In this episode I talk to Andrey Azimov (@andreyazimov) about moving to Bali with a $3K runway and launching his "Hardcore Year." I'll ask him about the projects he launched to reach $10K MRR.
• Follow Andrey's journey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andreyazimov
• Check out his personal site: https://www.andreyazimov.com/
• Create a website from a spreadsheet: https://www.sheet2site.com/
What's up, everybody? This is Courtland from indiehackers.com and you're listening to the Indie Hackers Podcast. More people than ever are building cool stuff online and making a lot of money in the process. On this show, I sit down with these indie hackers to discuss the ideas, the opportunities, and the strategies they're taking advantage of so the rest of us can do the same.
All right. I'm here with Andrey Azimov. How's it going, Andrey?
Going really good, and I'm excited to be here.
Yeah, I think the last time we spoke, we were just saying it was like a year ago, a year and a half ago. You were running Sheet2Site, and I think you were at like $10,000 a month in revenue.
Then it's been a while. Then I just saw you tweet on Twitter talking about, oh, I wish I'd could come back on the podcast. I think Pieter Levels was saying something about that. I was like, I should have Andrey back on. I meant to rerecord with you and just didn't. Then he informed me that you've sold your company.
Your story is a cool one, because I think at the very start of your story, you didn't really know how to code. You weren't sure what you're going to build. You had very little money and you'd quit your job and you decided to sort of embark on this path to become a successful founder.
You're very deliberate about it. I've read some of your older posts and you're talking about like lessons that you learned from Pieter Levels and from others who have gone sort of ahead of you and how you've sort of incorporated those into your journey.
I think the very first decision that you made was that you weren't just going to start on one project. You didn't have one idea you wanted to work on. You were going to take a whole year and basically work on lots of different projects.
Yeah, because I didn't know what will work out so I just throw spaghetti on a wall and see what will stick. This was more stickable spaghetti.
I like that approach because I think no one really knows what's going to work out. Nobody has an idea and can be a hundred percent confident that's going to work. The people who are a hundred percent confident that's going to work are usually just diluted in some way. The throw spaghetti at a wall approach is awesome.
When Peter levels did it, he did, I think he called it 12 startups in 12 months, and he really did 12 startups in 12 months. Every month he forced himself to quit what he was working on and start something new. And by, I think two thirds of the way through his journey, only like seven or eight months in, he kind of knew that Nomad List was the breakout success. He started working on that the most.
In your journey, I think the thing that you built that did the best called Sheet2Site was the very first thing that you built. Then you ended up building a bunch of others. In hindsight, arguably you could have just stopped there and only worked on that. You kind of did have the right idea at first, but you had no way of actually knowing that.
Yeah, I didn't know. After one month I thought this is done and I saw there isn't a way to make more than $300 of it. It was a good signal for me that I need to start something new otherwise it will be too risky.
Okay. So, let's talk about the beginning of how this started. How did you decide to do this? How did you afford to take a year off and do nothing to work on work on your own?
Because back then I was living in Bali. Bali, relatively cheap compared if you live in Europe or US or some other countries. So, I was living on like $400 a month.
Rental was like $200 and food, like $150. It was good enough for me. That was a good foundation to be able to sustain myself at least for like four months or something. After I have no plan, so I decided just to go full in and see what happen.
So you have like a few thousand dollars a month in savings then? It's like the exact opposite of me when I started Indie Hackers.
I was living in San Francisco spending like $4,000 a month burning through my savings. That's how much you had total. I've heard of people living in Bali for a couple thousand dollars a month and just living like kings. But the fact that you could make a living there on $400 a month or survive, that's pretty crazy.
I've read some of your blog posts, too. We talked about it last year, how you were, you couldn't afford a bike and so you would walk home, and you couldn't afford Wi-Fi, so you were working at Starbucks and even after they were closed you would stand outside Starbucks and just like use their WIFI.
Was this just part of your plan, I'm going to live in Bali and take a year off simultaneously or did you just coincidentally happened to be living in Bali and then you decided that you're going to take a year off work and try building your own projects?
Both. Because when I was in Ukraine, I'm from Ukraine, I had the dream where at some point, I should go to Thailand or some other warm place where I can celebrate the new year. And it was my dream. Just don't see snow because in Ukraine, it's very cold, the winter. You just go and see the beach and the ocean and it's like, wow, how this is good.
I started a small developer’s agency, which allow me to travel and work remotely. I went to Thailand, spent six months there. After, I moved to Bali and in Bali, I found a job. I was working as a product manager in a product studio, which was a really good experience for me because I was learning a lot there.
But on the side, I was making some side projects and after one and a half year, I decided when I was in Bali to quit the job and try something that makes me happy and if it will sustain myself, I can convert my hobby to the business. That will be like the dream life for me.
Right. Then you started your hardcore year. At the beginning of this year, you know you've got a year, hopefully, of runway. Your goal was, I think you said to make $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Which basically means that you can, it's like two and a half times what you were living off of in Bali, so that's a pretty comfortable lifestyle for you to kind of start and figure out what you want to do from there. How did you go about coming up with your ideas?
I think that's where most people struggle. They're like, okay, I want to be an indie hacker, but what am I going to work on? How do I know if an idea is a good idea? You had plenty of ideas. I think you started seven projects before the end. How did you figure out what to work on?
First, I didn't know how to code it all. I decided to build, at least my first idea, I built a surf web app that will show the best time when to surf. I didn't know how to code and accidentally meet Pieter Levels and Marc Köhlbrugge from BetaList, and they say just use PHP.
It was good coding school for me, I launched it in one month and it was a good foundation, but how to find ideas was surprising. When I am doing in this project, I have already some ideas for the next one, because of the time I need to commit to code.
I thought why there is no big red button when I can just hit, and it will deploy my code. So, it was my second project, but it didn't work out. I didn't get enough prepayments to start the factory in China.
Right. You're trying to actually make a literal red button that you would hit to deploy your code?
A physical button, right.
And you're taking prepayments to try to get people to buy this thing before you ever made it. Was it a Kickstarter?
Without Kickstarter. Just PayPal.
Without Kickstarter. Do you remember how much money you got?
The goal was maybe a couple of thousand dollars, and I made only $250 or something.
Okay. Okay. Not enough. Then what do you, do you just return the money back and give up on it?
Yeah, just say sorry, the project didn’t work and refund all.
Okay. Already pretty quickly your two projects end. You did a surf app, you sort of teach yourself to code.
I also learned PHP as the very first sort of web programming language, I guess I learned HTML and CSS stuff to make, design websites. Then I didn't know how to code. I was in school when I was just trying to build, I think a Facebook app, my sophomore year of school.
No one was really teaching me how to do this, despite the fact that I was getting a CS degree. I just went online and read a bunch of guides about PHP. At the time I didn't know it was looked down on as language. Facebook was using it. I was like, it's good enough.
It was super scrappy. I ended up having one giant PHP file that was horrible and didn't follow any of the best practices, but it was kind of a good way to learn because I wasn't worried about writing perfect code. I was more worried about just learning how to get stuff working. It kind of seems like that's the same path that you took.
In fact, you actually wrote a blog post about, I mentioned earlier, about some of the lessons that you were taking from Pieter Levels. You basically said, solve your own problems, stop going to startup events, avoid startup coaches, learn code by doing and searching on Google, avoid courses, bootcamps books, and startup coaches. Do the simplest thing that could possibly work with the current skills. Don't waste time on super cool new frameworks that'll take you a year to learn and then finally, do it all yourself.
Right in the middle of that is learn code by doing and searching on Google. Honestly, that's what I tell people who are trying to learn how to code. Try to envision what it is you want to do. Don't just learn code abstractly, have something you want to accomplish. Then Google around and try to figure out how to do that thing.
Hopefully, you start somewhere simple. It'll be scrappy and crappy at first, but ultimately, you’ll figure how to do that thing. If it's something you have to do often, you'll keep doing it repeatedly and you kind of memorize and learn and you'll just get better over time if you keep at it.
Yeah, absolutely. Because a learning code is not the terminative idea, it’s just infinite ideas. There is no end in learning coding, you can never finish. Better start something small, like build one app will work and will have one button. This is much simpler and more doable instead of trying to learn entire code off the entire world.
It's kind of weird because it's like, if you think about someone who is an expert programmer or training a brand new programmer, the experts are not going to teach them all the crappy, scrappy ways to do things. They're going to probably teach a beginner here's the best practices for today in modern web development that they're using all of the biggest companies.
That's way too much for beginner to learn and memorize. As a beginner it's kind of easier almost to teach yourself because then you have permission just to do things kind of in a crappy, simple way. You don't have anyone looking over your shoulder telling you that it's crappy or that it's wrong, but that's often the easiest way to start. No expert is going to tell you to start that way.
Like you said, you're never done learning. You can always unlearn those bad habits. I think to some degree, it's hard to appreciate why the best practices are the best practices, unless you've done it the hard crappy way first. I like that scrappy do it yourself path.
Yeah. I would just add that it depends on your goal. If your goal is to find the developer job, maybe it's a better approach to take some books or trainings which will teach you how to do it in the right way, because obviously in a job, you work not alone. You work in a team, and they are using oldest best practices, which is probably good idea to find out and learn. But if you do it just for a fun and for side projects, I guess it's not much a big deal, which paths you choose.
Yeah, I think for learning to code and for building a company that the biggest obstacle for most people is just quitting. It's like you start and then it gets frustrating. It's too hard. You're not seeing very much progress. Then you end up quitting. Then you don't get the job or start the company.
I mean, either situation, if you can just figure out how to make it easy and fun for yourself, you can get better over time. That's clearly what you did. I can't imagine by the time that you finished your surfing app, or your big red deploy code button, that you're the world's best programmer, right? You were probably still super scrappy. You probably don't have a ton of confidence in being able to build a lot of stuff.
But eventually you ended up building Sheet2Site, which is, from the sound of it, it doesn't sound like a very simple project to start with. The concept of it is basically people who don't know how to code can turn their spreadsheet into a website.
Here you were someone who barely knew how to code. What was your, what was the Genesis of this idea and how did you have the confidence to try building this?
Because before I had an idea to build a website of list of apps that contains dark mode. I didn't know the SQL or any other database, but I knew the spreadsheet. Before starting the website that collected all the data of apps that I found in a Google sheet and the best way to do it was somehow, I didn't know how, to put this information into HTML.
I find the way how to easily go through API. In Fruit Loop, it will make the cards normally same style, which list of apps. It worked very well for me. I was surprisingly happy with the approach that I don't need to update the code. I just need to update the Google sheet and the website will update itself.
Once I had this idea with Sheet2Site, I thought maybe some other people also don't know SQL and don't know how to code. Maybe I can turn out this idea into a service app. Firstly, it was very basic. It was just one template, just put your Google sheet’s URL into the web form and it will convert into one template.
That was it. There was no login. No payments. No about page. It was just one page and API page was a generated website without any things. So it was, I think it was maybe even luck for me that I don't know frameworks and databases because I know very little, so I focus only on one thing to ship it and see if it will work. Maybe this disadvantage became my advantage.
It's kind of like a four-step process that a lot of founders go through, which is number one, work on something. It can be literally anything. Number two, while you're working on the thing, you encounter a problem. You're like, oh shit. I need to figure out how to solve this problem.
Number three, you solve the problem for yourself. Okay, this works. Then number four, you have the insight to realize probably other people have the same problem and I can solve it for them. You go from working on a project to basically working on a completely different project that solves a real problem that you encountered.
Those four steps in your case were number one, work on something. You built this website, Dark Mode List. It’s still online, darkmodelist.com and what is it? It's just a list of apps that have a dark mode. People like using an apps that have a dark mode or a black background, they come to your list. Very simple project, not crazy ambitious.
Number two, you encountered a problem, which was, all right, well, how do you add all the data to this website? How do you update the data? You don't know SQL, you don't know about databases, but you do you know how to use a spreadsheet. You had to figure out, you know, step number three, solving that problem for yourself.
I'm not sure how you did it, but you figured out how to get the data from that spreadsheet to update your website, which I'm sure anyone would with that persistence, even if you're a beginner at code could figure out how to do, because it's a very specific problem. Then number four, you realize other people have this problem, too.
Tell me about that last insight, because I think most people who solve problems don't think that way, especially programmers. We tend to think, oh, I built a super simple solution to my own problem. No one's going to care. No one needs this. I'm a beginner, of course everyone's going to build their own thing.
How did you have the insight to realize hey other people also might want to change, update their websites based on data in a spreadsheet?
It was my assumption. I never knew that other people have this problem. I just thought, what if some other people also want to build a website from the Google sheet?
I just made this app in a month. I think I even posted in my Twitter or Facebook, also on Indie Hackers, but it didn't go well. And some people said, nice bro. I say nice, very nice. It didn't have overnight success where people are like, wow. All my life I was missing something, and it was website builder from the Google sheet. Now I'm completely happy. Andrey, good job.
It almost never is.
No, so I just launched it as is after polishing it a bit, at least make workable with this one template. I even didn't have any extra features, which normal website builder have.
How long did it take you to get this first version up? Because I'm looking at it and it's super-duper crazy, simple. You have a Twitter thread where you have a screenshot of you're very first, basically the very first version of it. It's just one website, one page and it's green and it just says, make site from Google sheet. That's it.
You put in the link to your Google spreadsheet and then you click a button, and it turns into a website. So how long did that take you to build?
Mm, I think this my first version I built in a couple of days. It was very quickly, but this version I didn't launch. Also, I showed for maybe 10 or 20 people to get the onboarding right because I understood that what I understood myself and I believe should work where you should click, real people even don't understand. It was big insights for me, make face-to-face, user testing, sit with people, shut up and listen where they struggle.
Yeah. Your website reminds me of, you know Gumroad? It's a website for basically selling products online. The very, very first version of that built by Sahil was also very similar. He built it in as a weekend project, I think. It just took a couple of days, and it was the same thing.
It was a very simple website, and you just upload a product and then it's like, boom, there's a price tag on it. It's as simple as that. You don't really have to spend months or weeks planning. You didn't even do market research for this idea. You're like, oh, I have this problem. I'm going to see my other people have this problem.
I'm not going to put a bunch of bells and whistles and features on it. I'm not going to have user accounts. I'm not going to have password reset. I'm not going to have a glitzy logo. You just did the bare minimum and then put it up. Then you started learning from, as you just said, like user feedback.
It wasn't so much oh, I'm going to predict what everybody wants up front and build it. I'm going to put up the simplest dirtiest, smallest possible thing, and then show it to real people and see what kind of feedback they have.
Of course, you hope that they love it, but it's rarely the case that they love the very first version and that's what you're learning from them. What did you learn when you actually talk to people?
They don't understand how to make the website public because there is two ways to get the data from the Google sheet. First is using authentication and get the permission from the user. But another simple way, you just make the web sheet public.
The instructions, what was on the website back then, told where you need to click and how to do it. Many people don't understand this instruction. I tried to improve it, optimize it so that they know how to do it. It was probably big insight for me because otherwise when I launched as is, with a version of instruction in my understanding of how it should work, many people will fail and was frustrated and confused because they had no idea how to do.
Yeah. There's kind of like a trope in software development that you make your own app. Then you take your laptop to a coffee shop, and you just look over somebody's shoulder as they try to use it. You don't say anything. Always you'll be shocked at how hard it is from there to figure out the most basic stuff in your app that you thought would be super easy to do.
It's kind of depressing to watch. I've done this with every app I've ever built, including Indie Hackers. I've never failed to be disappointed. Watching people struggle to use something that I thought was intuitive.
How did this turnout? I mean, obviously you didn't, this was month number one of your hardcore year. Technically you worked on a couple of projects before this, but it was the first project where you had taken off your job and you were living off your savings and you said the only got to like $300 a month in revenue. It didn't turn out to be the success that you wanted it to be. Where do you go from there?
After that, I decided to build a Mac app, which is completely different field with a different language and different approach to everything. But the idea, why I took it, not because I want to build a Mac app because it's cool. Because I was a big fan of the Twitter account called A Year Progress. It's just a progress bar in showing each couple of days that your year is growing.
365 days, it's a hundred percent. So, each three days it's moving one, so I said, well, I like this idea. I’m a big fan of it. You know, like memento mori. It's a reminder that our time is limited, and we need to work more and do the stuff that we need to do now.
I said, why, is there is no such thing as this progress bar into Mac menu bar, because it's just minimalistic and it's very cool so you can just put in your Mac menu bar, and it will be perfect fit for it.
Yeah. I'm looking at this Twitter app right now, or the Twitter account right now called @Year_ progress. Like you said, it's just the progress bar that it tweets every day of what percentage we are through the year.
Today, literally four hours ago just tweeted, “We're 50% of the way through the year.” It's this most popular tweet of all time. It's got 47,000 likes already and 17,000 retweets. Cause it's kind of shocking that we're already 50% through 2021.
But your progress bar went a step further. It didn't only tell you like what percentage we are through the year, but it was also what percentage we are through the day or percentage growth through the month.
Then a cool part, that's kind of depressing, which is a progress bar at the bottom, that's what percentage of your life are you through? You can put in your age, and it tells you that you're going to die at whatever age on average, you're 34% of the way through your life, which is kind of a grim reminder to look up at your Mac progress bar and see that every day.
This for a second version with all other features I launched in the next couple of months because the first I launched only the year, because this was the idea. I spent all the time figuring out how to do the progress bar and coding on Swift.
But after I got a lot of feedback from the users, so I made maybe like, 300 sales at five bucks an app. That was my biggest success. I made so much money in one day that I never made in my life back then.
Yeah, 300 sales, five bucks each is $1,500, which is almost four months of runway for you living in Bali off $400 a month. Every time you're making one of these apps and charging money for it, you can meaningfully extend the runway that you had to continue your hardcore year.
Yes. The other interesting part was that you should make the animation moving or the progress by right each couple of percent. I had no idea how to do it on Swift. I even don't know how to do it now. So, you know, hardcore approach. I made 50 different progress bars moving of the picture images and put in an “if.” Like “if 3%, show this,” and it's still working.
Just imagine, after three years, people still buying it, even in the Apple Store. I thought, wow, people even don't care if my code even not entirely optimized, it's like the worst code in the world.
Yeah. I mean, it's a kind of consistent pattern, right? Users aren't buying your app because of how you've coded it. They don't care if you've got an authentically moving bar or if you just switch between one and 50 pictures, it just looks the same to them, so it works.
That's kind of the other thing I like about this idea of a different project every month or two, is that when you give yourself this time limit and you kind of cap how long you can work on each project. You don't have time to waste doing trivial, unimportant things. You have to figure out how to be scrappy.
If you’re kind of like, oh, I've got one app and it'll be done when it's done. I'm gonna do the best I possibly can. You have no time limit, then probably you would have taken all the time in the world and tried to figure out how to move the progress bar just right and learn the proper swift code.
What would have done for you? Probably nothing. You know, you would have learned a bunch of extra stuff that's still in the way of you actually accomplishing your goal rather than doing the bare minimum that you needed to accomplish your goal, which was to actually make money.
This app was making money and what's wrong with that? Did you try putting a subscription, recurring payments on it or you just assume no one's gonna buy that?
Yeah. I just assume and switch to another market because I said, well, this is like a money cow how you call it in English? Where you find the idea and you just…
Oh, the money tree? I’ve never heard money cow before. Milking the money cow, shaking the money tree. Those things are working. It's making, you know, five bucks for everybody who buys it, but yeah, it's not giving you subscription revenue, so what's the next thing you do that does give you subscription?
My plan was maybe I will be Mac menu bar guy. The guy who focused deeply on the Mac menu bar apps and it will be this my thing. I'll focus on it and later I will figure out how to make subscription, but now I just need to switch to another idea and not lose momentum to keep building stuff and launching it and maybe other people also buy.
My project number three was the Mac app called Make OSX Great Again. The idea was to fix the annoying things in Mac OS which many people dislike. For example, you cannot change the screenshot folder or the format, or you cannot hide all your screenshots and stuff on the desktop. When you connect your phone to the iTunes, it always opened the iTunes. It was annoying many people.
It’s just every annoying thing about Mac OS, you’re just like, okay, we’re going to fix this.
I think now many of that was already fixed, but the most annoying thing was every day this popup came out, do you want to update your new Mac OS version and you press tomorrow every single day.
I just found the way how to fix it. This was the first number one features of many people like, and even subscribed before it was even made.
Yeah, I'm looking at this now, MakeOSXgreatagain.com. It's still up and it costs $10. You also have a video people can watch and you've got some good screenshots of what the app does on the homepage. How much money did you end up making from this one?
Maybe like $1,500 or $2,000? Not much.
Yeah. But again, enough to justify the investment because it probably didn't, that's what four or five months of runway again in Bali? It didn't take you four or five months to build it.
Yeah, it was like two months. I think it was pretty hard to deal also with Swift's internal procedure, how to change the permission of disabled software updates, but I find a way, so it was good investment from my side.
So what's your process like for launching and publicizing these apps? Because I think a lot of people, even if they have ideas, that's kind of step one, have the idea. Step two is be scrappy and build it, don't let anything get in your way. But then step three is you gotta actually market this thing and get it in the hands of customers.
You seem to be consistently pretty good at every one of these projects, getting it in front of people who potentially need it and getting them to give you money. What was your process for actually getting these apps into the hands of your customers?
Because on the end of each project I wrote a blog post about it. When I launched Sheet2Site, I wrote the story about the Sheet2Site launch and in the end or the story, I make a quick note say, hey, my next app will be this if you’re interested, please subscribe. After, I tweeted, my next project will be this app. Just one screenshot without even app. If you like, please subscribe.
After I mailed the project, put it everywhere I can. On Product Hunt, on Twitter, on Indie Hackers, on to my email list, to Hacker News, launch everywhere when I can and got the user feedback and see if it will work and if people actually like it and buy it.
Each project, I built little bit of an audience through Twitter and mailing lists. It was good for me because it was like that snowball. Each next project. I have bigger and bigger people interested in this particular project and in my challenge as well.
These basically funneling everybody to the same mailing list, no matter what blog posts they read? Cool. That's super smart.
What would you say in your blog posts? You launched Sheet2Site, what is your blog post? Who's the target of that and what does it say?
I did it after launch, actually post launch lessons. It was the story, the numbers, which was hard to do. How I done it. How the launch went, where I launched it, or what was the revenue and what I will work on next. This approach was pretty sustainable. I do it almost for every app that I made.
That makes a lot of sense. You're basically targeting other makers and other indie hackers. You're giving them the behind the scenes, sort of build in public approach. Here's how I, here's what I did and here's the results and here's how I did it. Anyone else who's a maker is going to be interested in that.
Then at the same time, the apps that you're building are apps that kind of appeal to that target audience. Sheet2Site helps you build a website using a spreadsheet. There's probably a ton of indie hackers who’d love to be able to build a website using a spreadsheet.
Or even Progress Bar OSX, maybe that's not targeted at any particular niche in particular, but if you use a Mac you're probably, if you're an indie hacker, you probably use a Mac. It's kind of a cool niche app that anyone could use. Nothing you're building is targeted at a different niche than the ones that you're writing for by telling them how you're building all this stuff.
Yeah. It was pretty much for the same people, I suppose, in general.
Yeah. I just pulled up you've got a blog post called “Hardcore year, first month. Getting press coverage and reaching $361 a month in revenue.” If anyone searches for that, you could find it on Medium. You get 2,400 likes for this one I’m reading, which is a ton.
You’ve got a bunch of different sections first, like the too long didn't read section, just a summary of the whole post. Then you wrote down the story of Sheet2Site. You give people kind of a walk through story of how you built it and how you tested it with users.
Then you have a section called “Depression” where you said after the site was ready, I made a launch and felt like everybody would be using it. That's not what happened. People only said, oh, this is a nice idea and that hurt. You now know this is a standard depression stage at any creative process.
Do you feel like you hit that point with all of your projects, or it was only Sheet2Site where you felt kind of depressed at the way the launch was received?
No, for all, it's the classic problem. I even know that if I have this problem, I am in the right direction because next it will be good feeling after the launch. First, when you don't know, you’re probably struggling with this.
But after you keep this as a part of the game, you know, when you need to defeat boss first, you need to struggle a lot to get to the boss. It’s a part of the game, and at some point, you, you like this pain, depression.
That's another, you're going through all these sorts of learnings. They're all really, I think, testaments to why doing a different project every month or two was a smart idea.
If you only build one project, yeah, you can pour more of your heart and soul and attention and love into that project. But you're not getting that many reps in. You don't really know what is unique to this one project and what is the common experience across almost every project that you work on.
Whereas with you, you had your surf app and then you had your big red button app and you had Sheet2Site, and then you had these progress bar appss. You're getting these reps in, and you can see consistently, it's kind of depressing and hard in the beginning. Then that almost always goes away after I launched and fixed bugs and whatever.
Now you know it's kind of baked into your soul that you shouldn't quit when you feel that feeling. For somebody who has only ever made one project or two projects, it's like, oh, this is not how it's supposed to be. I never hear anybody else writing about this. I should quit. I'm not supposed to feel this bad.
Yeah. I would just add that it's worked for me in my case, but I assume that many people have different personalities and for them it's better to work on the one idea where they can focus and work like a year or two even before launch. It really depends on who you are and what are your inner triggers and the inner things that makes you happy?
What do you think it is about your personality that makes this sort of multiple projects approach a better approach for you rather than just like working on one thing?
For me personally, it's much better to work on different ideas. I really like this part when you don't know anything and after you have this idea, and you launch it and see what happened. This makes me much more excited.
Maybe because when I was a child, I could not focus on one thing. I did this and that and cannot finish books and cannot focus too much. Learning and studying, I just need to do many things at the same time. Maybe one I will finish, maybe no, but at least I have a chance.
It's kind of like the consistent personality traits from other parts of your life will probably also apply to your journey as a startup founder. If you're not finishing books like you said, then maybe you're not going to finish a bunch of projects and you should work on a lot of different, small things rather than the one really big thing that you'll never finish.
I've also heard people who are extroverts tend to work better with co-founders because it's kind of hard to motivate yourself if you're super extroverted and yet you’re sitting in your apartment by yourself all day hours. If you're introverted, maybe you can do the solo founder thing.
There's all these little personality traits where if you're not really sure where to start as a founder and which decision to make, realizing that, like you said, there is no one right decision. You start to figure out what works for you. You can probably guess what approach will work for you based on how else you've lived your life before you became a founder.
Were there any things that, did you have any bad habits that you had to break or overcome to finally find success? I know I did, for sure. If I just follow my own sort of intuition and do what I want to do, I will lock myself in a room and write code all day, every day and never release anything. Never market it, never talk to anybody. That's what's the most fun for me.
I had to kind of deliberately work on ideas that don't require a lot of code in order for me to have the discipline to do all the other stuff. Did you have any habits that you needed to break or were you able to just kind of naturally be yourself and that worked out for you?
I think it's not only habits. It's many things. Habits to finish the project, the habit that you need to launch in market, the project, the fear that you’re scared that no one will even use it. The fears that people will hate you. Things that maybe someone will copy your project. It's like the psychological, emotional mess in all this journey.
If not for my friends, I would have probably given up earlier. I was just very lucky to have very good friends, Pieter, Marc, Daniel, and Lee from Brazil and other guys who helped me during all these years to keep going and not give up. Because without people, my personal fuel was only for like a couple of months.
How did you make friends on the internet who believed in you and supported you and stopped you from giving up? Because that's easier said than done. Most people are sort of toiling away in obscurity. Nobody knows what they're working on, even when they create a Twitter account, and they tweet something about what they're working on. Nobody responds.
How did you go from not having any internet friends to suddenly having all these people in your corner?
I was lucky. When I went to Bali, the first day, I don't know anybody. I post in some Facebook group, hello people of Bali, I’m Andrey from Ukraine. I like startups and jumping from parachutes and maybe surfing and stuff like this.
I made a couple of friends like this, and everyone said to me, you know, go to the coworking space called Dojo Bali. There's many people like you go there. I say, what is coworking space? It’s a place where I not just buy coffee, but I pay money for time.
It's almost mind blowing. In my head I was like, why you need to pay if I can go to the cafe, doesn't make sense, but it's okay. Let's go because not only one guy said, but also some other people said. I went there and met many interesting people. Actually, one of them was my ex-boss, and I found a job.
On the second day I found the job. What happened next? Then in the next couple of months, some girl said that, you know, Pieter Levels will come to Bali. Woah, no way. It's a superstar guy from some different part of the world's that writing crazy blog posts.
I said, okay, I will go. I went to the pool party where it was Pieter and some other guys. It was a very interesting experience because I don't drink alcohol. I get the tea set with Chinese tea and it's all these little cups. There are people in the pool, drinking beer and partying and I’m there with this little tea set. Hello, I'm Andrey from Ukraine!
That's how I met Pieter, actually. It was pretty strange, but the next day we met in a normal environment and somehow, we became friends and he introduced me to Marc Köhlbrugge from BetaList. So that's how it was more face-to-face because through the internet the only connection was when I posted on the Facebook group, some random dudes, I said I’m Andrey from Ukraine, let's meet for a coconut.
That's cool. That's super cool. It's bringing back memories of pre-pandemic times and meeting people at meetups and all sorts of stuff like that, which hopefully will start back.
But one of the things I've seen from people like you and others, the sort of Indie Hackers community who've been able to make a lot of friends is that you're all doers. You're not just like, let me go to the pool party. You're like, I'm actually working on stuff. Do you wanna, do you want to see what I'm working on? Let me show you what I'm working on.
I think for somebody like Marc or Pieter, when they meet somebody like you who they don't know, and you can actually show them what you're building and come back a few weeks later and make it look like how far along I am now.
It's just sticks so much more than if you're not actually building anything. Cause it's a comradery there because they're also building stuff all the time and they love to see people kind of inspired by what they do and see people will just change and grow.
Yeah, for sure. Back then I even had no work or anything. I even don't have plans, like big plans. I said, when we met, I want to build a startup. Maybe it will be about surfing. And Marc said, so what's stopping you. I say, I don't know. I don't know how to code. What should I do? Pieter, PHP, just PHP. I was like, okay.
So you ended up going through your hardcore year. I've got a little timeline up that you wrote about. You started in March 2018. That's when you quit your job with your goal to get to a thousand dollars a month in recurring revenue. By November 2018, you had built seven projects. Then in January you ended up winning Product Hunt’s Maker of the Year.
You are the third person to come on the show who's won Product Hunt’s Maker of the Year Award, which I guess they award to basically whoever is the most impressive maker, the most impressive builder. It's almost always the most prolific person.
Mubashar Iqbal has been on the podcast a few times and he's super prolific. He's like building an app every week, I swear to God. Pieter Level's has been on the show. He also did his startup year and he built 12 projects in 12 months. Then here you were, kind of alongside these other greats, being recognized as Product Hunt's Maker of the Year as someone who less than a year earlier didn’t even know how to code.
Oh my God. That was one of the happiest moments in my life because I have no idea if I even will be nominated. I just launched the project, each of my projects launched on Product Hunt. I was lucky that many people loved what I’ve done, and they vote.
I suppose they have some algorithms that check in for an entire year who's the maker of the launch, total project, total amount, or something like this. After they had pre-nominated people and after that, there is another vote. I was very surprised that I went through this first round.
After I won it was, how is it even possible? The guy from Bali from Ukraine that builds apps that have little functionality can win such a great award. I was really happy. I was partying and went to the beach party and screaming and yelling and partying with my friends. It was really fun.
That's awesome. It's cool to have all these sources of motivation, because it's not just individuals that you're meeting in person now. It's an entire online community celebrating you.
I got to say this process that you have of not only blogging at the end of sort of each one of your projects, but also constantly tweeting about what you're up to you. You've been building in public since well, before it was cool.
You're always tweeting your ups and downs. You're always sharing your revenue numbers and how things went. I think there's just something about that that is endearing to people who don't know you or people who are trying to follow in your footsteps or build something similar to what you're building.
When the time comes for you to get nominated for an award like this, who is going to be at the top of their mind? Andrey, of course, because Andrey's been tweeting and talking about all this stuff he's been building all year long. Why wouldn't somebody remember you? Kind of a constant reminder in the Twitter feed that you're grinding and working and you're pursuing this goal. I think that's just, it's really inspiring and it's a great habit for you to develop.
At some point you've done seven projects, probably eight or nine, 10 projects actually. You decided to go back to Sheet2Site, which is a big decision because you have all these projects. Clearly some of them were still alive. They're still alive today. How did you decide instead of working on newer projects or instead of picking a different old project to go back to, to go back and relaunch Sheet2Site, the very first project that you worked on?
I guess there were three reasons for this decision. First is that my idea at least was finished and I haven't got any other idea. Second reason, my goal was a recurrent revenue. Sheet2Site was the only one project with recurrent revenue and it was like five bucks per month or something or 10, but it was still working, and some people were still paying. The last reason was that it was still alive and people were using it to build some websites with this free version that I had before.
I saw that maybe it was a good idea to try to add all these feature that people asked for. Back then, I didn’t have the option to connect the custom domain because it's obviously number one feature of any website builder. If you build a website, you want the custom domain.
First, I just sent through email, when the people buy it on the PayPal, just have this index HTML with I-frame and just put on your server. Good luck!
So for the non-programmers that means you gave people a really, really hacky way to show the websites on their own domain name, rather than sheet2 site.com/courtlandallen or whatever website you gave people.
Right. Paul Graham would say do things that don't scale.
This is a really important point, actually, because somebody was posting on Indie Hackers a few weeks ago about how he’s coding his website for like a year. Then he realized he was doing all these features that he sees in other apps that you don't need to launch with.
He was like, oh, the password reset feature isn’t automated yet, so I've got to spend three to four weeks fixing that. Everyone's like, no, no, no, you don't have to. You can just not do that. Maybe one out of every 200 or 300 users will need to reset their password, but you can do that for them manually until you have time to build that feature. Just get the most basic features out.
You were kind of intuitively on that level. You left out those sorts of edge case features, but also the most important, feature custom domains. Yet the site was still alive. People were still using it. They didn't necessarily care that they had some sort of scrappy I-frame solution to get that feature.
It was a very interesting approach, too, because I even didn’t know how to do so. I decided just to launch, see what will happen. If people really need this custom domain, because it was my assumption maybe people just like to use it on my domain. It was good validation that people need this feature.
By the way, I still now don't have reset password feature. So maybe they don't care about this too much.
It took me a long time to put password reset features on Indie Hackers, too. Even changing your username on Indie Hackers, like multiple years. Indie Hackers had been acquired, I’d been working on it for years and people would send emails, how do I change my username? I was like, I'll do that for you. It wasn't until like maybe six or seven months ago that I built it. You really don't need these basic features to launch.
Maybe it's a good idea for us. Reset password as a service.
Right! So, you decided to go back to working on this because of all the reasons you outlined. This thing is still alive. People have all these features that they want. I'm sure the feature requests have been piling up for months at this point. And it's got recurring revenue. How long did it take you to sort of to build this to the new version and get it out the door?
I think maybe three or four months. It was a pretty big list, because from that scrappy website, I needed to make a real startup with many features that people asked for. There were many technical problems and I needed to level up myself as a developer to be able to ship all of the requested features.
Right, right. It ended up doing super well. You kind of launched it as Sheet2Site 2.0 and you had a lot more of the features that people would expect from a typical website builder. You had a bunch of different templates people could use to make their websites look differently. Did you end up adding custom domains?
Yeah. It was still semi-automated. At least I didn't sound the I-frame anymore. I did it manually each time when people asked, messaged me the website. I sent them the IP address to change in DNS and they put on FTP, their website. It was still, but it was, you know, 2.0, a little bit more automation.
Yeah. How did people receive the new launch and how did that go for you financially?
It was probably the biggest success back then. It was even great because it was a big pool party, organized it with friends, with Pieter and Marc and Daniel and Lee Neilson. It was at their big villa in Bali and maybe 200 people came.
We took the microphone and said, we’re launching Sheet2Site. Some people were like, what is this? I’m like, it’s my site! Three, two, one! It was already launched, but for show, we pressed the button, and it went live to the Product Hunt. I increased the price. Maybe from $100 MRR to $400 or $500.
I think that was March. Then by May, a couple months later you were at your goal. You finally hit a $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue, and this is all 2019. Then I talked to you last year in 2020, and you're at 10 times that amount. You’re $10,000 a month in revenue, which is a crazy amount of growth, 10X in one year.
I'm sure that was well beyond your wildest dreams for what you were going to hit. I mean, that's literally 10 times more than your goal. You're living in Bali still, or traveling, I think at this point, so this is way more money than you need to survive.
It feels pretty amazing because when you set up a public goal, you need actually to finish this goal and people asking what's up, Andrey, why you don't post any updates? You want like $300 monthly revenue, it's easy to post when you achieve something. But it's very hard, and I have huge respect for people who post and keep posting these, even if they don't succeed yet.
But I keep working on it and finally added domains, added the Stripe integration, launching the Google sheet add-on and WordPress add-on, and many other things that people requested.
In 2020, COVID happened. I assumed that many people decided, okay, I have this idea and I will work on it because I have free time. They somehow remember my website because their idea was related to the Google sheet, and they opened my website and start paying the monthly subscription.
Yeah, it was a pretty good time for tech businesses in general for the exact reason that you said. So many people decided to sit at home, it's kind of like that phenomenon in January, it's a new year. Suddenly everybody's at the gym because everybody's got the new year's resolution to get fit.
COVID happened and everyone was like, well, I might as well build my online business. If you are making any sort of tool, whether it's Sheet2Site to help people build websites or whether it's Stripe to help people collect payments online, 2020 was a huge year for you most likely. It's kind of just like right place, right time.
Then as you said at the very beginning of the show, at some point, you're like, well, the support load is pretty big and it's only going to increase as we get more and more customers. Why sell Sheet2Site?
I mean, I understand it's not that fun to do customer support, but it's a solvable problem and you can hire people for it. You can start automating different stuff and writing guides and fixing bugs. Why not just keep working on this thing and take it to $20,000 a month in revenue or $40,000 a month instead of selling it and starting something new?
Because when a lot of support happened, I didn't decide to sell it. I decided to keep working on it and automate everything that I can. It's a good marker if people are posting in support and don't know how to do, or they want to do some things that they cannot do through their own account, it was a good signal.
I've done a lot of this in 2020, like a year, and it’s become pretty good and a stable project. The last six months, I don't have to do as much support as before, because it was optimized it. At some point, I got requests from other people who want to buy it, I say, let's see if someone is interested to buy. Let's just see, I will post it, not just for some people who message me directly, but for all people on the market.
I got the offer from the guy from UK named Neil. Now I have this feeling of fresh ideas, fresh projects.
Cool. Well, it is very freeing, I think, to sort of divest yourself from a big project you've been working on. I've been working on Indie Hackers for four years. I don't have any plans to stop, but it's like, well, I'm kind of sucked into the exact same code base. What's new, what's going on?
I've all these other ideas that have been percolating in the back of my mind. So, part of me is kind of jealous to see what you're going to work on. Do you have any ideas, like what is kind of in your future now that you've sold this project? I assume you've made a big chunk of change and you don't really have to work on anything for a while, but I know you're going to. What do you think is going to be?
I have idea yet. Just I’m not going to open my idea list for a while. Just enjoying do nothing at the moment. You know, some people said that you need to always work on something and if you have a lot of money, you will probably start doing something new again.
But I want to reach this point when I will become totally bored of laziness, of not doing anything. After this, I will launch something useful.
Well, then what are you doing in your lazy off time? Cause I assume you're not doing projects, but you gotta be doing something in your personal life. What's keeping you occupied Day-to-day?
A couple of things. First, I’m making techno, making electronic music just for fun. I put it on the pause because I was working a lot on my projects, but now I’m just doing this.
I'm learning coding now in a proper way, finally, to understand how to do databases and password resets. So, it will help a lot for my next project.
Nice. Nice. There's kind of this idea in Silicon Valley of the deferred life plan, where a lot of founders spend like 10 years working on projects and startups. They kind of put a lot of their dreams and personal hobbies and personal development on hold, because it's so intense and it's so easy to justify dumping every waking hour you have a into your startup, especially if it's not working.
Then eventually they find success and, okay, well now it's time to do all the things I wanted to do. I want to start, start making music. I wanna learn how to code properly and I'm gonna, you know, finally go get a girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever.
It’s cool when you can mix the two, but it also is cool when you do reach the end of that sort of journey, and you can basically learn all those things you want to learn. Best of luck. I hope you make some really good techno. You gotta send me some.
What is your advice, I always sort of end the episode by asking for just one piece of advice that you have for kind of like the person who was in your shoes four years ago, who doesn't necessarily know how to code, who doesn't know what they should build and is just trying to find some inspiration by listening to this podcast? What do you think they should take away from your story, Andrey?
Try to surround yourself with friends doing the same as you but already succeed in anyway. It would probably help a lot because personally I don’t have super crazy motivation where I can work alone for 20 years in a basement. I need some friends around me that will support and say, you're going to do it, man. That's one thing that they I could advise.
Another thing that there is a big problem now is there is too much different content. There is Indie Hackers, Hacker News, Product Hunt, TechCrunch, Fast Company, and everyone's succeeding. You see these Instagram stories of success every 10 seconds. It's very hard to decide what to do. The best approach is just don’t focus too much on reading and learning, just start a simple one button app, whatever your idea is. It will be much better than watching some other peoples’ successes and try to build your own.
I like that advice. In some ways it almost seems contradictory. On one hand, surround yourself with successful people. On the other hand, don't buy too much into these stories of successful people. Just get it done.
I think both pieces of advice are really good. You got to have to figure out like how to strike that balance because it definitely is paralyzing to see all these success stories and then to start copying them too much. I think that's one of the things that you did really well was that you didn't get too caught up in trying to make your apps look like they're these finished polished things.
You just, as we've mentioned several times now, kept it scrappy, realize that the very beginning of any startup's life it's going to look crappy and scrappy, and it doesn't matter. It's really easy to lose sight of that if you are only sort of consuming these stories and only looking at successful.
But I think what's cool about actually surrounding yourself with people in real life, they'll just give you the scrappy advice because they know their story. When they're your friends in real life, they're not going to give you the sort of buttoned up packaged version of their story, where it was all success the whole time.
They're going to tell you like, oh no, just go on PHP and do it scrappy from the beginning. I love the way that you're able to sort of find that balance by having these friends in real life.
Andrey, thanks so much for coming on the show. Can you tell listeners where they can go to learn about, I guess, your next project, whenever you decide to work on it or maybe get on that mailing list that you have?
Yeah, you can find me on Twitter, @AndreyAzimov, or on my personal website, Andreyazimov.com.
Thanks, Andrey. I'll see you back here when you've got your next $10,000 a month and Indie Hacker app out the door.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
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