April 21, 2019

Sunday Edition: Weekly Retro!

#weekly-retrospective, #daily-stand-up

The weekly retro gives hackers the space to:

  • Reflect on our triumphs for the week.
  • Reflect on where we fell short for the week.
  • Share concerns about being on track for your monthly epic and ask for feedback.

To join in:

01 Share your epic (a big chunk of work with a meaty objective) you'd like to complete by the end of April.

02 Share your triumphs for the week.

03 Share your failures for the week.

04 Share your concerns moving forward.

05 Give feedback to at least one fellow hacker and give them an IH Point for their check in.

Optional:

06 Share your Work In Progress to underscore your accomplishments.

(Smiling) The regular scheduled stand up will resume tomorrow.

  1. 4

    01 EPIC: I'm still working to get commenting and post creation on IH on a significantly higher + self-sustaining upward trajectory. It's been mediocre for 3-6 months year, but it's gotten better in recent weeks and continues to improve.

    02 TRIUMPH: Instead of coding, I spent lots of time sending out surveys and analyzing the top ~2000 posts on the forum. It was totally worth it! [I've learned a ton from the surveys] so far, and also from the post analysis, and it's actually actionable stuff. It will for sure change the code I write and the actions I take, starting next week. I was very concerned recently about where to take IH, but now I've found some signal in the noise, and I'm confident in my new roadmap. Feels great.

    I also came across some very good advice this week, and now I have it stuck to my monitor: It's really helped me avoid wasting time on dumb things. I plan to try to make it an ingrained habit for the next month or so.

    03 FAILS: I overwork myself daily. Then I end up burned out for hours at a time, just staring at my monitor, not getting much done. In the future I should force myself to take a break before I get to that point, so I enjoy life more and am more productive.

    04 CONCERNS: Got my regular 6-month meeting with my boss Patrick this week. We've had some huge wins in the past 6 months for sure, with the podcast, meetups, Instagram, Twitter, and a few other things. But we really flopped at our bigger goals: growing the community, eliminating churn, and hitting stride with our content marketing. And it's all my fault, really. I should've done all this surveying, and analysis, and reading books on community in April 2018, not April 2019. Instead I made some dumb mistakes. So I'm a little embarrassed going into this meeting. But you live and you learn, and I'm sure it'll be fine.

    06 WIP: Yesterday I made a roadmap for the IH community based on my learnings. I'm sure it'll change over time as I continue to learn, but I'm excited to start working on it. Today I took the first steps! Turns out that one of the highest-leverage things I can do is not write code at all (surprise surprise), and instead spend more time posting really good threads on the forum that get valuable comments. Will be doing a lot more of that going forward. I also plan to reorganize our hashtags/categories very soon. (Don't worry, #daily-stand-up is great and will keep its place.) These are the top two "big wins" on my priority list at the moment.

    1. 3

      Uhm. (Not to be selfish here, but...) Any books re community building that you'd highly recommend?

      (Grinning) And I'm pleased that #daily-stand-up will still have a home.

      It definitely makes a difference around these parts when you post. With just a few taps on the keyboard, you invigorate and motivate the community. Gems like the above help to emphasize that even confirmed paths of success still get littered with doubt, distraction and burnout from time to time.

      Really appreciate having such a thoughtful, wise founder at the helm of IH.

  2. 3

    EPIC

    • By end of 2019: 1K MRR

    • By end of April: Complete iteration 1 contract

    (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JrwxuUSi-FlwVRp2cTc4fCP-VwwwmU2K-tKn0cVCAE4/edit?usp=sharing)

    Specifically:

    • 5 recorded user interviews (5/5 DONE)

    • 3 designs for the meal plan user flow (3/3 DONE)

    • 1 paper prototype + 3 user tests (2/3)

    • Build code prototype (0/1)

    • Deploy code prototype (0/1)

    Yesterday

    ✓ Learned how to use Invision Studio

    ✓ Completed last user interview! (5/5)

    ✓ Conducted another paper prototype user test! (2/3)

    ✓ Scheduled last user test

    Today

    • Conduct last user test

    • Build static code prototype (no images/media yet)

    Kudos: @Harlem for embracing experimentation as part of the process!

    Shuffle Chef - your recipes on shuffle

    1. 14

      Some feedback, and this applies to @Harlem as well. I don't say this to discourage you guys, but to help: $1k MRR and $5k MRR targets by the end of 2019 are really low. You guys are both talented and working hard, and I think you owe it to yourselves to be more ambitious.

      More specifically, you owe it to yourselves to work on ideas that, given equal talent/effort that you're putting in now, can make 3-10x more than you've set out to make. You don't have to slog it out for a year if you work on the right things.

      I'll share with you a tip. Someone on HN noticed this yesterday, but I've been thinking about it for a couple years now. Here it is. Many of the most rapidly successful solo projects come from the following same playbook:

      1. Aggregate useful data to build an extremely valuable directory or resource.

      2. Grow an audience/network/community around that resource by providing free access and generating content.

      3. Capture this audience by getting them to join a mailing list, join a community, subscribe to a social media channel, subscribe to a podcast, etc. Or have badass SEO for your content. You just need some way to reach your audience repeatedly.

      4. Monetize via sales or partnerships with large companies.

      Some examples:

      • Lynne of Key Values aggregates valuable culture profiles for companies, which attract developers who are looking for jobs. She kind of skips step #3, to her detriment, and is actively trying to fix that. But she hops on the phone and charges companies $5k/year, $10k/year, or more just to have a profile on her site. She made $100k in Q1 2019, almost all profit, from maybe 15 phone calls.

      • Ben Tossell of MakerPad aggregates all sorts of templates, tutorials, and tools for building apps without code, which attracts non-developer makers looking to start businesses. He adds them to a mailing list and gets them to follow him on Twitter. He tried B2C sales, but recently switched to B2B sales/partnerships for special tutorials on his site, and he's made $30k in the last 30 days.

      • I did the same with IH. I aggregated educational interviews with founders → turned that traffic into a huge mailing list, community, and podcast → called up big companies to sell them ads. I could've made more money if, instead of ads, I'd worked out custom deals to that were more inline with the reason IHers visited the site. For example, the best thing I ever sold was a company who paid to do an interview with me, which thousands of readers happily read and interacted with. Made me way more money than my typical ads.

      • Pieter Levels did the same with Nomad List. Crowdsourced spreadsheet of city data for nomads → website of city data for nomads → community of nomads → selling ads. He could probably do better than selling ads if he could find a way to work out custom deals with relevant businesses that tie into his website's main use-case the way Ben and Lynne have done.

      • etc.

      Why is this good for solo founders? Because it is very, very fast.

      First, Aggregating content takes no time. It's tedious, it's a slog, and you have to be a domain expert or become one, but it's fast. You can build your "product" and launch and gain traction in record time. Definitely under three months, possibly under one. It took me three weeks from idea to 100k pageviews for IH, and I was fucking around building my own blog from scratch half the time. No reason I couldn't have done 10 interviews in a week and put them on WordPress/Carrd/whatever.

      Second, B2B sales are absurdly lucrative, and again, they happen very fast. The phone calls are quick, and the checks are large. These companies have entire departments whose job it is to spend money on opportunities like this. Get on the phone with them! Maybe 10 companies will tell you no, but you learn from every call. And maybe then the 11th call says yes. How many calls can you make in a week? More than 11.

      Third, it forces you to target a big audience, because you start with distribution. You have to start by putting some content together that a lot of ppl will find valuable, and content is the easiest thing (relatively speaking) to distribute. It's just a link. Every social platform, every forum, email, Slack, press website, whatever, is tailored for sharing links to content.

      Compare to SaaS, which takes years to build, and then years to slowly build up a customer base paying you small amounts per month, and they never talk to you so it's hard to learn from them, so you build the wrong things, and even if you don't, the competition is fierce, because every dev on Earth is building a SaaS.

      SaaS is an aesthetically pleasing path to choose for all of us developers, but imo do yourself a favor and just start with content and sales. Do things that don't scale. Fake it til you make it. You can write some scalable SaaS later when you're much bigger and rolling in dough and feeling more ambitious.

      (This is not easy, mind you. This is not some sort of guaranteed success formula. You still have to work hard and have a 99% chance of failure like any other business. But for the same effort you put in, you'll fail or succeed waaaay faster, which is what you want. Just remember Uncle Court if you decide to go this route and you end up as part of the 1%.)

      1. 3

        This is awesome. I know I'm not the primary recipient, but soaking it all nonetheless.

        Here's my roadmap pre @csallen golden nuggets:

        ( 1 ) Validate problem/solution. (Sort of/kind of did that.)

        ( 2 ) Create a solid content foundations (15 hacks, 15 reviews, 15 outfits)

        ( 3 ) Create two tools to help chicks find a better fit. (Not the main tool due to non-compete, but two related tools that'll help with the problem.)

        ( 4 ) Promote, promote, promote.

        ( 5 ) Pray that the affiliate links in the 15 reviews generates enough to leave the day gig.

        ( 6 ) Leave day gig.

        ( 7 ) Launch main tool.

        Here's my roadmap post @csallen golden nuggets:

        ( 1 ) Validate problem/solution. (Sort of/kind of did that.)

        ( 2 ) Create a solid content foundations (15 hacks, 15 reviews, 15 outfits)

        ( 3 ) Create one tool to help chicks find a better fit. (Not the main tool due to non-compete, but a related tool that'll help with the problem.)

        ( 4 ) Promote, promote, promote.

        ( 5 ) Approach jean companies for promotions.

        ( 6 ) Leave day gig.

        ( 7 ) Launch main tool.

        Does that capture the recommended roadmap. The only piece of your advice that I question is how quickly a community can be built, especially one that justifies B2B.

        Listening Christy Laurence's it seemed even the most perfectly played community building cars required a year. That's where my temerity re claiming the big dollars comes in.

        Thoughts?

        1. 2

          Building a community (ppl who talk to each other) takes longer than growing an audience (ppl who listen to you). You can grow an audience pretty quickly.

          But even more importantly, you don't really need a huge audience to go to businesses. According to SimilarWeb, neither KeyValues.com nor MakerPad.co get insane amounts of traffic. It's just really valuable traffic, even at small levels. And when you start talking to businesses to do sales, you might find out that your traffic isn't even what they value most!

          I had podcast advertisers who really just cared more about experimenting than results. They were willing to pay me regardless.

          Companies often pay Lynne just because putting together a profile on culture is a helpful and valuable activity in and of itself. If they hire some developers, that's icing on the cake.

          I wouldn't be surprised if companies putting together tutorials on MakerPad had similar unexpected reasons for paying.

        2. 1

          "generates enough to leave the day gig." -> This is also something I aspire to, but it's hard to be honest with myself about what the actual number that represents "enough" is.

          In your new roadmap you don't call that out explicitly. Did you decide that defining "generates enough" is not worth the trouble and it's better to just boldly do steps 5 and 6? Or did you find a good answer to this question for yourself? If so, I'm curious what criteria you used to nail down a number.

      2. 1

        Great writing. After a bunch of failures my mind has subconsciously defaulted to this model. Intuitively I knew it was the smart thing, but could never articulate it as above.

        Aggregate data => Create valuable resource => share daily => capture audience with email list => monetise

        After three weeks the first minimal version is coming this weekend. The data I'm aggregating is marketing. I'm delighted. First time I'm doing a project, thinking, "I'm actually not a complete noob now". I actually understand the patterns a little bit.

      3. 1

        First, Aggregating content takes no time. It's tedious, it's a slog, and you have to be a domain expert or become one, but it's fast.

        I did the same with IH. I aggregated educational interviews with founders → turned that traffic into a huge mailing list, community, and podcast → called up big companies to sell them ads.

        @csallen - You don't mean aggregating content such as interviews created by someone else on your site, do you? If not, how is it faster? I guess I'm missing the point here. Anyone care to elaborate? Thanks.

        1. 2

          No, I mean creating content yourself. Using the examples above, that would be me interviewing founders to create a repository of interviews, Lynne working with companies to create cultural profiles, Pieter crowdsourcing a database of facts helpful to digital nomads, etc.

          It's significantly faster than building SaaS apps. Content can be incredibly valuable, even small amounts of it. You usually need to write quite a lot of code to build anything that people find valuable. Plus it's very time-consuming and tedious to change that code if you find you've gone in the wrong direction. Whereas with content, it's pretty trivial to make changes.

          I think I saw a notification recently from @Harlem saying she's already made multiple thousands of dollars from a course she just launched recently. It would've probably taken quite a long time to get to that point with pure SaaS.

          1. 1

            That makes sense @csallen. Thanks! Content is the ka-ching king.

            As for the turnaround time, I believe it depends on the abilities. I'd think for some it is easy to spew pages of content 📝while for others spewing tons of code is second nature 👩‍💻.

            1. 1

              I wouldn't put it that way. I can code quite quickly, and do all my design work itself. But I've never thought of any code I could write that's as immediately and obviously valuable as content I could produce or begin preselling 3-10x faster. I think that's probably true for everyone. It took me a long time to come to this conclusion, but I think it's the right one.

              1. 1

                as immediately and obviously valuable as content

                Hmmn. I see what you're saying @csallen but in the same token, I've also noticed not all high quality content assumes value right away. Irrespective of abilities and which is easier to create, just producing anything valuable doesn't get valued right away - be it content or a software/app. Just my perception. Hopefully, I'm not digressing. Thanks though.

      4. 1

        Thanks for the feedback @csallen ! I definitely agree that going for 1K MRR for the year is setting the bar low.

        I listen to the IH podcast and am definitely sold on the idea that B2B biz makes something like 10K MRR more attainable. That said, I don't right now have ideas for what problems I can solve that I could sell for $100+ to a biz customer. I'm opportunistically trying to find something like that.

        My plan currently is to work on this B2C idea (Shuffle Chef) as a way to get started / build a habit around being an indie hacker and working on bootstrapped software biz.

        But maybe what you're also saying is that I shouldn't use a B2C idea as an excuse to not go find a B2B problem worth solving. I'd been waffling about getting start at all, so I figured getting started on something was better than just sitting on the sidelines.

        Curious what you think between these 2 options:

        1. Keep working on Shuffle Chef as a B2C app while I opportunistically listen for a better B2B problem worth solving

        2. Stop working on Shuffle Chef and get serious about finding a bigger, more valuable B2B problem to solve.

        ^obviously, this isn't a strict dichotomy, so if there's nuance you want to add between them, I'm all ears!

        1. 2

          You can solve a B2C problem. Indie Hackers, Key Values, MakerPad, and Nomad List all solve B2C problems. Literally 100% of the companies I listed. But — and this is a big but — they also solve a B2B problem, and they make their money by charging businesses.

          More specifically, the B2B problem they solve is "growth," and their solution is gathering a bunch of consumers into one place and then giving certain businesses exclusive access.

          So the roadmap is: Solve a B2C problem → get tons of consumers (which solves a B2B problem) → sell to businesses.

          The key is, if you want to get a lot of consumers together, the best way to do it is via content. Nothing attracts traffic like content. Probably 99% of the traffic on the internet is going to content sites, not SaaS sites. They're way easier to grow, way faster to build, easier to share, etc. So whatever B2C problem you solve, do it with content.

          I would pick option #2 if I were you. However, if cooking and recipes are your passion, it doesn't have to be a hard pivot. You can still do something in that space. Hell, you can still build an app if you want. But just optimize for something you can do very quickly, that can attract a lot of attention, from a niche of people who are passionate about something and will return frequently. And that's probably easier to do with content, not code.

          1. 2

            If selling ads was lucrative, why did you decide to sell to Stripe? Wasn't it that you found selling ads to be difficult? (I seem to remember hearing that around the time you sold).

            1. 2

              Selling ads isn't particularly fun, but it's certainly lucrative, and wasn't all that hard. I made thousands of dollars after 20-30 minute phone calls several times. But it was very time-consuming to deal with tiny ad buyers, to help people write their ad copy, etc.

              And I will let you do the math on why someone would sell something that's lucrative!

              1. 1

                Noticed your mentioning cold calls several times in these replies. What’s your take on cold emails as the first point of contact?

              2. 1

                That makes sense. It sounds like there was a lot of fluctuation in the ad revenue too? As compared to SaaS with its predictable revenue.

                1. 2

                  Here's what my revenue looked like:

                  • $159 in November 2016

                  • $2239 in December 2016

                  • $3500 in January 2017

                  • $4100 in February 2017

                  • $5531 in March 2017

          2. 2

            First, Aggregating content takes no time. It's tedious, it's a slog, and you have to be a domain expert or become one, but it's fast. You can build your "product" and launch and gain traction in record time. Definitely under three months, possibly under one. It took me three weeks from idea to 100k pageviews for IH

            The key is, if you want to get a lot of consumers together, the best way to do it is via content. Nothing attracts traffic like content.

            I've been producing content pretty steadily for over a year for alchemist.camp (@ 10hrs/wk) and am still not quite up to 100k lifetime uniques on the site. The feedback has been very positive, but the top line visitor growth is barely better than linear.

            Your comments cause me to wonder if this is the dark side of having chosen a small niche. It's monetized far better than the blog I previously worked on that was around 50k uniques / month at its peak, but its not on the path of attracting a large audience businesses would pay to get in front of.

            1. 2

              Could it be that you're targeting a super niche which doesn't have a lot of demand? I'm a coder and I've never heard of Phoenix / Elixir. May be you might do better if you targeted e.g react or vue.js or something else which is 'hotter'?

              1. 1

                That's sort of what I suggested. I think there's a tradeoff. I find niche topics easier to monetize but harder to grow.

                I was super into React in early 2014, which it was in similarly niche (but with a huge org behind it), but haven't really been interested in it for at least 2-3 years. I still do a bit of emergency contracting here and there on JS-related stuff but that's about it. There are very broad topics I am interested in, though.

                My retreat to a niche was partially because I was interested in it and partially to escape competition after a failed startup.

            2. 2

              What are the primary distribution channels for your content so far? How much time do you spend on content production (10hrs/week) vs promotion?

              Also, you can usually expand your niche once you start saturating it, if you're at that point.

              1. 1

                Primarily, it's Google and YouTube search. I've had limited success with sharing content on /r/elixir, and very, very little elsewhere.

                I've also tried and had poor results on these channels (roughly following the bullseye framework):

                • social media marketing (time consuming and generated little result)

                • social media advertising (two orders of magnitude too expensive)

                • side project marketing (no noticeable effect)

                • referral marketing (minor effect)

                • conference sponsorship (zero conversions!)

                • podcast advertising (minimum buys were too high)

                • offering a team plan to people who try to hire me (no bites yet)

                Anecdotally, jumping into the HN thread you suggested the other day, commenting and starting another one more targeted to my project yielded ~40 visitors and one free signup via email.

                I definitely haven't saturated the niche of Elixir learners. I'm probably #2 for screencasters and #35 for those teaching the language in general. I have a long list of episodes to record that have been requested by multiple users, and every time I release one my audience grows, but it's linear.

                I was spending about half my time on promotion previously, but found that it was actually getting me less audience exposure than just making more content. That's when my growth dipped in the 2nd half of last year. Now I'm back to about 90% production, and 10% promotion which is just stuff like jumping into that HN thread, tweeting each new video once and submitting the more self-contained ones to /r/elixir.

                1. 2

                  I would imagine HN to be a huge potential marketing channel for you. Have you written blog posts for the HN audience? You could take a bite out of the IH playbook and perhaps do interviews with big names from the Elixir community? Browse around HN and see what other programming-related articles and posts do well on the site. I feel like the drumbeat is constant.

                  1. 1

                    I don't read HN and haven't really targeted it at all. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. 2

    EPIC

    By end of 2019:

    5K MR - 3.64/5000

    By end of April:

    • Validate concept - Experiment (Google ads) running now. Although positive, is this sufficient to prove the idea worthy? I'm not certain clicking a button is adequate investment on the part of the potential user.

    SUCCESS

    Running the experiment.

    FAIL

    Definitely need to get my ass back on the social media train.

    NEXT WEEK

    Automating content creation for a certain post.

    FEEDBACK

    Forthcoming...

    WIP

    Jeanius

    1. 2

      @Harlem I'm curious what you mean by "clicking a button". Is it just referring to clicking on the ad link from Google?

      From looking at jeanius.io (great name btw :) ), looks like you have a newsletter signup at the bottom. You could also use # of signups for that as a signal.

      Do you have anywhere on the site a place where users would need to purchase something / enter payment information? I imagine that would be the ultimate investment on the part of a potential user.

      1. 1

        (Smiling) Thanks for the branding compliment!

        Not just clicking the ad, but clicking one of the affiliate links on the page: https://jeanius.io/jeans-reviews/best-jeans-for-big-belly-and-skinny-legs.

        I agree that the newsletter sign up would be another signal. I'll think about whether it's worth setting up a campaign for such. But for the last recommendation, I'm not selling a product to my main users. Just narrowing the field for 'em.

        I appreciate you taking the time to give feedback! Thanks!

  4. 1

    This comment was deleted 5 months ago.