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Making $5K MRR with a portfolio of side projects

On the latest episode of Indie Bites, I interviewed Dan Rowden, who is a prolific maker making a good side-income with his projects. We talk about how Dan manages his time throughout his projects, why he hasn't gone full time yet and what he did when a $75k acquisition offer came along. I've summed up some of my favourite points from the conversation in this article.

Why I interviewed Dan

Dan, like many other indie hackers, runs a bunch of projects alongside a full-time job which all compound to him making over $5k a month. In 2012 he started Magpile, a free online resource about magazines which was followed by Subsail, a platform to help indie publishers sell magazine subscriptions. Earlier this year Dan started using the publishing platform Ghost, which he then started to build a suite of products around, now including:

  • Gloat; a productised service for hosting and self hosting
  • Cove; a commenting tool for Ghost blogs
  • Substation; a theme for Ghost

Dan also launched ilo, a better analytics platform for Twitter a few months ago earning over $6k in revenue since launch.

Why this is important for indie hackers

Many of us were in a position Dan was in 12 months ago. We have a few side-projects that have made a little bit of revenue for ourselves but we still have a full-time job that we're trying to break away from. Over the past year Dan has made some sensible decisions to change his fortunes and earn a nice side-income.

One key thing to learn / take away

Building your side projects should be fun and give you fulfilment. Often when I asked Dan what his plans for the future were or what his goals were for his projects, he responded with "I'm not sure, we'll see what happens".

Now you might think this is a little blasé, but I resonated with it because many indie hackers put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make our projects 'succeed' then end up being stressed out and not enjoying building, which is the opposite of what we set out to do.

The episode summed up in 5 points

  • Some people like to have ultimate focus on one product, others like to build multiple things at the same time. There is no right or wrong way to do things; it's just what works for you. Yes, it might be the case that having focus on one thing might lead to more 'success', but you might not be as fulfilled as a maker if you don't work on those passion projects that you truly enjoy.
  • Having a full-time job can be a blessing and a curse. Having the time restraint of a full-time job means that you end up being really efficient about what you choose to work on. When I spoke with Wil Klopp in episode 10, he mentioned that when he went full-time on Simple Poll he didn't know how exactly to fill the extra time he had and that extra time did not correlate directly with growth. The downside of having that income is that it sometimes makes you too comfortable and complacent, meaning you might not experience the growth that you would if you had that pressure.
  • Dan is bullish on the platform Ghost (as am I), to the point where he now has a suite of products built around the platform. Ghost is in a unique position as a publishing platform where its open source, has an ecosystem of strong apps around it (like Dan's) and is focused on making a better platform for creators. You can literally build your own Substack, OnlyFans, Buy Me A Coffee, Patreon using Ghost (as you can see on my blog).
  • Are you prepared to sell your projects if an offer came along? Dan had a $75k acquisition offer for his Ghost suite after he'd done some reflection and had decided he'd be open to the idea. Ultimately the deal didn't go through, but it's interesting to see how the options in such a deal were laid out.
  • Dan isn't too worried about how much his side-projects grow, but this is likely a result of having that full-time income. This takes the pressure off the requirement for his suite of products to make money and arguably injects a little more fun into the building process. But at the end of the day it's down to your goals as an indie hacker. Do you want to leave your job and work on your thing full-time? Then you should be more interested in growth. For Dan, he's happy with where he is and is enjoying the process of building away.

Recommendations

At the end of every episode I ask each guest for 3 recommendations, but as Dan doesn't read books he made up for it with a magazine and newsletter recco.

This was a summary of my conversation from the Indie Bites podcast. You can listen to the full episode here.

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