October 21, 2019

Why is the indie hacker community so supportive?

First, @rosiesherry does a bang-up job moderating spam in the community and helping to foster great conversations, so credit where credit is due.

But an underlying question remains:

Why is the baseline rate of toxicity in this community so low?

It's an online community after all, and anonymity is allowed. So why don't our comment sections resemble those on Hacker News, where people constantly jockey for status and one-upsmanship, and otherwise engage in Simon Cowell-esque behavior?

dragging Dropbox

(infamous post on HN throwing shade at the newly launched Dropbox)

My hypothesis: actually embarking on entrepreneurship forces us to get out of our comfort zones and confront our weaknesses, which is very humbling.

We're like a bunch of movie critics who've all had to start writing our own screenplays. Great way to convert criticizers to empathizers!

Steve Wozniak highlights the entrepreneurial struggle

Anyway, this is all mostly just context for posting an overlong excerpt from Jessica Livingston's incredible Founders at Work.

Founders at Work

Here you have Steve Wozniak — the Steve Wozniak — confessing his vulnerabilities around transitioning from developer to founder (I've added some italics for emphasis):

Mike was going to finance us, and then one day he said to me, “You have to leave Hewlett-Packard.” And I said, “Why? I designed two computers and cassette tape interfaces and printer interfaces and serial ports and I wrote a Basic and all this application software, I wrote demos, and I did all this moonlighting, all in a year.”

He said, “Well, you have to leave Hewlett-Packard.” It just wasn’t open. I went inside of myself and thought about it. “Who are you? What do you want out of life?” And I really wanted a job as an engineer forever at a great company (which was Hewlett-Packard). I wanted to design computers and show them off and make software. And I can do that on my own time. I don’t need a company to do it. So there was an ultimatum day—I had to decide by a certain day if I was willing to do this. I met Mike and Steve [Jobs] at Mike’s cabaña at his house in Cupertino. Eventually we got around to it, and I said, “I’ve decided not to do it, here are my reasons.” Mike just said, “OK.” Steve was a little more upset.

About the next day after I said no to starting Apple, my parents called me and said, “You really ought to do this.” (Because $250,000 was a big deal in anyone’s life.) And then friends would start calling me. That day my friend Allen Baum called me in the afternoon, and he said, “Look, you can start Apple and go into management and get rich, or you can start Apple and stay an engineer and get rich.” As soon as he said it was OK to do engineering, that really freed me up. My psychological block was really that I didn’t want to start a company. Because I was just afraid. In business and politics, I wasn’t going to be a real strong participant. I wasn’t going to tell other people how to do things. I wasn’t going to run things ever in my life. … I just couldn’t run a company.

But then one person said I could be an engineer. That was all I needed to know, that “OK, I’ll start this company and I’ll just be an engineer.” To this day, I’m still on the org chart, on the bottom of the org chart—never once been anything but an engineer who works.

No insightful action items to share here. Only point is, if you're wearing many hats or getting way out of your comfort zone, pat yourself on the back (and keep patting everyone else around here too).

Especially if you're a solo founder. You're doing what Steve Wozniak couldn't bring himself to do.

  1. 13

    I think the key word is: vulnerable.

    Many of us feel vulnerable and uncertain; we want help, and want to help. The people who “succeed” do help us feel inspired and confident to keep going.

    It’s a positive feedback loop.

    Tearing people down and other types of negative behaviour seen elsewhere is antithetical to what everyone here is trying to achieve.

    It’s a great community. 👍

  2. 7

    I agree with a lot of the comments here, and only want to add one more factor here:

    LEADERSHIP

    You @channing, @courtland, and @rosiesherry send and set a clear tone in all of your actions and interactions. You're curious and considerate. You share what you're thinking and doing to be helpful, which is distinctly different from doing the same things to sound smart and superior.

    There's a lot of the business world that forgets that leadership is the structure that supports people from below/behind, rather than commands from the top. The business world that's reflected here in this community is the way it is because you clearly demonstrate your priorities every day, and the actions are much more important than just saying the words.

  3. 6

    I also think because we're all making something. Some side hustle, pet project or "next big thing". And if someone isn't making anything, is here to see who is and what it is. Offering suggestions or praise along the way.

    1. 2

      As you said, I feel we're here because we're all building "something", and because of that, why should I judge you for working on a blog when I'm working on a job board? :P At least we're working on something we're passionate enough to put in our time and effort. That is the cool part.

  4. 5

    I've been on other communities. But this is the one that motivated most to start my own project.

    And that's important.

    Instead of something that demotivates you.

    1. 2

      this is the one that motivated most to start my own project.

      Great to hear!

  5. 4

    I have noticed one thing while visiting MicroConf Europe a few days ago.

    There is a shared foundation of perspective among all founders. I would describe it as "optimistic honesty". People know that everyone struggles, they know that no business is perfect and that people are battling with their own expectations and what they see other people achieving.

    The founders I met and talked to were genuinely interested in the stories of other founders. And they didn't just want to learn tips and tricks for their own business. They needed to hear stories of success and of failure, of conquest and defeat. It was more about being relatable than about being pragmatic.

    Indie Hackers, bootstrappers and solopreneurs all share the struggle. They are all aware that many others struggle. They come out of their shells and talk about the good and the bad in public. Yet they all believe that it will turn out for the best, that true dedication and hard, focussed work will win out.

    This is by far the most honest and most optimistic community I ever had the opportunity to be a part of. And what a blessing it has been. I am grateful for the company of people of this caliber every single day.

  6. 4

    For me, I just think what kind of help/advice I would try to give myself and give it to those where I think I can add value. I know firsthand how hard it is - how deep the lows can go.

    As you rightly point out there's enough negativity elsewhere - it's not for me to judge someone else's project or idea. Anyone who posts their idea here has gained a lot of respect to me and deserves support in pursuing their dream :)

  7. 3

    I think this is what happens when people from discriminated groups run an organization. Attention to stuff that makes things pleasant for everyone!

  8. 3

    I think you get out what you put in - the community drives you to give meaningful feedback to help others, and in return you profit from receiving thought-provoking, useful advice for yourself.

    1. 3

      Definitely. Problem is, this give-and-take requires the foundation of a healthy community to begin with. Offer feedback to a toxic community and you won't receive much for your efforts.

      1. 2

        Good point - very true!

  9. 3

    It takes all three - effort, tenacity and luck to create something good. This community tried creating something and seen what it takes, hence we don’t judge other people and kill premature ideas.

    We are the underdogs. HN is for the mainstream.

  10. 2

    I think, just like many here have already said, that it comes from being in the trenches. We're all struggling in various ways. That's bound to make you more humble. Your analogy to movie critics writing screenplays is spot on. That made me smile. :)

    Also, the "leadership" aspect mentioned by @alexhillman is a great point. You guys are always friendly and helpful and that helps set the tone for the whole community.

  11. 2

    Good read! I liked the Simon Cowell reference! That's a name a never thought I'd hear on the Indie Hackers forum.

    One thing I've also noticed is that people take constructive feedback pretty well. Which is crucial. Because positivity for positivity's sake isn't helpful in the long run.

    1. 1

      I liked the Simon Cowell reference! That's a name I never thought I'd hear on the Indie Hackers forum.

      Believe it or not I had an email exchange with a guy last year who'd put someone else down on the forum, and he explicitly invoked Simon Cowell:

      I read the article and I thought it was low-quality, confusing, and a waste of time. … A turd is a turd. … Is a Simon Cowell type not allowed here?

      So it does happen, but it's rare.

      One thing I've also noticed is that people take constructive feedback pretty well. Which is crucial. Because positivity for positivity's sake isn't helpful in the long run.

      For sure. I think people are far more open to critical feedback when they trust that the critic is seeking to reform the product rather than to voice personal resentment. It's pretty easy to underappreciate the role of resentment in this niche, but all the ingredients are in our faces daily: income statements, quantified status (likes, followers, upvotes, comments), "success stories," and so on.

      1. 1

        Hahah! I must confess I quite admire their bluntness and writing style.

        And yeah:

        I think people are far more open to critical feedback when they trust that the critic is seeking to reform the product rather than to voice personal resentment. I

        Very good point.

  12. 2

    No substitute for being in the trenches with one another. I see this in the music industry too (I used to be a guitarist in a band). People with little or no live music experience are the ones who are most vocal about critiquing you, or comparing you unfavourably to other musicians.

    But those who also played in bands and have been through all the ups and downs of gigging are the more empathic, supportive, generous people around, because they know what it is like, as opposed to theorising what it is like.

    I enjoy being around like minded people in an environment where they can feel safe to be vulnerable. IH is one of those places.

    1. 2

      People with little or no live music experience are the ones who are most vocal about critiquing you… But those who also played in bands and have been through all the ups and downs of gigging are the more empathic, supportive, generous people around

      Vision: a well-subscribed social norm encouraging everyone to spend at least some time trying to create valuable things: music, live performance, software, literature, hardware, ideas, etc. Wouldn't have to be for-profit, but would have to be "for others."

      Talk about a win-win for the world: less negativity, more understanding of how things work behind the scenes, more great things in the world in general, and almost certainly more people with purposeful, fulfilling, and empowered lives.

  13. 2

    Maybe it's a little bit of timing. Online communities are now almost 20 years in, along with many other well-established internet paradigms. Maybe even trolls have figured out there's not much to gain by being a jerk in online communities like this one.

  14. 2

    So, this week i post here my idea for evaluation/validation and was hopping that indies could delivery more feedback on it (was higher expectations on my side). At same time, saw it that it's very difficult actually how indie is organizing it's posts, no short list of tags, your post quickly get lost on newest timeline and feedback too. How could this behaviour be improved or getting more effective?

    On the other hand, i agree that value produced here is very good and people normally gives lot of positive reactions,ideas,feedback from that i read on almosts posts here.

    Sorry if this is not the right place to post this, but could be a supportive idea :).

    Thanks for all!

    1. 1

      was hopping that indies could delivery more feedback on it (was higher expectations on my side). … How could this behaviour be improved or getting more effective?

      Sorry to hear you didn't get more feedback. I'd advise you to keep trying but you're already doing it. 👍

      1. 1

        @channingallen after all the community came to what i've expected... Maybe i was to nervous about it... and them bam... lot's of feedback and a bit of reposting in the right channels gain new traction. But i didn't receive your feedback about it eheheheh... Thanks a lot