Self Care December 2, 2020

What advice would you give yourself if you were starting over as an Indie Hacker?

José León @jrleonr

I am sure that you have learned many lessons.

Maybe you were approaching your projects with the wrong perspective. Maybe you were naive, as I was. Maybe you regret not starting before. Or you maybe you feel that you wasted your time.

If you'd have to start over again, what advice would you tell your younger self?

Leave a comment to share your learnings so we all can learn from you!

These are mine:

  • Don't start with a SaaS or a community. Create something small and try to sell it, if you can't sell that, try with another small thing, if you can't sell it, try again.
  • If you can't sell anything, spend your time learning about marketing, sales, copywriting, and practice than with the small products you created.
  • Research if you can find a platform where you can create something around it. Like a Ghost Theme, WordPress Plugin. Don't try to create a big platform yourself.
  • Don't spend 6 months creating anything.
  • Write and publish articles more often, once per week if possible. You don't have to spend hours researching a topic. Just share your experience. If you are suffering or learning anything, other people can relate or learn from it. Write once. Share everywhere.
  • Save more money before leaving your job, at least for a 3 year period. If you only have money for 6/12 months, that won't be enough, and you will try desperately to sell things in the wrong way.
  • Find communities, learn how to use them, get to know people, engage, contribute. Don't ask for anything at the beginning.

Thanks for reading!

  1. 7

    I'd tell myself to stop coding and study marketing & SEO for a few months instead.

    1. 2

      Yes! And... Did you? How is that going? Any recommendations, books, courses?

      1. 4

        Yep, this time I planned all the marketing before starting the development.

        My favorite books are:

        • Start Small, Stay Small – a bit dated but still extremely useful for bootstrapping founders
        • The Mom Test – how to ask customers the right questions and determine if a product idea is viable
        1. 2

          Thank you for sharing!

        2. 2

          I haven't read any of those books! I'm going to get them tomorrow!

          Thanks a lot for sharing your experience!

          1. 2

            No prob, best of luck!

      2. 1

        I wrote a piece of content called,
        ''Pain Point SEO: The Starter Guide For SaaS Product Marketing'
        Willing to share if you want to take a look.

        1. 1

          If that's related to the topic of discussion, of course, go ahead.

          I'd also love to hear how you went about it and what you learned from your past experiences.

  2. 4
    • Get a full-time job, ideally in a startup, who are supportive of side-projects. Work on it solely as a side-project, do not give up your job.
    • Understand the space you're going into. This is easier if it's a big, established space where you cans imply Google what competitors and their customers want.
    • Define the maximum scope for your product and what you hope to see. If your aim is to replace income from a job, recurring revenue is preferred.
    • Launch product within that scope.
    • Don't work on it any further. Instead work on the marketing/customer development until you reach where you hope.
    1. 1

      Hey Thomas!

      I found it very hard to find startups that support other people having a side-project. I had problems with that in the past. But that would be ideal.

      The idea of scope is fantastic. Having a set of rules around your idea, like a framework, it'll help a lot. And knowing when to stop and start selling, beautiful. I had that problem in the past: building, building... and no marketing.

      Fantastic advice! I hope you are applying it to your current project!

      1. 2

        That's pretty much the playbook we applied to our current project (EmailOctopus), yep!

        I think one of the biggest issues is that many Indie Hackers are developers in bigger companies. We all have a tendency to overvalue our input and importance of work. So there's a presumption that if you simply build an app and do a launch on Product Hunt then people will come.

        The bulk of the valuable work in a startup lies in perfecting your product positioning and understanding a market (and your users) thoroughly. That's stuff that doesn't come naturally to those who are used to seeing a predictable, measurable output in their work.

  3. 2

    Couldn't have out it better myself.

    The only other advice would be to actually get a paying customer before I even consider building a product.

  4. 2

    That's good advice José.

    One thing that comes to mind, maybe you'll agree:

    • See everything you build as a small bet where you're okay with the time/money you're losing when placing that bet.

    I freelance the majority of the week, and I'm okay "placing" a half-day to a day on small bets. I've been working on a thread of an idea for a few months at half a day a week (a small product), the other half a day a week on publishing an article a week. I killed the product knowing I was okay with losing the time already spent (but no more).

    I learned that lens through the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb.

  5. 2

    I'd tell myself to create something I would use on a daily basis. I haven't launched my product yet but it has product-market-fit already (for a sole user). I just need to increase the market now ;-)

    When I use my product I discover the pain points and have the knowledge to draw solutions to solve them. My todo list keeps getting longer and longer due to my own feedback. I just postpone the new features I come up with to V2, V3, V4 and so on....

  6. 2

    Don't build until someone pays.

    1. 1

      Have you tried it yourself? Tell us more!

      1. 2

        Yup. That's what we did for Cloakist. We totally freaked out when someone paid for a custom domain for the first time (for their RoamResearch blog). But after 2 days coding we made it work! And at least the revenue was waiting for us.

        Maybe we should have waited for even more payments. But that pretty much becomes scamming.

  7. 2

    Whatever I'd wanted to say is majorly covered. Few other points that I'd share are:

    1. Before starting to build anything, first understand the problem space, spend time there. I'd even say more than building something, we should think of it as solving something. What exactly am I trying to solve? (Not all solutions need to be a solution to a problem though, am not getting into that now)

    2. Once we really are able to justify that, yes, this is a problem, then try and understand how are people handling that problem today? Do they simply live with it, or they have any workaround?

    3. Time spent on such research helps us build something that will definitely have an audience. This will give us hints as to whether we will be able to sell or not.

    4. Another lesson I often think of is, do not build anything complex, do not think of scale, generalizing, no automation required at the very early stages. The focus should be to win a minimum of 10 paying customers. Only then we need to think of anything big.

    5. Adding more features with our knowledge of the domain/problem space may not always be useful. And we cannot sell something just because it has 50 useful features. How much is actually used by the end customer? I've come across pareto rule in many products, only 20% of features will be used, rest 80% will literally goto sleep.

    5a. We may have too many creative ideas, just hold it back, release them at the right time, only then it has value. A product has to grow iteratively with input from customers as well as from our knowledge/ideas.

    1. In fact, we've to visualize/market more from a benefits perspective rather than features.

    2. Have a lean team, lean expenses as much as possible until money starts getting in.

    3. Do not hire an external sales team until it is required. Learn the basics of sales, marketing (in all relevant forms), SEO by yourself. There is no choice.

    4. When it comes to content management, make sure it is at the right place. If my end customer is a small scale brick and mortar store, then writing about my solution in linkedin is not of much use. It has to reach them, understand their playground and hit there.

    In short, grow iteratively with each iteration adding some commercial value. Else it gets so de-motivating :(

    1. 1

      Many tasks there!

      Do you think that a solopreneur can do all of that? Do you think it would be fair to summarise your comment as creating a team of individuals with different skill sets?

      Thanks a lot for taking the time to write all of this!

      1. 2

        Well, I guess I vented out, to be frank :). And to your question, although it seems to be many, if we list down things in the right order and plan with set timelines, it can be handled by a solopreneur (assuming he/she can handle the tech part too).

        Initially, it might seem daunting, but as you'd mentioned in your original post, start with something small. In such cases, a single person can handle all these things to a good extent. Or max one more who complements.

        Since there was no such handbook or guidance or I didn't understand the importance of these back then, all these were learnt the hard way, burning my fingers.

        All said and done, it's a lot of work, no denials. If it's your dream to be an entrepreneur, then that passion will drive you to learn and unlearn, trust me :)

        Ah, forgot to mention one more important point, one should know when to stop and say no and accept that something's not working out, take a step back, and re-visit and come back to the game with a finer plan. As @venn_click mentioned, fantasies don't pay the bills, we've gotta be honest to ourself.

  8. 2

    Thanks for the post @jrleonr

    I am interested in the last point you made about finding communities. Wanted to get your opinion and others on how to exactly do it. Coming from a developer background I am mostly able to find developer centric communities. How do you find a relevant community you can engage with people on?

    1. 3

      I'm going to plug a product a friend of mine did: @xavier compiled a list of communities called SpreadTheWorld. I bought it.

      1. 2

        Thanks for your support Pascal!

        @qsmrf5 Feel free to reach out, I'll be happy to help!

        1. 1

          Just checked out your product @xavier. Its really cool. I read something about RAAS products (Research as a service) somewhere on twitter and this is a perfect example of it.

          1. 1

            Glad you like it!
            Yep, it seems more and more common nowadays.

    2. 1

      I guess that depends on what you are doing. Usual places: Reddit, Facebook, Linkedin, Forums. I guess the important key here is the willingness to find them and take the time to do it.

      If you have no idea where to find the people you are looking for, maybe it's better to create something that you are part of... or spend more time getting familiar with it.

  9. 2

    Things we keep in mind, based on past (sad) experience:

    Fantasies don't pay the bills. Be realistic and honest when it comes to your own weaknesses/strengths.

    Time to market is important. Get feedback as soon as possible, launch as soon as possible.

    Embrace people that don't understand why your product/idea is worth doing. It will keep you sharp and refine your thoughts.

    Don't overthink. A new project is a huge pile of unknown unknowns. Stick to your core idea.

    Design & message matters the most for almost any product.

    If it's not an info product, don't chase audience. Try to figure out your product/market fit first, focus on building value for your core users, create MVP.
    The market knows value when it sees it, the audience will come if the product is good enough.

    Know when to quit, and do as early as possible. The time to quit may vary - be honest with your self.

    You are not your user. Things that are obvious for you can be a total blur for most of your users.

    And again: Fantasies don't pay the bills. Be honest with yourself.

    1. 1

      Fantasies don't pay bills. That's hard to hear, and it makes me want to cry.

      It feels too real for me. I spent years telling myself those fantasies, and I feel bad for myself (like it happened to another person).

      What have you done with these learnings? Are you applying them now to any specific projects or ideas?

      1. 1

        Didn't want to make you feel bad - but I get it. It's a known, and painful, place for many makers and founders including myself.

        1. I Became a freelancer for a 3 years, with a focus on super early stage startups and SaaS. It was like going to school: you seat at the front row of building a product/business, in different markets and with different founders.

        You see the success, you see the mistakes, you brush up your skills. - AND GET PAID TO DO SO. The problem for me was that I was completely absorbed into my clients' projects. I had lack of focus at some point and was overworking and had little time and energy for my own stuff.

        1. Got a full time job at VC backed startup - this time I wanted to learn how a business is being built from ground up with money and professional management. The best point in this one is that you don't loose control as a freelancer (working sometimes 14-15 hours a day).

        That being said - I still think that freelance work is the best way to learn & have time for your own ideas while making some money. You just need to pay attention that it doesn't take over your whole life.

        1. 1

          Interesting journey.

          I worked for more than 12+ years in startups, as a freelance, big companies, etc.. and still, that didn't help me finding success.

          Everything learned helps, of course!

          Are you creating something now?

          1. 1

            Wow, 12+ year is a lot of experience. I'm sure that you learned a ton.

            After an epic fail, I had a side project for three years, it was a web app for stock & financial news. It was OK I guess, nothing big. Eventually the maintenance and the effort just didn't worth the income anymore.

            Now I am working with my partner (and girlfriend :)) on www.venn.click. Started 6 days ago.

  10. 2

    Focus on building a Micro SaaS style product. It will help you to create an MVP without you realizing it and it will also help you to launch your product much sooner.

    1. 2

      SaaS is SaaS in the end. It is much harder than other products and takes a lot longer even if it is micro.

      1. 1

        Yes, I feel the same about this.

        Can you guys point me to an example of a micro-Saas? Because that was my goal when I started, but I ended up creating something bigger.

        Where is the line?

        1. 2

          I think some micro SaaS products can be found here - https://baremetrics.com/open-startups

          Moreover, there is a Youtube channel named MicroConf, go check them out whenever you can.

        2. 1

          I believe that ConvertKit is a good example. Even today I see that it has a micro style, even though it currently has a high revenue.

          https://convertkit.com/

    2. 1

      Have you followed this advice in the end? Have you created a Micro SaaS? Did that make things better for you?

      1. 1

        I don't say that I have a successful product. I have a few users, but it went much further than I had gone in all previous projects.

        As an independent entrepreneur I never got to have a product with great sales. But as an intrapreneur I had a project that started and can still be defined as a Micro-Startup and has a good customer base (https://www.looppag.com.br/).

        I believe that the most relevant point is at the beginning. It helps to focus on the core of the product and launch the MVP earlier, and of course, there is no problem after leaving Micro if you wish.

  11. 1

    Think less, act more. It's better to make mistakes than to think hard about preventing them. [1] The only way to prevent mistakes in this game is with Hindsight bias, which is exactly the ammunition of the Idiot Yet Intellectual. Fuck everyone else, fuck what they think. Focus on your users, ship the work, give yourself permission to make mistakes. Learn from them and don't make them again. This is not an anomaly. This is the way.

    [1] If consequences non-lethal

  12. 1

    help other indie hackers

    1. 1

      Tell me more! How are you applying this currently?

  13. 1

    I'd say to have zero expectations with your first Saas because you will be learning a lot as you grow it. To remain consistent, no matter what.

    1. 1

      Ok, I guess that depends on the person. To me, I need to know what I'm doing makes sense.

      I don't see myself working consistently if I don't make sense of it in my mind. I rather enjoy the path!

      How are you applying this to your current projects?

  14. 1

    Build audience first, then create product. It easier to sell if you have audience.

    1. 1

      How is that going for you? Did you start building your audience?

      My audience ignored my SaaS, but they were interested in other digital products.

      So I guess building an audience won't solve everything. But not sure, I need to keep learning.

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