essentially, needs. We all need these social interactions.
We all have that need to feel supported, to feel like we have a circle of people we can trust, that can encourage us. Makerlog fills that gap for a lot of Indie Makers. I hope I can fill yours, too.
All right, thanks again, Sergio.
Thank you so much, Courtland, for having me.
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