Self Care August 17, 2020

Holy heck this is hard

Chris McCormick @chr15m

I saw this tweet today from @jdnoc:

So I followed that link to the Indie Hackers product list, filtered by solo founders with no employees, sorted by revenue. Cool. Nice list.

Wait a second. Am I looking at this right? There are only 12 products that are making more than $10k MRR on that list. That's 12 solo founders, out of the 17,207 people who have joined Indie Hackers since its inception. Wow.

That got me interested. I filtered the list to products making more than $2k MRR, scrolled down until they stopped loading, and then ran this bit of jQuery to count the boxes:

$(".product-card__revenue").length
54

Just fifty four products by solo founders are making more than $2k per month. Seems incredibly low. Talk about a long tail.

Ok let's expand the criteria a little bit. What about including self-reported MRR?

$(".product-card__revenue").length
193

Just 193 products are making more than $2k self-reported MRR. Insane. That's like 1% of the Indie Hackers audience. We got our own one percent club over here. 😂

Ok, ok, maybe this is because they are solo, no employees. Maybe there are a ton of companies out there with a handful of employees who are doing better. I expanded the criteria to 1-9 employees:

$(".product-card__revenue").length
37

Holy cow. Even amongst companies with multiple employees (which I assume are rarer on the site) only 37 are making more than $2k.

Statistically speaking, these people are all miracle workers.

Hooray, I no longer feel bad about my multiple failed attempts to launch a profitable product. 🎉

This is hard.

  1. 43

    Haha. You're right. This is why I had to turn off DHH on the work-life balance podcast.

    “You've only really got to work a few hours...”

    Survivorship bias

    To the worm in horseradish the world is horseradish. He only sees his experiences

    98% of people are floundering. Stuck at corps. Struggling. Not making ends meat.

    I'll spend 4 hours on one error message. And in his world, “that's me done for the day. Swan off to the park, and enjoy an ice tea!” If I work like him I'm serving ice teas.

    1. 16

      FWIW, one of the most important but overlooked points @dhh made in that episode is that 37signals existed for something like five years before Basecamp, during which time they were busy serving customers as a consultancy, and blogging, and growing an email list. Five years!

      1. 6

        That is a pretty good point. Which I did overlook.

        Comes down to personal choice I guess.

        Personally, I don't want to work as a consultant for five years. So I'd rather work harder. And hope I make something that buys me free time.

        I kinda assumed DHH was a statistical anomaly. That's why I was critical. Cause I thought he was selling a lifestyle that is IMO unrealistic.

        But knowing the 5 years thing... Well, his story makes more sense. Important nuance.

        1. 7

          I am not gonna defend him in any way but AFAIK he always tells people to also focus on other areas of life rather than just work and hustle.

          And I've personally seen the difference that makes. I've noticed that if I give only a fixed amount of focused time to something each day, I am able to build/do things faster, not slower.

          More time doesn't mean more output. You gotta take care of your mental health as well, to get better results. The whole hustle culture is what he is against, from what I've seen.

        2. 3

          You’ve made me think that basically everyone who is successful (personally wealthy, profitable business - not looking to get into the debate about what successful means) is a statistical anomaly.

          1. 3

            disagree.

            i chat to Pat Walls a lot. Me and him are just slowly grinding our way to the top. No accident whats happening.

            If you stick with it, you can really turn it into more of a science

            1. 2

              Sorry Harry i said statistical anomaly. Not that it’s luck.

              I completely agree that hard work and perseverance is what makes the day. However those of us who make it to the top are still statistical anomalies.

              1. 1

                ahh i see. yes. agreed

        3. 1

          Personally, I don't want to work as a consultant for five years. So I'd rather work harder. And hope I make something that buys me free time.

          Out of interest, Harry, do you do any consultancy work?

          I've seen others start out trading hours for money before their digital businesses start scaling and generating sustainable revenue. Fine line between getting sucked into the former and losing sight of the latter, though, if that's what you're after (:

          1. 2

            I started off doing 5 days a week. Then 3 days a week. Then 1 day a week. Now 1 day every fortnight.

            Less and less as I've slowly built momentum myself :)

            1. 1

              nice, sounds v disciplined :)

      2. 3

        Yeah thats enough time to build a pile of $, a network of people, and essential skills that would help him move further up the “ladders of wealth creation”

        He built himself a foundation that made it much easier for him to not have to work “as hard” after a certain point

        This is a great read to understanding wealth creation as a “linear path”.

        https://nathanbarry.com/wealth-creation/

        highly recommend @csallen @harrydry

        1. 1

          enjoyed. thanks for sharing :)

          1. 1

            np man. One of my fave recent reads.

            Since we’re like the same age, I’d love to know what you got from it. And where your head is around wealth creation.

            down to chat on Telegram for ~3secs

        2. 1

          @antdke what a great article, thanks for sharing. Re-iterates the message about consistently showing up and working on the thing.

      3. 2

        Just want to say thank you so much for creating Indie Hackers. It proves beyond a doubt that whilst it is hard, it is also possible.

    2. 14

      DHH seems to ignore the fact that his "few hours of coding per day" was augmented by a team, including one of the most savvy operators around in Jason Fried. All he had to do was code, not design, not sell, not write copy, not book-keeping.

      His experience with bootstrapping, which he's such a champion of, is different than you or I's experience with bootstrapping.

      I saw him bashing React Native a few weeks ago and gloating about how superior his team found native iOS and Android development, I couldn't help point out that as a solo founder trying to bootstrap - RN halves my mobile workload.

      I appreciate a lot of his work, but I think his mouth runs away on him at times.

      1. 1

        Couldn't have said it better.

    3. 6

      DHH has network effect unlike the rest of us. He can afford weekends :) No disrespect. He has earned that.

      In absence of network effect, you got to work extremely hard and create something like no other to stand out.

    4. 6

      "To the worm in horseradish the world is horseradish" - hahahah this is beautiful 😂

    5. 5

      In our area they say - frog in a well thinks it is living in the ocean

    6. 1

      I like this comment, thank you

  2. 23

    Proud to be a 1%-er! 😅

    Thanks for painting a picture of reality. This shit is hard. I’ve been building stuff for years and only in the last 6 months or so has the needle started moving.

    I think the investment in time required for indiehacker success is continually underestimated.

    1. 2

      I wish people would be more realistic about all the thousands of lonely and difficult hours that go into product dev. and startups...

    2. 2

      Were there any specific steps that you found finally got the needle shifting or was it just an accumulation or previous efforts? I'd guess it was probably a combination of both?

      1. 12

        I cannot overstate the importance of the accumulation of previous efforts. There's so much that I gained from that, learning what works, what doesn't, when I'm most productive, learning what tech I ship fastest with etc etc. So much stuff that I can't even articulate it all really.

        But if I had to point at a few things that really started moving the needle:

        • working on something that I actually care about on a personal level
        • focusing on one business
        • raising prices

        The latter is so effective that I'm in the process of raising my prices again. I don't know where the "indiehacker apps should cost $9" trope came from but I think it's killing a lot of startups before they even get off the ground. If you're solving a niche problem, or have a niche spin on some larger market, you simply can't grow a business off the back of low prices. Charge more!

        1. 3

          ☝️ I like this idea of accumulated efforts!

          Doing stuff pays off! Meet people, write, create new things, put yourself out there, experiment, learn new skills.

          It’s “gradual and then sudden.”

          1. 1

            Essentially building momentum or compounding.

        2. 2

          I recently introduced an expensive “pro” plan as an experiment. Never in a million years thought anyone would take and so far 3 people have monthly and another took it annually - a $450 sale.

        3. 2

          Hello, really impressive your project! Just curiosity, did you do any idea validation / market research? Or you just had an idea and went straight to it?

          Why did you decided to keep going so long, 2 years actually without throwing the towel?

          What have you done during this 2 years? any marketing? anything?

          1. 8

            In the last 2 years I built a number of different things: https://blog.yongfook.com/12-startups-in-12-months.html

            None of them really went anywhere in terms of revenue / MRR.

            The product I have now is a result of focusing on one thing, and working on solving a personal pain point. I have had jobs where teams of people used to dread making repetitive banners in different sizes / colours etc, so I thought it would be useful to automate it. I had no idea if anyone would pay for it.

            Why did I not throw in the towel? no choice. I'm 40 years old, I've reached the tail end of my usefulness at large companies and I've had plenty of startup experience (don't fancy going back to working at a smaller co). So it's this or nothing!

            1. 2

              This seems to be a trend when I see people have some success, just trying a lot of stuff and quickly giving up on things that don't work, and then focusing on stuff that seems to be have traction.

              For me it seems that about every dozenth thing I try works well enough to be counted a win. I'd like to come up with some catchy name for this, it's like the "batting ratio" in baseball I assume (I don't know the sport). Success ratio?

            2. 1

              This post is very motivating, thanks! I'm about the same age as you, and in the same boat, but have never built anything that has gotten any traction.

              It's good to know that it can work out, if you get the right thing to work on.

            3. 1

              Wow awesome, will read that post! So you basically creates this product with 0 idea validation or market validation, it was a hit or miss basically, wow.

              How did you know to stick with Bannerbear and not with another idea you were working on?

              So, your concept is basically:

              Dont validate the idea - Start coding straight away a MVP or POC, and test it on the market.

              1. 5

                I don't think that's what I'm advocating.

                I also think it's incredibly hard to distill down something as complex as starting a business into a few nuggets of advice. I can see that's what you're asking for, but in the end there are so many variables at play that honestly the only one that really matters is time. If you are willing to put in the time (1 year, 2 year, 3 years) then you can grow something even with tenuous validation into something sustainable.

                But if you're looking for a step 1, 2, 3 recipe for success, it doesn't exist.

                More in this twitter thread:
                https://twitter.com/yongfook/status/1295585278464110592

  3. 18

    Don't forget the multitude of people making $ and not advertising it on PH... don't get discouraged.

    1. 6

      Yep. There only 2 reasons why people share their numbers: marketing or ego.

      1. 0

        also, encouraging others

    2. 5

      I'd assume that a lot of them stop reporting it once they start to get big. Which is understandable, there are multitude of factors for that.

      1. 7

        This too.

        I've thought a lot about the pros and cons of being public with revenue.

        In my opinion, the pros probably outweigh the cons when you are small (e.g. increases publicity, word of mouth) and the cons probably outweigh the pros when you are big (e.g. giving away information to competitors).

        For me, I've decided not to do it ever, I'm just not comfortable doing it. But I'm grateful to those who do share numbers – it's very informative and provides great context.

        1. 1

          I was just about to say the same. Indietrollers checking which models are making cash then making a copy cat version. This is especially dangerous when the product is very early and doesn't have much of a comp advantage yet.

    3. 4

      This.

      It would be interesting to see what percentage of indie hackers report revenue. It’s probably a minority. Probably a lot of successful examples that don’t report revenue or aren’t even on IH at all.

      1. 7

        You can find probably 100 or so who've been on the IH podcast or text interviews who don't have a product page up. Of course this doesn't change the OP's point that this is hard.

        1. 5

          This needs to be an episode on the podcast, or an article or something :)

          Why are so many failing? Do the systems available to us improve our chances? Is the primary determination of business success mostly luck? What should we expect the success rate to be for average IHer vs one following a system?

          I'll never stop trying, but I feel like we shy away from these questions because the answer might not be what we want to hear.

        2. 3

          It is indeed hard 😪
          I've been indie hacking for the past 4 years out of my 20 years of work. Definitely the hardest thing I've ever done, by far. But also the most satisfying and rewarding. I gotta make my business work 🤞 because I don't think I can ever get a "normal job" ever again.

    4. 1

      yeah, I'm one of these. Thought hard about it and just decided not to

  4. 11

    Yessssss.

    I'm on startup #3 (one exit, one failure). When you're doing everything yourself it takes so much longer. Longer still if you're doing it in addition to having a full-time day job. Longer still if you have kids. Oh and even longer if you volunteer for a good cause.

    Solo founders do all the coding, all the testing, all the debugging, all the networking, all the design, all the dev ops, all the accounting, all the copy writing, etc, etc.

    Many (most?) of us have families and communities of people who aren't startup junkies and technologists. They go on vacations, take cooking classes, get in the best shape of their lives, listen to podcasts, read novels, get coached on 'nailing the interview,' celebrate getting promoted, and remodel their houses. We build. And build. And build.

    No wonder many of us feel like no one quite understands an indie hacker like another indie hacker.

    1. 4

      Well said - and the hard part is that the ones not indie hacking will constantly apply subtle pressure on you to ease back. It's the siren song:

      Come and wallow in the rat race and enjoy your hobbies

      No thanks

      1. 2

        "Don't be so hard on yourself, you also got to have some fun in life"

  5. 7

    Reads post
    Hello, Darkness My Old Friend plays in the background

  6. 6

    I have a friend who built a seo monitoring tool and recently crossed $2,000 MRR.

    It's he and his wife working on this and in a recent call he said that he feel miserable because he's working on this from a year and just making $2,000.

    I should show this post to him. Just by making this much, he is in the 1% category.

    We often see the successful companies and feel miserable for ourselves. We should focus more on loving yourselves for what we have done till now.

    1. 2

      Allow me please, I find this comment equally inspiring and funny😂😂😂😂.

      Very happy for your friend.

    2. 2

      Ha ha awesome. I hope this makes him feel better.

  7. 6

    IMHO out of 17k indiehackers, I'd say 80-90% are lurkers. If you want real numbers you need to know how many products are listed here on this page. Probably less than a thousand.

    Truth be told, indie-hacking is a freaking grind. I've just spent 3 months near full-time programming the Jamfony beta and there are still bugs, tons of features missing and it's nowhere near even a 1.0 version.

    1. 1

      And are you promoting it and getting feedback? I hope so :-D

      It's no joke for sure. I spent almost a year on my first indie project (~6 years ago), and then spent another 6-12mos rewriting it ([email protected]# seriously what was I thinking?!). And then, once I "finished" the dev, I realized: Oh crap, releasing a website and app doesn't get you a single user.

  8. 5

    You said it!
    I'm one of the solo founders in that data you just analysed... it's hard being a one-percenter. Hopefully we can change the tide soon.

    1. 1

      That's awesome! Nice one.

  9. 4

    To get to the point where Closet Tools is at was mostly planned luck. Hit a good market, at the right time, with the right product.

    That's definitely not the case for everyone. It's a lot of work. I had several failed attempts at other businesses (services, physical products, etc.) before I landed on this one as a last-ditch effort to make some additional side income.

    But, I've been at this for 5 years now. Sometimes it takes a bit of time. I was working a day-job for 4 years of those 5.

    I've spent probably $5000+ on courses. That definitely helped me learn some important skills especially around marketing and distribution. The developer skills I learned mostly myself.

    Keep trying! The only way to fail is to stop.

    1. 4

      The only way to fail is to stop.

      What a fantastic quote. Thank you.

      1. 2

        Yes, this is a variation on Renzo Gracie's advice on getting a black belt:

        keep training, and don't die.

    2. 2

      Beautifully said! 6 years for me.

      I go back and forth on courses. $1500 on garbage would make me feel terrible. $1500 on a great course that gets me where I need to be would be well worth the money.

      Was there one course that stood out to you? Did they all contribute in different ways? Were some garbage?

  10. 3

    Have you considered the possibility that many founders may not use Stripe verified revenue to reach this conclusion?

    For example in India, Stripe is basically useless because it does not UPI, the prime mode of payment.

    Nevertheless, these are amazing numbers and something to aim for! :)

    1. 1

      It's a good point.

  11. 3

    One thing to mention here is irrespective of determination and grit - it also massively comes down to timing. Is the world/your sector ready for your product?! Timing is everything.

  12. 3

    It's not that hard if you enjoy what you're doing 😊

    You might starve and become homeless? Yes. Is the experience worth? Probably (not?)...

  13. 3

    Don't get discouraged Chris. It's rough to run a company and it's rougher still to grow.

    This was really interesting to see. I think probably a lot of people don't report their numbers because it's kind of a leap of faith. We only started sharing ours last year and it felt liberating.

    At first, I was like: we've been running since 2016, are people going to laugh at our numbers?

    But then I reframed it and thought: I worked hard for each and every one of those digits and sure sometimes, the growth feels slow but we've hung in there and supported ourselves for years.

    I guess what I'm saying is: don't get disheartened and keep engaging. Try to work out why you're setting the goals you're setting for yourself and then, if you're not hitting those, try to understand why and then work on those things.

    I hope that's helpful. I hear what you're saying.

  14. 3

    Well like sales and such one needs to make the funnel stats..
    17k users
    How many reported products?
    How many of the products alive and active?
    How many of the products report at least 1$?
    How many actively update the numbers?
    Only than do you start looking at particular numbers..

    And also should slice it by time, how long is the product running to get to that income? How many of the top listed are just here the longest? And how many just remove their data after a while? (People that were into "develop in the open" found after traction they would rather stop)

    But also the saying 9 out of 10 fail, only means I need to go and make 10.

    1. 2

      Yeah, all great points.

      I think we should be more aware of survivorship bias, and just how often IHers fail. As devs/nerds, we like to have systems where we know what goes in and what comes out, but maybe businesses are just really hard and you can't reduce the failure rate as much as we'd hope.

      I think it's true that we can't systematize it as much as we'd want to, but also that we can systematize it more than we do.

      And either way - it's a lot of work, and biz stuff needs to be done consistently :-P

  15. 3

    When I saw that tweet, I irritated. Maybe it's a language barrier but whoever thinks race is over when he got the first spot is idk just meh.

    Just 193 products are making more than $2k self-reported MRR. Insane. That's like 1% of the Indie Hackers audience. We got our own one percent club over here. 😂

    Unfortunate that, this data is not reliable since self reporting could be done 2 years ago. So 🤷‍♂️

    Also Pieter should have more than one products on that list. ;)

  16. 3

    Wow. I'm just starting out and this simultaneously scares me and makes me relaxed.

    Nice one for digging into this. It's very interesting.

    I imagine you can probably scrape off a lot of "indie hackers" who signed up and have gone dormant relatively quickly.

    You'd probably find the longer they've been active, the more likely they're to be in the top 1%.

  17. 2

    Hi Chris,

    I'm not sure if this is supportive or demotivating right now. :-)

    CJ Casciotta wrote something that might be related on the "Squarespace Fallacy".

    ***** Here is an excerpt:

    In reality, a beautiful website, the perfect domain, or copy that’s “tweaked-to-death” do little if nothing to turn your business into a reality. There is no magic cloud poof that happens once you “go live.”

    Things I’ve seen actually turn ideas into reality:

    Showing up even when you don’t feel like it

    Sticking around when others go away

    Standing for something consistently

    Sharing that message just as consistently

    Being open (read: “adaptable”) to surprises along the way

    *****End Excerpt

    I wonder how many of us are focusing on the superficial aspects of starting a business (logo, business cards, websites) instead of going out and selling our business ideas?

    1. 1

      This is a great point. Consistently showing up is so important.

  18. 2

    Congrats! It's definitely tricky, even with my reasonably rare ~50k Twitter community it's still difficult, startups have it so easy in comparison.

    1. 1

      Holy crap its the king of GitHub. Thanks @tj, it's humbling to know it is still hard at 50k twitters. Big fan of your work by the way!

  19. 2

    Every 60 seconds, $1M is transacted on the internet. This is just a tiny fraction of a small fraction of a small niche/community of internet businesses that enjoy sharing their story and helping others.

    For every success story on the podcast/forum/Twitter, there are 10 more guys/gals with the same level of success you've never heard of. And chances are, they've never heard of this community either.

    It is still very frickin hard though! :)

  20. 2

    Yes, it's hard, and multiple failed attempts is pretty normal. Have a look at the failures Patreon's CEO went through before finally getting somewhere:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf5rKTCMNnU

  21. 2

    Thanks for sharing this! I had no idea you can filter for products like this. It's nice to see Coffee Chats make the top 300 or so.

    But seriously, I think it's helpful think in base 10. In the beginning, just get your first paying customer ($10/mo) then get to $100/mo then $1000/mo. I've done >=$100/mo three times now but >=$1,000/mo remains a unicorn that I'll catch someday.

  22. 2

    It is indeed hard, but there are plenty of solo founders making $10k+ per month who just don't get involved in these communities. I hardly know anyone and I know of at least two solo founders who fit that bill and aren't really active in online communities

  23. 1

    To make it more precise, there are only 11 founders in the $10k MRR club. Two products belongs to Pieter.

  24. 1

    Hey Chris,

    This is a really nice post but I disagree with the numbers. I know more than a few products on IH that are making $2k+ MMR but are not reporting it.

    Just a small nuance. This does not change the fact that "one percent" exists on IH.

    Keep up good work,
    Adem

    1. 1

      It's a good point.

  25. 1

    So I'm part of the 1%. It is indeed extremely hard, especially when you're not sure it will take off. Most of the revenue took off during the 3rd year.

    You need to act, assess, adjust constantly. Eventually, your own business model will work.

  26. 1

    Amazing post. Thanks

  27. 1

    If you Think is Hard You're Right And it's Gonna be Hard For You! Make it Easy Guys And Enjoy The Process.

  28. 1

    "Holy heck this is hard" phrasing

    I'd argue a lot of those people are not actively indie hacking. Personally I'm building a product right now, but making money is more of an after thought.

    1. 1

      Yes that's the problem with the statistics run this way on IH. We've no idea how many serious attempts there are. Uclusion is 20 months in bootstrapping with 2 founders and more time than that before we quit the day jobs. How many others are putting in that much effort - maybe all of them, maybe very few - we have no idea because IH does not ask for any kind of hours a week invested stat - which would be the obvious thing to do.

    2. 1

      That's what she said amirite?

  29. 1

    When something is so hard, it kinda begs the question, "is it smart?", no? I had the solo founder conversation with a friend this weekend who had a successful exit doing exactly that, and he recommended against that path incredibly strongly. Too much context switching to build momentum; you live a life of thrash.

  30. 1

    This is an awesome analysis, thanks for sharing.

    If you had time, would you be able to visualize this data into a simple distribution/histogram? Overall stats like these are something that would be awesome to see from IH, though maybe that would go against the spirit of things for some reason?

  31. 1

    wow, even taking into account those who don't self-report their revenue, this is still pretty mind-blowing and grounding.

    Hands up if you've ever felt like the only one not successful and beaten yourself up for it? 🙋‍♂️

    One thing I've realised is, the online space can be a massive illusion.

    This would also suggest to me that there's a huge disconnect between the 'minority of successful SaaS founders' we see featured on here, and the average person (99% of folks) here in the community...

    1. 2

      Hands up if you've ever felt like the only one not successful

      Yup heheh.

  32. 1

    Thankyou for taking the time to dig into these numbers. Makes me feel a whole lot better about comparing myself to everyone else.

  33. 1

    This comment was deleted 2 months ago.

  34. 2

    This comment was deleted 2 months ago.

    1. 1

      Yeah, it's like any skill. Want to play an instrument? Learn a language? Ski? Etc.

      It's great and motivating to think you're going to kill it on your first try, but if you want to succeed, you have to learn to enjoy the journey/training. Cause it's gonna be hard, and you're going to fail. Make sure you can dust yourself off and keep going.

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