Self Development May 21, 2020

I've been an indie hacker for six months. This is what I've learned so far

José Del Valle @jdelva

"After walking 3.5km down the canyon we finally got to the Cajón River. We were there all by ourselves facing the densest forest, full of life but also full of threats. We had to hike all the way up before the rain caught us. All sorts of obstacles were in our way and the hike was getting harder and harder. All of a sudden, there it was, posing on a tree...the Resplendent Quetzal. And tears shed from our eyes. The tiredness vanished. The effort was worth it" - Adriana & José.

This is also posted on my personal blog


I've been asking myself lately. Am I truly an indie hacker?

I put one project on hold a month ago due to COVID-19 but kept working on another one. Today I'll have my first meeting with some friends who will be beta testing the app.

In October 2019 I decided to leave my job to become an indie software developer. I decided to give myself the whole of 2020 to work on something great. I saved money so I could be in a good spot for the entire year and got shelter in my parents' house.

I started working on my first project -a Real Estate app- in January 2019, so it was a side hustle until October. I worked my ass off on that one and spent about 10 hours a week on it, additional to the 40 hours a week from my full-time job. I would say that at the time I decided to put it on hold it was at 70% of completion.

Then COVID-19 stroke and I decided to move my focus to the other project, wait for a while to see how the Real Estate market behaves and if everything seems good, go back to it.

But it turns out, my other project -a mobile app for guitarists- motivates me much more and I've been able to work on it much faster.

And here I am today, with six months of work in my back, no income made, but tons of learning. Asking myself...Am I truly an indie hacker?

This is what I've learned so far:

Quitting my job was the best decision ever

My job was not bad, it was great and I can confidently say that I worked in one of the best outsourcing companies in Costa Rica and my friends there were great, but after years of developing other people's ideas and fixing other people's problems, a big desire of making my stuff started to grow on me. I kept working on it along with my side hustle for 10 months until I saw it was a good time to leave. Bigger things were coming and I needed my whole time and focus to be put on my projects. Becoming the sole owner of my time unleashed a part of me that was hidden and was there waiting for bigger challenges. This is a decision I'll never regret because it has given me so much more than what I left behind.

But if I ever have to get another job...

It will be much more different. I've learned to appreciate things differently. Big salary and no time for myself? No way. I can say I would be much better helping other indie hackers just like me doing temporary, flexible jobs, helping them solve their problems so they can achieve what they want. Because now I know all it takes, and it seems like a much more satisfying job than doing boring software for giant companies.

9 to 5 is not healthy. Managing my own time is so much better

Bursts of productivity and creativity come at different moments during the day and they also depend on the level of motivation you have. Having to work on bugfixes 8 hours straight, in an office, goes against the natural flow of things. You then get home tired and lacking the motivation to do other things.

Today, it doesn't matter to me if I work more or less than 8 hours and if I do so in one big stretch or several, smaller timespans.

I've found I'm much more productive working when I want to do it. Sometimes I've done more in 2 hours than what I did in my previous job for the whole day.

Having full control over my time and not having to stick to a predefined schedule has helped me do much more, and sometimes, in less time.

Having a strict schedule works but a loose schedule works just as good

During the first 4 months I had a self-imposed strict schedule. The first day after I left my job I woke up at 5 am, and worked until 2 pm, with several scheduled rests in between. I followed that approach the following months until I decided to put the first project on hold. This approach worked pretty well and I was super productive. I didn't mind waking up at 5 am cause no one imposed that to me. It was all my decision. By 10 am I had already done a lot of things and felt good about it. I had the rest of the day for myself.

Then the COVID-19 lockdown changed things a bit. Weekends disappeared, I found it difficult to remember which day it was. And yes, I had been working from home every day before the lockdown, but the lockdown took down the delimiters of time, such as after work and weekend activities, things that help us go along with the structured way we humans live.

I turned my focus to the other project and without clearly defined delimiters I found that a loose schedule, without respecting hours nor weekends, worked just as good for me. I kept waking up early, worked until I got tired, then played the guitar, got my energy back, and went back to work, then some exercise and so on.

The first approach had a well-defined delimiter between work and leisure. The second approach mixed both, all over the place, when I wanted to and I found I kept being just as productive.

Is this work-life harmony I'm achieving? Cause it feels great. The only thing missing is a salary, but I'll get there eventually.

Making decisions is much more tiresome than executing them

The things that tire me the most are making decisions on what to do, what tech or tool to use, and which approaches to follow. And they are so tiresome cause I try to think in all the outcomes. I've found that once I made the decision, the rest comes smoothly, even if I have to work on a difficult algorithm or learn something new. Making the decision takes the bigger portion of my energy. So, when I have to decide, after doing all the necessary research, I'll just lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling until I make the decision.

Rest is necessary and shouldn't always come in periodic intervals

Expanding a bit on the loose schedule topic. I've found out that extreme tiredness and the need for proper rest doesn't always come on Fridays, that resting Saturdays and Sundays sometimes won't do it.

Yesterday was Wednesday and I felt tired and I thought "I need a rest". So today I'm resting. And I'm not concerned about not working today at all. -I have the meeting with my friends tonight but that's OK-. I'm not concerned cause I know that proper rest is necessary and every time I've taken a rest out of the blue I've come back way stronger.

Working on something you like and on a niche you know is the way to go

So, my first project was focused on the Real Estate market. I'm a Software Engineer that didn't know a thing about Real Estate. I just thought it was a good market to start my journey. I even enrolled in a Real Estate course to learn more about it and find opportunities. But now I realize that being a niche I don't completely understand just makes it more difficult and less enjoyable. I have to do more and put more effort to achieve what I initially envisioned.

Thankfully, I had my other project waiting in line: An app for guitarists. And it turns out I'm a fucking guitarist! I realized that the problem I'm trying to solve may be valid for other guitarists, that I understand it and that the people it's intended to will understand it. I don't have to learn anything new. The knowledge is just there and has been with me for years. I'm not saying I won't go back to the first project, but this feeling makes the second one much more enjoyable and also feels like a safer bet.

I've grown so much

There's so much to learn and do that I feel I'm gonna explode, but I've grown so much that it's worth it. I finally became the Software Engineer I always wanted to be. I went from front-end to full-stack. I now know more about SEO and marketing. I keep reading about other indie hackers and I'm now aware of all the effort it takes, but at the same time I feel much more prepared for what lies ahead.

Fear and uncertainty are motherfuckers

And having said all that. Fear and uncertainty are the two demons that keep striking once in a while. Fear of failing and the uncertain future. I trust myself, I work hard, I'm pretty confident that I can do it, but there are so many external factors that can take me down. I'm doing all I can not to fail, but if I ever fail I'll feel happy cause I tried, and I'll give myself a proper rest before trying again.

It's almost the middle of 2020, and I'm an indie hacker.

Follow me on twitter where I'll be tweeting about my journey as an indie hacker.

Thanks for reading!

  1. 2

    Some great insights here @jdelva. Thanks for sharing.Love the last piece about fear and uncertainty. Keep up the great work!

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading!

  2. 2

    Thanks for sharing and best of luck! Please post again some time in the future, I would be interested in reading how it all worked out.

    1. 1

      Will do! I just saw you followed me on Twitter and I commented a tweet of yours without knowing it was you haha so you already know my story. Thanks!

  3. 1

    Really like the read. I also wake up at 5:00 Am because I have a job and the feeling is so great when at 10:00 AM, you realize that you already achieved so much 😊

    1. 1

      The feeling is super cool! Thanks for reading!

  4. 1

    amazing man, my dream is to try something just like you are doing... keep going!

    1. 1

      Thanks! I hope you achieve that dream!

  5. 1

    I can sign on to every single word of your article, even though I live halfway around the world.
    I always wondered why industrial-designed work week 5/2 is still in use.
    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Thanks! And yes, it just doesn't make sense at all from a productive and creative standpoint.