Indie Hacker: Csaba Kissi @ckissi
Project Revenue: $3M
Recent Achievement: Gained 30K+ Twitter followers in last 8 months
Growing up in Slovakia, Csaba didn't have access to the internet. Everything he learned about coding, he taught himself using an old textbook.
When he finally landed his first software engineering job, Csaba spent his spare time working on a Windows Explorer alternative (file manager) and used his colleague's computer to upload it to the internet. 12 years later, Csaba quit his full-time job after his project began making $7,500/month.
Csaba recently went viral with his tweet thread, "How I Earned $3M+ On The Internet and What Was the Trick to Beat The Competition." And while the thread is filled with wisdom, I had a chance to speak with him and dive deeper into the story.
Csaba: I left my job 12 years ago, but before then I worked in the United States as a programmer. We created reports for top managers. And in the meantime, I created my two side projects. When I decided to leave my job I had 10 times my income saved. But even when I left I wasn't 100% confident in my abilities as an entrepreneur. What's funny, though, is that after I left I multiplied my profit by three times my salary.
Csaba: When I left my job my primary product was called Download3000. I had some other websites, but this one netted me more than 90% of my total revenue. The very first iteration of the idea for Download3000 was a download directory I had created for Delphi (an Object Pascal programming language) components. I created it mostly because I wanted a free channel to market my own software. Later on I decided to place ads on the site when it had ~20,000 visitors a day. This was also around the time Google AdSense started to operate publicly.
Csaba: When I started using Google AdSense I realized it could bring in way more revenue than handling the advertisements for other applications on my site. So I decided to put all my energy into growing the site itself instead of doing freeware and shareware applications. Three years later and the site grew to 200,000 visitors a day.
Csaba: When you first create a website, you'll get no traffic to it. So my initial idea for marketing the site was to get backlinks and improve our home page SEO. The very first step for me was to go to my competitor websites and reverse engineer what they were doing. I spent about one week on this - there are sites like Soft32.com and Brothersoft.com that help - looking at their meta tags.
The most important things I noticed were: where the product title was based, the content of the description for the product, location of the download button, and the flow when the user clicks on a download button.
On most of sites, too, you don’t directly download the software. But you go to the intermediate page where you are informed that this software will be downloaded and then you actually have to click once more.
It was a trick to cheat Google’s perception of the bounce rate, so you are not landing on the first page and then clicking the button and leaving. Instead you go to another page, and then you have to click again. This makes the visitor spend a little bit more time on the site.
Our most basic technique, though, was to review good software on the side and then rate it as five stars. This acts like a reward for the creator. Then you send them an email with the message that the software got to five stars. This technique was also used by pretty much every site in the market.
Csaba: Eventually I had to come up with other ideas. Our traffic was stagnant for months. Everybody was hungry for content.
I decided to create plugins for a few different Content Management Systems, which would be able to bring my content to these sites via API. For WordPress, Joomla, and PHPU once you installed the plugin your site essentially became a download directory.
Csaba: The trick here was that you were able to browse the directory, but if you wanted to see the details about the software, you were redirected to my site. So it was a win-win situation for both sides.
They got the free content and I netted plenty of backlinks. I was also able to track the sites who installed my plugin. Every time there was an API request, the domain name of the host was sent to me. I saved this information to a database and I was able to track the number of sites who used these plugins. There were ~2000 websites who used it. This was a major game-changer for me.
Csaba: The biggest mistake you can make these days is not developing an audience. It's very, very important to have people who can help you spread the word about your project, who can give you some feedback on the project. This is why I actually joined Twitter earlier this year in February and share all my knowledge.
Now if you want to get a good position in a search group, it's much harder than it was before. Back then, it was only about the backlinks mostly and what most people did at the time was buy backlinks from each other. But I didn't do that because it was risky. If Google caught wind that you bought a back link, it was very easy to get penalized and see traffic drop drastically.
Csaba: I bought a course from Danny Thompson when I first started. What he taught me was to basically choose four or five big accounts and set notifications for those accounts. As soon as they post something, be the first who will reply with something meaningful.
It's also good if you can start a conversation. If you are doing this for weeks, you'll be noticed by the account owner and they will start to engage with you and they will notice you. This is howI was able to connect with all of the big accounts on Twitter.
Csaba: What I did was actually create small Tailwind CSS snippets. Each widget was connected to a large account. I did this for four weeks, every single day, every day for another person.
If you want to grow on Twitter, it takes time. If you want to be a good developer, it takes time. If you want to be a good marketer, it takes time. So you can't achieve your goals within a week or one month. It's not possible.
And being prepared to fail is also very important. Some people get disappointed when their first project fails, but it's normal. You have to fail a lot of times before you achieve your goals. That's how every journey goes - whether as an entrepreneur, actor, musician, or student.