Ruud Niew - Indie Creativity Unleashed

Ruud Niew

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8 questions and answers about indie hacking

What is an indie hacker?

Since I started my journey as an Indie Hacker, my friends have been asking me: “what exactly is an indie hacker?”.

Though I’ve referred to myself as an indie hacker for over a year now, the question was surprisingly hard to answer. The definition by Courtland Allen, founder of indiehackers.com, is easy enough; an Indie Hacker is someone who aims to generate income independently. But does an independent plumber generally identify as an Indie Hacker? I somehow doubt it.

Here are 8 follow up questions and answers to help you get a better idea of what an indie hacker actually is.

[Bonus] can you explain in under a minute?

I tried! Here you go (please be kind, it’s my first YouTube video):

[1] What do indie hackers do?

They try to create a business online. This could mean anything from selling onions online to creating a SaaS, PaaS or even a community.

[2] So do you have to be a software engineer, designer, marketer, digital creator or community manager to be considered an indie hacker then?

No and yes.

No, because despite the fact that these professions describe about 90% * of the indie hackers’ jobs, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful outside of these industries. Actually, applying indie hacking principles to different industries is probably a great idea.

At the same time, yes, because building and selling (digital) products will involve a little bit of all 5 disciplines, and after some time you’ll have experience in all of them.

* not an actual statistic, it just feels this way sometimes

[3] Wait, do indie hackers have jobs?

Yes, it’s entirely possible and even recommended to start making side projects next to your day job. Being limited in time means that you’ll have to get creative to validate your idea, before you quit the job that is actually sustaining your family

[4] Can indie hackers generate enough income to make a living?

They can! But the harsh truth is that building an online business from scratch is incredibly hard and besides talent and hard work, you need some luck to develop a profitable company. Only a fraction of the indie side projects make enough to become ramen profitable. But once you manage to build an online business that scales, it’s possible to make literal millions even as an indie hacker.

[5] I’ve heard of unicorn companies before. Is the ultimate indie business a VC-funded unicorn?

Unicorns are companies with a value of over 1 billion dollars. To reach valuations as high as these, founders can take venture capital money to rapidly grow their businesses. Often this is done in the form of seed funding and after that series A, B and C funding. This does come at a cost though. There will be constant pressure to keep growing the revenue, impact and internal team of the company. Sometimes it’s said that when you take outside money, the business valuation becomes your product. And when short-term growth is your goal, you might have to make decisions that hurt your customers.

At the other end of the spectrum you have bootstrapped companies. Business founders that choose to not take any outside money, have to generate revenue and profit to sustain themselves. The downside of bootstrapping is that you can’t pump as much money around as when you’re VC-funded, which can limit your growth. But the upside is that you keep your independence and there’s less pressure to grow indefinitely to increase company value. This is often seen as a more sustainable business model for customers.

It’s also possible to start out bootstrapped and then later take VC money to support your growth. One well-known example of this is Veed.io .

[6] Is the goal to become rich?

I believe that making money online is only a means to an end. Most founders I know are in this because they want to live a more free life. For one person a free life means to become financially independent, but for the other it means to have a calendar that is meeting-free. This is also reflected in the choices they make regarding funding and hiring. If you want to have a life devoid of zoom meetings, hiring a team probably isn’t something you should be doing.

Another goal indie hackers may have is to generate impact. In this case, generating income is not even the primary goal of these founders. Sometimes saving the world is more important than that.

[7] Do I need a cofounder?

The indie journey is hard and it can be lonely at times. Having a cofounder to talk to can make a huge difference, and it will improve your product. I’ve worked with amazing founders in the past, for example with Mingyi . He made it enjoyable to work on the product even in times that it wasn’t easy.

And hard times will always be there, because founding a company is difficult and relationships can suffer when money is on the line. So if you decide to team up with someone, do yourself a favour and make sure that it’s a 100% match between you and your cofounder(s).

Even if you decide to go solo, you don’t need to do it all alone. There are amazing communities out there to connect with like minded people. Like Weekend Club!

[8] Are there any other noteworthy differences between indie hackers and classical business founders?

What I personally like about indie hackers is the emphasis on starting small. The classical mistake is to build a product for years and only then to start selling to users. Most IH founders understand the urgency of getting early users and ship their products before it’s polished. At least in theory .

Another thing I like is that indie hackers understand the value of having a good (business) idea, but generally are very open to sharing them. Maybe it’s because there are a lot of software engineers for whom transparency is naturally more important because of the open source community. Or maybe it’s humility in knowing that no idea is truly unique and that your success rarely depends on (the absence of) copycats. In any case, I’m glad to be part of such an open and honest community like this!

Disclaimer: I’m not associated with indiehackers.com