Indie Hackers News December 11, 2020

After DoorDash and Airbnb IPO, should indie hackers tackle brick-and-mortar problems?

Bobby Burch @bobburch

The pandemic is not an egalitarian force.

COVID-19 has helped a handful of industries thrive while shuttering tens of thousands of businesses in the U.S. alone.

But now that both DoorDash and Airbnb are publicly traded companies, it's worth considering lessons from their journeys building tech for problems in the physical world.

While they're both exceptional examples of startup success, DoorDash and Airbnb surmounted deep-pocketed incumbents and entrenched status quos — hotels and food delivery by restaurants themselves — to build platforms that people physically interact with millions of times a year. They were long shots that turned into juggernauts.

As DoorDash CEO Tony Xu contends, the San Francisco-based company's primary goal is to boost businesses in your neighborhood:

From the beginning, the DoorDash mission has been to help grow and empower local economies. And today, as we become a public company, that mission has never been more important.

Most indie hackers, by contrast, are building digital products for use in the digital world. And fair enough: 2020's been a less-than-opportune year for building tech for the physical world.

Keep informed on indie businesses taking on Big Tech:

Yet, if Airbnb and DoorDash serve as examples, there are billions of dollars on the table for tech products that address physical needs. Certainly, the road could be harder — and more expensive — but it may be lined in gold.

And indeed, as businesses began adapting to lockdown conditions back in April, two of the indie hacker products that made headlines solved physical, and not digital, problems. Namely:

Much has been written about peoples' struggles to cut their hair in a world in which barbershops are closed due to lockdown. You Probably Need a Haircut addresses this problem by pairing these people with skilled barbers who coach them through the process via video chat. The customers pay $18, and the platform itself takes a $3.60 cut. Timely, smart, and simple.

Software products that solve software problems are the rule, and it will probably stay that way. But I'm certain there are plenty of indie hackers quietly solving physical problems that we'd all benefit from knowing about.

If this is you, or if you know of any, please share. I'd love to follow up on this down the road.

  1. 7

    The world could do without aggressive middlemen that insert themselves uninvited between customers and suppliers just to maximise their own profits.

    There's enough money to be made actually helping suppliers instead of ripping them off or forcing them into a race to the bottom.


    DoorDash mission has been to help grow and empower local economies


    Delivery apps take between 13.5 and 40 per cent of revenues, while restaurants take 3-9 per cent.

    To participate ... restaurants must charge supra-competitive prices to consumers who do not buy their meals through the delivery apps.

    GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats are abusing their market power.

    1. 4

      Agreed. Doordash is a disgrace. They are exploiting a vulnerable workforce and driving down profits of "brick and mortar" enterprises to line their own pockets. They aren't much better than Wework and the fact that everyone is praising them is a sad indictment of the VC driven economy.

  2. 3

    I think what appeals to many indiehackers and solo developers is being able to build and run the business with minimal human interactions... (Ok, debatable)

    For me, some business models are not appealing to me when it involves too many people and logistics, like DoorDash and Airbnb.

    If I build this, I foresee that I would have to directly deal with homeowners and travellers. And DoorDash involves riders, food vendors, customers... Some even with local authorities. For me, it's too many support points, etc.

    And a marketplace business model always has the smallest profit margin, because you share the revenue with others (homeowners, riders, food vendors). Which means, if you want to make it, you need mass volume. And to attain that mass volume require time and marketing. To sustain before you are able to acquire that volume, you need capital. And when you need capital, you need investors.

    And when it involves investors, it's getting less and less desirable as a project for indie hackers and solo developers. You are giving up a lot of freedom and lifestyle choices to build it. And to add to that, you have to have a team. So you have to deal with HR, company management, etc...

    I think indie hackers and solo developers value their freedom more. While many are capable of developing this, it's up to the hustlers to sell it to the world.

    But of course, this is my general thoughts. I don't speak for indie hackers and solo developers.

    If you want to do this, just go do it.

    I guess my point is, there is a reason why software and digital products are more appealing to indiehackers.

    One last thing to add, I think indie hackers and solo developers would be more comfortable in developing and providing a software that allows others to build another Airbnb / DoorDash rather than actually building one for themselves.

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    I am kind of working on this with Local SEO Community:

    It's a community for discussing local SEO and Google My Business tips and strategies.

    Most of the 1,000+ community members are small business owners who are trying to learn more about local SEO.

  4. 3

    Amen! I think the hard thing nowadays is building up the supply side of the marketplace. Unless you raise gobs of money, it seems really hard to hit critical mass. I guess the key is to find a big enough pain point - clearly food delivery + making money on your properties was big enough for Doordash & AirBnb!

  5. 2

    Just spoke to my mother-in-law this week about converting her old VHS family videos to digital. Whoever comes up with that service, holler at me and I'll connect you with my MIL 💵💵💵.

  6. 2

    Helping brick and mortar businesses to communicate with their customer through text messaging

    Still in the validation stage, any feedback is helpful

  7. 2

    This is a very good read on how marketplaces like AirBnb and DoorDash grew:

    CC @Flurly

    1. 3

      Nice thanks for the link! reading now

      1. 2

        You're welcome. Enjoy! :)

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