Founders struggle to communicate during the COVID-19 crisis

Want to join me in a quick thought experiment?

Let's say it's January 2020, and you're running a profitable online business. Then a global pandemic strikes. In the ensuing months, businesses, cities, and even countries are forced to shut down. The world shuts down.

But you keep going. Pandemic or not, there's a recession looming and you've gotta pay the bills. So if anything, you work harder than ever, cranking out more content, sending more emails, tweeting more tweets.

There's just one problem: nobody cares. Topics that were useful or interesting a few weeks ago now seem trivial next to all the tweets about the ongoing crisis. You feel out of touch even writing them.

So what do you do? Do you press forward and keep doing the same marketing you've always done? Or do you call it quits for now, and accept the hit to your sales and traffic?

In actuality, indie hackers are picking a third option: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

It's simple: The world wants to read about the coronavirus, so write about the coronavirus.

But perhaps you take issue with the premise: If we're in a round-the-clock coronavirus news cycle, won't people get fatigued? Isn't this the perfect time to be different and write about something else?

I submit to you: Google Trends. Here's what people are actually searching for.

Google Trends

While you're at it, take a look at the front page of the New York Times:

New York Times

And look at what's leading the pack of the fastest growing communities on reddit:

reddit communities

People are far from fatigued. What they actually want is to read more about the coronavirus. It's what matters most to them right now. Demand from readers is off the charts. And indie hackers are figuring out how to meet this demand.

Exhibit A is Rand Fishkin (@randfish), the founder of Moz and SparkToro:

Rand Fishkin on Twitter

As far as I know, Rand is not an epidemiologist. He's not an economist, a virologist, a politician, or a healthcare worker either. So why is he writing about this?

Here's his answer from the article:

I’m a marketer and startup founder, so it’s hardly my place to speculate on the massive economic, political, and sociological impacts of our pandemic world. But, I believe it’s the responsibility of all with influence, privilege, and insight to do what they can to help others, doubly so in crises. That’s why, in this post, I’m going to publicly brainstorm some ways I believe technology companies can cushion the impending economic crisis, just as robust testing, social distancing, hand-washing, and staying the F home can help the medical crisis.

By the way, I was playing devil's advocate when I posed those questions about Rand's credentials. Why should we care so much about people's résumés? That's always seemed silly to me, because ideas can be judged on their own merit. My theory is that analyzing information is difficult and effortful, so most people prefer shortcuts. A résumé is one of those shortcuts. So it was smart of Rand to justify himself.

Exhibit B is Amy Hoy (@amyhoy), the founder of Noko. In typical indie hacker fashion, she built a side project to join the COVID-19 conversation:

Amy Hoy's game

She also wrote two articles on running a business in a recession, which couldn't be more timely given the grim outlook on the economy.

But I want to stick with this side project idea for a moment, since we'll start seeing a lot more of them in the coming weeks. Why? For one, side projects speak for themselves better than, say, tweets or blog posts do. That is, it's easier for indie hackers with small audiences to get new users trying their apps than to get new readers viewing their posts.

And why is that? Because — and I say this with full self-awareness — coronavirus posts are a dime a dozen. Everyone's got something to say about the crisis. Just check your home feed on Twitter. But how often have you come across projects like indie hacker @MikeW's Just Give Me Positive News, a site that exclusively features positive stories about COVID-19?

I'd never heard of Mike before he posted on the Indie Hackers forum yesterday, but this didn't stop me from bookmarking the project immediately. Real projects stand out amidst the endless noise of content.

But these are just the trends. There are plenty of exceptions. It's not All Coronavirus All the Time for every indie hacker.

Harry Dry (@harrydry) is the founder of Marketing Examples, and for the most part he's stuck to publishing marketing stories, his bread and butter. For the most part. But there's still the elephant in the room, right? Everything you publish online becomes part of the global conversation, which right now is focused on one thing. It would be awkward for Harry not to at least acknowledge its existence:

Marketing Example Twitter

But Harry's a marketing guru. Not every founder can just wink the problem away like this. For example, Rich Clominson (@richclominson), the creator of Failory, gave the following take on the Indie Hackers forum yesterday:

After months of working on The Failory Podcast, we finally have 14 episodes recorded and we're almost ready to be published. But... should I launch? That's the question I'm asking myself. On the one side, more people are in their homes doing quarantine, which means they probably have more free time to listen to 30/40-minute podcast episodes. But on the other side, are these people even interested in listening to a business podcast right now? The whole attention is put into COVID-19 and will be for the upcoming weeks.

I wish I had a good answer for him, but the truth is that we're wrangling with the same questions at Indie Hackers. Yet moving forward is better than standing still.

So perhaps we should all listen to @Mattkohn2220, who responded to Rich's thread:

Launch. Tomorrow does not exist.

  1. 5

    Wow. That ending to this post. What a punch.

    1. 2

      Ha, I had the same reaction reading @Mattkohn2220's comment.

  2. 4

    i think this is one of the best opportunities for a new class of indie hackers! those... born in the craziest of times!

    i can't wait to see all of the folks who are now going to have opportunities to build the side project (or full-blown business) that they've always wanted.

    i think places and communities like IH are perfectly suited for helping folks launch today.

    1. 5

      For sure I’m so curious to see what comes out of this

      1. 1

        are you going to take advantage of this time? or are you watching and waiting?

        1. 1

          Im offering help when I can. The beauty of times like these is that people are more receptive to help from others.

          1. 1

            love that. well played!

    2. 2

      I second @BryceV. Fingers crossed for some post-traumatic growth in the form of more people taking their careers into their own hands.

      1. 1

        i love this! "post-traumatic growth" is something i haven't thought through much... i'm going to marinate on this.

  3. 2

    amen brotha. keep calm , thanks for the feature. all we can do is be here now and enjoy that <3

  4. 2

    Enjoyed this. If you can seamlessly adapt your content, you're going to win.

    A great example, to add to this collection, is social media manager, Matthew Kobach's response to Coronavirus. A series of tweets about how to respond to a crisis as someone who runs big brand social media accounts.

    Seamlessly switched gears - For example

    1. 1

      Damn, wish I'd found that before writing the piece… would've saved me at least a paragraph of explanation.

  5. 2

    Nice post.

    First, I don't think that latest trending topics apply the same to indie hackers. That is why we are indie hackers and not trendy hackers ;)

    I think this is a great time to build - build skills, build content, build products - while the world is on pause. Whether you launch now is up for debate, and I understand the dilemma there. In one sense it could be the perfect time to launch and in another it could be awkward.

    I think if you do decide to launch during this, there should be some mention to the current events in your copy. It could be as simple as "While we are all sitting at home..."

    For a site like Indie Hackers a good idea might be to put up a featured link or banner for Covid19 that shows up on every page. The content could just be a list of resources to help people, and you could update it if you find more resources. Then you can keep the indie hacker content going while still having that banner always there acknowledging the current situation...

    1. 1

      First, I don't think that latest trending topics apply the same to indie hackers. That is why we are indie hackers and not trendy hackers ;)

      I agree and disagree! Depends on the trend, I guess. Market and economic trends aren't just interesting to most indie hackers, but vital.

      1. 1

        I didn’t say they weren’t vital. I said they didn't apply the same. Surely an indie hacker’s perspective is different than a non indie hacker. Otherwise why come to this site?

        1. 1

          Fair, we'll have to make sure all our trends are indie hacker-flavored.

          1. 1

            That is my preferred flavor ;)
            And just so you’re aware I think your post was on point - my original comment was more of a poor attempt at being cheeky...

  6. 2

    Thanks a lot for writing this up 🙏! I was wondering as well as I have been working and writing about https://baseline.dev - and your post is really encouraging. The conclusion I drew for myself is to continue working on what I am working on, and see how I can help in my community. In posts, I want to acknowledge the current global pandemic, that is it a very difficult time for many and that maybe my work and posts can provide some distraction or ideas for others.

    1. 1

      1,000%. As long as you keep your finger on the pulse of how you're solving problems your customers care about, you're on the right track.

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