Courtland Allen Shares 3 Ideas 💡 for Indie Hackers

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:

  1. 🎙️ 🎛️ Podcast Dashboard (Podcast OS)
  2. 🧑🏿‍💻 🧑‍🏫 Entrepreneur Coding School
  3. 🎨 📚 Indie Creator Bundles

🎙️ 🎛️ Podcast OS:

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.

How to get started?

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.

🧑🏿‍💻 🧑‍🏫 Entrepreneur Coding School:

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.

How to start?

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.

🎨 📚 Indie Creator Bundles

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...

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!

📓 Wrap Up

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.

  1. 6

    I'm thrilled to see Indie Creator Bundles on here! Been thinking about this for a while.

    After @AndrewKamphey posted his digital stocking stuffer dollar store I thought, "Why isn't there a Humble Bundle for indie book and course publishers?". I've been brainstorming distribution ideas ever since but I'm really not sure how to promote such an idea. These things are a form of marketplace, which makes them even more difficult than your average info product or SaaS business.

    Ultimately, I like the idea of aligning the incentives so that the collective benefits if the members of a bundle help promote it. I know AppSumo gets some criticism, but their Marketplace idea is sort of genius: you are incentivized to drive traffic to their site in order to potentially get a lucrative promotion deal. Is there some way to arrange the payouts in such a way that those who boost the bundle get a larger share?

    Then you have the task of bundling like-themed content together. What if there was a way to self-select bundles? For example, you propose a bundle concept. I'd start with "Learn Vim". I'd offer up my own courses, VimTricks to start the bundle off. Then others could propose other info products to join the bundle. Indie Creator Bundles (name TBD) would reach out to the creator of said product with an automated email inviting them to join the bundle. When a certain critical mass of products has joined the bundle, it's launched.

    Anyone want to help me build it? Or more importantly, anyone have ideas for how to promote such a thing? (Building is the easy part.) Any affiliate specialists out there?

    1. 1

      but I'm really not sure how to promote such an idea

      @csallen talks more about this on the podcast. One piece of advice he gave was to target creators who have some following but not so large that they don't need your help. If everyone has a couple thousand followers, that adds up to a pretty large launch list.

      Of course, the organizer of the bundle probably doesn't to bring a list to the table, because he/she is doing the heavy lifting of organizing!

    2. 1

      I agree that bundling indie dev resources together makes a lot of sense. Humble Bundle already has bundles geared towards developers (e.g. the Frontend Developer Bundle with a few books) - but there is room for a more dedicated offering.

      I imagine getting the supply side sorted (e.g. SaaS credit, ebooks, information products, yearly subscriptions to newsletters) will not be a hard sell as it seems like such a win-win. With a tiered pay-what-you-want model it's also an amazing deal for customers. For the first edition it would be amazing if you can get credit for one of the big cloud providers / other hosts e.g. 20 bucks of DigitalOcean credit.

      When I think of it more: does it have to be a time-bounded offering? There's the Github student pack, why doesn't something similar exist for indies?

      I'm thinking I'll spend a couple weeks validating the idea.

  2. 5

    Great ideas! Well guess what, I’m building Podcast OS already with a partner 🎉

    Watch as we drop pre-orders soon.

    1. 3

      Awesome, pumped to check it out. I can't speak for the rest of the Indie Hackers Podcast Network, but @Eathan and I would be happy to provide early feedback if you're looking for it.

      1. 2

        Thanks Chris & Eathan!

    2. 2

      Haha, I guess it will be easy for you to take our advice and "copy Janel" 😂

      1. 2

        I laughed so hard at this.

  3. 3

    I almost took a job at Humble in 2013. I'm a fan of the model and have a little insight, so do let me know if I can be of any help/answer questions if anyone decides to go down this route.

    Me, I had a passing thought of a bundle featuring Library Extension (for saving $ and finding Amazon books at your local library), Instapaper (for reading/highlighting all of your articles), and Readwise for repetitive reinforcement of all of the lessons learned via your book/article highlights.

    In the "supply the picks and axes" perspective, I wonder if the real winner here is the service that makes it super easy for multiple creators to coordinate and distribute their own bundles versus create a bundle itself. You could provide the tool to take a distribute payment, as well as the entitlement to each individual product/service.

  4. 3

    All of these ideas fit the theme of helping people succeed. More specifically: pick a highly motivated group of people who are trying to create something and make money from it, then learn everything about how they can do this better, and relentlessly apply it to help them out.

    1. Help podcasters make their shows more successful.
    2. Help aspiring indie hackers learn to code.
    3. Help fledgling businesses distribute their products or content.
    1. 4
      1. Help first-time authors create a successful book ;)

      I like your list -- especially the takes on how to get started, which is often missing. Nice thoughts.

    2. 2
      1. Help aspiring indie hackers learn to code and start indie hacking.

      A pattern I've seen in this area is a lot of non-technical (or technical but non programming) founders I have worked with spend a lot of time looking at data and analytics. I've always thought that teaching them how to code to replace or augment their normal excel workflows could be a good place to start (ie. Python + Pandas + Jupyter Notebook)

      1. 2

        And for some simple use cases, they can also look towards visual dev tools like Bubble, Glide to push out the first version of their ideas. And then decide whether they want to invest more resources.

  5. 2

    Enjoyed this.

    And @csallen's got an album cover if he ever raps over his saxophone

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