Growth April 22, 2020

From zero coding skills to building and selling my apps within 1.5 years

Tamas Torok @tamastorok

If you always wanted to build your own apps but lacked the coding skills or the courage, then this story will definitely inspire you.

I have a Google Sheet full of product ideas I have been collecting for years. But as you probably guessed, I haven’t really done anything to test these ideas.

I’m pretty sure this sounds familiar to you.

The main reason?

I’m not a coder. Back then, I had no idea how to create a single website—not even a simple web application.

I was in a mental trap.

I told myself I was unable to learn code. I got overwhelmed by the technical complexity of the applications. I made several attempts to learn the basics but didn’t succeed.

And I always failed to find a technical co-founder who had the same passion for the product. I got really tired of this.

I felt like a loser who couldn’t accomplish anything on his own.

Years passed, and when I sat down to reflect on my overall progress in work, life, and projects, I got really frustrated.

Despite dreaming about building my own apps, I hadn’t accomplished anything in the past years.

I felt like I had wasted so much time.

Then shortly after, at the end of 2018, I came up with a simple app idea. It was another brilliant idea to add to my Google Sheet, but this one was possible to build without coding.

I actually built and shipped that product. And that was a major breakthrough - I had built something that worked, and a handful of users actually loved it. It was such a great feeling, and I wanted more of it.

I took a course on web development on Udemy. But this time, the combination of hunger for knowledge and the success of having built something made me complete that course; it gave me a basic set of knowledge.

At the end of 2018, I decided to take action, and I finally started building products.

Executing your own ideas is not an easy thing. You have to leave your comfort zone and start doing stuff that 99% of people never dare to do.

If this wasn’t challenging enough, then I think I took it to the next level.

While I was working on the products, I still kept my full-time job and also did consulting. In 2019, my son was born, so I was spending more time with him as well. Talk about time pressure!

At the beginning of 2019, I was ready to start my first maker year. I set up OKRs, and I changed my routine to squeeze in time for learning and building products.

The plan was to build 10 products in 2019. Out of the planned 10, I managed to build 6.

But don’t think these apps were complex enterprise-grade, supply chain management software. These were very simple apps addressing very simple problems - or not addressing any problems at all.

Starting small gave me momentum. Finishing each mini app gave me a huge satisfaction boost that made me even hungrier to continue.

I took on the next product, faced a technical challenge, and somehow figured out a way to solve it. In this way, I acquired small bits of coding knowledge that could be applied to the next product. All these small things were adding up, making me able to build more complex applications in the long-run.

I didn’t spend any time analyzing competitors and doing market research. I just had an idea and simply built it.

Every time I started, I knew I was probably building something no one needed or I was reinventing the wheel, but I was fine with that - the point was to sharpen my coding skills and to exercise my shipping muscle. Shipping an MVP was also a form of validation.

The more products I built, the more likely it was that I would end up building something valuable. And eventually, I knew I would end up being a better coder.

I recommend you do the same and be patient with yourself; you will get there.

Here is the list of products I launched in 2019:

Foods Dogs Can Eat
Foods Cats Can Eat
Crypto Name Generator
Dofollow Link Checker
Crypto Adoption Status
Sad for no reason

And these are the apps I have so far built in 2020; I’m planning to launch 8 this year:

1000 Words
Wow! What?
Meeting cost calculator and estimator

I want to be totally honest with you.

I’m far from a good developer. Actually, I don’t consider myself a developer at all.

Honestly, I’m a shitty coder. Once I showed my code to one of my senior developer friends, and he wasn’t impressed.

And you know what? I don’t stress about any of this. I listened to his advice and tried to do better next time.

The point is to learn, and learning takes time. You won’t write the best quality code when you start. Accept it.

When I started, the main point was to build products (MVPs), and if one of these turned out to be super successful, then I would spend time to further improve the code or hire someone to do it.

After shipping a few products, I started having some small successes.

I sold my first app (TvPremiereAlert), which I had built without many coding skills. I sold it for only 80 dollars, which is ridiculously low, but I wanted to shut it down anyway since I didn’t have time to maintain it.

Another big win was when my project, Crypto Project Name Generator, was featured on the front page of The Next Web.

My app Foods Dogs Can Eat was the 4th most upvoted product of the day. I was not conquering the internet, but it was definitely a step forward.

Things started escalating a bit in the first quarter of 2020.

One of my apps Foods Cats Can Eat was nominated as the best pet tech product of the year and eventually reached 3rd place!

Ph top pettech

Earlier this year, my product 1000 Words got the most upvotes within a day; it was the first time my product was selected as the product of the day.

1000Words

Then I sold two of my products I had built in 2019: Foods Cats Can Eat and Foods Dogs Can Eat.

Receiving an offer for a product you built from scratch is such a great feeling. Settling on the price and receiving the funds is also an amazingly rewarding feeling.

A few weeks ago on a Thursday night, I was sitting in the living room in my pajamas, surfing on the internet and watching a documentary on Netflix. I quickly checked my mailbox, and I had an email from a guy who was interested in buying one of my apps.

I responded to him to have a chat the day after since my next day was packed. Immediately, I got a reply from him telling me he was actually available on Zoom at that moment.

I was sitting in a dark living room ready to go to sleep. It was 11 pm.

Obviously, I jumped on the call and had a great chat with the guy. He was looking for a tool for his portfolio.

Not every person interested in buying your product will end up buying it; this guy probably won’t buy mine, but it’s a great experience to explain how your app works and to know you built something someone finds valuable enough to pay for.

I’m far away from a million-dollar exit or an insanely profitable project, but I’m getting there!

All these small things fuel my motivation and make me stay up late at night or jump out of the bed in the morning to work on my stuff.

The key takeaway here is this:

Even if you build a product on the side and you either lose interest or abandon the project, there is a chance that someone will see something in it.

It all sounds like a dream, right?

Here is another thing you need to know: it all comes with a price.

Doing all these things is mentally challenging. It’s sometimes so hard I feel like I’m unable to do it.

I’m usually on a pretty tight schedule, not doing anything outside work, projects, family, and sports.

  • I quit social media.
  • I stopped reading a large number of books (reading too much prevents me from taking action). Currently, I’m reading 4-5 books a year.
  • I quit watching TV 6 years ago, but sometimes I turn on Netflix.
  • I schedule regular exercises (weekly 2 fencing classes, one yoga)
  • I focus more on healthy eating. I eat more vegetables and fruits and have decreased my sugar intake. I also said goodbye to my dearest love: the Snickers bar.

But sometimes things get really hard.

I have to take at least a week off after every 3 months to rest. I sometimes hit deep points when I’m not motivated at all. Those times I’m frustrated, angry, even depressed and my anxiety comes back for a visit. This more likely happens when I skip sports and work even more, usually over the weekends as well. Don’t do this!

I encourage you to challenge yourself and to try to do something similar while not ruining your mental and physical health.

It’s been the most challenging 1.5 years of my life, and despite the emotional roller coaster, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

If there are a few takeaways from this post, remember these:

  • Keep all your ideas recorded somewhere, and actively look for problems or just fun things to build.

  • Do not stress about competition and market size for now. The point is to start building and shipping stuff.

  • Don’t be overwhelmed by the technical complexity of any app. Tackle one problem at a time, start simple and make it more complex step by step.

  • Even if you think your app is worth nothing, it might be valuable to someone who is willing to pay for it.

I love to connect with like-minded people, so feel free to drop me a message.

This post was originally published on my blog.

  1. 3

    Fantastic, keep going!

  2. 3

    Congrats, keep pushing yourself and i agree with you the key is build something and push it to the world and learn from it.

  3. 3

    I am happy for you man. 😊
    "journey of thousand miles begins with a single step"

  4. 2

    Love this, super inspirational ♥️ Would love to read more about how your journey into coding!

    1. 1

      Do you have any specific questions? Happy to put together a post.

      1. 1

        Basically anything how you got started... what courses did you take, pros / cons, what you learned from different projects, what resources helped you grow the most, etc.

  5. 2

    This is so amazing and inspiring @tamastorok. All the best and I hope you write about your million dollar exit soon on IH. Keep rocking!

  6. 2

    Read the whole thing. Amazing. Virtual 🙏🏻

    Keep it up. 👍🏻

  7. 1

    I am honestly inspired, I hope I can follow in your footsteps.

  8. 1

    Wow, being a non-coder myself and embarking on a eerily similar journey, this post just hit home. Thank you for sharing your story Tamas, I've taken some gems from this

  9. 1

    This type of learning to code is what I tell people it’s the only way to learn to code. Even if you’re doing a CS degree, if you’re not building stuff for the sake of building stuff it’s not enough.

  10. 1

    love the hustle, inspiring. keep grinding

  11. 1

    Thanks for your post. The "shipping muscle" really resonated with me. I build lots of stuff but is last mile what I struggle with. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. 1

    Nice work and congrats on the success thus far. I came across an article today and highlighted this sentence:

    “Everything is in flux, everything is a work in progress, and everything you put out there has an implicit “version 1.0” attached to it. This can be tremendously empowering – since nothing is ever final, there is no need to wait to get started.”

    Building a Second Brain: An Overview - Forte Labs
    https://fortelabs.co/blog/basboverview/

  13. 1

    Good going with your product building mate. How do you sell your products ? Is it organic or do you advertise it somewhere ?

    1. 1

      It's partly organic, but I also listed a few on Indiemaker

  14. 1

    This is amazing. Mind sharing the Udemy course that got you started? The situation you're in sounds eerily similar to the one I'm in right now, so this is super encouraging. 👍

  15. 1

    Congrats on learning how to code!

    What are your plans for the future? How are you planning to reach the next step? What do you plan to do with your newly acquired coding skills?

    Please remember that knowing how to do something or having ideas means nothing if you don't work towards a specific goal, and that goal has to actually be meaningful to you or to others.

    1. 1

      I keep shipping more complex products. The next milestone is definitely a paid product. I also need to improve my Node.js skills. There is a lot to do! :)

  16. 1

    congrats, I hope it is not rude but can you give an estimate regarding the sale of these sites? was it worth the time you spent on them?

    1. 1

      I spent 2 weekends building them, and the selling price was between 1000-3000 USD.

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