I asked tens of developers-turned-founders for the one piece of advice they'd offer other developers interested in embarking on similar journeys. Check out their answers below.
The single most valuable thing you can do is finish what you start. I know a lot of people that start projects for themselves, but never actually put them out there for others to use. This is a missed opportunity. As soon as you try to release something publicly you are forced to think about things like usability, documentation, software updates, analytics, marketing, support, and so much more. So, if you only take one thing from this article, it's this: Take every opportunity to practice launching products to real users. This will also show you whether or not you actually enjoy being an indie hacker.
One advantage for me is that I love coding for WordPress and WooCommerce. If you don't love what you're doing, it either won't be a success, or you'll hate it, and eventually, so will your customers.
If you're struggling to find The Product Idea, start working on shit even before you have one. Work backwards. Come up with a brand name. Start designing a website, then actually launch a website and start blogging about your journey. Build backlinks, work on SEO, build a personal brand, establish yourself as an expert, make connections, speak at conferences… It's not the lack of ideas that holds you back; it's procrastination.
Try to automate as much as possible. Make sure you can do fast deploys. Have a continuous integration system for fast feedback. And use microservices — it makes it a lot easier to maintain complex systems.
Think about the "when" as it relates to marketing. A 30-year-old woman doesn't want diapers. A 30-year-old woman who just had a baby definitely does. Targeting the "who" at the moment of their "when" is incredibly important. To distill that down I ask myself this question now: When is the moment in which my target person will absolutely need my product? Most of my mistakes with other products happened when I didn't think about the "when," but instead focused purely on the "who" (or worse, focused on my own product instead of my client's words/pain).
Get something out there. Build something and ship it. You don't have to put in a huge marketing effort with a soft/quiet launch. So get something in the public, find a niche community that is willing to give you feedback, listen to them, and iterate.
Understand yourself well enough to know if your side project is something you can actually pull off. In my case, I found that I could only work when the sun is shining, Monday through Friday. So I tweaked my professional and personal life to that reality.
Don't be concerned with labels or even your own pre-conceived notions of yourself. Before I started the journey of Referral Rock I never would have considered myself a salesperson — nor did I have any desire to be. I fell into it and honestly liked it and got to understand the thrill of the kill. I'm not sure where Referral Rock would be today if I'd never decided to start taking calls and giving demos.
Do small, imperfect releases. I learned this lesson the hard way. Quite a few times Leo and I would envision the next big release that would change everything. But for me, it was and still is a part-time project that I have only around 15–20 hours a week to dedicate to. So I started to break everything into very small, distinct features, something I could complete in a couple of hours and deploy to production. It is not as good as the complete design we had in mind, but it's better than what we had before and now it's there for our users.
If you are planning to go solo, promote your personal brand. Gain followers on Twitter and create content to position yourself as a trusted person. Think small and set reasonable targets. Build something you can start building by yourself; do not start looking for investors or thinking you should hire 50 people to achieve your idea. Otherwise, you'll be stuck just dreaming about it. Make it happen!
Don't build for the sake of building. Every product that you ship should bring revenue, one way or another. And it should be as automated as possible to save as much time as possible and bring as much money as possible. Even if it seems tiny and insignificant at first, over time, if you keep learning, making, and shipping, it will become an essential part of your financial stability. Learning to build to earn is an essential skill that, in the long run, frees more time for self-development and things you like.
It's vital to start talking to your customers as soon as possible. Don't worry about having a polished or well-designed MVP — just having a paper MVP goes a long way. Create a newsletter and email marketing campaign from the very first day. This provides transparency to your followers and potential customers.
You have to be doing something — anything at all — if you want to find opportunities. My first company was all about helping people grow their Twitter accounts and then pivoted to a virtual assistant business. While I was doing that I started selling a few products on Amazon to make some side money. That grew into a half-million-dollar toys and games business and because of that, I found the product opportunity for AZLabels. At this moment I have many more opportunities than I have time or resources to pursue, but that's only because I'm in a position where I can see them.
Take designing a good user experience seriously. Good design won't sell your product for you if you're not solving a problem, but bad design can prevent people from seeing the value in your product. Good design is baseline today. First impressions matter, especially if you're selling tech for tech. If a landing page isn't good, I assume the product isn't good. Countless people have reached out to tell us they appreciate our design.
Subscription businesses are so appealing, but I think most solo indie hackers should consider starting out with a smaller one-time-purchase product that they can start selling right away. It's also important to figure out what you want to achieve, then filter advice through that. If you're trying to build a small lifestyle business, listening to advice aimed at people trying to build million dollar businesses could do more harm than good.
I'd say the number one habit that's been helpful for me is a "bias to action." Most people sit around a dinner table chatting about some business idea they'll start some year in the future. But rarely do those people ask: "What's the next step to making this a reality?" The world is more pliable than we think it is. What can you do today to take a step toward that dream?
From what I observe, aside from e-commerce, it's easier to bootstrap a B2B company than a B2C company. If you go for B2B, startups and makers are a better target because they are always looking for the best software and decide fast.
From day one we've had a mentality that we shouldn't work on anything that we can put off to later. We refer to this as the JIT mindset. It's helped us avoid pitfalls that we've encountered before or seen others encounter. Showing something you created to the world can be scary, and it's easy to justify continuing to work on something without shipping so that you can ship something just a little more polished. Try to avoid that.
Innovation is hard. Building an innovative product is actually the easy part, but you have to educate your customers before they will even consider buying it. It's a lot easier to get a small part of an existing market. There's also less risk involved, because you already know that there is a market need for your product.
I'd say it's completely fine if you don't know what you're doing. For me, I just had a general direction and a huge desire to do something on my own. When I first quit my job, I went in all sorts of directions — custom coding WordPress sites from scratch, hosting WordPress sites, and doing custom Ruby on Rails apps. This is totally fine and normal. I figured it out eventually, but slowly and with a lot of trial and error. Everyone has something to contribute, a pain point they can solve, even if it's their own pain point.