Bram Kanstein (@bramk) has more experience validating, building, and launching online products than almost anyone, and more success than most. One of his earlier creations, Startup Stash, still retains its title as the most-upvoted Product Hunt submission of all time. Today, Bram spends just as much time teaching others as he does making himself. In this episode, Bram and I talk about the importance of being an early adopter, the best strategies for finding new ideas, and why "mindset" is the first thing he teaches in his new course, No-Code MVP.
What's up, everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you're listening to the Indie Hacker's 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 the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own profitable internet businesses.
Today, I am talking to Bram Kanstein. Bram, welcome to the show.
Thanks man. Happy to be here.
Tell us what you’re drinking right now because you seem to be enjoying yourself over there.
I just told you. I have wine and I have lemonade, so I’m amped up.
Wine and lemonade on the podcast. Here I am just drinking water like a chump. You are the creator of StartupStash, which is the highest upvoted product of all time on Product Hunt. Tell us about how that got started. What’s the story there?
The story there is I launched that, now, five years ago, so it still amazes me that it’s still the number one product on Product Hunt, actually. But the story there, I was an early user of Product Hunt, I think I’m user 2000 or something. Now I think a few hundred thousand people, maybe more than a million people, have an account on Product Hunt.
I was super early. At one point, when I got access, I stalked Ryan for two weeks asking him, “Can I please be on here, too? I think I know some cool new products that I can share.” Eventually, I started posting stuff that I found on Product Hunt and a lot of them ended up as the number one for that day.
That way, I got in touch with a lot of founders that were thanking me, like, “It’s cool that you helped us. We got a lot of attention, investors and users,” so that was really cool to be active on Product Hunt.
At the same time, I was working as an investor here in Amsterdam and because I was on Product Hunt, I was saving interesting tools and resources that I found that I thought could be helpful to the start-ups that I was working with, the start-ups from the portfolio.
After some time being active on Product Hunt, I thought, “I think I know how to come up with an idea, build something, and then launch it.” That was basically where this challenge or idea started. The goal of the challenge was actually to prove to myself that I knew what I was doing, and eventually I combined the list that I had.
I had 600-700 bookmarks of interesting resources and tools. I combined that with my love for old school directory pages, so when I was younger, 15 or 16, I was always on the computer browsing on the internet, browsing digg stuff like that.
I combined that into what eventually became a curated directory of resources and tools, 400 of them, for start-ups. I launched it through Product Hunt and other channels. It really exploded. I think the first two days, I had a lot of visitors and a lot of people sharing it. It went pretty viral and it’s still, like you said, the number one most upvoted on Product Hunt.
It’s got 20,289 upvotes as of today, which is insane.
Yeah, it’s crazy. It doesn’t make sense. It’s still getting upvotes.
It’s interesting to think about why it’s so popular and I think part of it is definitely this curation component. If you spent time curating resources and putting together a list of things to help you out and you decide to make it public for everybody else, they’re going to appreciate that.
I think that that’s the thing. A lot of people have asked me, “Why was it so popular?” Because, basically, it’s a simple WordPress site that I butchered with my minimum coding skills, so I just deleted all these lines of code of stuff that I didn’t need and now the site looks a bit different.
Actually, I sold it at the end of 2017. It was acquired, so now it looks a bit different, but when it launched, it was just 40 orange square blocks, no visuals, just a name of a category. I think that site really represented, but also still represents what I’m really about. I really think that if you deliver value with your product, people don’t really care what it looks like or what it was built with.
I think the value was really in the fact that I did the curation, so I looked at all these 400 content items. I went through them, I created the screenshot, the description, the tagline and all these things, so I already went through a lot of work that other people didn’t really have to do.
I still think that curation is really strong, so I really focused on the curation part, not as much review parts. For example, there was a marketing category that said, “Here’s a suggestion for 10 marketing tools.” I didn’t say, “This is the best one,” or “That’s the worst one. From all the marketing tools that are out there, just check out these 10 and there’s probably something in there that is valuable to you,” that’s basically what the value was that StartupStash is giving to people.
That project really showed me, like I said, that it doesn’t really matter what the product looks like as long as you deliver the right value. Also, launch it to the right people and talk to those people in the right tone of voice and show that you understand their problem and how you’re serving them. That’s the way for your product to become popular and adopted.
It’s funny how long that checklist gets. It’s like, “You just need to do this one thing and also this and also that and also that.”
If there’s one thing, it’s to deliver actual value. Well, actually, it’s three things, so I was trying to be smart there. It’s delivering value, finding out where your target audience hangs out, like where can you talk to these people? Who are these people? And how do you talk to them? That’s something that I see, still, people doing wrong.
For example, if I just look at myself, I get cold emails probably every single day. People asking me if I can put them on Product Hunt or even these cold outreach emails of design agencies in whatever country. Why are you talking to me?
There’s nothing in that email that says why you are reaching out to me. I think that especially Indie Hackers also can learn from that. There are so many times where I think if you put one more minute into this email, you will get a reply. Those are the little nuances, I think, that make up when something becomes successful or not.
I think starting a business forces you to be a more empathetic person because the entire thing is really just an exercise and repeatedly trying to see things from somebody else’s point of view.
If you’re just constantly talking about what you want or what you need and you’re sending emails that are all about you and not about your recipient, then you’re never going to make any sales, you’re never going to get anybody to respond, it just doesn’t work.
Totally, and it’s super hard. I’m not trying to make this simple. It is super hard, but a) you have to be genuine and b) you have to act like nobody knows you and nobody cares about your idea, even though you’ve been working on it for whatever time. No one cares.
The person that you reach out to really doesn’t care and you identified them, and you really have to show why you care about them and what type of value you can bring to them. That’s when I think people will reply. You have to detach your ego from what you’re doing and try to realize that nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks of your product. You’re the only one who does that.
We are going to get into a lot of this business advice strategy stuff because you run a course called No-Code MVP, where you teach people how to build and validate the start-up ideas without having to code. I think in the last month, you made about $4,000 in revenue, according to your graph on Indie Hackers. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I think it’s a little bit more because I also have PayPal now and some Dutch people, they just send me their bank account. I think it’s between $4,000-$5,000K right now, so first it was low, then it went up, then it went a little bit low if you look at the graph right now.
It’s a start. I’m already happy that I at least have people that bought it and now I’m really figuring out how can I grow this further. It started as a side project, obviously, but my goal is to really turn this into a sustainable source of income. I’m trying to figure it out as I go, what to do.
When did the concept of No-Code first pop onto your radar?
I think it was when Carrd launched on Product Hunt. I think it was four years ago, maybe a bit longer, but definitely four years ago.
Carrd is a website builder created by AJ, who was previously on the podcast.
Yeah, so the funny thing there was that I actually knew AJ without realizing it. Well, not knew him in person, but I knew his product. Like I just mentioned, I have really minimal coding skills, like HTML CSS. That’s basically it, so I’m not diving into that any further.
I was pretty proficient with WordPress, so that’s why I also chose a WordPress directory team for StartupStash, but in my search for teams, I found Pixelarity and there’s another website that AJ also made. AJ, before Carrd, made all these WordPress templates.
At one point, when I found Carrd and when I found AJ, I was like, “Woah, damn. I already used products from this guy,” and what I really saw from what he did was translate his style of creating teams or his way of working into an actual website builder. Up until that point, I tried to love different website builders, like Squarespace and others.
Squarespace, I never got, for example. I have no clue how it works, I don’t know why, but when I first used Carrd, I was like, “Damn, this is it.” I instantly got it, I loved it and I started talking with AJ, giving him feedback and stuff like that. Also, I was a really early user and I’m now a super big believer in Carrd. I love what he’s doing with that.
But at one point, he started adding integrations. Integrations with Zapier, for example, you could connect a form on your Carrd website with Zapier—I have to say Zapier because it rhymes with ‘happier.’
Once he did that, I said, “Damn, if I create a Carrd website with a form, where I can basically ask any type of data, even a payment later so it would integrate with Stripe in the form. If I can send that data to Zapier, I can basically do anything. I can create so many workflows.”
And that’s where it dawned on me: if you have a website, if you have an automation tool like Zapier, and if you have Google Sheets or, later, Airtable, you have a workflow that works for probably 70%+ or maybe even 80%+ of startup ideas, especially all the landing page stuff, all the service types of products, even in the early stages of on-demand service type of products.
I think that was the point where I really dove in, so that’s probably three years ago. I learned Zapier, still want to become a Zapier expert, I have to do the tests, but that’s when I really thought, “Now there are these tools that you can use to build a first product.”
Before I found Carrd, I was working, like I said, for an investor, but I’ve also worked with dozens of startups on, let’s say, the first two years of their journey, so “What’s your idea? Who are you building this for? How are you going to market? How are you going to validate this? What’s your MVP?” All these things.
At one point, I was like, “If I can combine that methodology, that way of working that I really believe in, and also think I’m really good at to help people with, basically the consulting part, if I can combine that with the practical part, the actual tools, then I’ll have something in the form of a product that’s pretty unique.”
In all these years that I’ve worked with startups and looked at different types of tools, I never saw a product, what I considered, of course, a product, that combined these two things because you can learn a lot about methodology stuff, but if you don’t actually do it, then you’re a talker not a walker. I really wanted to give people a way to combine those two things.
One of the consistent themes that I’ve noticed about you is that you’re very early to things. You were one of the very first users of Product Hunt. You were early to this No-Code movement and in fact, you started sketching up plans for No-Code MVP, your course, back in 2017, before anyone was really talking about the No-Code movement.
You even have a podcast that you told me you were working on called The Early Ones. Why is it important for Indie Hackers to be early?
I always was like that. I later figured out what’s really the thing that I’m good at or really like and I think one of the things is, like you were mentioning, being early to stuff and I’ve always been intrigued.
Like I just told you, when I was younger, I was always on the computer and I was trying out new stuff. I was one of the earliest users of Napster, for example, in the Netherlands, or at least in the smallest first batch, because I was on deck, I was reading about all these Silicon Valley type of people, I figured all of this stuff out five years later, who else was actually reading about when I was more conscious about what I did, which is funny.
I’ve always been intrigued why people spend time on a certain idea, so if someone pitches me an idea, then, of course, I think about it, I give them my feedback whether it’s good or bad, but if I think, “This idea sucks,” then these people are still working on it, so somewhere in their idea or their motivation is something hidden that I don’t see.
I’ve always been intrigued, like, “Why does this thing exist? Why are people spending time on this product, this service, or this app?” That’s why I sign up to a lot of new stuff every week just to try it out and see what people are working on and I think if you want to be an entrepreneur, a product builder or a maker, stuff like that just gives you inspiration.
It gives you what some people call “product sense,” like how a product should work. I think it’s just part of getting the inspiration. You can read about other people’s stories. That’s one, but if you try out a lot of products, that will also show you what trends are and what are people working on. I think I’m just naturally interested in that.
It’s basically my hobby. When I found Product Hunt, I was like, “This is a tool for my actual hobby,” something that I was already doing. Now, I found a platform where I can share that voice that was previously just me on Twitter with 1,000 followers.
I think the inspiration and the motivation parts are so underrated because if you’re constantly seeing what new people are launching and building and you, then, see these people in the comments and you’re talking to them and they’re talking to you and you realize they’re humans just like you and some of them don’t even know how to code and maybe you could do the same thing.
Then suddenly, you start thinking about what you can build. I talk to so many founders who have so much trouble getting started and invariably, when you look at their lives and what’s going on around them, they’re not really immersed in this world of other makers and builders and Indie Hackers. Aside from seeing what’s new, I think it’s so helpful to be where the creators and the makers are. That seems to be the case with you.
I think so too, but I also think it’s really important to be aware of, let’s say, where you’re looking. I think we’ve talked about this before. For example, when I look on Indie Hackers, I see a lot of interesting discussions, but I also see discussions about things where I’m like, “Man, just try this out.”
You can get analysis paralysis by just continuing to talk to people and saying, “What does this person think? What does that person think?” At some point, you just have to try it. Only when you try it, you figure out that something doesn’t, or it does work.
If something doesn’t work, you have a problem and if something does work, you also have a problem. That’s basically what trying to be an entrepreneur, or an Indie Hacker is all about. You want something, which is not there, which is, in essence, a problem.
Then, you’re trying to figure out how to get there. The result of every step is, basically, a new problem that you have to solve. As long as you keep talking about it, nothing’s going to happen. I think you have to be aware of which phase you’re in. Am I just consuming now? Am I sharing something now, my knowledge or my product?
I think you really have to be aware of that because the danger here is that you’ll just keep analyzing it and consuming all this content without moving forward. You have to be aware of where you’re at and it’s really easy to fall into the trap of going too far, either way, where you can’t really be objective about the steps that you’re taking or the progress that you’re making.
I think that’s the essence of trying to become an Indie Hacker that can sustainably generate income to live off or being an entrepreneur. If you’re buy-in is too big, at one point, you can’t be objective anymore and that’s where things start to go wrong, I think.
This is one of the hardest lines to walk as an Indie Hacker because they think you’re right. There are two modes you can be in. You can either be building and doing things or you can be reading, consuming information and learning.
I talk to so many people who are slacking in one area and really need to focus on that area to the exclusion of the other. So many people who just read and listen to podcasts all day long, but they haven’t sat down to build anything or start anything or come up with an idea. Then, there are so many people who have been working and hacking every day for years and it’s like, “Read a book, talk to somebody.”
Totally true. I think even this week, I anonymized it, but I shared a thread that I saw on Indie Hackers where someone said, “Finally, after two years, my minimum viable product is live.” That was basically the title, so I was super intrigued, so I clicked on it and, basically, this guy said, “We are finally finished. Now, I’m thinking about where we can find the people. How can we distribute this?”
And I’m like, “Damn, you’re probably not a dumb guy, you’re probably super smart, but this is really the wrong approach. You’re going to disappoint yourself, which is totally an unnecessary consequence of the steps that you took.”
That’s what I really want to tell people, “Not to talk you down, but I really want to show you that eventually, you can build anything, especially if you’re a coder.” But the question is, should you be building everything? As someone who can code, for example, building something is the most fun part. I totally get it when that’s the first step you take, but in most cases, that’s not the best step.
It’s rough because so many of the things that you would intuitively think you need to do to be a founder are actually the wrong decisions and the right decisions are extremely unintuitive.
It’s very unintuitive that if you’re going to start a company, you shouldn’t just jump into building stuff. I think for you, as somebody who’s creating this course and trying to help people learn, that’s quite a challenge because you’ve got to help them, on one hand, figure out this startup strategy stuff, how do they actually build their company in the right way so that they’re more likely to succeed, but also you’re doing a No-Code course and that’s part of it.
You’re actually teaching people which tools they need to use, how they can actually build their product as quickly as possible, even if they don’t necessarily have the skills. You’re teaching people these two things at once. How do you structure that?
Actually, there are three things. I think that the structure of the course is it starts with the mindset, so it’s kind of what we already talked about. What’s the right mindset when you have an idea? The first thing you want to really believe is no one cares about your idea.
Your idea is not unique. Doing nothing and just talking about your idea doesn’t get you anywhere, so you have to do stuff. I think that 20% of the course, just the start is about the right mindset because I think that is really important.
If you don’t have the right mindset, especially when you’re working on an idea with more people, like two or three people, they really have to create the right baseline before you start or else you cannot have the objective conversation about what are we actually doing, how should we move forward, is this good or is this bad, the evidence or the data you found.
When you’re alone, on one side it’s easier, on one side it’s difficult because there’s no one who’s going to go into a discussion with you. The first part is really about the right mindset. If I have to drill that down, one is nobody cares about your idea. The second one is nobody cares about your product, so it should really work and deliver the value.
That’s basically where we start. The middle part is really about the methodology. When I finished my studies eight years ago, I did my final paper on The Lean Startup, which just came out. I’ve always been a big believer in that, especially in the fact that you have to make all your steps super small and focused.
I think you already went the wrong way if you just start building your idea because then it’s already really big and you can’t go back to it being small. If you have the right mindset, you are, hopefully, able to make all your steps small and small is not only money and time, but also your focus.
What I really share in the course is that your big idea is probably the most amazing solution to all the people in the world or all the people in the customer segment that you’re targeting, like all the makers in the world or all the marketers in the world.
What I’m showing and I also created my own methodology for that that I actually launched on Product Hunt and Twitter yesterday, which is like a canvas. It’s a set of 12 steps that you follow to go from your big idea, so this is my big solution for my big target customer segment for their big problem that they have.
That’s where you eventually want to go. If you solve everything for everyone in your customer segment, that’s where you eventually want to go. You cannot start back there because no one cares about your idea and no one cares about your product. You have to dive into that customer segment to figure out from all the marketers in the world, for example, who are the ones that really have this problem?
Then, you can segment that any way you want, so marketers, working for startups or for corporate, that’s totally contextual. You have to figure that out yourself. If you segment that customer segment even further down, that’s when you go into the right process of eventually creating that into an MVP.
If you say, “The most valuable segment from all the marketers in the world is this type of segment,” then you’re going to dive into that, “Is the problem that I think they have also the actual problem or should I refine it and then if I tell them about my solution, what’s my value proposition?” and so on.
That’s kind of the process that I teach to go from your big idea to something that you can test and learn from, like how you can learn the most the fastest. That’s basically what an MVP is about, so I really don’t see an MVP as the first version of my product. That can be like the actual first version or a rudimentary version like the first three features of the 10 features I want to build.
I’m totally not looking at an MVP in that way and that’s why I also think that the discussions on Indie Hackers are super interesting because a lot of people approach it in the technical way, so that’s part two.
How you go from your big idea to a structured experiment is how I approach it that you can put out in the world to that segment that you chose of your bigger customer group and validate all the assumptions that you have.
Do they actually have the problem? Are they looking for a solution? All of these things. That was the biggest part, so 50% is about that process. The rest is really about this stack of tools that I chose for this course and for me, I think those are the tools that are easiest to learn and also the cheapest to start with.
Of course, Carrd is in there, Zapier is in there, and Airtable, but also the G Suite, there’s Gmail, Google Sheets. Those are all free to start with. At the end of the course I also share that I don’t care how you eventually build your product or which tools you use. Maybe you’re even coding. Twenty-five percent of all No-Code MVP members are actually developers. It’s about what works best for you. I really want to give people the practical skills to just start working on all their ideas.
If I look at myself, StartupStash was a successful product, but before StartupStash, I maybe threw away 20 ideas that I worked on. Some for two weeks and some for six months and from all these things that I failed from, I took one, two and three learnings and those eventually compounded into – they also get into your skill set of figuring out, “Should I do this thing or that thing? What does this evidence tell me? Should I proceed with this idea?” all these things.
I think the eventual goal of No-Code MVP is to really help people get started and also help them figure out if they’re working on the wrong idea. If nobody is waiting for the idea, that’s fine. What you’re learning, move on to another idea. That’s kind of how that course is composed.
How did you use some of the things that you’re teaching in your No-Code MVP course to develop No-Code MVP itself? What was your mindset? How did you take your big idea down to something small that you could validate and what were the stack of tools that you used?
Totally at the beginning, I felt, “I have dog food my own methodology, or at least my own process or else it wouldn’t be really viable.” It doesn’t make sense if I wouldn’t use my own approach.
Basically, I put up a landing page with Carrd, Zapier, Google Sheets, and put it up on BetaList, so the landing page told the proposition. I thought, “Okay, it’s a mindset, process, and tools,” these three things, so I wanted to show people the tools, not just my process. But also in the course, there are six step-by-step building guides for six different types of products.
I knew I wanted to have those in there, so that was basically my value proposition, and I put it on BetaList, I shared it on Reddit and Twitter. My goal was to get 500 subscribers. If I got 500 subscribers, I would pursue this idea. Eventually, when I launched, I had 2,800 or something.
I don’t remember when I had the 500, but at one point, I was like, “Now I have to create this thing.” That’s when I started working on, like I mentioned before, a course is really a product. There’s a value proposition, there’s all these designs, there’s the actual layout of the course, there’s all this content.
I started working on that, especially the layout, like the Table of Contents. Also, doing my research—I was thinking where I wanted to go with this. At one point, I had these 500 subscribers, I was working on the research and the content and a guy from the network, he called me and he is running the innovation department at a big bank in the Netherlands, and he asked me, “I see you’re sharing stuff about this No-Code MVP thing. Do you have a company workshop for this?”
I didn’t have anything, but I told him, “Yeah, sure. I have a company workshop,” and then he asked me for the price, and I told him, “It’s a two-day workshop and this is the price,” and he was like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
I was like, “Damn, now I really have to make this thing,” so I was already working on it, but that really gave me a boost. I got paid to actually develop it, so I thought, “I’m really going to do my best with the workshop. If they hate it, okay. I can even return the money.” I was at that point.
Do you remember how much you quoted them as a price for the two-day workshop?
Yeah, it was 5K.
Yeah, that’s a pretty healthy amount.
Yeah, it’s a healthy amount. Before that, I also worked at another big bank in the Netherlands, so I kind of knew what the prices would be, but I quoted them that. I basically got paid $5,000 to validate.
Do something you were already going to do.
Yeah, part of my content. Eventually, I ended up with key notes, presentation of 400 slides that had everything that I wanted, so the mindset, the process, the tools, and getting them to work, to build on the tools.
I bought another Carrd account and I put up these demo websites and gave my log in to the team so that they could work with it. There’s a free Zapier trial, so they could just use all the tools on that day and even two weeks after.
We did the workshop and from that workshop, I did another one and another one, so eventually, I think I made 18K or almost 20K just doing workshops. And the workshops were my way of validating the content and also the layout, so I could really easily switch up my key notes just by dragging around the slides.
My MVP started with the landing page from BetaList and it ended up as a corporate company workshop. From those slides, I eventually chopped them all up and those eventually became all the videos in the course. Each video has a keynote presentation behind it and me talking over that presentation.
The consistent theme here is that you’re not just blindly making things and then hoping that you’ll find customers or an audience later. You’re building the audience first. You’re finding the customers first.
You’re building a mailing list and putting up landing pages well before you make your course. You didn’t make a workshop and then go looking for customers for your workshop, you got a request for a workshop and then you made your workshop. You’re always minimizing the risks that you’re work on something that nobody needs.
Yeah and you can also go with the flow. Like I said, if you want to go somewhere, there’s always a problem. So this guy called me, and I was like, “This is an opportunity, but I don’t have anything. Is this the right price? I have no clue.”
These are all small problems. Talking to someone on the phone, getting an opportunity, small problem. Figuring out the price on the spot, small problem. Creating the deck, big problem. Doing the actual workshop, big problem. All these little moments are learnings, I think. You can only learn when you do them.
Like I said, I really thought if I really do poorly, if they hate me, if they hate the workshop, I’ll just refund the money, I don’t really care. It’s already a blessing that he gave me the money and that he found me. I always think that’s the right approach and especially because, this is also one of the things that I really believe, your idea, as a whole, is already filled with all these assumptions.
If you ask someone to pitch you their idea, they will say, “My product is solving this problem for these people in this way and I’m going to ask this amount of money,” for example. There’s already four or five really big assumptions, like: I know who you are as a customer, I know what your problem is, I know how I’m going to solve it, I know how I’m going to send it to you, and all these little assumptions, you have to figure them out.
As long as they’re not true, you’re still figuring them out. When you get to a point where you know that they’re all true, when you know who to talk to, how to talk to them, where to reach them, what your value proposition is, what price to ask, and how to actually serve them, which is your product, then you’re not a startup anymore, that’s a company.
Then, you go on into focusing on optimizing all those things. I think if you keep that in mind, then it becomes easier to stay objective about what you’re doing and that’s also where, what I just said, I’m still figuring it out. That’s not to be cool, that’s just the real thing.
I have no clue, I’m just figuring it out as long as I go. Of course, you have to get some traction in the beginning. If I wouldn’t have sold – I think it’s now 22K revenue in total—if it was 3K we probably would have had a different conversation, but that’s the game of putting something out there in the world and figuring it out if you can make a living off it.
I think one of the things people struggle with the most is just coming up with an idea. When I talk to people who haven’t gotten started, more often than anything, it’s, “I don’t really have an idea I’m excited about yet,” etc. They’ve even gone to the point of making a bunch of false assumptions that aren’t proven, etc.
They don’t know what to work on. When I look at what you’re doing, and what so many other successful Indie Hackers do, your idea isn’t particularly elaborate. The idea of teaching people how to start successful companies or how to build things without code, that’s not some genius, “Oh my God, lightning struck while I was taking a shower,” kind of idea.
No, man and I was super insecure about it. I saw YCombinator Startup School, this and this forum, or YouTube channels. It’s about figuring out what your angle is on that subject. Does that make sense?
My angle is methodology plus the partitional part, which I’m convinced that that’s a unique selling point. That’s why I pursued the idea, but just being a course that tells you, “This is how you start a start-up,” just that value proposition wouldn’t make much sense anymore.
I like how you said you were insecure, at first, about solving one of these very straight forward problems. It’s not glitzy and glamorous, but then you realized that you could come up with your own unique angle on it.
I think the order of operations there is super important and very unintuitive to first time founders. This is another one of those unintuitive things, where the very first thing you should do, you’re picking what industry you’re going to be in, what problem you’re solving. You do not need to be unique there.
A lot of times, first time founders will come up with an idea and they’ll look out and they’ll say, “There’s no competition, perfect. I’m so excited no one is doing this.” The biggest risk, in the early days, is that you build something that nobody wants. You solve a problem that no one cares enough to pay money for. Often times, when you have competition that’s a good sign because that proof positive that there exist customers out there who care about this problem and are going to pay money to have it solved.
I think you should come up with a problem that, basically, you already see people paying lots of money to solve and start there. Investigate there for what kind of creative and unique solutions that you can build.
Yeah and I think you can go at it from different angles. For example, one of the people that I really want to reach with the course is people that have been working in a certain company for 10+ years and they always see same thing go wrong.
That’s where their idea comes from, like, “I want to build a product for the companies that look like the company that I’m now working for and I’m going to sell it to them.” That’s where their idea comes from and those are the people that I would love to help. They get their idea from a certain type of experience.
They see the same thing going wrong for 10 years, for example. They don’t really look for the problem, they actually experience it. That’s how they validate for themselves, there’s a problem. There are different types of steps, so let’s say you see that there’s a problem somewhere, you think, “This problem occurs in this and this type of company. How many of these companies are there? What are these companies spending on software? Where are these companies located?”
That’s where you do that type of research. It’s all about finding a little evidence that supports your idea. At one point, you have to say, “I’m going to go for it, or not.” At that point, how much certainty do you need around an idea is contextual based on the idea, but it especially on the person. Maybe for you, an idea should have 40% certainty and you would totally go for it. Me, I’m a super risk-averse person. For me, it should probably be 70%.
Yeah, I’m 80-90%.
Yeah, maybe you’re even more. But there’s also people that just go at it at 5%, which is amazing to me. I applaud that. I could never do that, but I applaud that. That’s also why it’s pretty difficult to teach people this. In some sense, like, “When do I know if my idea is successful?” and then my answer is always, “I don’t know, that’s up to you.”
It’s more about the process. Can you objectively say that you did the steps to get to a point where you can make an objective decision? Then you make the decision. Coming up with ideas, one, could be experiencing the idea in a certain context.
You could look at trends, what are people buying now or doing now, or, like you said, online learning space is growing. There’s a Gartner report, which I think predicts this 10x-ing in five years. It’s just going to be huge.
That’s also where you can find evidence to support your idea and get to that point of certainty where you can say, for example, “I don’t really know what my product is eventually going to look like, but I know that more people will be at home, this space is growing, so I have to do something in this space and that’s why I’m going to explore problems within this space.”
That’s how you can validate in small steps in the direction of where you are going to go. There’s one blog post, it’s called, “Interesting Ways to Find Startup Ideas,” or something like that. If you Google, “Interesting ways startup ideas,” then you’ll find this article.
It shows you eight to twelve different types of, I want to say, mental models or ways of thinking to approach ideas, markets, and trends. Maybe that’s fun to share. I also think another interesting article is called, “The idea maze,” by Chris Dixon, I think, where he says, “If you start with the idea of an online music streaming service, you can still go different routes.”
You can go the Pandora route or the Napster route or the Spotify route, which basically all start with the same idea: online music streaming, but they are all really different types of products.
I think you’re really painting a strong distinction between the problem and the solution. These companies that you’re listing, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, or Napster, they’re all very different solutions to pretty much the same problem.
I think what a lot of founders have in their heads is this very amorphous thing called a business idea. It's not really clearly defined what that is, but if you break it down into, “There's a problem and there's a solution,” then you can think a lot more clearly about it.
You can say, “Who has this problem? How many people have this problem? How important is this problem to them? How much do they pay that this problem solved? How frequently do they need this problem solved?” Then you can think about your solution. That's kind of a distinct separate thing.
Totally. I have a friend who's in San Francisco and he just raised 250K. I'm not saying this is right way, but it's interesting. He raised 250K to investigate, not even an idea, but it's to investigate a market. His thesis is like, “We should build some sort of back office software service for these independent dentist clinics.
What they found is 90% of all the dentist clinics work with Excel and manual stuff combined with all the insurance stuff. Basically, if you go to the dentist and you claim that with your insurance, then the insurance sends a paper check to the dental office and then the dental office has to go to the bank.
They just identified that really sucks and the only thing they're saying is, “We're pursuing this market. We don't know the product. We just know that the current process sucks. We don't know what we're eventually going to build, but we're going to dive into this market,” and, of course, you know the whole Silicon Valley thing, getting funded for this stuff is crazy, but I thought the approach was really interesting.
This market is interesting. That's basically it. Then you really dive into it. He's doing 20-40 interviews with dental clinic owners. “This is my assumption of the process. Can you tell me about the process? Is it true?” and that's his time box, it’s, “I'm going to do the interviews and figure out if from these interviews I can dig deeper. Is there an opportunity here?”
That approach, I think, is the right way but also for Indie Hackers, if you have an idea, what's the smallest thing that you can do to learn the fastest and how do you time box it? If I have to think about what I'm going to do for the next two months or four weeks, one month, your answer will probably not be “built the thing”, then, if you time box it in a month—Well, if you can code.
No code is faster, obviously, but have my point here is that if you timebox it for a month and if you really ask yourself the question, “How can I determine if I should pursue this idea four weeks from now?” Your answer to that question is what you're going to do from tomorrow on the next four weeks and that's why you really have to chop it down. You have to make it small and making it small doesn't mean it's less valuable.
That's, I think sometimes, for some people what they think. Their big idea’s awesome, it's going to save the world and if I make it small, then it won't count anymore. You have to make it small or else you will never end up at the big place, the big picture.
Couldn't agree more. Indie Hackers, listen to Bram. Figure out what's the smallest thing that you can do, time box it, figure out how you can get it validated in the next four weeks, and don't be afraid to start small.
Bram, thanks so much for coming on the show. I'll have to have you on again to see how your course is going. I'm really just curious how this trend plays out with more and more people using No-Code tools, more people getting into building online businesses, so I will follow up with you on that.
Is there anything you'd like to say to the audience to part ways and also let them know where they can find you online?
Yeah, I couldn't agree more with you. I'm also really excited to see where this is going to go on and I thank you again for inviting me. People can follow me on Twitter @bramk. That's my handle and of course, check out the course at nocodemvp.com.
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