Coronavirus April 21, 2020

People are learning how to build new businesses in lockdown

Channing Allen @channingallen

After the US declared the coronavirus a national emergency and the western world finally began taking the crisis seriously, it took about a week for founders to adjust their marketing strategies to a world that only cared about the pandemic.

Now, about a month later, founders are also figuring out how to build and ship products for the quarantined market.

@Patio11 brought one of these products to my attention a few days ago with this tweet:

@Patio11 on Twitter: "Coolest business I've seen in a while: youprobablyneedahaircut.com. Can't go to a barber/stylist? Video chat with one instead; they direct you and/or significant other, live, in how to cut your hair such that you look good. You pay them for their time as normal."

Much has been written about peoples' struggles to cut their hair in a world in which barbershops are closed due to lockdown. You Probably Need a Haircut addresses this problem by pairing these people with skilled barbers who coach them through the process via video chat. The customers pay $18, and the platform itself takes a $3.60 cut. Timely, smart, and simple.

The site's founder, Greg Isenberg, has a sense of humor too. Here's a user testimonial from the landing page:

“I love my boyfriend but he looked hideous. You saved my life.”

—Sarah F, West Hollywood, CA

I caught up with Greg and he told me he built the project on the side to scratch his own itch, despite an increased workload at his day job at WeWork. After launching on Product Hunt just two weeks ago, he's already got more than 100 paying customers.

You Probably Need a Haircut is just one of the countless new lockdown products that have launched and seen early success this month.

Among these new products is MailThis, which allows housebound customers to send snail mail without stepping outside. It works like this: you upload a digital copy of a document and enter the address you want to deliver it to. Then MailThis prints it, puts it in an envelope, and ships it off via USPS.

Screenshot of the landing page for MailThis.

The founder of MailThis, Nick Freiling, told me it only took him a few days to build and launch the product after thinking of the idea.

As for the reception?

We've had thousands visit the site since the Product Hunt launch two days ago (April 18, 2020), hundreds of people go through to the end of the process of mailing, and a few dozen actually pay. Looks like almost all of these people are testing it by sending something to themselves. … Seems to really have resonated with people.

Savor that for a second. Nick went from product idea to dozens of sales. In under a week. In the worst economy since the Great Depression. All by noticing one of the new problems of life in lockdown and taking swift action.

These products are only the tip of the iceberg. In early April I speculated that the coronavirus and the recession were creating the ideal conditions for a new wave of indie hackers:

Channing Allen on Twitter: ""

In hindsight, my argument didn't go far enough. Sure: many millions are now unemployed, and some portion of them are likely to transition to entrepreneurship. But on top of this, most of them are stuck at home, and the same goes for any potential customers they might want to address with new products. Which largely rules out brick-and-mortar business ideas and suggests they'll seek opportunities online.

This is just what we see in the numbers. Here's a look at Google search interest for "online business ideas" since 2015:

Google trends data showing that the keyword "online business ideas" now gets more searches than ever.

As of essentially today (April 21, 2020), more people are using Google to search for "online business ideas" than at any point in the last five years. Or in history, for that matter. Since search volume for this keyword was lower prior to 2015.

Compare this to search interest merely for "business ideas" over the same time period:

Google trends data showing that the keyword "business ideas" has declined interest.

Your eyes aren't deceiving you: When the disaster struck, queries for "business ideas" hit a five-year low from which, to this very day, they've struggled to recover.

A large number of the new entrants to the world of online entrepreneurship are coming from non-technical backgrounds, so they're naturally being drawn to no-code tools.

@BenTossell is the founder of MakerPad, a resource for learning to build no-code products. Here's what he said when I asked him about his latest traffic and revenue numbers:

We've had our best two months ever revenue-wise. So people are definitely doing stuff with no-code.

Not only are they doing stuff, but they're building products that are gaining huge traction.

@Tom_UK_Designer used Webflow and other no-code tools to build a site for local small businesses to list their deals on. The site is called The Edinburgh Lockdown Economy.

The Edinburgh Lockdown Economy

Here's Tom on how fast the site is growing:

We're experiencing 2x growth every day through organic referrals. I can't keep up with requests for businesses to be featured. … We've now seen 22,000 site visits since we started with zero press coverage to date.

There's a popular saying that in a gold rush you should enter the pick-and-shovel business. Well, The Edinburgh Lockdown Economy is a classic pick-and-shovel business. So it's no mere run-of-the-mill success story — it's yet another powerful signal that an online gold rush is taking place.

This should encourage indie hackers who fear the possible downside of this wave of new online businesses: that the marketplace will become overcrowded and overcompetitive, as @HelloIAmZen mused in the comment section of my post from early April. Not only is there a tremendous amount of extra room for infrastructure businesses like The Edinburgh Lockdown Economy, but there's room for every other business type as well. We know this because the conditions of life are quickly changing. And with each change, new problems arise. Every problem, in turn, is a lock waiting for some entrepreneur's key. Founders who pay close attention and move fast will capitalize.

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  1. 6

    This is really inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. 3

    Thanks for sharing @channingallen! Good read, very motivating 💪

  3. 3

    Great post @channingallen

    I think my startup has the potential to help in a major way, but I have not done enough to make it go viral because I have not slanted my marketing to be Covid focused. I actually felt bad about "capitalizing" on the situation, but now am seeing if it helps then what am I waiting for? It helps!

    A major reason why we invented Giverrang in the first place was to help small businesses conserve cash flow by creating a giant discount reciprocity circle.

    Everyone helps everyone by giving discounts to each other. A score is kept, and Karma is earned by givers, entitling them to receive more discounts from other members.

    No one could not have foreseen the Covid19 situation, but Giverrang could help a lot of SMB and people if scale were somehow achieved. The system design allows it to be "counter-cyclical", meaning it can step in when the economy sags and cash is tight to spur economic activity.

    Maybe I should talk more like above, and ease off my "equitable Groupon" schtick. Any feedback for proper Covid message slanting, or marketing, would be majorly appreciated!

    P.S.
    Nick is a great guy. He helped me through his other startup PeopleFish conduct some market research for Giverrang last year, which inspired me to keep going. Awesome to see he's catching lighting in a bottle here!

    1. 2

      I actually felt bad about "capitalizing" on the situation, but now am seeing if it helps then what am I waiting for? It helps!

      This is a critically important realization. As a rule (with some exceptions): if your product won't actually help people, you probably don't have to worry about exploiting them either because they're not going to be spending their valuable money — or attention — on it.

      1. 2

        Hi @channingallen thanks for the response. It seems obvious in retrospect but sometimes hard to ignore that little voice. I don't know what it is, being overly polite or what, but I'll do my best to lean into situations I can actually help out without the "guilt".

  4. 3

    Exactly why I made https://BetterSheets.co because every new business idea starts in a google sheet.
    I am building some free templates to get almost any business started in a google sheet. Storefront, searchable database, marketplace. All in google sheets.

    1. 1

      I really love your page and pitch! Great design and perfect cadence. If I weren't a stingy sheet magician I would gladly have dropped the 30$ for the courses.

      1. 1

        Be as stingy as you'd like. There's tons of free stuff I'm putting out all the time. At least sign up for the free newsletter... and if you're already a sheet magician, Let's Talk. and trade insider secrets. Would love to see what you're really good at and if it's useful for the audience.
        Bettersheets.substack.com

        1. 1

          Did you take my comment as an insult?

          1. 1

            quite the opposite. I try to give away for free 90% of what I do. there's plenty to get if you aren't paying. Just trying to support the creator community!

    2. 1

      This comment was deleted 22 days ago.

  5. 2

    We pivoted at a time when the industry we had been serving for 6 months became relatively obsolete upon temporary closures, service changes and the abrupt shuttering of businesses. We found ourselves inundated with the sheer volume of status update calls filling our calendars in our other work. We challenged ourselves to develop and build https://summit.work in 14 days or less to address the lack of productivity this began to create from interruption. A high percentage of work will be remote and agile organizational tools are key to better productivity in the future.

    1. 1

      We challenged ourselves to develop and build https://summit.work in 14 days or less to address the lack of productivity this began to create from interruption.

      There's nothing like an aggressive time constraint to push you beyond your own perceived abilities. How's it worked out so far with Summit?

      1. 2

        My cofounder and I have used friends and family as early users. Other than that, we're posting in things like slack groups, then giving free trials to people who ask.

  6. 2

    great read. and great research!

  7. 2

    I was laid off consecutively by 4 clients one by one a few months back which was the biggest red flag for me. I vulnerable and panicked, you still have to pay your bills and support the family.

    • My bank balance was zero a year before I was getting married

    • That encouraged me to do something which helps me become self-sustainable without relying on clients' work.

    • I earned $100K less than 14 months on designing cool products at www.niravsuthar.com. Which also helps me to support my family. I funded my marriage completely. No loan. In India, marriages have bigger expenses which you can't neglect (Minimum 1000 people gathering at the wedding, 3 days.

    • I also started a waterless car cleaning business CleanMyCar to understand how a company works as a startup. What are the difficulties? It's been 2 years since the startup is still on.

    That's why I started an online store to sell digital goods which also helps me improve design skills. There is also a wallpaper I have created that vulnerability opens a new door of opportunities. (https://visualmotivations.in).

    If you stuck in your comfort zone it's obvious that you will never try out new things that you wanted to do or scared to do it. COVID-19 is bad but it also taught us to adapt the situation and get control of your financial situation on your own. Nobody is going to come with a dream job, deal, or business to you in the future. It's better starting to work on your own.

    Indie Hacker is No 1 place I find really amazing people with encouraging nature. It spread so much positivity in the community which is not found in other communities.

    1. 1

      Man, what a story.

      If you're stuck in your comfort zone it's obvious that you will never try out new things that you wanted to do or scared to do it.

      Profoundly and universally true. Every good book/movie starts with the hero getting pushed out of their comfort zone. What results is a journey to make themselves better and to use this transformation to better the world. Good luck!

      1. 2

        Thanks Channing. Appreciate it, man.

  8. 2

    This is so relevant. I came across 3 other people who started writing ebooks & Youtube channels during the lockdown. The stories of hope need to be told.

    Here's a tidbit from my personal journey.

    During this pandemic I created a cryptic twitter account and started a business via Twitter with a prominent Twitter Celeb (Hint: He's one of the Naval Ravikant's must follow on twitter).

    We're launching the business this week. And I'm an average guy. I'm writing the whole story so that it creates hope & businesses. Will share the story with you all this week.

    1. 1

      I'm writing the whole story so that it creates hope & businesses. Will share the story with you all this week.

      Excellent, looking forward to it.

  9. 2

    I've made more progress on my startup than I did in ~6 months before the pandemic started.

    While it's done a number on my mental health and has really changed a lot of things with my family life, social life, and just about everything else, it's been great in terms of giving me time and motivation to get done what I need to get done.

    1. 2

      I've made more progress on my startup than I did in ~6 months before the pandemic started.

      Damn, I should've interviewed you for this piece! Nice work.

      1. 1

        Always around for a chat, interview or not!

        Hopefully the next time that opportunity comes around I will have my product launched and a bit more evidence for my productivity by then.