AMAs October 2, 2019

Hi Indie Hackers, I'm Tyler Tringas. I'm currently the founder of EarnestCapital.com. Ask me anything!

Tyler Tringas @tylertringas

I'm the founder of EarnestCapital.com where we provide funding and mentorship for bootstrappers, indie hackers, and founders of profitable businesses. We launched this year and have invested in 11 companies, most of whom went from side hustle to full-time as part of our investment.

Before that I took my SaaS product, Storemapper, from side project to full-time income, to profitable distributed business, to selling it—while traveling as a digital nomad—in five years. I've also spent some time as a cleantech analyst, COO of an ocean conservation non-profit, and freelance Shopify/Rails developer.

I currently work remotely from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and will be moving to Mexico City next year. I'm a huge backpack nerd so hit me with your day pack, one-bag, travel bag questions and suggestions.

Excited to be here and chat October 10th at 11am ET.

Ask me anything!

  1. 6

    Hi Tyler,

    Keep up the good work with EC, which is much needed for all the bootstrappers out there.

    What is the minimum amount invested until now and how much equity is EC taking?

    Thanks!
    Alin

    1. 3

      Thanks! Typically our minimum check size is $50k (and up to $250k) with more details here: https://earnestcapital.com/faq

      We are also looking at whether we can run a small experiment with $0 invested where folks would join just for the community, mentorship, and shared resources: https://twitter.com/tylertringas/status/1180115531833266179?s=20

      We don't take "equity" per se. The Shared Earnings Agreement works kinda like a SAFE in the sense that no actual equity goes to the investor unless you raise priced round of equity in the future (or sell the business). There is an implied % of the company that we would be entitled to if you sell that business. Candidly that's just a number that is determined and negotiated on a case by case basis (just like equity would be) depending on the traction and stage of the business, growth trajectory, and all the normal factors. We have founders coming to us ranging from "I launched last month and am at $1k MRR" to "we've been around for 4 years and are at $1m ARR" and the terms we can offer are very different for those.

      1. 1

        Thanks a lot for your detailed answer, Tyler! I'm banging my head against the wall for a few weeks in finding some validation for a couple of ideas, but with no success until now. I would definitely be interested in the "$0 invested experiment" once I have something.

  2. 6

    Hey Tyler,

    Let's do something challenging :)

    Why should bootstrappers choose EC over cautiously raising money from VCs? Why choose it over a business loan?

    Also: What keyboard do you use?

    1. 3

      I use this Microsoft keyboard after having some pretty gnarly issues with my neck from typing on a laptop keyboard for years: https://www.microsoft.com/accessories/en-us/products/keyboards/sculpt-ergonomic-desktop/l5v-00001

      I don't think all founders should choose Earnest over VCs and I have advised founders in some cases that they are a better fit for VCs. One obvious reason to go for VC is if there's a real chance your business plan will need a lot more capital in the future. Getting a good seed/pre-seed VC that can be incredibly helpful with future capital introductions is probably a good bet in that case.

      I don't often end up having to argue the case for EC over VC though. Of the 1,000s of inbound investment opportunities we've seen, most founders have already self-selected that they do not want to work with VCs. The tricky scenario would be if you wanted to build an Earnest business but for some reason you had crazy term sheets for $1m at $20m valuation from VCs who wouldn't have a board seat or any control over your business. Should you take that or work with Earnest? It's tough because on the one hand your cost of capital is probably going to be much lower if that's the only round you raise. In that case you would choose to work with Earnest because you would get an awesome group of other founders and mentors who are actually aligned with your goals. I know it's fashionable to say that investors never add value but I think the founders currently in the Earnest portfolio would emphatically disagree (we just added a few testimonials to that effect on https://earnestcapital.com).

  3. 6

    Hey Tyler. Like what EC does.
    I am currently building https://WomenHustlers.com where I interview women building profitable businesses. Hope to refer a few good ones to you one day :) or even mine for that matter..

    My question - when you bet on a business, do you always bet on the business or more on the founder?

    Thanks
    Misha

    1. 1

      Hi Pritisha,

      I love what you are doing with WH. Best of luck with your project!

      Would there be a way to filter interviews by location?

      I run events for indie hackers in London and if you have any guests from London I would love to feature them at one of our events.

      1. 1

        Thanks @ghyslain for the acclaim and wishes.
        We don’t have a location Filter today however that’s there on the roadmap.

        Will certainly refer guests your way for the London meet-ups. You can drop me an email with your coordinates on my ID listed on my profile.

        Also will appreciate if you subscribe( not leaving anyone currently). :)

    2. 1

      Please do refer them our way!

      Hmm, we definitely bet on a mix of both. I'm certainly not comfortable just betting on the founder. Sometimes you here investors say that they are not betting on the business and if the founder decides to completely "pivot" to an entirely new business that's totally fine. We don't work that way and are really examining the early fundamentals of the business. Of course we also want to see a great founder who can continue to build an awesome product and recruit exceptional people to work with them.

      1. 1

        Thanks @tylertringas
        Appreciate your candid answer. I’d like to pitch you to subscribe if you like what I’m doing at https://womenhustlers.com/subscribe/

        Maybe that’d give us a chance to cross roads at a later date ; and will keep you posted on our progress too :)

        Best
        Pritisha

  4. 3

    How can customer friendly businesses survive? Not nudging potential customers, not collecting all kinds of data, not pushing upgrades.

    1. 5

      Yes! I often say that indie hacker/ bootstrapper/ earnest businesses don't optimize for growth, they optimize for customer retention. They want every customer that walks through the door to stay forever and in that case not being annoying can be a competitive advantage.d

  5. 3

    I would like to know, if you were going to start a Saas today, what area would in be in and what would it do?

    1. 4

      I can't answer that one comprehensively, but one pattern I really like is from folks who work in a particular industry and see the inefficient processes, software, spreadsheets or pen & paper that industry is using that then go out and build SaaS specifically for that industry.

      Even if the underlying product, tech, or use case is not earth-shatteringly innovative, just building a CRM, project management, marketing tool that is completely set up to work out of the box for businesses in {industry} can be very powerful. https://twitter.com/tylertringas/status/1181647589747412993?s=20

  6. 2

    Hey @tylertringas,

    I might be late to the party but I have a few questions.

    1. Do you only invest in SaaS businesses? If so, do you have some specific investment focus within SaaS or not really?

    2. How involved are you in the businesses in terms of "board-like" decisions? (in a non-mentorship way)

    3. What's the structure behind EC?
      Do you have LPs like in a VC or are you funding this on your own along with SureSwift?

    4. Top suggestion for newer digital nomads?

    Oh and - You say EC is "funding for bootstrappers".
    I thought the definition of bootstrapping meant no external funding? :-)

  7. 2

    Hi Tyler!

    As the fund grows, you may see companies that could be be classed as competitors in some instances/lights; would an applying product which shared a feature (and possible future features) with a company that had already received funding be at a disadvantage in regards to being funded?

    Different accelerators have differing policies on this - so I was just wondering what Earnest will do, it's a curious case for sure.

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      Good question and candidly we are still developing our opinion on this. Right now we would definitely not fund a company that would be a direct competitor to one of our portfolio companies and in general will try to avoid that kind of conflict. As we really scale up we may need to re-evaluate that but my inclination to stay on that side of the spectrum.

  8. 2

    Hi Tyler, thanks for the AMA.

    I run a health startup at night doing $6k/month and study at University during the day.

    1. What tools do you use to manage your time?
    2. What tools do you use to collaborate with a remote team?
    3. What's your favorite book/podcast/learning-resource?
    1. 3

      Nice, congrats on the progress!

      1. Not much. I use x.ai to schedule meetings and rely heavily on my google calendar but I don't use RescueTime or anything in that category
      2. Basecamp, Slack, Zoom. A few cool bots we use in Slack are EventBot and Donut.
      3. https://www.indiehackers.com/post/what-are-the-most-indispensable-books-for-indie-hackers-e2ec3a13e9
  9. 2

    Hi Tyler,

    What are your opinions on open source and what role it will play going forward particularly in the startup realm where firms like OSS Capital are looking at it exclusively? Have you looked at any OSS companies from Earnest Capital's perspective as potential investments?

    Best,
    John

    1. 2

      I really like what OSS Capital is doing but we have seen very few inquiries for OSS based businesses at Earnest. I love what Mike Pernham built with Sidekiq and feel like there ought to be more opportunities like that but haven't seen them: https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/016-mike-perham-of-sidekiq

      Are there other great bootstrapped OSS businesses? Maybe we just need to share more stories.

  10. 2

    Hey Tyler.

    The VC world has brainwashed people into assuming that hockey-stick growth and winner-take-all unicorns are things to aim for. As Earnest Capital is turning this around, I wonder what your expectations are about success rates. Building sustainable businesses that grow slowly and steadily are great for founders but less interesting for investors, at least in the traditional model.

    How is your upside affected by non-explosive growth? Do you expect 100% of your funded businesses to survive? Where do your interests as an investor align with the interests of a founder?

    1. 5

      We tell our investors flat out "if Earnest does not see a higher than average success rate than typical VC firm, we will not provide an appropriate risk-adjusted return"... We don't expect 100% of our investments to survive, but that is the number we try to maximize. The venture model says "almost all of you are going to fail so I'm going to try to make the one that succeeds be as big as possible" (seriously: https://twitter.com/tylertringas/status/1156218002649636867?s=20)

      Our model is the opposite: we want as many of our companies as possible to survive to sustainable profitability and we think the magnitude of success will take care of itself from there once you get a bunch of smart entrepreneurs to profitability.

  11. 2

    Hi Tyler,

    I won't pester you trying to get you to finish the MicroSaaS Ebook this time :P

    In your post on the path to maximum optionality, you say that projects at step 2 can consider going DN and at the same time rising the first $100k~. As someone entering the waters of the 3rd step (6k, first hire) and who started this whole adventure to try the DN lifestyle, do you think doing both at the same time is too risky? The logic would be to postpone one or the other, but postponing growth or lifestyle is a tough choice :) How would either choice be seen by platforms like EC?

    Your microsaas posts got me started in bootstrapping and I find EC an incredibly interesting endeavour and next step for any bootstrappers who have succeeded. Besides reading your blog (and similar ones), are there any resources or reads you'd recommend for anyone who would be looking into following your steps? Now that there's no obvious investment, investing in value generating projects is the best way to store value :)

    Thanks Tyler!

    1. 2

      Hey! Yea, I never finished the e-books mainly because the world of "how to build a business on the internet" is just so full of fake gurus and I got too wrapped up in trying to write it in a way that would 100% not be that. I was delighted to see this youtube channel that takes down fake gurus btw: https://twitter.com/tylertringas/status/1181572659823468545?s=20

      I don't see a problem with raising a bit of capital and going digital nomad at the same time if you are the kind of person who is actually more productive in a nomadic lifestyle. Typically this means traveling pretty slowly and staying in one place to get into a work groove rather than backpacking, moving every day, sleeping on beaches and in airports but YMMV.

  12. 2

    Hi Tyler, do you have any openings in EC? Is there any other ways to get involved?

    Also: as bootstrapping is becoming more popular, and the market is getting more crowded, it's increasingly getting harder to become successful. What factors will play the most important role (other than getting funding)?

    1. 2

      We are always accepting new companies for investment. We do so on a rolling basis with no open/closed time periods: https://earnestcapital.com/apply/

      We don't have many job openings right now but keep an eye out in the near future.

      I don't know if it is becoming harder to become successful. The tools to build and iterate are getting better and faster. There are more and more options to solve capital constraints. The opportunity space for solving problems with tech is expanding faster than the number of bootstrappers in my opinion. I stole this from somebody, but I think a really great approach is "scratch your own itch, but have interesting itches"... it's no longer the case that you can launch a random todo list or email marketing app and get a critical mass of customers, those generic use cases are getting very crowded. So you need to go out and explore and find new interesting use cases. An amazing example from our portfolio is endcrawl.com where they have SaaS for rendering the end credits of films. That's an interesting itch!

  13. 2

    Hi Tyler,

    Thank you for investing time into supporting the IH community.

    1. How does a founder determine the right time to raise a pre-seed or seed round?

    2. How do maintain relationships with your friends, family and significant other as you travel the world and invest so much time into your business?

    1. 1

      My pleasure! Absolutely love what the IH team has built here.

      1/ Hmm, succinctly I would say when the amount of capital can meaningfully move you to the next phase of the business AND when you don't expect the effort of fundraising to exceed the value you get from it. The second one is important because sometimes founders work backwards from "I need capital" but actually the business just doesn't have enough traction to raise capital easily so it just isn't the top priority. More on that here: https://tylertringas.com/the-entrepreneurs-new-path-of-maximum-optionality/

      2/ Good question! It's something I want to do a lot more work on honestly. One thing I've found is that you need to be much more diligent and structured with checking in with family and friends. Sometimes I do a "Zoom happy hour" that's actually on the calendar scheduled with a friend, we both bring a beer and just catch up in the same way you would do at a bar in person.

  14. 2

    Hi Tyler, how many companies did you invest in, and which has been the most fun?

    Also, what;s the most awkward or funny situation you’ve been in with your startups and investing>?

    1. 4

      11 companies and counting! https://earnestcapital.com/portfolio/

      Hmm, I can't say which has been the most fun specifically but the community Slack/Basecamp groups with all the founders and mentors have been more valuable and fun than I expected.

      The most awkward is probably that once you become an investor every friend or friend of your friends/family wants to pitch you and you have to walk a really fine line between giving honest feedback while maintaining a good relationship.

  15. 1

    Hi Tyler, I'd like to raise $1m in pre-seed funding from one investor for pre-startup. Is this possible or madness or both? Would love to get your thoughts.

  16. 1

    Hi Tyler,
    I am new to IH. But I have an idea for a product concept that I feel pretty good about. I want to do a market research for this concept. I don't know what questions to ask my target market? I did some search and came up with stuff like - Would you use this product if it were there? What do you think/ feel about the concept? I just don't know if those are the right or exhaustive list of questions. Any help is appreciated. Thanks.

  17. 1

    Hi Tyler, do you think we'll arrive at a term for "independent online businesses that are profitable and aren't raising capital from VC" similar to how startups or unicorns were terms of choice in silicon valley? Any terms of choice that you think will win out?

    I noticed homepage at Earnest scrolls through a bunch of different ones.

    1. 1

      at the cost of being over promotional in a single thread, since your comment tempts me to do it, I’ll just do it - I publish a bunch of interviews of really(eerily) similar to what you just mentioned On https://womenhustlers.com ; it has obviously forced me to think what do we call such collective startup not focused on raising VC capital ! Selfups? :D

  18. 1

    Is it possible to rise funding for non-profit organizations, for example in exchange of services in the future? Is such exchange still a non-profit activity in the USA?

  19. 1

    Hi Tyler,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions.

    I have a foot in both VC through my day job and in the self-funded world with the Indie London events and I do feel like there is a massive knowledge gap among indie founders when it comes to fundraising.

    I have a lot of questions about your view of the world but I will try to keep it short.

    What has been the most surprising learning for you when talking about fundraising to bootstrapped entrepreneurs ?

    Do you feel that founders fully understand the implications and expectations of the different paths they have now: raise VC, raise from alternative funding, self-fund ?

    For instance, I constantly hear from some of our attendees that they applied (or plan to apply) to YC, yet they are all for indie hacking and bootstrapping.

    An indie founder that targets $10-100k MRR and a potential exit a $1-10M is nowhere near the expectations of YC. So why apply?

    Traditionally, raising VC money is a tool for when you believe there is a massive growth opportunity for your business and you want to go after it.

    Given that definition, how do you position EC to founders?

    Thank you!

    1. 3

      Looks cool! I'll check it out next time I'm in London.

      What has been the most surprising learning for you when talking about fundraising to bootstrapped entrepreneurs ?

      The biggest surprise has been that the desire for community and mentorship in many ways exceeds the need for capital among these entrepreneurs. In my opinion adding capital and skin in the game is the best way to tie the whole thing together but even with awesome communities like indie hackers, there is still a ton of demand from folks who just feel like they're going it alone.

      Do you feel that founders fully understand the implications and expectations of the different paths they have now: raise VC, raise from alternative funding, self-fund ?

      I think there is still a ton of work to be done on education and and it's one of the reasons I'm constantly tweeting, writing long blog posts with videos and spreadsheets attached, etc. I think we're making good progress but there's still a lot of confusion out there.

      I also see a lot of confusion about YC specifically. On the one hand you have Paul Graham constantly tweeting about how founders shouldn't raise too much money, keep burn low and get profitable, VCs are bad... and then you have the observed reality of YC which seems to be a catapult into raising tons of venture capital at eye-watering valuations so ¯\(ツ)

      Earnest is "funding for bootstrappers"... you want to build a sustainable profitable calm company and probably would otherwise bootstrap, then we're for you.

  20. 1

    Hi Tyler, do you provide mentorship without funding ?
    Best

    1. 1

      Thinking about it! https://twitter.com/tylertringas/status/1180115531833266179?s=20
      Stay tuned (or join the newsletter) for more info. Currently researching the logistics of how that could work in terms of our fund administration.

  21. 1

    What's your favourite tip to stay focused?

    1. 2

      I don't think I've shared this on the internet before, but I'll share "one weird trick" that I learned in a meditation class in Bali. It's literally a 1-second meditation that I find can help refocus you and quiet background chatter in your brain.

      Basically you bring your focus and attention to the edges of your field of vision and just notice that edge where your field of vision ends. At least for me this has the effect of reminding me of my own consciousness and that I can control my focus rather than just accepting whatever pops into my head.

  22. 1

    How safe is Rio de Janeiro? Have you ever had your laptop stolen?

    Are there a lot of tech-focused nomads like yourself there?

    1. 3

      Reasonably safe. We have had tons of visitors and zero problems in 2 years. One problem is folks look at world statistics that show high crime rates for "Rio de Janeiro" but actually the city is 6m+ people spread out over a huge geographic area and in some cases completely separated by water/mountains. So crime in "the city of Rio" doesn't necessarily happen in an evenly distributed way. IMO visiting "Zona Sul" the main area of Rio with all the tourist attractions and beaches, is about as safe as visiting Washington DC. You still want to be safe, not wonder off into obviously sketch neighborhoods, and there some chance you might get your phone stolen, but it's overall perfectly fine.

      Not that big of a tech/entrepreneur scene here although it's emerging. São Paolo is a short flight away and is the unquestioned center of tech/startups/entrepreneurship in Brazil so a lot of founders and businesses end up going there instead.

      1. 1

        Very cool. I'm a "slow-mad" and have been considering spending some time in Brazil to learn Portuguese.

  23. 1

    Hi! Your micro-saas posts were super important for me over the past year, I learned a ton from them, so thanks!

    I've got a small-ish Shopify app (https://apps.shopify.com/product-waiting-lists) at around $1200 / month. Growth has somewhat stagnated recently (though I'm not doing much marketing and such) and I'm not sure my next steps...

    Basically I'm stuck; the app isn't making enough money for me to devote a ton more time to it (more than the current bug fixes, support requests, etc) so I need to continue freelancing which has recently been taking a lot of time.

    So now I'm stuck between wanting to grow the app, improve it, market it, get to $2500 / month, etc but I truely can't imagine working more than I am now as I have a tendency to burn out quickly if I work over time (nights / weekends).

    Did you ever hit this sort of point with Storemapper? or do you have any Shopify app specific advice about this growth stage? I don't want growth growth, but if I could confidently stop freelancing (mostly) and pay all my bills + save some money, I would be much more confident in the app.

    1. 3

      That means a lot to hear! Thank you.
      Hmm, well the "easiest" way to grow revenue without spending a ton more hours is to test raising prices. If you're still getting new signups (and the stagnation is caused by churn) then maybe you can just raise prices by $5-15/mo. If it doesn't hurt signups too much that could get you to that level where you can reduce your freelancing time.

      But these kinds of apps that are very tightly integrated with Shopify (or any specific platform eg Wordpress) are susceptible to this kind of plateau because you can grow by expanding to other platforms and your only really viable source of customers is via the app store which you can't do much to control.

      If you feel really stuck, I'd suggest doing some A/J tests (https://seths.blog/2019/05/consider-a-j-testing/). Try something that 'if it works' would meaningfully change the trajectory of the business, not just tweak it.

  24. 1

    Hey Tyler! Couple of questions:

    1. What products / things do you consider to be Earnest Capital's main competition? Why is EC better?

    2. Why Mexico City? And generally I see you're a fan of LatAm, right? Tell us more about how you came to love LatAm!

    Thanks a lot, cheers

    1. 3
      1. This is a cop out answer, but 99% of the time I'm talking to founders they are considering either bootstrapping or working with us and nothing else. I guess our competition is bootstrapping, and we have lost some opportunities where I really wanted to invest but the founders decided they still wanted to bootstrap (at least for now). That said I really try not to be in the business of talking founders out of bootstrapping so it's a balancing act I'm still figuring out.

      2. My partner works in the State Dept and her job is why we live in Rio de Janeiro and will be moving to Mexico City in 2020. Super lucky for me since a) Earnest is 100% remote and I can take it everywhere and b) I happen to know and love both cities. Very excited to land in CDMX soon and throw a great event there: https://earnestcapital.com/founder-summit/

      But I do love Latin America. Brazil just dropped it's visa requirements (at least for Americans) so it should be at the top of everyone's list for the next big trip.

  25. 1

    How “early stage” are you? When’s the “perfect” time to get in touch with you?

    Thanks

    1. 2

      Lots of info on that here: https://earnestcapital.com/faq/

      copy-pasted (sorry):
      In general we evaluate three buckets and would like to see at least some traction in each

      Product: You have built and launched your product, even if it is a duct-taped together Minimum Viable Product. We don’t invest if the capital will be spent on outside to build the first version.
      Revenue: Some evidence that customers will pay full price for your product. A free, deeply discounted, or still in beta product is probably too early for us. At the low end we will usually invest are around $2k in monthly revenue and invest in companies up to about $1m in annual revenue.
      Growth: We would like to see at least some evidence of one method of acquiring customers outside of your friends or colleagues. Even better if you have multiple streams of organic customer acquisition.
      Our ideal moment to invest is when the founder(s) has launched the first version of the product, started generating revenue, he trajectory looks good, but you’re staring at that long, slow, grinding slog of “nights & weekend” to get to where you can go full-time. We provide the capital for the founders to go full-time and the resources and mentorship to accelerate your business.

      Like every investor, we will occasionally invest outside of these constraints so please don’t consider these absolute requirements.

  26. 1

    Hey Tyler, fellow backpack nerd! What’s your favorite travel bag? 😄

    Mine’s the Minaal Daily. It’s well built, compact, comfortable, and has little organization which I like. I also love that it can convert into a laptop messenger bag to look more “professional” for certain client meetings.

    1. 2

      Minaal 2.0 is my go-to for travel. Usually combo'd with the Away Carry-on. I used to be an ultralight one-bag traveler but I'm too lazy to pack that efficiently now.

      Other bags I highly endorse:

      Peak Design Everyday, camera bag
      Osprey Atmos 50L, hiking
      Black Diamond Creek 35, rock climbing
      Outlier Ultrahigh, duffel
      North Face Rolling Thunder, for massive gear hauling
      Basically give me your use case and I probably have tested and found the best bag for it.
      ( I have a lot of backpacks 🙈)

  27. 1

    Have you written anything about your experience as a COO of an ocean conservation non-profit?

    1. 3

      Not much! I was the COO and played a small part in launching: https://www.sealegacy.org

      Fun experience but reminded me that ultimately I prefer working with entrepreneurs!

  28. 1

    Hi Tyler!

    I think your work is amazing, I'm a big fan of Earnest Capital and I really hope one day I can be part of it soon with my new side project.

    I would love to know, what is a common belief that actually puts companies in risk?

    Thank you!

    1. 3

      Hmm, founder burn out is the biggest risk to companies I see and believing that too many things can't be delegated, so the founder keeps taking them on even though they don't have the time or energy for it, is a big risk.

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