William Candillon (@wcandillon) didn't plan to become an indie hacker when he first started making coding videos on YouTube. He just wanted to learn more efficiently and hold himself accountable. Three years later, he's built an audience of tens of thousands of viewers, and he's making over $6,000/month teaching what he's learned about React Native. In this episode, Will and I talk about why building in public, sharing transparently, and being vulnerable make it easier to succeed as an indie hacker.
What’s up everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com, and you are listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. This is a quick chat episode of the podcast, where I bring on a founder who’s been posting milestones about their progress to the Indie Hackers website and we get to see what it’s like to be in the trenches trying to build something from scratch as an indie hacker.
Today, I’m talking to William Candillon, the founder of Start React Native, where he sells courses and starter kits for programmers who are trying to learn React Native. In the latest milestone that he’s posted to his timeline, he explains how he reached 20,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel so I’m sure we’ll talk about that. William, welcome to the show.
Hello, Courtland. Thank you for having me.
Thanks for coming on. Your product page on Indie Hackers says you’re making about $6,000.00 a month. Is that accurate?
That’s correct, yes.
And are you fulltime on this and just working for yourself or are you still working another job?
I still do some consulting. At the moment I consult for Shopify. Recently Shopify made an announcement that they are betting on the React Native as a technology for their mobile apps. I consult for them on the theme of gestures and animations, making sure that things are performing okay and run smooth as butter.
That’s a cool role. Shopify is a great company. Since it’s consulting, it’s almost like that’s your side hustle now, and making the courses and YouTube videos that you make is now your real job.
That’s a great way to put it. My side hustle is my main hustle and vice versa.
Well you’re living the Indie Hackers dream. I think most people want to get to this point where they’re making enough money from their business that they could go fulltime on it or they are fulltime on it, and anything else that they do is just unnecessary and on the side. How does it feel to be have made it here? I know you’re been working on your YouTube videos and your courses for almost three years.
I’m feeling very fulfilled and I’m very happy in general. I’m so happy and indeed, like you just said, living my life on my own terms and enjoying it in this city that I love, beautiful Zurich, Switzerland.
It’s interesting, because I’m feeling so happy, but also I’m still trying to go for ambitious goals and trying to push it and to be ambitious. It’s almost hard to do because I’m feeling so happy. I’m having a great time.
That’s where I was with Indie Hackers almost three years ago. I’d just gotten to the point where it was like, “Oh, man, this is paying my rent and it’s paying all my bills. I made it.”
And then that was the exact month that Indie Hackers got acquired and I joined Stripe. Then it was like, “Alright. Back to the grind. I gotta hit these goals. I gotta get to this place.” I had an external influence. But for you, that all has to be internal. What are you striving to do? How are you pushing yourself now that you’re already at the point where you don’t need to?
I’m doing these videos on YouTube. In terms of technical content and the things I’m demoing and presenting, I am so passionate about these demos and ideas that I get to research these programming puzzles. I get paid to do it almost.
On the technical side, I’m very excited. I’m very proud of the level of detail I’m putting in some of these examples and I put a lot of details and precision into technical examples. Now I would like to explore more of the content production and trying to improve the production of the video qualities, the sound quality, how things are edited all together, using soundtracks and so on.
I feel that these coding screencasts, they have some particular challenges to be entertaining and engaging. I wish to grow my channel and grow the business that goes with it so I could explore how entertaining and how engaging they can be.
I see some YouTubers, much bigger content creators, that are pushing the envelope in terms of making these programming videos entertaining. It seems like you can go far in terms of entertainment value with these programming videos.
There’s something about the human condition where we’re always looking up to the people who are ahead of us. When you’re first getting started you’re like, “As, dang. I wish I could get started. Who else has gotten started?”
But then once you’ve quote/unquote “made it,” you’re still looking at people who are getting more views on YouTube or whose companies are making more money or have more users or more customers. You’re like, “What are they doing that I’m not doing?”
It’s a double edged sword, or the cliché is at some point you need to learn to be happy with what you have. But also I think it’s motivational and inspiring to have something that you care about and something that you’re driven towards. Having these inspirational figures, in your case these bigger YouTube channels or these bigger, more popular course creators, and seeing how much room there is for you to improve, will always give you a goal. So you’re never bored. You’re never satisfied. That’s the beauty of having your own business.
I agree. It’s all about finding a balance and being satisfied with what you’re doing, but also striving for more.
Let’s talk about how you got started in the very beginning. Do you start down this journey thinking, “I want to be an indie hacker and be financially independent?”
Absolutely not, or at least I don’t remember that I had those goals. I cannot say for sure no, but I don't remember. What I remember is that I started to do these coding videos and even without any long term goals I was loving that I was getting value out of it on the short term anyways.
The value I was getting is that I was using my laptop, just a microphone from my laptop, no gear, nothing. I was doing the programming I needed to do anyway. For me it was such a focused environment, because when you’re recording you can’t check Facebook.
You have to explain your thoughts out loud, and that’s the best way to unlock some programs. You're a programmer, too. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, but sometimes to explain a technical problem to someone, just to explain it, you’ve solved it in your head.
Yeah. I do a lot of writing to myself. I have notebook after notebook on my computer where I write things down. It’s a short term memory aid where it’s hard to keep these things in memory but you put it on a page and now you can reference it. That helps me code and work the tricky problems. But it’s similar to explaining it to somebody else.
I got started doing simple screencasts in the end of 2017. In the summer of 2018 I did this contracting job for a startup in Zurich. That was an ambitious mobile app project. Because the project was so ambitious, suddenly I started to look at the apps on my phone very differently, because if I was using Uber or Spotify, I was not using it anymore. I was thinking, “How do they do it? How do they provide such a user experience?”
I got so excited to search these examples that I started to share them on Facebook in a series called, Can It Be Done in React Native, where I take examples from apps that people know and love, and I show how it can be done in React Native using the primitives of the React Native technology. This is where suddenly I wasn’t doing my work and putting it live on YouTube. I was making YouTube videos as tutorials, essentially.
I mentioned earlier that you posted a milestone to Indie Hackers about how you grew to 20,000 YouTube subscribers. In your milestone you broke down your growth into phases.
Phase one was when you had a few thousand subscribers. That was you recording yourself doing a bunch of work. Phase two is what you’re talking about now, where you transitioned to making videos for other people to watch and entertain and teach them.
I want to zoom in on phase one because that’s how you got started. Why were you recording videos for yourself? Was it only because you knew that recording screencasts would allow you to work without being distracted, or were there other reasons, too?
Both. I enjoyed the distraction-free environment, but I also remember talking with friends and Indie Hackers friends. We were talking about transparency and the benefit of being transparent.
We were talking about these companies, for instance, with have all their revenue numbers open and all their analytics completely out in the open. I remember that I was thinking, “How can I apply these values to myself?” At the time, what I could do was, I was not yet an indie hacker. What I could do was to simply do my work online and share it with people out in the open.
I think so many people see this culture of transparency and building in public and they say, “You know, that sounds great but it’s not for me. It’s going to be so much work. I already have enough work to do on my own. I’m not sure I’m comfortable sharing what I’m working on it public.”
I think they’re missing out. It’s so advantageous to do what you did, because you were just doing work that you were going to do anyway, and then you were recording videos to share it in public, but also just to hold yourself accountable so it made you more productive at your job.
Then of course if you’re trying to learn something and you’re trying to accomplish something, there’s probably other people in the world who are trying to do the same thing, and if they see you putting out great videos or writing great blog posts about that, of course they’re going to follow along, because why not?
Then they’re going to ask you questions and they’re going to ask you to make certain videos or write certain posts. Before you know it, you’re building this audience and you’re learning about what their problems are and about what they need automatically, on the side of you just doing your normal work. It seems like it’s such an advantageous thing to do.
I completely agree. Today, I’m in a position where, because I’m doing these videos, people are pushing the information to me and I don’t have to pull any more. My specialty thing, this YouTube channel, are gestures and animations.
Now instead of me trying to find out what the latest novelties in gestures and animations are, people in the comment section are pushing the information to me, sending me examples of people working on exciting innovations in this area, contacting me to show me what they’re working on and so on.
It’s such a great place to be in when you learn in the open. One thing which I love as well is when you’re wrong. People check what you’re doing, and if you’re wrong, they’re telling you, which is amazing, because if you’re not being transparent, you’re not going to get any input.
You have no clue.
Are there early videos of yours I can find where you were saying the wrong stuff and coding the wrong stuff and you just put it out there anyway?
Both. Because the space of these programming videos is evolving so fast, there is content that I'm doing that has become obsolete very quickly. That’s fine. Also, that’s why I’m trying to strike a good balance between the time I’m spending doing these videos and the quality of production.
You need to find a good balance because if you spend too much time and you’re trying to do the perfect video but in six months this particular topic is obsolete or the way we do things has completely changed, it can get too expensive to do those videos.
But I have to say that recently I was researching some examples and I had to go back to older videos. I don't know if you have this feeling, but you always think that the stuff you’ve been doing in the past is silly and now you know everything.
Yeah, of course.
And I was looking at these old videos and I was like, “Oh, wow. That was pretty good.” So buff, I would say.
Let’s talk about some of the logistics of being an early stage indie hacker. I guess at that phase you weren’t even an indie hacker. You weren’t making any money. You were just putting those videos out. How did you find the time and how did you find the money to do this and work it into your schedule?
That’s interesting, because it’s a bit of a similar story to yours, because you’ve mentioned it a couple of times in your podcast. Every time you mention it I’m like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I found with me.”
I’ve quit my job and I had a little bit of runway to think about what’s next. I was not thinking about becoming an indie hacker, but I was thinking more to take some time to see on the technical side what’s going on, what is interesting and maybe we’ll find a job in this area.
At the beginning I didn’t have so much runway. I think you mentioned it so many times. I was just YOLO’ing and it’s only when the bank account started to go down that I started to think, okay, can I generate revenue? I got really excited about this particular technology, React Native.
So when did you start to generate revenue? You mentioned that you started making this new series of videos, and then your milestone on Indie Hackers you said that those took off. People like them. How did you turn that interest into money?
I started to build these templates for React Native. Again, I was the same way I was doing videos. Even if no one watched a video I’m still getting value out of it.
I was building React Native templates, which I was using to capture all the latest practices, APIs in React Native, which I was using for myself in my own projects. So I needed to do this work of having a monolithic repository that captures the template of what is React Native up, and how it should be structured, and always putting it up to date.
I started to sell this as a template. So in every video I would promote the templates. I was also doing the videos to challenge myself. I enjoyed working on these hard animations and gestures. And because I was challenging myself, people were having a hard time following.
They didn’t necessarily know the front end (unintelligible) that I was using behind the scene. In the comment sections they started to ask me more and more after each video, “Oh, we are not finding your Udemy. Where is your online course?” That’s when I decided to build an online course.
That’s such a great lesson to learn there, which is that you’re starting with your distribution channel first. You’re building an audience first. You’re putting out these videos, and as a result you get all these people who are following you, who want to know more information.
They start asking you specific questions and telling you what their problems are, and then that gives you the idea for a product that you can build and sell to people that’s going to be valuable. They’re telling you in the comments, “Hey, Will, I don’t understand this. I need something to teach me the fundamentals.”
And you’re like, “Oh, maybe I should create a starter kit,” and suddenly you have a business on your hands. On top of that, not only do you have a good business idea, but you already have a distribution channel with people you can sell it to.
Did all of your early customers come from your YouTube channel, or did you find other places to bring in customers?
So far, 100% of my customers come from the YouTube channel.
And if you go on my website, there isn’t a lot of context provided on what the online course is, who’s teaching it, even about the pricing model and so on. So I know that people who have enough context to sign up to my course come from my YouTube channel. One unexpected benefit of building this course, because I was doing these videos and in these videos I was just trying to get things to work.
So I thought I had developed some good expertise on this topic, but while building the course I realized I learned everything because when you try to teach it from demintors (ph), you realize that I didn’t have such a strong grip on this topic and I learned so much trying to teach it from demintors (ph) and shells and animations.
This goes back to what you were saying earlier about you making these videos and screencasts in the first place, that when you try to explain something to someone, you end up learning a lot.
I’ve heard this consistently from people who are teaching others online or making courses or writing books or educating, that you end up learning a ridiculous amount when you’re trying to teach, which I think is an encouraging fact cause it tells other people who maybe want to teach that you don’t need to be an expert when you first the start.
The process of going through this and trying to create a course is when you become an expert.
Absolutely. I’m French originally. I live in Zurich where Swiss German is the main language in this part of Switzerland. I’m learning German, regular German.
It’s a bit of a struggle, and I wish I could apply these values of learning in the open, because I feel like my German would suddenly improve like crazy. But it’s hard to find opportunities to do it.
Yeah. You just have to find a bunch of French people who want to learn German and start trying to teach them.
So how did you get started selling courses? Cause even if you know that people want this stuff, there’s probably a lot to learn. There’s probably a lot of uncertainty in the beginning, like what are the first steps you should take? What was your approach back then?
On the content of the course, I went back to all the videos I’ve made. For each video I wrote down which (inaudible) recipes which are used to build these complex examples.
So I had a list of all these foundational elements, and then I started to put them in a sequence that makes sense in terms of telling the story and approaching things in an order that makes sense. Then the content, first I knew I could use a service to put the content online. I think it looks like there are great services, like Podia and Teachable, where you can put and sell online courses.
But because I’m a programmer, as a guilty pleasure I decided to build my own website, something very simple. You know right now I mentioned contacts on the website, and it was not intentional. I was just trying to be an MVP as fast as possible.
So 1,000 minimum elements I needed to build on the website. You need to sign up. You need to checkout page. You need some media hosting. I used Filebase, Stripe, Vistia, glue it all together, and voila.
Once I went live I went back to the comments on YouTube and said, okay, here it is. Because people were asking in the comments, “When will you release your online course?” and I said, “Here it is,” and I wrote maybe 50 comments or something.
How long did it take you to get this very first version of your course up?
Between two to four weeks, something in between.
You’re consistently good at doing this MVP thing. I think it’s one of the most oft-repeated lesson in all the Indie Hackers podcast episodes and any material you read online, build the minimum viable product. Don’t spend 6 months or 12 months building some complex thing and then finally launching it.
Everybody reads this, but they still end up doing these extremely complex things and it takes them six months before they figure out that it’s not working. In your case, your MVP was just you making videos for yourself on YouTube. You didn’t have any grander aspirations. It was just like, “Oh, this is cool and useful for me to do myself,” and that’s your MVP.
Most people start way further down the line than that. They might start where you are today, where they have a whole website devoted to courses and material, but for you, you started way back earlier. And then even when you did your course, you didn’t spend five months recording the world’s best course ever. You did two to three weeks, what could you get out quickly to test your idea and give to your subscribers. What did they think about that first version of your course?
This is one of the great advantages to selling to developers. We love solving puzzles, so even if your course is not perfect, they’re enjoying researching things by themselves.
I have an example with one particular lesson, which was at the beginning very buggy and was overall very problematic. First of all, people mentioned it immediately. They were having questions and things were not working out while trying the example.
First I tried to do some quick fixes but I realized it didn’t work. Then I fixed the overall lesson. I solved the most fundamental problems with it. So it took a while, so people were messaging me about this particular video and so on.
What was amazing is that people were spending a tremendous amount of time to research it, trying to fix it by themselves. Some people, which I messaged once the lesson was fixed, told me, “Oh, I learned so much trying to fix this broken lesson,” essentially. What other target segment would you have the same response? Do you imagine if you put your car into the auto repair and then it’s still broken, and you say, “Oh thank you because I learned so much about being a mechanic?”
People overestimate how polished and how perfect everything needs to be. I think you’re completely right. If you chose the right customer segment to sell to, especially developers, developers love Googling things and love researching things, love fixing things. You’re right there, so you get a lot more leeway.
I think, more broadly, you almost always want to target these super enthusiastic tech-savvy, early-adopter people when you’re first building something because they’re more forgiving and they’re willing to take a chance on you.
You’ve been transparent the entire time you’ve been doing this. I’m looking at your Indie Hackers product timeline right now and you’ve got a little note from August 27th, 2019, when you published your first online course. And you said your pricing model was inspired by brilliant.org. What’s your pricing model for your courses, and why were you inspired by this other website?
The pricing model is $23.00 USD per month. If you are billed annually, it’s $9.00 USD per month, so roughly a one-time payment of $108.00 USD. You have a lifetime subscription for $600.00 USD.
There are two things which I loved about this pricing model. There is a big gap between the billed annually and the monthly payment. I see some other pricing models, and the gap between the monthly price, if you are billed annually monthly is not that big. I liked that the gap between the two values is $9.00, $23.00, it’s a fairly big gap. This idea appealed to me.
Then I used the second thing which I liked which I learned from Alex from Creative Team. I applied before selling the certificates, so I knew this was working, is to have a big upsell, the lifetime membership, because the people who want to support you want to get the upsell. So they’re always valuable to offer. This pricing model I really liked and I went with it.
I talk to a lot of people who spend a considerable amount of time learning from others, learning from predecessors and the leaders in their industry, taking back as many lessons as they can before they get started. And I talk to lots of people who just wing it. They just start. They’re like, “I’m going to everything based on my intuition from scratch. Whatever works for me works.” Where would you say you fall on that spectrum?
To be completely honest, exactly like you said, it’s a spectrum and I feel like I’m on the side of the spectrum which should be a little bit more cautious. I’m a little bit more of a wing it kind of guy.
I’m an indie hacker. I’m also a big fitness enthusiast, and it’s the same with fitness. You can spend a lot of time learning everything about nutrition, about anatomy, about the body, about the science behind a sport and so on, or you can only spend your time being a “gym rat,” quote/unquote, not trying to understand the theory behind, but just putting the work in the gym.
Obviously, when you’re in the gym or when you’re an indie hacker you need to strike the right balance between the two. I feel like I’m a little bit on the side of putting the reps in but maybe I should also spend more time studying the game.
I feel that in the indie hacker community, I’m not sure what you think but people are also maybe on the other side of the spectrum a little bit more, spending a lot of time learning but not maybe putting the reps in. I don't know what you think.
It’s as huge mix. There are so many people I talk to who haven’t gotten started, like “I’ve been reading about this for years. I read this book. I read that blog post,” and for them, they’re way too far on the spectrum of spending time learning from others. It’s like, “Just do something.”
If you only do one thing, it’s better to act and not read anything than it is to read and not act, because you can’t succeed if you haven’t acted. But then there are plenty of people I talk to on the forum and at meetups who have been working on things for years, and they’re just trotting territory that’s already been trodden, making mistakes that have been written about, and if they knew one or two things then they would not have wasted six months building something that was way bigger than an MVP or building a solution in search of a problem because they never understood what problem they were solving with their product.
So I think it’s a balance and that’s the tricky part. You have to identify what camp you fall into and ignore advice that’s not good for you. If somebody comes on the podcast and they’re like, “Hey, my best advice is just get started,” and you’re someone who already has been starting then that advice is probably not good for you because you’re already there.
But if someone comes in and they’re like, “Hey, my best advice is read these books,” etc., and you’re someone who literally never reads anything and you’ve been struggling, then maybe that advice is good for you.
At the end of the day I guess there are no secrets, it’s all about finding good balance. Who would have thought?
Who would have thought? What a conclusion. So what do you think the hardest part of growing a YouTube following to 20,000 followers is, and what’s the hardest part of starting a course?
One of the big challenges, and I think we’ve touched on it already, is you have to embrace vulnerability. Because when you get started, it’s very easy to look silly. For instance, I bought a new MacBook Pro recently so I started to watch tech reviews on YouTube, so then the YouTube would suggest all these big tech review YouTubers.
One thing that I did is that for at least two of these big YouTubers I went on their page and watched the first videos they’d ever made. It’s a great reminder that on this bigger journey, they start with a single simple step. I find it to be very inspiring.
One of the biggest challenges is to embrace vulnerability because it’s so easy to look silly, to be afraid of what people will think. When you get started with these videos where the quality of production is not necessarily very good because you have to go incrementally, you don’t necessarily have the best gear to recall and so on. But I think that if you can go over this (inaudible) you can go very far, I believe.
What about with your courses? Is it the same issue there, that you’re embarrassed about what you might be putting out? It might be wrong. It might not be up to snuff. Or is there a different challenge with getting started as an educator?
For me, that’s why the content on YouTube is free. I love challenging myself, so this makes me very excited. I may have a bit less excitement to teach the fundamentals.
I guess it’s like if you’re a lawyer or a doctor, you want to work on the big cases, and it’s a bit like this also with this. So the online course, to me, it’s less fun to teach fundamental. This is why it’s behind the paywall.
If you’re going to do something that’s not your favorite, you better charge for it.
Let’s talk about growth a little bit, because I know people struggle a lot with growing their subscriber accounts, growing their revenue. I’ve surveyed lots of indie hackers and this is by far the number one concern of people who’ve already gotten started. “I just can’t seem to grow. No one’s using it.” What are your biggest tips for growing a YouTube channel as someone who’s grown into 20,000 subscribers?
I would have only very simple advice. Follow the voice of the community. When I started to do these React Native videos, it was very clear. I didn’t have this huge growth jump, no, but the way people were interacting with my content, the tone was immediately very different and I knew I was onto something, just because the shift of tone that happened with my audience. Yeah, do things incrementally, I would say.
What do you think your first viewers came from, because I’ve been considering getting into YouTube a little bit with Indie Hackers, and part of me is afraid because I think it’s going to be a huge time investment.
These channels always look like they’re going to be super simple from afar, but then you get into it and you’re like, “Uh oh. This is a whole ecosystem with lots of professionals. You're putting in tons of work and if I want to compete here, I’ve got to put in tons of work.”
How do you get those very first YouTube viewers? Are they finding you through the search engine? Are you promoting your videos on Twitter? How do you get a foothold to start growing?
Originally I started to promote my videos through Twitter, Reddit, and I was blogging on Medium so I would also advertise the videos on Medium. So that was the only way I was advertising the videos.
Then at some point I realized that some videos were getting way more views than others. If I were to rank my videos in order of what’s my favorite one, what’s the one I’m most proud of, this was not matching the rank of my views.
And by investigating, I realized that it’s videos which had SEO value in the title that were getting way more views that other videos. For example, I did a video where I show how people can implement the Spotify player.
So the video is titled, Spotify Player, Can It Be Done in React Native. This has essentially zero SEO value. If people want to find out how to do what I’m doing in the videos, the UI component is called bottom action sheet using this particular library in React Native.
When I realized that, I started to do smaller videos which have titles which can be found through search engines. So today I have two types of videos, the Can It Be Done in React Native series which is payload for the community that people are sharing on social media and so on. And then I have these smaller videos which can be found through search engines. So two series, essentially, and two almost completely different channels of distribution.
There’s so much I could say about that. There’s as ton of lessons to extract. One of them is consistency. The fact of the matter is you just kept putting tons and tons of videos out there on a regular basis for years. I think if you’re not consistent, if you quit, a week into something or a month into something, you’re not going to ever get the opportunity to discover what works.
Number two, you were experimenting. You weren’t only doing one type of video and hoping that would work. You were trying to do lots of different kinds of videos, and that gave you the ability to see what the different responses were.
Like you said, the best videos that resonated the most with people and that were found the most weren’t the ones that you were the most proud of. I think it’s very common that we as founders are confident that we know what people want. The reality is that we don’t understand what people want and we have to learn by putting stuff out there and experimenting.
I think it’s cool to see that you’ve done that. I’ve don’t that with the Indie Hackers podcast to some degree. In the beginning, it was only normal interviews and since then I’ve been doing different types of interviews and seeing the same thing. “Oh, these episodes get way more downloads than these other types of episodes,” and I wouldn’t be able to learn that without experimentation. I think that’s a great takeaway from what you’ve done.
And then the third thing is that once you experiment and you see what’s working, you double down on that. Charlie Munger is Warren Buffet’s business partner, and he has one of my favorite pieces of advice of all time, which is what he calls the fundamental algorithm of life: Repeat what works.
It’s so easy to see that things are going well and to say, “Oh, this is going well. This is fine. Let me work on this other thing that’s not going well.” But you should do the opposite. You should say, “Hey, these videos are crushing it. Let me do more of these videos that are doing really well,” because that’s how you learn and that’s how you improve. It’s cool to see that there are so many lessons to be gleaned from how you were able to grow your YouTube channel.
You mentioned that maybe, for instance, you were thinking about starting a YouTube channel. Do you feel like, because you already have such a big following, that it’s more pressure on you, there are more expectations, or not at all, you feel free to experiment with different ideas?
I think if you had asked me six months ago I would have felt there was a lot of pressure. Like, “Oh, I’ve already got a certain standard. If I’m going to go to YouTube, it needs to match the same standard I have elsewhere,” whereas I’ve been doing more experimentation on the podcast, and now it’s a little bit scary. I didn’t want to mess up a formula that worked, but now that I’ve done that and nobody died, I’m still here, I feel more confident about experimenting in other places.
I think the bigger concern is one of whether or not it’s worth the time. If you already have 40,000, 50,000 listeners on a podcast, do you want to go to some completely new channel and start from scratch where you have zero people and go through the slog of building up your numbers from zero to something that matters. You know that quite frankly it’s just a drop in the bucket and it’s going to take maybe months or years to build to something where it really matters.
That’s my main concern. I don’t want to invest a ton of time into something that’s not really going to pay off. But I think you need that consistency and you need that investment. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe I can just sit down and record a ten-minute video of me talking and giving advice and talking about the things that I’m learning and thinking about, and it’s no skin off my back and it’s a super small investment and people like it, and I do that once or twice a week and it grows.
So I think it’s something that I’ll have to try, but it’s tough. I think as a founder, you always have to focus and there are always going to be opportunities pulling at you. There are always going to be, “What about LinkedIn? What about Pinterest? What about Instagram? What about Facebook and YouTube?” You don’t have time to do all of those things, so you’ve got to prioritize and figure out what’s worth investing in the time in.
Did you have particular affinity with podcasting? Because you’re not a podcast host originally and the first time I listened to you I was only listening to a few podcasts, Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, and not to have a fanboy moment, but I was blown away by how talented you were as a podcast host. But I imagine that there’s a lot of work that goes into it. It’s not like you’re automatically talented and doing an amazing job.
Well first of all, thank you. I don’t think I was that talented in the beginning or even now, but no. I didn’t listen to very many podcasts and I didn’t even want to start a podcast. I only started it for reasons similar to why you started your course.
You didn’t want to teach the fundamentals that people wanted you to and you saw that as an avenue. I didn’t want to have a podcast but because I was putting out all this content on the website, I was having a lot of people respond to it and give me their feedback.
The number one request was, “Start a podcast. I want to listen to this in audio form. I don’t’ want to read all the time.” I think that’s a good example of this principle, once again, that affected both me and you, which is if you put stuff out online and you’re building in public and sharing what you know, you’re going to get feedback and that’s going to give you good ideas for what you should do in the future.
I want to ask you one last question about growth, which is related to your revenue growth with your courses. You’ve gotten to 20,000 YouTube subscribers over the past three years but it seems like your courses have grown significantly faster. Has it been the case that you’ve gone from $0.00 a month to $6,000.00 a month in just the last six months or so?
When I first started the course, obviously it was a big bump. Suddenly you’re announcing something. It’s exciting people. Your early customers get in. I generated $7,000.00 in 30 days which was great.
Yeah. Since then, the growth model is very simple. I’ve experimented with it. The more I spend time doing content on YouTube, the more revenue I get. It’s as simple as that.
You can look at my Stripe graph on the Indie Hackers product page and my videos publish dates, on YouTube. It’s one to one, very easy. So I know that as long as I’m building a great course and I’m putting great content on YouTube, everything is going to go well.
You’re putting out more free content on YouTube. You’re driving sales of the paid content and your course. How much do you update your course? Is this something that you record once and it’s fine, or are you constantly going back to try to fix it and improve it and add lessons or add new courses?
I add two videos a month. Generally speaking, when I set my objectives for the month I try to do four videos on YouTube and two videos for my online course. Some of the new videos are sometimes me improving on an existing video. But I have a plan for more videos.
Right now, it’s just an online course. But the vision I have for it is really a paid membership, in the sense that I plan to add so many more resources related to React Native under this membership. I plan to add the starter kits and maybe other online courses and so on.
Right now it’s a paid membership for this particular online course, but in the near future it will be, if you’re a subscriber of my channel, you can be a paid subscriber and have access to all this exciting content in the space of React Native.
It’s so smart to have these add-on packages becoming part of a community, because it gives people recurring value over time. It justifies your ability to charge a subscription fee.
Adam Wathan just released a UI component library called Tailwind UI. Adam’s a guest I’ve had on the show in the past. He’s made something crazy like $500,000.00 in the first few days. But he released a community membership as part of the plans.
So it’s either $150.00 or $250.00, depending on which one you get, but both of them include access to this Discord server where you can chat with other people and you can talk to Adam and make suggestions, etc.
I know Pieter Levels did the same thing with Nomad List. He at first had just a list of locations for digital nomads to visit, but then he added a community. He charges a subscription fee for membership, and that’s why people keep coming back to the site over and over.
I saw this tweet from Adam, and the fact that he’s sharing these numbers openly, isn’t that thanks to the work you’re doing with Indie Hackers and promoting this openness? It didn’t choose to be like this, did it, that people would share so openly, the amount of money they’re making and now we don’t even think about it. We just talk about it and we get so many numbers. I remember a time where the culture was completely different around this. No?
Well there are always some people who have been sharing transparently, and a lot of them inspired me. So there’s Patrick McKenzie, better known as Patio11. He works with me at Stripe. He’s been on this podcast before in one of the early episodes.
But way back in the day, he had this app, Bingo Card Creator, and he was one of the first to share all of his revenue numbers and blog about what he was doing. He just didn’t care. It was inspirational. There’s Peldi Guilizzoni. He’s been doing this for 10 years. He’s also been on the podcast. He owns a company called Balsamic.
There’s Peter Levels who I just mentioned. He was inspirational to me when I just started. So I can’t claim to have started any of this. It’s more like Indie Hackers is riding a wave. Nowadays I try to focus on growing that wave as much as I can and keeping it going.
But listening to people share their revenue numbers, it puts so much in context. You suddenly understand where they’re coming from when they’re telling you their story. Their advice makes more sense. You can put it into perspective.
It’s inspirational because you can map their revenue numbers onto your life and just imagine, you know, “Okay, what would it look like if I had a side project that was making $5,000.00 or $10,000.00 a month?” I encourage anyone who wants to share their revenue numbers to do it.
It’s helpful for the community. It’s inspiring to others. And even if it doesn’t always seem like the right decision as an individual, especially for early stage there are usually positive consequences, not negative ones. I’m grateful for people like Adam, who’s super advanced and he’s making millions of dollars, and yet he still shares with all of us to let us know what’s possible.
It’s incredible. Exactly. We see it and we are like, “Oh, this is real. Thank you for showing us that this is real.” On my Indie Hackers product page I have the Stripe-verified review, which I really loved because it’s gamification around something that is very real, which is the money I’m making.
I find it so great. I understand that it can make people maybe uncomfortable, because at the end of the day it’s something very intimate as well. It’s a topic that is very delicate.
Yeah. Sharing revenue’s funny because it’s not all that new. Every public company, for example, you know their revenue. But when you’re an indie hacker it’s super personal because it’s a one or two person business and suddenly your company’s revenue is equivalent to your income. So you’re telling everybody what you make.
But like you said, I think it’s inspirational to see all these revenue numbers, and I’m glad that we live in a world where that’s more common and people are more okay with being transparent. Because it’s not only helpful for everybody who is trying to build, but it’s also helpful for people like you who are the ones doing the sharing.
You’re posting these milestones on Indie Hackers and I can see in the comments, people are giving you tips and suggestions for how to improve your YouTube setup and how to record higher quality video, etc.. It’s pretty crazy to live in this world where entrepreneurs are helping each other out.
It’s almost like open source entrepreneurship. It’s been a thing with developers forever. We share our code. We share all our secrets. But in the business world it’s always been more normal to have secrets and not to share what’s going on. I love that it’s becoming normal to share everything behind the scenes.
You mention something interesting about Adam building the community around his product. The way I set it up for my online course is that I am thinking of GitHub private repository and all repositories with a Stripe subscription. So it’s not wide like a Slack or a Discord chat, but people can post issues. They contribute tons of stuff to the course, the material of the course. They can edit features out.
This model of synchronizing membership with private GitHub repositories, I really like it. You have the community. You interact with your communities, interact with each other. It’s not too wide, because GitHub is very good. It’s very structured. They are doing it already for huge open source projects. I’m really enjoying this model.
Yeah. Seems like it would work well and you’ve empowered people to interact with each other and help each other out. I think a lot of people talk about luck in entrepreneurship and what helps you to get lucky.
I think the more you’re interacting with people, the more you can build an audience or a community or share in public, then the more opportunities you have to meet that one right person who’s going to give you the best idea or contribute the best pull request to your repository or do something that helps you.
I found that that helped me with Indie Hackers a lot. I was interviewing people in the early days and I didn’t even think about Hacker News as a distribution channel for posting interviews. One of the people that I interviewed did that on her own. That was how I discovered my growth strategy for Indie Hackers.
I think with you, the fact that you're interacting with so many people and talking to them and letting them contribute is also going to increase your luck surface area. It’s yet another reason. I think we’ve probably listed 10 so far on this episode, why you should build in public and why you should interact with people.
This is crazy, because I found about Indie Hackers through Hacker News. It sounds like it was almost a happy coincidence that it happened.
Could have never happened if I didn’t get lucky and have somebody who was working with me have that idea. But anyway, William, we could probably talk all day. This is going to be a quick chat episode that’s longer than any other quick chat episode.
But I would love to have you one the podcast again at some point in the future to check up on how you’re doing. Before we close out here, are there any words of advice that you think beginning indie hackers should take away from your story and what you’ve learned so far?
Two things. Embrace vulnerability. I think when you get started and have no momentum, maybe no customers, no revenue, it’s so easy to feel like what you’re doing is silly. You have to try to build some confidence or to feel at ease with the fact that you’re making yourself vulnerable.
I think it’s one of the biggest (inaudible), especially if society, people who have (inaudible) might look down on you for trying to do something different, living your life on your own terms. At the beginning I think it’s very easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong because you’re not following the same path as everyone else.
The second advice is I can say that like I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, I’m so happy living this indie hacker lifestyle. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here today if it was not for Indie Hackers and the community you are building. So I can only encourage people to use it.
But these interviews originally, which were shared on Hacker News, you would see that suddenly these goals to live your life on your own terms and doing what you enjoy doing and making a living out of it, were not dreams to pursue but concrete goals that you could achieve following actionable items and specific steps. That was so inspiring for me and I learned so many practical things out of it. So I can only encourage people to use the community because it has meant a lot to me.
Be vulnerable and use Indie Hackers.
Two pieces of advice that I can get behind. Thank you so much, Will, for the kind words and for sharing everything that you’ve learned with us. Can you tell listeners where they can go to find your YouTube videos and your courses and anything else you’re working on online?
Hopefully my YouTube channel will be linked in the show notes. So subscribe and smash that like button like they say in the community. And you can also find me on Twitter to have more granular updates on what I’m doing, what I plan in terms of next videos and so on.
All right. Thanks again, Will.
Thank you so much for having me.
Listeners, these quick chat episodes are open to anyone who’s running an early-stage company. If you’re interested in coming on and telling your story, go to indiehackers.com, create a product page and post some milestones. Every so often I pick the ones that are the most helpful, the most inspirational, and I invite the founders onto the podcast. Once again, that’s indiehackers.com. Thank you so much for listening, and I will see you next time.
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