Product Development January 2, 2021

Anyone Else Having a Hard Time Following 'Best Practices'?

Keith Axline @kaxline

I've been ingesting advice, tutorials, and playbooks for over five years, and I still feel incapable of following the most basic indie hacker best practices.

I'm not building an audience. I'm not validating my ideas. I'm not talking to users or potential customers. My ideas are probably too big to build on my own and I'm not scoping them down to their smallest useful piece. I'm working on six different projects at once.

Why? For the same reason that makes me identify as an Indie Hacker. Because as soon as I start following this advice, I feel like I'm working for someone else. It takes all the joy out of indie hacking, because I'm no longer doing things my way.

So I'm on this path where I'm either going to be successful doing things my way or crash and burn, with tons of ways to look back and point out all the places I knowingly, stubbornly did the wrong thing. I have a lot of anxiety about it. Can anyone else identify with this?

I know it sounds arrogant, but it's not an ego thing. It's a sustainability thing. If I feel like I'm working for someone else I might as well go get a salary job somewhere. The way I rationalize it is that I do follow two pieces of advice that align with my passion and love for building:

  1. You haven't failed until you give up. By doing things my way and enjoying the work, I feel like I could keep going forever because it's a way of life. If I was constrained by all these other techniques, I think I would burn out.

  2. Scratch your own itch. I'm building products that I wish existed, and that I can dog-food myself. If someone comes along and builds it first or better, I'm happy to use that and abandon my own thing.

Anyway, it's pretty lonely out here and I'm still looking for my people. I thought there might be some of you out there like myself who know all the right things to do, but can't bring yourself to do a lot of them. If that's you, I feel your pain!

  1. 10

    First of what are those best practices and who defined them.

    All those indiehackers or founders, thought leaders whatever to call them, can't even replicate their own success with an established fan base. They fail on their second, third tries. But don't back off to give advice all day long or write books about growth. They can't even grow bigger, imagine they had to start from zero.

    We hear a lot about building the audience, showing up every day, being consistent, etc. Because that's what they are good at, nothing else. Frankly, we are forcing them to share those best-practices with our cursors ready waiting for giving them another upvote or retweet. There are tons of successful business owner tweets once a month. Making 7-8 figures but not sharing screenshots.

    Working on your own pace is great but I believe it would get boring at some point. We need challenges for ourselves. Whenever it feels like working for someone else try to image working for your better self. Who has more experience, knowledge, opportunities. That's at least what I'm trying to do. If I were my own boss I wouldn't let myself to write the copy of a landing page but for the past 3 days I'm trying to come up with a reasonable catchy headline. It's not fun but I know I need to be better at it.

    1. 2

      Yes! Surprise surprise, we have an insatiable demand for success stories and so that's what people give us. So I guess I'm partially responsible for the bias I detect in what I read.

      Well, to that end, this post and thread are helping re-balance the narratives so that I'm not feeling like such a weirdo.

      1. 2

        You are one of the stable ones amongst us 👊🏻

  2. 5

    For me, I like to do my own thing in terms of design and development of something I make.

    For example, everyone says you just have to use a frontend framework like React if you're building a web application. For design, it always has to look the same (the Dribbble look, with drop shadows, very curved corners, blue color palettes, Futura-esque fonts, etc.). But I just can't follow that dogma. What works for me is using vanilla javascript and coming up with my own design that I feel fits the product best and has great UX, not just whatever is on Dribbble or follows modern UI trends.

    What I really like about the people on this site is that there's less of an emphasis on being the same as everyone else as compared to other sites. People on here are much more unique and bring their own perspective. To me, a collection of individuals who can think for themselves makes everyone else smarter. When everyone is blatantly following some "best practice" or status quo, and those who aren't have a fear of being shamed (see Spiral of Silence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence), the community turns more into a cult than anything, which of course can make a highly opinionated, highly conforming place with no new ideas. I've found Reddit to be a place with high amounts of conformity, where everything needs to follow the status quo or it either doesn't get upvoted or gets downvoted.

    I try to follow the philosophy "see for yourself." Everyone on Reddit will tell you you cannot build a very complex web application in vanilla Javascript... and yet I've built complex applications in vanilla Javascript just fine (and they're a lot less buggy and a lot faster than apps made with frameworks). And the design dogma of UI is apps with pill shaped buttons, drop shadows, random illustrations, plain white navbars, etc. That's not the only way to make something look good. Besides, it's not even fresh looking. IndieHackers looks good because it's a blue dark mode, which looks fresh compared to your standard whites and greys.

    I just think life is more interesting when you find things out yourself. I don't care if I fail, failure is what makes you learn. If the best practice makes sense and is a solution that works for me, maybe I'll follow it. If not, I'll find my own way. It's uncomfortable at first, but very freeing with time.

    1. 2

      Wow, this is the most thoughtful response I've had on the internet in a long time. Thanks for taking the time. You make some great points that I hadn't thought about.

      And kudos to you to working in vanilla JS. I see that more as a pro move than a liability myself. I never had the patience for it but I don't doubt that it's less buggy and more performant.

      I like categorizing it as the "see for yourself," mentality. I guess I just get down on myself because when I mess up in predictable ways, I feel like maybe it wasn't worth peering over the edge. But doing it for its own sake makes more sense, so thank you for that insight.

      One other downside is that doing things against the grain can be a conversation stopper. When I'm looking for advice from people, they give me the standard playbook, and then I say I don't want to do it that way, and then they rightfully shrug and say, "OK, do it your way." They're just trying to give me the best advice but it's a lot to ask for them to see things from my perspective and advise accordingly.

  3. 5

    I can very much relate to this. Spent a whole year building my MVP, didn’t charge money until months after launch, didn’t talk to users as much as people say you should.. and you know what? Things are going pretty damn well.

    If you build something that solves a real problem and figure out a way to get it in front of potential customers, then you can do most of the other stuff wrong.

    If your biggest risk is burning out due to not enjoying the process, then do it your way.

    1. 2

      Gabe! Divjoy is amazing and I'm also in Portland. It's great to hear someone who built an awesome product also feels this way. Thanks so much for commenting.

      1. 2

        Oh, that's awesome to hear you're in Portland as well! Cheers!

  4. 3

    I can empathize with your situation. I think my biggest piece of advice is that coming up with a strategy/plan will take you much further than wandering aimlessly. Having six projects you're working on right now tells me that you may struggle with deciding or that you don't value one project enough to iterate on it to the point of it getting legs.

    Strategy is important, and one key aspect of strategy is decision and focus. Choosing what not to do is just as important as choosing what you will do.

    So scratch your own itch, but if you want your own itches to sustain you long term, you will need to get them in front of real people and tighten your feedback loops so you aren't having to write code until you know the concept has value to your users (and not just you).

    1. 1

      Yes, good advice. Thank you!

  5. 3

    So, I think think this is pretty simple: You're overthinking in the extreme.

    Focus (not working on six things at once), getting feedback (talking to customers) etc etc are good things to do. You need to get out of your own head and realise that you are not working for someone else just because you're doing things right.

    It sounds to me like you're going out of your way to get in your own way, if that makes sense. Maybe "cutting your nose off to spite your face" is another way to put it.

    Tough love: stop being so contrarian. You don't need to follow ALL best practices (I don't believe building an audience is a best practice, for example) but things like having a bit of focus and talking to your users is just plain common sense.

    1. 2

      Ha, I appreciate the slap. I fully admit to overthinking in the extreme. Part of my depression profile unfortunately. And yeah, part of writing this was to get it out of my head and out in the world where it could hopefully be vanquished or managed.

      I do try to evaluate whether my aversion is reflexive or based on something real. I don't want to be contrarian just for the sake of it. If I had my way I would happily follow each piece of good advice I get.

  6. 2

    I think you're mixing up a few things here. Best practices can help you reduce errors but can't motivate you to do anything. If you are not feeling motivated enough to work on your ideas, it's probably because you're not excited enough by them.

    Sure - you want to do things your way, whether it's what you want to build, which tools to use and how to design it. Best practices are just a way to help you move along faster and hopefully with fewer errors. If you feel suffocated by a practice, don't do it.

    But there are surely things that others have done and will work for you. So don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

    1. 1

      I like this separation of meanings, and I think you're right. I do try and use as much knowledge as I can to make my path as effective as it can be.

      I guess what I'm trying to say is that I feel de-motivated not by my ideas, but with my own practices feeling like deviations from the 'correct' path. This notion of deviancy is raw material for my insecurities.

      This post is an attempt to exorcise those voices by hearing from you all. So thank you!

  7. 2

    I have found myself in the same boat many a times. And I completely support your decision of doing things the way you like them.

    The only thing to keep in mind is to keep these advice at the back of your head at all times and fall back to these if things aren't working your way.

    1. 1

      Thank you! Reading this makes me feel less crazy!

  8. 2

    I feel you Keith.

    Personally, I don't think there is a "right way". As you well know, there are tons of books, websites, social media sites, "experts", accelerators, and groups on pretty much every aspect of business. Even my local Chamber of Commerce does workshops and so does the Small Business Development Center. There's no shortage of advice.

    What I've tried to do for the last two-ish years is learn as much about what everyone else says about business as I can and then put techniques that I like into practice. I made a bunch of mistakes going in my first year but I know that I made better decisions my second year. I'm now two months into my third year.

    I too want to be my own boss and do my own thing. But to do that, my product needs to generate revenue. And that's one of the reasons why, personally, I don't think it's a good idea to be trying to build multiple things at once.

    There are very specific reasons why. Here's where I spend my time at this stage of my business:

    1. reading, responding and thinking about reviews (we use Google's In-app Ratings and Reviews API)

    2. thinking about how to add more value (ie, what features and functionality to add and when to do it) and trying to bounce those ideas off other people

    3. researching technical issues and problems

    4. looking at the competition

    5. researching technology, techniques, or business practices to make our app business successful

    6. working with our developers

    7. refining a monetization strategy

    8. marketing (Google Play Store listing, website, blog posts, even the app to some degree)

    9. working on promotional tasks

    10. financial analysis

    11. hanging out on Indie Hackers

    I'm sure I missed something but you get the idea. While I don't think there's a right or wrong way, I do think it requires a significant investment of time, effort, and even money (time is money) to become a successful entrepreneur.

    I just can't imagine doing all that work and more for 6 or 7 different projects and being able to turn any of them into something that can supplement my previous income. And for me, that's why I'm doing all of this - I want to make a living as an entrepreneur. I don't feel that I can do that if I run multiple projects or businesses. You likely have very different motivations and that's ok.

    1. 1

      Thanks for laying all this out! Very helpful. The amount of projects is definitely a red flag that I'm always trying to keep an eye on. The thought right now is to put lots of things out there to see what gets traction first, but I'm acutely aware that this strategy could keep me from discovering real opportunities that would come from a singular focus. Lots of trade offs and uncertainty! Which means lots of anxiety :(

      Glad to learn about Signils and I'm mulling over how I could use it. I'll make a purchase once I get my head around it. I do worry about rogue bluetooth devices doing bad things. Cheers!

      1. 1

        Sounds good. We have quite a few power users that use it multiple times per day, which is pretty cool. I'm looking at ways to give people more reasons to use it more often.

  9. 2

    Play to your strengths!

    Following advice that you don't believe in, and then facing failure or obstacles, is a sure-fire way to experience burnout.

    If forging your own path and figuring things out on your own (without getting burned out) is what you are good at, then that is probably the right thing to do 👍🏻

    1. 1

      Thank you! That's where my thinking is at right now ...

  10. 2

    I 100% agree with you and am following a similar method for building my product.
    If you have a path that keeps you motivated to keep working, you should stick with it.

    There's no one right way to do things. The indie hacker "best practices" work for some people, but I know plenty of others who just started building and found an audience. You could argue that that was luck, but that discounts all the iterations that were done to create a product that has an audience.

    Whenever someone mentions best practices, I think about how they're used in software development at bigger companies. "Best" practices tend to be only best in a certain context. The reason for why they are useful in those situations need to be understood so that they can be adapted for other contexts. Whenever I see an over-engineered system that's hard to work with, I usually hear that it follows best practices. Yet no one on the team can explain why those practices are "best".

    1. 1

      Earlier in my career I was intimidated by people who insisted on 'Best Practices', thinking that I could never deliver at their level. Now I realize those are usually the people who know the least about product development and what they actually want. It usually just means they've been burned in the past and think throwing this phrase around will protect them from future disasters.

  11. 2

    It is a rare individual who can do everything they know they should do without outside pressure. Good luck finding your people. 🙏

    1. 2

      Haha, yes, maybe this is more common than I'm thinking it is ...

  12. 2

    I 100% relate to this. @Courtland have a talk for ycombinator called some thing to the affect of "your one goal is to never give up". It's going to be really easy for me to give up if the situation overwhelms me. So I decided to do what I can and grow at my own pace.

    I don't think that is the end of the earth. I have had tremendous growth as a developer and I'm starting to branch out to sales and talking to costumers. It became really easy to do that once I finished my product and I now need to sell it.

    There is a saying "People don't do what they want to do, they do what they have to do." If the only thing blocking you from success is talking to costumers, you are going to do it. The advice everyone gives is correct like telling kids you should eat vegetables.

    1. 1

      Yeah, it's true that it's not necessarily the techniques themselves so much as the context. I might be really excited about growth hacking or building an audience when I see how to do it with enthusiasm and passion. And it's likely that will come at different stages of the project.

      Thanks for replying!

  13. 2

    Me too. But not because following the best practices feels like working for someone else.

    The reason is there are constraints, some of which self-imposed. For example, a best practice is to reach out to the people potentially interested in our products at their watering holes. But many major watering holes are on Facebook or Instagram, which is a deal breaker for me.

    Sometimes the best practices seem too pushy to me.

    You get the picture.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the solidarity! Yeah, I didn't really express it quite right. Not so much working for someone else but having a voice in my head that's always telling me to do things a certain way.

      The weird part is that when I learn these things, I absolutely think they're the best thing to do and that I will do them. Then when it's time to, most of the time it just doesn't feel right or natural, so then I feel like there's something wrong with me.

      1. 2

        Me too. I do see the rationale behind those recommendations and advice, yet sometimes there's something off I can't pinpoint.

  14. 2

    Could I suggest that perhaps the feeling isn’t quite so much as “working for someone else” when you’re doing your thing as simply “working”?

    Perhaps you’re happiest where you are, where your hacking is a hobby that brings you pleasure without much stress.

    In my experience, working for your self still feels like working, and most of the time, it is more intense feelings of “work” than working a salaried job, because EVERYTHING is on your shoulders, and there are very few people to share the weight with.

    I agree with you about best practices - the joy and satisfaction is in the discovery and the process, not just following somebody else's playbook. Part of the fun is making mistakes and learning from them

    1. 1

      Yes, well said. Technically I am working for myself right now but my wife is supporting the family financially, so it doesn't feel like "work" in that sense yet.

      Deviating from agreed-upon wisdom just makes me really insecure if it takes a long time to bare fruit or if I'm feeling particularly down. Makes the marathon that much harder.

      I'm not trying to say that Indie Hackers projects this group-think at all, quite the opposite. I posted here specifically because I suspected I might find my people.

  15. 1

    I'm not building an audience. I'm not validating my ideas. I'm not talking to users or potential customers. My ideas are probably too big to build on my own and I'm not scoping them down to their smallest useful piece. I'm working on six different projects at once.
    Looks like AnimationCPU way. Join to TestFlight!
    https://www.indiehackers.com/post/animation-cpu-creative-space-49d87545ed

  16. 1

    Mate so many of us relate to this.

    Is the title of this post accurate?
    Is this really about following 'best practices', or not making the progress you want?

    In startup/indie land, that's launching something into the world and go from there.

    And for a lot of people, me included 3x, that comes with a bunch of fear that manifest as blockers and avoiding do anything to have to face that fear e.g. launch something.

    I've had a bias towards future dream thinking my entire life, and that doesn't result in a lot of tangible things being done and progress being made.

    Thing is I've been aware of everything I do to sabotage progress for years.
    Like a lot of people.

    I've got a broad base of knowledge on a lot of things that should give me an advantage of doing a startup/product well, that's not my blocker.

    If you reflect on what you do now, can you see why you aren't doing what you know what you should be doing, why you'll easily allow yourself to get distracted or shift focus to something else instead of completing?

    The dam broke a few weeks back - I'd had enough of this, and the solution was pretty simple and is well documented and written about and talked about by many for a long time - the principles are the same and have been for millennia:

    • chunk things down: dreams -> goals -> milestones -> tasks

    • TIMEBOXING to stay focused on present and ticking off tasks, because everything else follows <- intentionality about making this a habit has been the 🔥
      -> recognising the moment I want to fire up email or Twitter insteading of completing a timebox and working through the reason = starting to break the cycle and mindset associated with sabotage/distraction.

    • community/peers for support - you got a great one here.

    https://www.nirandfar.com/focus/
    https://www.nirandfar.com/indistractable/

    Maybe you need alternative medium for support/accountability?
    https://www.focusmate.com/

    1. 1

      Oh cool, thanks for those links! I definitely want to find some virtual co-working solution since I'm not going into an office.

      As odd as it sounds, focusing isn't an issue so much for me. When I sit down, I'm able to work on things without getting distracted. It's just that I have a lot of projects that I push forward a little bit at a time. So I'm spread pretty wide instead of deep. I guess the strategy there is to have as many at-bats as possible, but maybe I'm spreading too thin and it will make each at-bat less likely to succeed.

      Anyway, it's nice to know that it's not just me. It might seem obvious that everyone feels this way, but it wasn't to me until writing this post!

      1. 1

        I'm at the eary stage of building a startup studio, https://AudaciousCo.com, as initially a sole-founder. The pain of chasing too many things and not making progress on any was one of those things I had to change.

        Had to focus on smashing out one thing, knowing all my lessons would be applied to future initiatives eventually.

        https://latecheckout.substack.com/p/why-the-future-of-startups-are-studios

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