On the New Year’s Eve 🎉 (12/31/2020) episode of the Run With It podcast, Courtland Allen (@csallen), founder of Indie Hackers, joined us to share 3 solid business ideas for founders to launch and grow in 2021.
Remember, Courtland once joined Y Combinator to pursue the VC funded dream and it didn’t work out. But he rose from the ashes to build a profitable and rewarding indie business (Indie Hackers) which supports other indie hackers as they learn and grow.
Within months of launching IH it was at the top of Hacker News, #1 on Product Hunt and building an email list of thousands of subscribers. He went from zero to $2K to $4K in monthly revenue. He launched a podcast. And then IH was magically invited to be acquired by Stripe.
Suffice to say, Courtland has a bit of personal experience in business building now, and on top of that he has interviewed hundreds of successful founders and learned from them.
With eyes on how to capitalize on trends and fill in market gaps, we took a deep dive into three of his sharpest ideas for 2021:
To illustrate how to launch Podcast OS (a dashboard and tools to manage podcast production and growth) Courtland shared the inspiring story of Janel. She launched a newsletter and used a simple Notion document to manage its growth. Then she suddenly realized she might, with a few tweaks, be able to sell that very Notion document as a product for other newsletter creators. She tested her idea and was floored to get 500 sales for a $50 product within just 3 months.
The Podcast OS that Courtland envisions is nothing like the bundle of ancillary tools that podcasters are now using, like Chartable, Transistor or Zencastr. It’s basically a home base where a podcaster can track granular milestones on a weekly basis to optimize for podcast growth and make sure a tight ship is run.
Why not copy @Janel? Create a Notion doc as a homebase for podcast management. Provide enough detail that the product is worth a small $50 investment to a good bunch of podcasters. By launching with a one-off product, you are getting paid to build an email list that consists of your new customers. Now you can evolve a software tool out of your product that commands an ongoing subscription cost. You can work in upsells that can be presented within your new platform.
Everyone should learn how to code! Right? When Obama became the first president to write a computer program that could draw a square on a screen, the world cheered. But the #LearnToCode movement has since garnered some cynical detractors. (Remember when laid off journalists were harassed by blue-collar conservatives on Twitter, pummeled by #LearnToCode themed vitriol?
Why’s it so complicated? Well, learning to code for its own sake is a great mental exercise but it won’t lead directly to a job or to launching the next Facebook. In fact, rote learning about for-loops and pointless “hello world” projects isn’t going to get you far.
Instead, let’s dive in and focus on the people who want to start a business but need or want some coding skills to get things off the ground. Now you’ve got a coding school with built-in motivation for the students and a real connection to profitability. Learn to code while starting a business and you’ll not only learn the coding skills you need, you’ll have instant meaningful projects on which to practice your coding skills.
On top of all this, any business that offers clients the promise of making money has a higher profit potential. So, start a new coding school, but one where you teach coding and business in concert for the niche of nerds who are excited about both.
With this model, the intellectual benefits of learning to code are just icing on the cake. And if your clients don’t hit paydirt immediately with their efforts, at least they’ll have enriched their mental capacity. Low potential downside and high potential upside makes for a great service and raving clients.
Find the type of programming jobs that are boring to experienced coders, but still valuable to end users. Imagine a corporate employee with a non-urgent need to create an Excel macro. Maybe she’d be willing to pay $50 for it and wouldn’t care that it took the aspiring programmer three weeks to get it back to her.
Meaningful projects worth paying for are the foundation of the “exercises” that students will use to learn.
Ever heard of Humble Bundle? Back in 2010 Jeffrey Rosen and John Graham had the smart idea to help indie game creators boost their sales. By bundling games from multiple creators together the rising tide of exposure could lift all their boats. The idea took hold and Humble Bundle took off. Plus the founders enjoyed creating a do-good company that became known for donating a portion of profits to charity.
Is it profitable to run a business like Humble Bundle? Yes. According to a 2019 article on gamesindustry.biz “In 2018 alone, it donated $25 million, building toward a lifetime total of $146 million.” If they can donate that much, they must be way way in the black.
So how can you adapt a business idea like this? Courtland highlights a burgeoning indie creator economy. There are people out there making cool stuff with a little bit of help from evolving technology. They’re making podcasts, newsletters, art, music—all kinds of interesting content. They want to make a profit but they don’t have the business savvy or the platform to promote on.
Here’s where you swoop in and create a platform for indie creator bundles. Start in a niche and choose products to bundle that would appeal to a common audience. Consult with JV and Affiliate specialists who have been doing deals like this profitably for decades. Start making deals and create some big pushes when you launch. It’s all about leveraging the possibilities of PR. Create a PR event around your business, around the indie creators that participate, around the incredible deal that customers are going to get by purchasing a bundle over individual products. Aim for a big splash up front incorporating a lot of partners and together you can swim quite far. Perhaps well beyond 8 figure distances each year!
2020 was a crazy year. A lot got in our way as a society, but one thing remained clear. As the world evolves, no matter what comes, there are business opportunities everywhere. Keep your eye out for the solid ones, and more than anything, don’t be afraid to get started and get your hands dirty.
The Run With It podcast will be here with you through 2021 and beyond to feed you great ideas from proven founders. And beyond ideas, we’re here asking the best questions (and the stupidest questions, so you don’t have to), tracking trends, inspiring you and generally assisting our guests to mold your brain into a storehouse of entrepreneurial instinct and drive. As a member of the newly formed Indie Hackers Podcast Network, Run With It is partnering with Courtland, IH and our fellow IH podcast network members so that you, the next great founder, have all the support you need to make your dreams a reality.