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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
I'm doing a couple of these roundups a week! My aim is to keep ahead of the curve on issues affecting indie hackers and to forward the message along to you.
You can subscribe here to receive future articles in this series.