Traf (@traf) is a designer and a serial indie hacker. Just over a month ago, he made over $100,000 in a week. No, not by selling a course or a book to some email list he spent months growing. He did it by whipping up some icons and putting them online. It barely took him two hours. In this episode, Traf and I discuss how to get lucky by both spotting and capitalizing on opportunities, the importance of no-code tools and a clear schedule to help you execute quickly when the time is right, and the power of permissionless marketing for reaching audiences much bigger than your own.
What's up everyone? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you're listening to the Indie Hackers Podcast. There's been an explosion and the number of people who are using the internet to build cool stuff and making a lot of money in the process. And on this show, we explore the latest trends, ideas, and strategies these Indie Hackers are using to get ahead, so the rest of us can do the same.
If you've been enjoying the show, do me a favor and leave a quick rating for us in Apple podcasts. Not only does it help other people find the show, but it also leaves me feeling pretty great. Today. I sat down with James Traf.
James is a designer and a serial Indie Hacker, and he recently created a set of icons in just a couple of hours that made him over a hundred thousand dollars in six days. That was about a month ago. Today, his revenue from those icons is well north of a hundred thousand dollars. And so, I asked James how he did it and how this all came to pass.
And I think what really stands out from this conversation is our discussion around luck. How much of a role does luck play as an Indie Hacker? What kinds of tools and strategies are people using nowadays to spot these opportunities and take advantage of them? And how can you really press on the gas pedal and make a boatload of money when you have one of these lucky situations like James did, rather than just having a quick flash in the pan.
James Traf, welcome to the Indie Hackers Podcast.
Thanks for having me, man.
Last month, you made over $100,000 in six days, and this was not from some course that you had meticulously prepared. This is not from a mailing list that you grew over the years, you sold them some ebook. This just kind of happened all at once unexpectedly. And we're gonna get into the backstory of how this went down. But like right now, I'm just curious, what are you gonna do with all that cash? That's a lot of money to just show up in your bank account in a week.
Yeah. You know, people ask me that, but I don't really have a solid answer, you know. I bought a new comforter. I picked up the iPhone 12, bought some pillows, so, little things here and there.
Dang. I hope you splurged and got some real nice pillows, at least.
Comfortable, for sure.
So what else? I mean, this is a lot of money. Like how's it going to help you in life? What are you gonna do with it?
Yeah, it's definitely the most I've made in that amount of time, no doubt. The biggest thing that comes to mind is just using it to buy myself some more time, you know? So I'm able to now not take on as much, you know, client worker, if any, at all, really, and focus on the things that I actually enjoy doing.
And so, if the real value of money for me is what I can afford to no longer do versus, you know, what I can afford to buy or, yeah.
That's a great way to put it. Let's say you had enough money to not have to do anything you don't want to do. You don't have any bills to pay, everything's taken care of. You're completely free.
Do you still work on the same projects that you're working on? Do you still take the time to come on this podcast? What do you change? And how do you think about spending your time and your freedom?
Right. Yeah, that's a good question. And I think, you know, I would be doing more or less the exact same thing, just because, you know, my cost of living right now is quite low.
And so, technically this whole influx of revenue from my icons and all this super side work, it's giving me a nice pillow in the sense where I can, you know, half the time to do whatever I want any day of the week. And I don't keep much of a schedule either, and so every day is sort of different. I work on really what interests me and so money, if I'm breaking it down a little bit more fundamentally, obviously, it's different for everyone, but for me, it really does three things.
One, it allows me to buy things that I think will have an impact on my life, but really don't. It frees up my time, so I can focus on things that I want to do and not have to do. And lastly, it'll relieve any stress that may have been caused by the lack of money before.
Yeah, I think those last two are the big ones. And the first one is the thing that everybody chases.
Exactly. And you've got to go through that.
Yeah. So one of my friends splurged and bought an Eames chair, E A M E S, and these are like just super outrageously, fancy, expensive chairs.
It's like a lounge chair and an ottoman, and it costs like $5,000 or something. He was super excited to get it. He just wanted to, I guess, sit in his chair all day and read books and play video games. But these are also the kind of purchases that I think you just acclimate to it.
Eventually, this was just what a chair feels like to you. Whereas, the freedom type of things, like when you're buying time and you're buying the ability to stop having to do things you don't want, even if that means like a job you don't want to go to anymore, now you have enough money to quit. I think you just appreciate those types of purchases a lot more when you can find them.
Let's get into the story behind these icons. You made a hundred thousand dollars in six days and that was over a month ago now. So I presume you've made more than a hundred grand total now.
Yeah. Right now I'm sitting at 280,000.
Oh, Jesus. Wow. That's absurd.
That's from just over 10,000 orders, sales.
That's crazy. That's way higher, honestly, than I thought you were going to say. And you made all this in like, I mean, it's been like five or six weeks?
Yeah, about a month.
Okay. So about a month, about four weeks. And most of this is not even you doing work. This is you collecting cash from the work you did early on to make the icons and promote them.
And you blogged about this in the early days. You wrote a blog post called Six Figures in 6 Days, and you talked about how this came to be. And it turns out this was really more like seven years in the making. So what's the whole story here?
Yeah. So the story seven years ago began when you know, it was the, I think it was 2013.
It was the early or maybe late jailbreaking days of iOS. So, for anyone who doesn't know jailbreaking is just, you know, allowing your device to gain an authorized access to inject certain applications into your phone. And so, there was an app that everyone would inject called Cydia and that would, that was basically an unofficial AppStore.
And so, people can upload their own versions of applications and themes and ad-ons, which they can then sell and others can use those to customize their device and their experience for their home screens.
So, it's like a black market AppStore that allows apps that Apple normally wouldn't allow.
Exactly. That's the first time that I dabbled in sort of creating something, you know. At the time I had no idea what I was doing. And so, I basically just copied this guy's icon set, I replaced all the images with my own icons and images, and just re-upload as my own, essentially. And I price it at 99 cents. And I think I sold a total of like maybe 15, 16, 17 dollars, something like that.
But, the interesting part about that is like, that was first time I've experienced, without knowing it at the time, digital content leveraging, you know. So creating something once with sufficient effort and then selling it repeatedly with practically zero effort.
Yeah, and this is exactly what makes digital products the best. Because the marginal costs of reproduction, as I call it, is zero. You are super scalable. It's not like a reward business where you have to make a sandwich every time we want to sell a sandwich. You just make the icons once, you can sell it to infinitely many people. And, even if you're not making a ton of money, you made like, I think $17, you said, it's got to open your eyes to what's possible.
Exactly. That was, probably over the course of like a year, honestly, because nothing happened, you know, the day after, the week after I posted these things cause I had no audience, you know, I had nothing really. And the people, the only sort of demand generation I was doing was just on social media, which is almost non-existent, at the time for me personally.
And so, you know, fast forward, seven years later, minus 30 days now, and I started seeing people post their home screens on Twitter and these were customized home screens. And I was wondering, I was curious about it, and I was trying to look into it. I was like why all of a sudden now is this going, like starting to go viral?
And so, I discovered it with iOS 14, I actually think it was possible in the earlier iOS versions as well, but it just sort of caught on during iOS 14 where Apple now allows you to upload custom icons for app shortcuts. And so, essentially it would allow you to theme your device in any way that you want it to.
And because I've had all this sort of experience in the past, I sort of decided to just try it out. I uploaded the set of icons that I had laying around and I decided to share a screenshot of it on Twitter. And, it very quickly started to explode. And, I then noticed lots and lots of people asking about the icons themselves.
And when I posted this, I didn't realize it at the time. Like, I didn't even think to monetize this in any sort of way. I sort of just shared, you know, screenshot, started to go viral, notice the man for the icons, and that's when I decided I may as well publish them, release them, and sell them and maybe make a buck or two.
So, that's when I decided to package the icons, publish them using Gumroad, and then, basically created a website using Notion and Super, and packaged them all nicely, and then shared them on Twitter in that same thread. And at that point I just went to sleep, basically. It was late at night, we went to bed. And the morning after I woke up to six grand in sales.
Wow. What'd that feel like?
Felt surprising. I had no expectations at all. And so, to see that when I woke up, you know, all of this took me about compiling all the icons, setting up the site in Notion and using Super, like all this took me maybe two hours to do. And so, seeing that results from that little work was interesting to say the least.
Yeah, $3,000 an hour is not a bad rate to charge for some icon design. Did you think at that time that there was a way to capitalize on this and like to make even more money? Or were you just kind of happy watching the numbers go up?
Yeah. Immediately the day after the tweet had gone completely viral to this point.
And definitely I was thinking, what else can I do to sort of keep this going? So, I started to create a little bit more content. I started to add different pages to the site, a showcase page to give people some inspiration on how to set up their home screens, how to, and tutorial instruction page to basically showcase how to actually install the icons using the Siri shortcuts app.
And so doubling down a little bit in terms of putting some more content together and also putting the icons in nicer mock-ups and designs, sharing those as well.
Why do you think that your tweet blew up compared to probably other people who are tweeting similar things? Or was nobody else tweeting customized concepts?
Yeah, there were definitely a few people, I can't say that I was the first, obviously. I discovered that other people were sharing them, and then, so that's what inspired me to share my own, so I can't take credit for that. But I think, probably two things. One that had, you know, not a crazy amount of followers. I think at that point I had around 4k.
So I had some sort of network to begin with. But more than that, I think it was just the aesthetic. I think, people were like, saw the aesthetic and saw the vibe that I created using, you know, a combination of wallpapers, icons, widgets, things like that. And just people resonated with it. They saw that and like, "I want that for my homescreen, you know, I want that now."
And so, I think that's what got people sharing and eventually got people to buy. And all was going good and sales were increasing. And out of nowhere I had a friend messaged me and just told me that MKBHD had featured my icon set in one of his latest videos. That was really surprising. I've been watching his videos for quite some time. And so, just seeing my icon set on his device in his video was something else.
Yeah, that's huge. And for people who don't know MKBHD, he's a YouTuber, that's a screen name, his real name is Marques Brownlee. He's got something like 13 million followers, his adding a couple hundred thousand followers a month and has got a pretty cool story behind it.
But just to give people an example, how popular he is, like the video he featured you in got something like 6 million views. He's teaching people how to make their iPhones look cool. And your icons, like almost a whole section of his video, like check out these cool icons, look at my phone. You could not have paid for a better ad than what he gave you.
Exactly. Yeah. The day after that video is still the highest sales date to date, I think the day after was 30 grand in sales.
So, he features you. Now you're on like a whole different trajectory where before you're making thousands of dollars and you're probably making tens of thousands of dollars. Were you surprised by that? And did you capitalize on the fact that like now you've got an even bigger following and people who want your icons?
Yeah, I definitely capitalized on it. I knew that at that point, he also tweeted about it. You know, he saw this came a little bit later, but I had also written an article a few days later when I passed the a hundred grand sales mark in six days.
And so, I had written an article about the whole story, about the process, about the background seven years ago, and looking forward to today, and the tools I use to create everything and all that. And that article also went viral because I guess, you know, people love stories and people especially love stories when it has to do with money or making money.
And so, that was shared a whole bunch. Also posted in the Indie Hackers community and that was responded to well. Although the title was very click baity, but people tend to enjoy the actual content and that created basically the second wave, which to this day, those two points were the biggest, you know, MKBHD and his video and then my article. You see on Gumroad analytics, you see the two spikes, like direct correlation.
And here we are, four or five weeks later, $80,000 in revenue from two hours of work. And I guess a bit more work putting in the effort into your website and your blog posts, but there's lots of dive into here.
And I think the first big topic I want to talk about is luck. Because, if you're trying to be an Indie Hacker, it's obvious, just from listening to this podcast, listening to your story and others, like luck plays some role in everybody's story. I don't think I've ever had anyone on the podcast who wouldn't say like in some way they got lucky.
And I think you were trying to decide whether or not to be an Indie Hacker. You probably want to know like how much of this is luck? How much of this is playing the lottery? So I'm curious what your thoughts are on this. James? How much of your story is luck and how much of this is you being able to spot and effectively capitalize on a great opportunity?
Yeah, I think one wouldn't exist without the other. And so I think it was very lucky that this happened at all and that I saw those few tweets. And so, those were people I was following, and if I didn't see those tweets and I didn't see people sharing their home screens, I may have never even shared my own.
And obviously that was the step one in the process. But, the other side of that is that because I had this experience of continually building things and creating icons in the past and sharing my work and publishing it, I wouldn't have been able to capitalize on something as quickly as I did. And so, I think one can't really exist without the other. That makes sense?
Yeah, I agree. And I think I've got my own framework I'm trying to work out here because I think about luck a lot. Right? And I think the best part about luck is that you have some degree of control. You know, it's kind of a cliche at this point, but luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
I think it like a third component of that to you it's you have to actually take action. And obviously if you don't do anything, it doesn't matter if you spotted a lucky opportunity, like nothing's going to happen. But it also matters how you take action. If you react really poorly versus reacting really well, that's the difference between, you know, having a cool tweet and the good story and having 300K in the bank, because you knew exactly what action to take to actually make money from there.
So there's a whole spectrum of outcomes, and I want to go through each one of these three things, preparation, opportunity, and action to talk about the different ways that you can capitalize on luck or make your own luck.
So maybe we'll go backwards, we'll talk about action. What do think was the most important action that you took in response to the sort of lucky event of MKBHD tweeting you and all these icons being released on iOS 14?
Right. Well, yeah, like I mentioned, I think without having that initial tweet, that started to go viral, I wouldn't have even released that icon sense.
So really simply, it was just taking a screenshot of my phone, uploading them to Twitter, and sharing it. And I think there's a whole lot that we can dig into that goes into that. I think just because partly of reasons that it worked, we mentioned aesthetics is one of them. That's something that I've been, you know, I've been designing digital products for quite some time now.
And so I've been putting the aesthetic homescreens together for quite some time now. I even have, you know, deviant art profiles prove it that I created, you know, seven, eight years ago, that I've been putting together home screens and desktop screens and all those things together for quite some time.
And so, it's hard to say what one thing or what one piece of action contributed to the sort of this, but most directly it would definitely be just like uploading the icons, taking a screenshot, uploading in Twitter, and sharing it, and letting the internet sort of do the rest.
And that's such a simple thing to do.
Like it's not that strategic. It's just showing your work, right? "I did this thing, check it out." How often are you tweeting? Was that an abnormal thing for you or is this how you always use Twitter?
I'm more of a visual person, so, I lately have been tweeting quite a few things, mostly within the last like six to eight months, as I have created Super.
And I've been creating more and more digital products, which we can dig into later. I've been sharing more and more on Twitter. And so, it felt a little bit natural to me, especially when something is so aesthetic that I'm just like, I know people are going to go crazy over this, because I'm going crazy over it.
Obviously the people that follow you are like-minded in a sense. And so, I knew it was going to work, I just had no idea how well it was going to work.
I interviewed Cesar Kuriyama earlier this year and he's got this app called 1 Second Everyday. I think the only other person I've talked to had a really well-timed tweet that really paid off, or in his situation, it had almost nothing to do with his work.
Like he wanted to talk to this director, Jon Favreau and just like say something nice to him that he thought other people weren't saying. And so, he like type out this tweet and he's like, "Oh, this is stupid. I don't need to send this tweet. It's just like a famous director. He's not going to read this." And he like passed out, woke up, he was still there in draft mode and he clicked tweet, and then nothing happened.
And then, a year or something later, he was working with this movie studio and they're like, "Yeah, we want to put your app in our movie." And one of the guys on the set was telling him like, "You know why we wanted to put your app on our movie, right?" And he's like, "No, I have no idea."
I just thought you thought it was cool.| And he's like, "No, like you tweeted Jon Favreau a year ago. And he thought it was a really nice tweet. And he checked out your profile and he found your app. And he's been using your app every single day since then. And he thought I gotta put this in my movie. I think the movie is called "Chef." But it's pretty cool just to see like these simple actions you can take and like, it costs you almost nothing.
And most of the time, it's not going to work out, but if you have a habit, like you said, you've been doing this for six to eight months, then that just massively increases your luck surface area. And like that is kind of the initial action that made the luck possible for you.
Exactly. Yeah. Luck favors those who are in motion in some way or another, you know. And in the internet age, motion just means putting your work out there, not being afraid to share it, not being afraid of oversharing in a sense. I think all those excuses are ways to just prevent you from doing that. And so that's a great story.
I think there's another few factors that go into taking action that are super important. So I wrote them down here, wrote down persistence, speed, time, and strategy. So, persistence in your particular situation, it was pretty obvious.
I mean, you didn't like just take one action. You kept taking action. You made that initial tweet, you wrote a blog post, you were retweeting MKBHD, I think you even made. Did you make like a special MKBHD icon set?
Yeah. So after I had written the article, I guess, I don't know how he found out about that either, probably on Twitter or something where, you know, there are a few people, I think that tagged him or that posted it as comments in his video.
And so, he discovered the blog posts. He discovered that, you know, me, a designer made a hundred grand in six days and a lot of that was caused from his video. And so, he decided to tweet about it and he tagged me and he linked the icons and everything. And so. I knew that there was a lot of people going to be visiting my Twitter profile from his tweet.
At this point, I saw a tweet from, I think it was SuperSaf, who's another, you know, YouTube influencer, a tech YouTuber, and he posted something along the lines of, "Now, all we need is an MKBHD themed pack or MKBHD version," you know? And I figured, why not? You know, it'll take me maybe another half an hour, you know?
And so, I created like this very notable MKBHD red and black icon set. I posted it on Twitter with a quote tweet for this guy's initial tweet. And that got another, I think 200,000 impressions from that. You know, I may not end up actually selling very much of it, I think I sold about two grand worth.
But, I think what people enjoyed was like the actual process of me putting together an icon theme specific to MKBHD, adding his logo and the social image, you know. It was fun for me and it brought a whole bunch of traffic to the actual original icon page as well.
It's a super smart strategy. And I think it's so easy when some event happens, just kind of react to it, but not realize that you can just continually react to.
And this is obviously where some of the best founders shine. They don't just have one lucky event happen and rest on their laurels. They just make consistently good decisions to capitalize on that over and over again for months or years after the initial event. And even for something as simple as like an icon set, it took you two hours, it turns out that you can blog about it and you can create a special icon set toward a particular person, who's got a big channel and a big audience, and there's just a ton of stuff you can do to keep going back.
I mean, you're on this podcast right now, I don't promise I'm going to sell you as many icons as MKBHD did, but like you never stopped capitalizing on it. And I think this is why one of the factors here I listed for taking action is also time.
A lot of people just don't have time to do this. So they get the ingredients to luck. They get the preparation, they get the opportunity, and those are together and it's time for them to take action. They just don't have time. They haven't figured out a way to clear enough time in their schedule to take advantage of things that pop up.
What does your schedule look like where you could just sit around, basically making icons and writing blog posts all day and have the time to capitalize on your luck?
Yeah, that's a good question. For me, I'm always optimizing for freedom. And that includes, you know, having a clear schedule. I think, for me, inspiration is hugely effective in terms of, you know, I use it as a productivity multiplier in a sense, but as perishable, right?
And so, it doesn't last forever. And so for me, taking advantage of that inspiration is hugely important. And so I continually prioritize a clear calendar and freedom to be able to act on my ideas as they come. Because I know, especially for me, I do so many things at once. And so it's easy to hop from one idea to the next, for me. Probably many Indie Hackers share this belief as well.
And so, it's important to me that I have the leisure to be able to capitalize on these things as they come up. And that's how I know that I'm putting together, you know, my best work, is when I'm within this state of productivity multiplication. And I'm just hyped up and I'm excited.
And I know that the work I'm putting out there is just like, I'm working five times faster, I'm putting out work that's five times better all during this state. And so, that's hugely important for me.
I love the phrase you use there that inspiration is perishable. You're not always going to be the same level of inspired. And once you get that inspiration, it's not always going to last. So that's your window of time to get a lot more work done and enjoy doing it more than other windows of time. If I think about the things that inspire me, it's usually other people's stories. When I listen to podcasts, when I hear about other people, you know, doing amazing things.
A friend sent me a talk by Derek Sivers over the weekend and it just got me super jazzed and I was super excited to work right after that. So, if you could find out what your inspirational hacks are, that's when you want to press the gas pedal, you could probably get more work done in those time periods and you can do and all the other times combined and feel much better about it.
Yeah. And so, now, exactly. And now I sort of optimize for times like that, you know, I know that they're going to hit, then I know based on what I'm working on, you know, at what point they're going to come and sense. And so now I'm like, putting things out there actually makes me more inspired to keep going, you know, and keep putting things out there and keep fueling the fire. And it just continually builds up and builds up.
The other thing you had that I think is important for taking action in response to these lucky situations is it's just speed because you don't have all day to take action. Like the opportunities usually don't exist forever. And I think the turnaround time from you tweeting your icon set up to realizing like, "Hey, this is something that like, I could actually make money doing, and like putting it up online.
It's pretty amazing." So how are you able to get this website up and running so fast and start accepting payments?
Yeah. So, I think there were three parts of it. So, I used Gumroad to actually list the product for sale. And honestly, I probably could have stopped there. There was probably enough, you know, your product page, I could have had a description, the price, you know, add testimonials on that page, if I wanted to, things like that. But I knew that there was a lot of questions around the product here and say,"How do I install them? What types of screens or home screens can I deliver with this and can I create with this?”
And so, I knew I wanted to have some sort of website and for me it was natural just because, you know, I spent a lot of time creating websites for clients in the past and also for myself and my own projects. But I figured this time was really of the essence, you know. I knew people, the tweet was getting more and more viral every second.
And so, I really wanted to capitalize on speed. And so, after uploading my product to Gumroad, I had created a basic website using Notion and I used Super, which is also a tool that I built that adds publishing features to notion. So that allowed me to add custom domains, analytics, custom fonts, and things like that to my notion doc.
And, all of that, for anyone who does or doesn't know Notion, you know, you could put together a document within a matter of minutes, you know, and so creating a full fledged website in a matter of minutes, publishing it to the web, to your own custom domain, doing all this so quickly is a huge advantage.
And for people who want to see this website, hope I'm looking at the right one, it's icons.tr.af. Is that right?
And so, I knew that would have taken a little bit more time. And so I optimize for speed there and put it on the sub domain using Super and Notion.
So, this is almost like an ad for the no-code industry, because these are all no-code tools. Like obviously Gumroad is no-code. Like you don't have to code anything on Gumroad.
You just have a digital product, in your case icons, you upload it to Gumroad, and then suddenly you can accept payments. And you've got notion, which I use. I think if it is like a sort of high-tech modern Google docs and you just made a Notion page, you can do that in like a second. And you've got Super, which we're going to talk about a little bit later, which is your app.
Which again, it can turn, I guess, a notion page and to a fully fledged public website. And your website looks great. Like there's no, if I did not know, this was a Notion page, you didn't tell me, I would never have guessed. I would say this is just like a natural page somebody took the time to design really well, and it probably took you days or hours to design this page.
But this is like done in minutes, which is insane. And so like your knowledge while these no-code tools help you basically get something out there way faster than you otherwise would have.
Yeah, and I think that's probably an under leveraged skill. And when utilizing tools, especially no-code tools that are available to all of us, you know, because it's such a low barrier entry, like in a way a good designer is sometimes just to get a curator of products and services that are available.
And so I think being a good designer is just, you know, finding cool resources from around the web, you know, compiling them together, slap on a name and a brand and push it out to the world.
Well, it looks great. And I think this is the last part of sort of acting on these lucky situations is just like strategy, execution, just like quality, right?
Like you have to actually have a good icon set. If you tweeted out a really ugly icon set MKBHD, probably wasn't gonna put that in his video. But also you got a bunch of other stuff, right? You put together this Notion page really well. You tweeted really well. You'd been tweeting for a while and like kind of have a knack for it.
And you wrote this blog post, which I want to dig into, which went viral, as you mentioned, pretty much everywhere. I think it was at the top of Hacker News. It was the most popular post on Indie Hackers for a while. How did you think about writing this blog post and what do you think made it so successful?
I really just wanted to document the story up until this point, because a lot of people look at over overnight success and then get a little bit salty in a way, you know, just like, "I could have done that, you know." But, I think there's a lot that goes into it. And so, I really wanted to outline the fact that this overnight success that other people are seeing as an overnight success was actually more or less seven years in the making.
Just because, you know, I don't think I would have been, to capitalize on all of this, if I didn't previously go through all that time and effort of building skills, building experience, putting home screens together, sharing them. If I built and created these home screens and these icons even, and never shared them, I even think that would have probably stopped me from sharing them at this point, because it wouldn't have been something that felt natural to me.
So, I think every step of the process is something that's really important to have, because the end result wouldn't exist without any of that prior discovery.
Right. And so, in a way, people were seeing your tweets about how much money you're making from these icons and kind of hating, and you have this blog posts as a way to explain yourself and be like, "No, no, no. It's not all luck. Like look at all this stuff that I did to get here."
Yeah. And I can't blame people. I feel like, in some ways I used to feel the same way. When I used to see people that I knew make a whole bunch of money in a short period of time, I felt a little unsettling. No, but now when I see it, it's just inspiring.
And so I often say to those people, you know, other people's success isn't your failure, but it could be, or could act as your motivation.
Yeah, it's such a good point. And it's one of those common feelings that a lot of people won't admit to, but like it's super common. A lot of people feel that other people's success reflects on their own lack of success. Saw a friend about another friend's business success.
And his immediate reaction was like, "Oh, that sounds like a scam." Just kind of put them down, you know?
And I think in a way it's like saying that...
It's so easy to say.
...makes him feel. It's super easy to say. And it's really just like a coping mechanism to make him feel better about not doing anything. But the reality is that it could be better off if he just had more positive attitude about it and realized like, "Hey, maybe I could have done this. Maybe I should do this." Or at least be inspired by hearing stories of what other people do.
Yeah. And the people who often say, you know, "I could have done that," they're the ones who don't do it, you know. It just feels like this weird correlation there. And to go back a little bit, I want to mention, you know, there's a lot of things on the icons page that I feel are not up to par with my own work.
I still feel like a big part of it is unfinished. You know, I feel like the experience of using the icons is still pretty horrible. Like the drawbacks are pretty bad. They didn't come with the most icons in the set. They aren't the nicest, you know, they're far from being the least expensive, you know, as a matter of fact, I think they might be one of the most expensive.
And so, I think there's a lot there that didn't go right. So I think it's more about optimizing for the things that are good enough. And to me, that's something that's hard to do, you know, as a designer, as a somewhat of a perfectionist, there's a lot of things that could've stopped me from taking action or pursuing something.
But I think it's important to differentiate between what's something that's perfect and what's something that's good enough, and what will get you to the next stage.
Knowing like the 80/20, like what's good enough is I think an essential founder skill and most founders come from some type of individual contributor role, whether they're a software engineer or a marketer or a designer.
And when you work that kind of role in a company for a long time, you start, it kind of throws your sense of what's good enough out of whack because the rest of the company around you is handling everything else. If you're a designer working at some company, like you just design and you can be as much of a perfectionist as you possibly want to be.
And it's fine. In fact, that's kind of encouraged, that's your only role. But when you put on the founder hat and you realize it was a bunch of things that matter, like, "Okay, how fast am I to the market? Like, how am I going to promote this? What distribution channel am I going to hit? Like, who's my target audience?
How much am I going to charge?" Like you realize you don't have time to spend, like every second of every day tweaking the design, even if you are a perfectionist designer. So, the fact that you were able to get this out here and be a little bit embarrassed about it, and yet realize that like, you know, it doesn't matter if you've like gone far enough in that direction, you'd iterate on other things, it's super, I think it just speaks to your experience as a founder.
And we're going to get into this a little bit later, cause you started other companies in the past. Like this isn't your first radio. But I've got a few more questions about you making this icon set blow up. And it cost $28, $28 for icons that you made in two hours.
I've seen people work on SaaS apps for five months and then charge for $5. How did you come to a price of 28 bucks?
I'm one of those people that also works on SaaS apps. I charge $5.
I've been there too.
So, I'm both of those people on both ends. And so, I think I just look at it differently with some things. And so, if you think about it, there was no sort of notion as what an iOS icon set should be priced at because iOS icons were not ever really a thing outside of the jailbreaking scene, which was not native at all.
It was the furthest thing from native. And so, there was no notion at all. And so, it's common in the city of stores for icons to be priced at 99 cents, 1.99, 4.99, maybe if they come with thousands and thousands of icons. But there was no notion previously as to what an iOS icon should be priced at.
And so, I figured, if I was the first to market I could really price this thing at anything I want it to.
Maybe, I would have sold more if I would have priced them for less, but we'll never know. But generally, I'm really happy with how I priced knowing it was kind of a whim, you know, I had been selling lightroom presets on Gumroad as well for 28 bucks.
And I figured, may as well just be consistent, stick with 28 bucks and we'll see how it goes. And I can always change pricing if I want it to, but ended up working fine.
Yeah, you can't really complain about the results and like you're right, we'll never know if there's like some other point on the pricing curve that was perfect, but it doesn't really matter, especially when you're dealing with these, like once in a lifetime opportunities, you just gotta pick something.
And I think erring on the side of charging more is usually the right option because you can always lower your prices later. And also, in your situation, people aren't buying these icons, like for some utility reasons because they want to make money.
People were buying these icons because they want to have them, cause MKBHD was tweeting them, because it looked cool, because it's trendy. And I think your audience is probably well off tech workers and tech fanboys and girls. So, I think it was probably wise to charge that much.
Yeah. And that's another good point too with MKBHD. You know, for someone who's reviewing like generally expensive tech products all day long, is a $28 icon set going to be more appealing to him or is like the 99 cent icon set going to be more appealing? And so it also depends about who you want your audience to be in a sense or who you want to attract.
It's a great point. Price is not ancillary to your product. It's price is part of your product. And if you charge very little, it kind of makes your products cheap and crappy. And if you charge $28, it's like, this is a premium icon set that you can't get anywhere else.
Like this is from James, this is a James Traf icon set. You're lucky to be able to buy these.
Yeah. And actually, the MKBHD icon set was priced the same at the start and included only half the number of icons.
So, with my original icon set they're like four colorways that are included, but with the MKBHD one, it's just red and black, and they price in the same. And so it's an even more premium feeling because it's an MKBHD icon set.
Exactly. And people are happy to pay for it.
We talked about action. Let's talk about opportunity a little bit. I think opportunity plays obviously a huge role in luck. In fact, it's probably the most lucky part of any lucky situation because the opportunity is not something that you really create.
Although you can kind of influence it, but like you weren't at Apple saying, "Hey, you guys should let people create custom icons." Like, you didn't know this was going to happen. It just suddenly happened, but you caught onto it. And so when I look at your story, I think there's a few parts of the opportunity that you did really well.
My breakdown here is that number one, you want to share a lot because when you share you create opportunity, so that kind of ties into your first tweet. Number two, and this has always been hard for me because I don't like the news, but I think you need to just read a lot. Like you need to be up to date with what's going on, at least in your industry in order to spot these opportunities.
And if you weren't like on Twitter, keeping your eye open, then you never would have seen people tweeting these things. And it's the same for MKBHD. Like if he wasn't sort of aware of what's going on, he never would have caught on to your icons set and realized he could put that on his video. So I think, just being aware of what's going on and keeping your ear to the ground is really important for opportunity. And I think you kind of nailed both of those.
Yeah. Opportunity in a sense that it feels, or at least following the news that you're interested in, it feels supernatural, you know. Obviously, you want to read and absorb the content surrounding subjects that you're passionate about. And so, people might hear, you know, Oh, after reading the news now, you know, in my field like work, but like just follow, I think you can just follow the people that are in the industries that you're interested in. And you'll discover a whole bunch of things that come up every day within their industries.
Exactly. And it's different depending on the channel as well. Like I rarely want to suck. I'm not going to like read a newspaper. You know, I'm not going to read Times, but if I like go to my industry and it's much easier. But then there's certain mediums that I care more about.
Like, I subscribe to a ton of newsletters on my iPad and I'm kinda like 50/50 with reading my iPad. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. Podcasts, every time I go for a walk anywhere I listen to podcasts. And I've just sort of subtly shifted my habits recently to listen to more podcasts that tell me new things that are happening because it's just like an easy, passive way for me to be up-to-date as to what's going on.
And then Twitter is obviously a huge place for news. If you're like in the tech industry, you care all about technology because every software engineer, every designer, every startup founder is on Twitter. And so for me, like I don't enjoy reading Twitter that much cause it's so distracting.
And my timeline, no matter who I follow, just ends up being a bunch of non tech stuff. So, I wrote a bot, kind of like a hack for myself because I know how important it is to be caught up on the news. And my hack just like, my bots just goes and looks at every Indie Hackers account on IndieHackers.com, grabs their Twitter profile, and then looks at all the things they've tweeted in the last 24 hours.
And it gives me three things, like which links were tweeted the most, which tweets were liked the most, and which tweets were retweeted the most. And then it just sends it to me and like kind of a newsletter way. So I just click on that every single day. And like that's the easiest way for me to get my news and know what's going on.
That's how I found out about you. That's how I found out about like a lot of my podcast guests. And I think other people can be creative as well and trying to figure out how to like, increase this opportunity, figure out just how they can see opportunities come onto their radar because we've got this passively not in an environment or a mode where that happens. And like, you're just gonna get lucky way less often.
Absolutely. I think that's great. I would probably use that bot to be honest, it seems like a hyper-focused efficient version of a newsletter.
Yeah, it's cool. And it's like, everyone's got their own audience. You mentioned earlier, you knew your audience would care about your aesthetic design sense, and the fact that these icons look beautiful because they're your followers. I know that like, okay, well, my audience is Indie Hackers. If I just get all the people who were subscribed to Indie Hackers' Twitter accounts, I'll probably have pretty good signal on what's important to them because it's going to be the same thing as important to me.
So I think everyone out there can just kind of find somebody who's your audience or find somebody else who's curating somebody who's your audience and figure out like what's news to them.
Yeah. And I really want to emphasize that I think the other points that we've discussed is, you know, opportunity would be nothing without them because I feel like in a sense people consume, I mean, it's no surprise that people consume too much. But I even think that people consume some of the good stuff too much in a sense, because you know, no matter how many books you read or podcasts you listen to, I think action is only going to come from within. And if you think about it, no one can really teach you anything.
They can only inform you of things. And so reading and watching and listening, you know, they'll fill your mind with information. Whereas creating and building and publishing will actually make use of that information. And I published a tweet a few weeks ago that, you know, makes it easy for me to remember this concept, which is, you know, read to find new ideas, write or teach to better understand them, and implement to actually learn from them.
I love the idea of writing and teaching to better understand ideas because it's so counterintuitive to anyone who hasn't like written a lot or taught a lot, but you end up learning so much just trying to explain something to somebody else and organizing your thoughts around it.
And very few people like honors spend a lot of time writing and thinking. Comedians spend a lot of time writing and thinking like, no wonder, like they're so witty and they have interesting takes on the world because they're spending their full-time job just like thinking about stuff. I think about this with my boss, Patrick, like he doesn't have a lot of day to day individual contributor activities and stuff to do.
Like, he's just kind of thinking, a lot. He's like, "I gotta like write code and like, you know, do all sorts of stuff and fill out all sorts of forms." So, if you can take the time out of your day to just think and write or teach, then you're going to have much, much higher quality thoughts on almost everybody else who just has no time to think.
And if you give, like, leave space in your calendar to be empty, to be inspired, then you also can take advantage of luck when it happens. So I feel like you're in a good spot where you just had like an empty calendar, a lot of thinking, a lot of teaching and writing and that's just the perfect recipe for being able to take good action and know what you're talking about.
Exactly. Yeah. I think that's a highly under leveraged super power, in a sense, like it's just setting out time to think about things that you're thinking about and writing about them. I think, it'll internalize a lot of your beliefs, so everything is not very surface level and you'll be able to better understand yourself in a way because of that.
Yeah. So then the last part of luck, so we've gotten kind of in reverse is preparation. And we've spoken a lot about, like, you obviously been making icons for a long time and you're working on Super which helps you turn a Notion page into a website so you obviously knew about that. But you've also got like this experience as a founder, right?
You've started other companies before. In fact, you went through Y Combinator and I love talking to Indie Hackers who've gone through Y Combinator because it's not common that people go from like, you know, the Silicon Valley sort of high gross startup world into Indie Hacker. In fact, it's more often the other direction that people typically, you know, travel.
So, give me the story behind you doing YC and why you decided to eventually become an Indie Hacker instead of going the investor, raise a ton of money route.
Right. Well, a few years back, I think this was 2014, me and a couple of guys got together. I was actually hired by them initially as a designer to work on an app that they had thought about, which was called Airborne.
And over the weekend, I don't remember how it came up, but someone from the team decided that it would be cool if you could just send someone a gift anonymously and randomly. So you wouldn't know what the gift was and you wouldn't know who was actually sending you the gift. There was just a package show up on your doorstep with like a personal note.
And, we thought it was a fun idea. And so we launched a landing page over the weekend. It was 25 bucks to send somebody a gift and a personal note. And we would do all of that manually for now. We had no expectations whatsoever. It actually worked better than the previous six months of the previous app.
And so, at that point was the applications for Y Combinator. And we had to make the decisions, like where are we going to apply with this app that we had spent six months building? That had, you know, okay traction, nothing crazy. Or this weekend project that was still mostly a joke to us that saw more traction than this other one saw in six months.
And so, we obviously were more passionate about the weekend project because it was working better. And so we figured we would apply with that. And I even think to this date, like we were one of the youngest companies that have ever gotten into Y Combinator. I think we were like a week or two old by the time we actually applied.
That's pretty ballsy to decide that you're going to abandon this thing you've worked on for a long time and then go with this, it's like a week old project. Like how well was it doing compared to your previous app that you decided to make that decision?
Yeah, well, the previous app, it was like, we weren't making money yet. And so, we're still building a lot of relationships and networking and things like that. And so, it felt as though anything we would have launched that would have put a dollar in our pocket would have worked better, you know. And so we made, I don't even think it was that much, maybe a couple hundred bucks or a thousand bucks or something worth of orders.
But the point is that it came from complete strangers, you know, no one that we knew personally. I think we had launched like a very preliminary page on product times, even as a pre-launch product. And, you know, we got some orders from there. And so it was just, it was something that was working.
And, if you're working on something for a few months and you're not seeing any dollars come of it, it just feels as though anything that you work on that does provide you with money, you just want to jump on it. You want to capitalize it. You want to double down, you know, because it's way more exciting.
It's crazy how fast you're able to do it too, because. I think people have this idea that if you're going to make money, it just takes a lot of time. Like you need to sit down and it's going to take you six months, nine months, twelve months to build something that works.
But I fairly often run into people who've had these situations where you make something and like that with your icon set within, you know, a single night you've made six grand and it happened with your gifting app, over a weekend, you created something that was making money. It happened with Sahil the creator of Gumroad he, I think built Gumroad in a weekend and launched it on Hacker News, and like that's the business.
It hasn't changed all that much since when he first made it. Josh Pigford from Baremetrics, he coded his app up in a week and get paying customers by the end of it. And there's example after example of like apps and things people can build that provide real value right up front.
And so, I think it kind of goes back to the whole speed point. If you convince yourself that it's going to take you a year to build something, unless you just got a ton of money in the bank and like you want to spend a year doing this, you probably should like go back to the drawing board and think like, what can I do that's faster, that's easier, that's simpler because there's just so many untapped ideas out there that don't take a whole lot of time to make a reality.
Yep. Exactly. And I think everyone should be trying a whole boatload of things like just to not only see what works, but see what they're interested in, what they're interested in doubling down on, if one of those projects do end up working.
Pieter Levels had his famous 12 Startups in 12 Months project. And I see people copying this all the time and I'm glad they are cause it's a really good idea. I'm gonna set an ending deadline for every single idea, one month per idea. If it takes longer than that, I move on to the next one, and I think that constraint helps you build much faster.
It helps you do what you're saying, figure out what you actually like, because you might think you like something like I never would have thought that I would want to start a podcast or a community, but it turns out it's super fun for me. And I never would have gotten here if I didn't try a bunch of other stuff first.
So, I liked that idea of just starting lots of different stuff and seeing what sticks and in your particular situation, obviously it was gifting ideas stuck. You got into YC. I love gifting apps because they're just so, like your idea is pretty fun. In general. You get to give people a random gift. I think it was 25 bucks and they don't know if they're going to get, which takes all the pressure off of the gift giver.
And you can just give your friend a gift for Christmas or their birthday or something not to worry about like them not liking it, which I think is a lot of the pressure of gift giving. Like I've been asking friends and stuff like, "What do think about the holidays?" And almost nobody likes Christmas because of the pressure of like, "Oh, I got some of the wrong gift or whatever." And so you sort of solve that problem. How did it go from there?
Yeah, well, we had pivoted quite a bit over the course of Y Combinator. You know, we had moved out to Silicon Valley, set up an office, made it official, and then we just built out the product and we just experimented like crazy with seeing like what's sticking, what's working, what's engaging, you know? All the opportunities to create like a great brand from scratch. And so that was really fun.
I think in total, we actually had like, probably close to eight or nine complete redesigns in the sense of like actual products, you know. Not just like aesthetics, but actually like what we're offering as a product.
Like different gifting products?
Yeah. So we tried a whole bunch of things. We even took the B2B route at one point. And so, we were actually influenced a lot by the partners at Y Combinator because they seem to be more familiar with the business side of things and the B2B route in certain products and categories. And so, obviously we want to listen and absorb what all these people had to say.
You know, they were really smart and we wanted to act on some of their ideas. Problem is that kind of separated our vision with their vision. And I think, in the grand scheme of things, we actually lost a little bit of time focusing on those because we knew that Spoil should be a consumer app.
And so the B2B, although it was fun and generated some revenue, it took us a little bit away from the vision of our product. And, you know, that was just one of the many examples. But we had actually ended up with, I think our best version of it, which was, you know, mobile gifting app. You would give things that are really easy to give and perishable in a sense.
So, like cupcakes, you know, flowers, balloons, things that you're able to like re-gift if need be. Even healthy things like smoothies. And we had like different things, like, you can gift someone a pizza if you wanted to, you know? So we had events and categories of products and we also kept our surprise mystery box for the sake of like, that's what got us to the point where we were at.
And we wanted to just keep that as a sense of history. And so, we would leverage local suppliers for fulfillment. We would actually use the Postmates API to leverage local delivery drivers to actually deliver the gifts like within an hour or two of actually placing the order.
So the good thing about stuff like this is you're doing something that's very transactional. You're allowing people to buy things that they already are used to buying. And it's much easier to do that than it is to sell people, like some sort of software they've never seen before, in a category that don't understand, you have to convince them of why they need to buy it. Like people understand why they give each other gifts.
People understand like what it's like to buy a pizza, nobody balks at the price of a pizza. It's just like straightforward. But the downside is these are all like very physical goods, which means the margins are pretty low. Like if you are facilitating the purchase of a pizza, and then you're also plugging into Postmates, so they take their cut to do the delivery. It's probably not that much leftover for you. How'd you deal with those issues of selling real world goods for low margins?
Yeah. Well, put simply we didn't. We ended up running out of money in the end. And so that was definitely a contributing factor. But that's the huge reason why I look at the huge contrast between inventory based products and digital products is so massive because it's like, it costs you nothing.
You can launch it in a matter of minutes for something like Spoiled and not only on a product level, but also on the company level. I feel like part of the reasons why now I have a peculiar appreciation for small, profitable bootstrap businesses or Indie Hacker type businesses is because of how independent I am now versus how dependent we were early on.
And so, when you have investors, you have employees, you have an entire team, you know, you have your customers, there's a lot going on and there's a lot of moving pieces and it's really hard to execute on your vision individually.
And so, do you feel like it's easier or less stressful to be in Indie Hacker instead of having this high-growth startup pressure?
Yeah. I'm definitely happy with the direction I'm taking now, but don't get me wrong. I'm super, super grateful that I went through that experience. I mean, I think working on, or even in a startup, it can sort of act as a scale multiplier because you can either hire for a job that you need or you can figure out how to do it and save a bunch of time, effort, and money.
And so, which is why most people in that environment just choose to figure it out. That's what sort of led me to the path and direction of actually like creating websites and building mobile apps and actually designing at all in the first place. And so, I'm definitely grateful I did that. And I also, I'm proud of the sense of what we built, you know, at the end of our life cycle, we were, more traditionally, when you think of gifting, you think, you know, it's complicated, it's infrequent, it's expensive, but with Spoil, we sort of made it easy, frequent, and low cost.
And so, we actually started to engineer sort of a new way to give and receive. And so, in a way it was sort of a new category of gifting, or I should say giving, because many of our top Spoilers, which is what we used to call them, were giving a few times per week, rather than two times per year. And so, it was definitely rewarding.
So, often when I talk to founders, you have some sort of business or app that's kind of working or that's working pretty well. They find it hard to just give it up. For example, the founders of Home Joys is an on-demand cleaning app from five or six years ago, that raised a ton of money, like 50, 60 million dollars that are going to be Uber for home cleaning, you press a button, the cleaner shows up. Seemed like a great idea at the time.
They also ended up running out of money, but the founders didn't quite want to give it up. Like any one of the founders went and started like another cleaning company after that. And on one hand, you can say like, this is a horrible idea.
You already tried this, it failed, move on to something else. Well, you could also build an argument that it's a really good idea because you have all this domain expertise and you're probably the one person on earth having failed at this thing who can go back and like, you know, do a round two and do it better this time.
So why didn't you go back and do like an Indie Hacker version of your gifting startup?
Yeah, it's a great question. And there's a lot that goes into that. Like we had spent probably a month just talking about that, just talking about, "Let's give up our investors, let's give up a lot of our customers in a sense, let's give up a lot of the place where we're offering this.
Let's just start from scratch, rebuild the product from the ground up with very little money in the bank, but screw it. Let's just go move back in with our parents and you can just build this up, you know?" So that was a real conversation. Like that was something that we had thought about, you know, half of our team, we were four co-founders and so two of us actually had, you know, wives and families, and so they needed something a little bit more stable. And so they had to go and actually get jobs.
And me and one of the other guys were deciding whether we actually want us to do this ourselves. And so, ultimately I think it came down to the fact that neither of us were truly intrinsically passionate about something like this.
I think we both saw really great opportunity and we both believed that this could be something really big, but what it would take to actually get there, it was not something that we were willing to actually put in. And, you know, some people are okay with that. You know, they see an opportunity there just capitalists, you know. They see that something is working, they go and sell that and figure out how to make it work.
And that's totally fine. For me personally, if I don't have a direct connection with it enough, I don't experience that problem myself, I will be able to properly put together a product. I won't be able to properly create a brand. I won't be able to effectively market to potential customers.
And so for me, I'm more on the side of building products that worked for myself, that solved my own problems because worst case scenario, I end up with one customer, which is myself and I make my life 101 percent better.
Okay. So you were self-aware enough to resist the sunk cost fallacy. It took all the knowledge and the effort and the time that you spent on your early idea, and you just throw it all away, made a clean break, started something brand new from scratch, and that thing is called Super. It lets you convert a page in Notion into its own standalone website. And it's doing pretty well. It's making money. How'd you come up with the idea for Super?
Yeah. It's a great gateway, because this was a problem that I was experiencing myself. I use and love Notion, and I want it to use it for something public facing. And I realized that I could turn on sharing and just share the Notion URL, but it doesn't really feel on brand. It has their URL and their logo plaster all over it.
And when you're building and creating a website that you're actually publishing, that's rarely ever the case. And so, I figured there must be a way to actually add your own custom domain, you know, customize, styles, things like that.
And so, there were some solutions out there, but they were very hacky. They required knowledge of Cloudflare workers and things like that. And so, I wanted to create simple solution that I could use myself and then just go and find more people like me who are also publishing their Notion pages to the web.
And so I had reached out to this guy that I used to know, his name is Jason. I actually found him originally in 2017 during the whole cryptocurrency crave. He had built a mobile wallet, cryptocurrency wallet, and I reached out to him and I want to say, you know, "Let's build something, I'm a designer, your developer, this is perfect.
We can build out anything." And we tried a few things, nothing that really came to fruition, but then I pitched him this Notion, this Super idea, and he was a Notion user himself and he figured it was a good idea. So we teamed up and within, I think about a month, we pushed this out.
So, a month to build. How long have you been working on it since then? And what's your revenue at?
Yeah. So, we've been working on it since I think May, so about five, almost six months. And we just passed 4,500 in monthly recurring revenue.
There we go again, pretty fast development time, pretty high amount of revenue. Some people don't ever get to $4,500 a month in revenue. What do you think accounts for you being able to hit that milestone so quickly?
Yeah, I think we are very deeply integrated with the growing Notion community. So I think, one of the most important pieces of building a company is the market you're in. And that's going to determine a lot of your growth, a lot of your success, a lot of, you know, how quickly your potential customers are finding you.
And so, the Notion community is great. It's engaging, everyone within it is like they're growing, just growing repeatedly. And so, it's definitely a great market to be in, especially a growing market. And we're able to ride the wave pretty nicely. And we've also collaborated with a lot of no-ode tools and companies like Makerpath.
And so, we had created and collaborated with them on a very deep sort of deep dive. And they had actually created a whole set of content for us that includes things like selling digital products with Gumroad and Notion and Super, embedding memberships with member space. And so, being deeply integrated with all these other great companies in a growing no-code market, I think is what enabled us to quickly find product market fit.
It's super smart the way you've done that. And I think it's a recurring theme and almost all the stuff that you've worked on recently, like you think about your icons, like that was kind of riding the trend and like the popularity of iOS 14. Everybody's tweeting about this right now. Like this is big news.
People are talking about it and then MKBHD, like he's got a huge following, right? It makes perfect sense for you to realize, like this is where all the people are and the market matters. Like I can make the most beautiful icons in the entire world, but if I make them about like some random topic nobody cares about, no one's going to share the icons. But if we're making it about this guy or this topic, people are going to care or you could've made Android icons and gotten like five retweets and no one would have cared.
And then with Super it's like you're writing like a few ways. You're writing Indie Hackers in a way, like you're here, you're talking about like the revenue, you're being transparent, like this is a thing that people care about. You are on the back of Notion, obviously, which is huge. I'm obsessed with Notion.
I don't think I've made a single Google doc in the last like two years since I started using Notion. It's just completely replaced it. And there's a million people like me and like Notion, you can rest assured it has a bunch of people making sure that it's going to be even more people like us in the future.
And so, like that's a cool trend and community to build off of. And then also like no-code, as you said, also blowing up. And so you're always kind of in the limelight, always connecting what you're working on to things that other people care about and really being conscious of the market, rather than just doing whatever you want to do and thinking that it's all about your product and not in the market that your product is in.
Yeah, that's a great point. And it's good to sort of talk about this because it helps me sort of like internalize what's going on and it's helped me probably better capitalize on things like this in the future. Because these are things that may not be obvious to me while I'm doing it. But in retrospect, you're absolutely right.
To add to that, I think there's this concept, I think it was Jack Butcher from Visualize Value who formalize this first, but the idea of this permissionless apprenticeship and the idea that you don't really need permission from Notion to build a super app, you don't need permission from Apple to build iOS icons, you know?
In a sense, you need the opportunity there from them, but you don't need permission from anyone or any company to actually build something to make something easier. And so, I think there's opportunities there. If you think about growing markets, there are opportunities everywhere. Like in case anyone here would benefit from it, let this be it.
You know, this is permission for everyone listening to this stuff. Everyone here has something that they do, that they enjoy doing, whether it be cooking or video games or playing chess. And there's a market for almost everything, which means that there's almost always a way to make money doing what you enjoy.
And so, if you love cooking, for example, you probably don't even realize that you create your own versions of recipes. And so, it's really simple nowadays, just to be able to document them, create some sort of visual recipe book, you know, upload it to Gumroad, publish it with tools like Notion and Super. And so putting things you enjoy out there to the web has never been easier. And no, you don't need permission in order to do it.
I think it's so hard for people to understand, like what it is that they're uniquely good at and to see any value in it. Saplings and developers all the time are like, "Oh, I made this thing, but I can't charge any money because someone else could just code it."
And it's like, nobody wants to code an app. They would much rather pay money for your app. Like that's your talent, you should use it, and for you to list all these different things. Like if you're going to cook, like guess what? Most people aren't going to cooking and would love to benefit from your knowledge if you could find a way to get it out there.
Even if that means doing this permissionless marketing thing, you're talking about. Like it reminds me of one of the better strategies for growing your Twitter account. It's like, you want to put your tweets where people are going to see them. And so instead of just tweeting into the ether, you could find really popular accounts and just be like one of the first people to reply to their tweets.
And you're going to get a ton of people who see your tweets and assuming there are any good, like you're going to get some followers or some responses. And so it's this constant sort of theme of like, you don't need somebody's permission to reply to their tweet. You can do that whenever you want to, and sort of ride their coattails until you've sort of made it on your own.
And the same is true of all these other apps and markets and things that are growing. So hopefully this gives people some good ideas of how they can actually get the word out about what they're doing and what kind of ideas are even worth working on.
Yeah, exactly. And there are a lot of things now that are, that you can act as a competitive advantage. For me, it's like simplicity, ease of use, and things that just look nice.
Regardless of what exists in what market, I think there's always an opportunity to make something simpler, nicer, easier to use, more rewarding, more fulfilling, more inclusive, you know, whatever it may be. And people will always be willing to pay for things that make their lives even .001% better.
And looking at your story and also a little soap box I want to get on where, when people talk about content and sharing is kind of an obsession with evergreen. Like you need to do something that's going to last forever and it's always relevant and look at what you're doing. And it's like, no, you're writing like the trends that are the most recent, you know, like you're seeing like, "Hey, this iOS 14 news is only going to be news for a very small window of time."
Like that's not evergreen, an evergreen trend to ride, but like that makes it almost better, if you think about it from a business perspective, because it means that there's a lot of demand. Everybody's suddenly interested in this thing, but it's not a lot of competition because no one has had time to like prepare for Apple's iOS 14, really.
And so if you're like always at the margins, doing things that are sort of new, like that's how you kind of stay top of mind. That's how you spread through word of mouth cause you're kind of in the places that people are talking about. And I think almost evergreen content, evergreen approaches are almost the opposite.
Or like people aren't ever really excited about it cause it's always true. Like if you're writing about like, here's how to rank on Google, well, it's basically the same strategies that there were like 10 years ago and you have infinite competitors cause every year more people are going to write more guides about that kind of thing.
And so this is sort of a tangent, but like I just love the approach that you have of always kind of keeping your ear to the ground and figuring out what's new, what do people care about? And explicitly not caring so much about like, I need to do the evergreen thing. That's always important.
Yeah. And the good news is with things that are fleeting in a sense is that if you properly integrate some of the other things that you're working on into your digital profiles or your website, short-term hype, no matter where it's coming from, will feed into long-term revenue. If the opportunity is there, and if your products are properly linked within your digital profiles.
And so, one thing that I noticed that I learned from this whole icon craze is that it doesn't matter what you're marketing, if you need to market it. And so, what I mean by that is short-term hype is bleeding into long-term revenue from these icons to creating Super and Notion pages, and then converting to customers on Super. And so, in a way that inspires me to keep putting things out there that I just enjoy.
And even if they're completely irrelevant to the products that I'm building, because no one in a way would think, you know, what's the correlation between icons and a publishing layer for Notion? The separation there is there might not be very much overlap, but now I've went through them and there are 30 or 40 sites being created on Super using Notion that are all basically replicas of my icon page.
And that'll give more and more people opportunities to create different websites and different content using Notion, Super as well outside of just the icon ecosystem.
So, what are your thoughts on Notion in general? We're both big Notion fans, but like you're working on a product that's built on top of Notion so you seemed a little more plugged in than I am. It feels like there's this trend now where a lot of the old guard products, like the Google docs of the world, the Microsoft Words are just getting replaced by people who are building products from the ground up that are made for the web, that are made for mobile, that aren't based on these super old, like desktop paradigms.
And I'm just curious to see where it's going to go. What are your predictions? What are your thoughts, obviously, you know, you've placed your money where your mouth is, or you're actually building on top of Notion. But like, what do you think is actually going to happen in the future?
Well, yeah, I'm definitely all in on Notion. I'm all in on tools generally that replace more than one tool. So if you have a tool available to you that replaces two, three or four, five previous tools that you're using, that's just going to make the process simpler. It's going to make it easier to get your ideas out on the web. It's going to make it easier to document.
And so, in regards to actually publishing, I feel like Notion is just a dream CMS. It's just like, when you think about, you know, creating content on the web, even products, you know, as simple as Webflow, the process of adding new content to your site, it's still a little bit, it takes some time, you know. But when you think about adding a thought to Notion and having that automatically publish to the web, it feels like magic.
So we're really doubling down on that whole idea. Outside of Notion itself, really just making the simplest website publishing experience today that I've ever experienced, you know? And so, I'm trying to think a little bit beyond Notion to that extent, because at first we were like plastering Notion everywhere on our website or on our Twitter profiles, because obviously it's a product right now that's dependent on Notion.
But I want to make the idea for Super a little bit bigger than that. So that's what inspires me in a sense.
Reminds me a bit of AJ from Carrd, who's got like a website builder and he's like one person making a website builder and say, "Can one person really make a website building company?"
And he's like, "I'm just focused on simplicity." And it's just like a one page website, super easy. And we're entering this world where there are just so many creators and just billions of people, literally who want to make websites. And like that number is only going to go up. Like there's still billions of people who aren't even on the web.
So the number of people who want to publish things quickly, who don't need to like code something from scratch and make the most fancy thing ever, it just got to rapidly increase, the market's going to get bigger. And I think there's always going to be room for tools like yours, that help people do that in a really simple way. So I'm pretty bullish on it.
Yeah. And I was going to add that if I would have asked anybody what they thought about this, or ask permission to sort of build Super, anyone logical would have just told me, you know, there's Carrd, there's Webflow, there's even Squarespace and Wix and WordPress and all of these tools, you know. But, like I mentioned previously, there's always gonna be an opportunity to make something simpler, to make it easier to use, to make it more beautiful and more pleasant.
So, if I have any advice, it's that just build your vision, bring it to life.
Even if it's just like your own unique vision, even if it's slower and weirder and harder to use, but it's like, you know what? I really like orange. And I think like everyone should like orange. Like there's some subset of people if the market's big enough and they're like, "You know what? I like this, this got style. I'm gonna make my thing orange."
That's a huge part of it as well as though. People are not only buying the product, but they're also buying into your view of the product. If you're the one selling, that's a huge part of it. I think you can have a lot of fun with that too.
Going back to 2017, I had built my own cryptocurrency token called The Boring Token. I based it off of, you know, Elon Musk's The Boring Company. It was a very simple page. I wish I still had up, I'll probably bring it back up, but it was actually fully functional, you could actually send ethereum and you would get boring tokens in exchange for that.
And it was a completely honest website. And I was saying, you know, are you going to make any money off this? And it was probably just, I kept listing out with no, I'm probably going to be stealing all of your money, but who knows? Maybe one day you'll be rich. And I had a few people that bought into that just because I was the one selling it. And because of how honest it was in a sense.
Yeah. People like authenticity, people have like, personalities and not robots. I think this is a tragedy with people who are trying to figure out how to make their apps and their websites a success. And their approach is just to copy everything they see everyone else doing.
It's like when you want to do the exact opposite, like you want to not look like everybody else's product, not have the exact same features they have, because if you do that then, like, how are you ever going to, like, why would anyone ever use you? Like when I was a kid, my brother and I used to sing a lot of Michael Jackson as kids.
We just like loved Michael Jackson. And my brother was a much better singer than I was. And he would always show to impersonate Michael Jackson. And my dad would say like, look, if you try to sing like Michael Jackson and you'll just always be a worse Michael Jackson. You're never gonna be that good. You gotta find your own voice.
And it's the same if you've got an app, a website, or any sort of passion project, you got to figure out like what your vision is for that, put that into that, and not worry so much about what's working for other people.
Couldn't have said it better.
Well, listen, James, I've taken up well over an hour of your time. I think you got a cool story and hopefully I can have you back on the podcast when your icons had a million dollars, but it seems like they're going to at this rate.
All right. Next blog post title, Seven Figures in 7 Months and see how that goes.
Yeah, I'm sure that'll blow up. What do you think people when listening to this who haven't gotten started yet can take away from your story?
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that you need less than you think to get started. You know, you don't need a business plan. You don't need a degree in software engineering. You don't need to quit your job. You need two things. I would say. One, a computer with internet connection and some initiative. And with those, I think sky's the limit. I think what each of us have stored in our brains is probably under leveraged to some extent. And so you don't need anyone's permission to capitalize on it but your own.
Any less than you think. Can you let listeners know where they can go to find out what you're up to at Super, or they can download your icons or they can find this boring crypto token and other things you're working on in the future?
Yeah, I'll actually republish The Boring Token website. It's boringtoken.com when it's back up. Super's URL, super.so. Icon website is icons.tr.af. My personal website is tr.af. Pretty easy to remember. And if you want to just learn more about what else I'm publishing. I got a few projects in the works, the best place is on Twitter, @traf.
James Traf, thanks for coming on the show.
My pleasure, man. It's been great. Thanks Cortland.
Did you know Indie Hackers has a newsletter?
Sign up to get insights, takeaways, and exclusive content from each new episode, directly from the host, Courtland Allen.