My strategy for this year, 2020
Written in January, 2020
"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." - Mike Tyson
While writting my article about my two years of building products, I noticed some patterns. Condensing two years of actions and results into one piece of writting was a great reflecting moment that helped me immensely with the formation of this high level plan for 2020.
They say if you want something you have never had before, you should do something you have never done before. For me, I have identified three aspects I want to change. Structural changes, changes in my mental approach and technical changes.
But before we go into what I'll do differently this year, let's take a small dive into the previous two years...
The first two years
Here is the link to the original article, where I go into everything in detail
Year one: Shotgun approach
The first year, I just came up with ideas and built them. Turned three of them into profitable businesses and reached $200 MRR at some point. Then, it dipped.
Had momentum on my side, kept the feedback loop short.
All B2C products. Also, many went down the drain and just wasted hours coding them.
Year two: Sniper approach
The second year I focused on a single product, and basically put all my eggs in one basket. Nothing came out of it, many months down the drain.
While trying to go B2B, I didn’t code anything, I tried to validate.
Fell in love with an idea, in a market I don't understand, and spent too much time on it. Also, I went Enterprise instead of B2B.
What will be different this year
Changes in structure of my life
Number one: New home, new country, new job
Well, first of all, I am writting this article from the kitchen of my new house in Milan while my two other room mates are studying. I moved over from Greece and I'm living abroad for the first time. I am here to start working for a high tech startup (Series B funding, ~80 people) that builds smartwartches for people with epilepsy.
They found my project, EpilepsyBlocker, and offered me a really cool position with many perks, like a good salary, a chance to move abroad to a cool city, paid gym membership, unlimited books, paid weekly massages, new macbook, access to talented co-workers and new technology like AI and summer offices in Sardinia. One of the founders in a professor at MIT so they work closely with MIT and they also work with other organisations like NASA. At the end of the day, the question in my mind wasn't "Why?", it was "Why not?"
Up until a few months ago, I was a student. I had worked in the past, but only remotely and for a limited amount of time. I had no structure in my life. I would wake up, at whatever time, and only two things were certain: that I would drink coffee in the morning and that at some point I would go to the gym. All the rest of the time I would spend it building stuff.
Although that may sound like an aspiring indiehacker's wet dream, and maybe I do as well in a few months, I felt like I was stuck in the end. What happens when you have all day every day to work? You slack off. Also, I was in a sterile invironment, where all new ideas I had were consumer products. Number one reason for that is that I have never worked for a company, so I wouldn't know what they buy, how they buy, when they buy, how much they spend, how they decide what to buy, etc etc
Last but not least, when you are at "idea validation" point, you don't need 12+ hours per day. All you need is big balls, not be afraid of rejection, and "launch" something (could be a Reddit post/question or just talk to someone). That can hardly take 12 hours all together, let alone 12 hours every single day.
Number two: Structure at last
Although I may be more tired now, I will have structure. I will work on my personal projects 4 hours per day. Two hours before work (08:00 - 10:00) and two hours after work (18:00 - 20:00). Then I'm done, nothing else. With these constraints, I will hopefully do no more "pretend work", just real work. No more "getting ready for launch" or "redesigning landing page". I see so many makers do that, it's plain insecurity. I do it myself sometimes. It's pretend work. Just do what has to be done. Deep down inside, you know exactly what you have to do.
Changes in mental approach
Number one: Don’t set goals that aren’t actionable
When I started indiehacking in 2018, my goal was to reach $500 MRR. Although it's quite straight forward and humble enough to show maturity, it's not actionable. What has to be done and how? How does one reach $500 MRR? There are a million ways.
Not only does it blur what you have to do, but it is useless once you reach that goal. Instantly, it turns lifeless and means nothing. You are not content and you place another non-actionable goal for yourself to chase like a mouse chases cheese.
Number two: Don’t focus on motivation or discipline. Focus on habits
It's easy to start out a new year or new decade full of motivation. But motivation is a finite resource. You wake up early, do the shit that has to be done, all in the first few weeks. But what happens when that fades and you have already devoured every single motivational Gary Vee video? (I hope not) You wake up on a random fucking Wednesday and Gary Vee is not there to lift you up. You might even power through it once or twice but that's not easy either because discipline, just like motivation, is a finite resource. What is not a finite resource is something that happens automatically, like the brushing of your teeth or your morning coffee. HABITS.
I won't go into detail, but the book that really opened my mind to this was "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. It's hardly a surprise since half the planet has already read it, but if you can, read it!
A thought that I have been having lately is that we like to think our lives as a series of highlights, when in reality it's pretty boring. Quitting social media helped me realise this. I deleted the apps from my phone and also installed "Cold Turkey" on my laptop. While I still had Instagram and Facebook, I would see everyone elses' highlight reel of life and I used to fantasize about how I would want my life to be. I would then come up with plans that were all "ephemeral", like a road trip through the US or becoming a digital nomad. Supposedly they would make me happy. Now, since shutting off all that information I kinda realised that life is pretty boring, and that is a good thing. Life is just today, repeated. Let me say that once again in a Instagram worthy way.
Changing your life is not as difficult as it may seem. Life is just today, repeated over and over again. If you want to change your life, change your today. If you want to change your today, start by changing yourself, one habit at a time.
Poetic, right? Maybe I should be a poet after all. Or a motivational speaker, I don't know.
What ingredients do you need your every "today" to have? For me it's 1) working on something meaningful (my projects), 2) being healthy (going to the gym) and 3) being in touch with people. I'm pretty good with the first two but bad with no3, hence why I decided to live with room mates.
It's easy to say "Oh, I will be social and go out and meet people", but the path of least resistance has to become the desired path. So, living with room mates makes it super easy to come in contact with different people. Just like bringing your gym bag to work with you and picking a gym on the way home. It's just easier. Just like making it a routine to wake up early and working on your project before work.
Habits and changing your environment is 1000 stronger than discipline and motivation.
Number three: No one ows you nothing
I know that building many projects may make it seem like you are leaving your faith to the higher power of god, math and probabilities, or just plain luck, but I don't want to have that mentality. I had that mentality in 2018 and 2019, and felt like the universe had to bless me at some point with a "one hit wonder". But that is not the case from now on, I won't carry the peasant mentality that the world owes me shit.
Don't shoot and pray, aim and fire. But aim and fire regularly, because luck, fate, things you cannot predict, or whatever you wanna call it, is a real factor as well. Acknowledge it's existence, just don't count on it.
It's like the bus paradox. You are waiting for the bus, and there is no way to see in how long the bus will come along. You have been waiting for, let's say, 30 minutes, a long time. You look at your watch. You're late. Shit. Maybe I should change plans and walk instead. But... I've been waiting 30 minutes now, the bus MUST be coming! So you continue waiting. Another ten minutes go past. Shit. Fuck it, I'll walk. But! The bus MUST be coming, I've been waiting for 40 minutes now! Etc etc etc
"Keep what works, discard what doesn't work, try new things. Repeat."
1. Experiment with many ideas.
I have tried to focus on a single idea before, once in 2017 and once in 2019. Both times I lost about a year testing, pivoting and persisting, only to ultimately fail. One the other hand, just coming up with ideas, building and launching them is also useless most of the time. But, comparing the two methods for me personally only leads to one conclusion, launching many projects has yielded the best results for me.
There is no silver bullet, there is no secret recipe, there is no secret ingredient. If it works, well.. it works, end of discussion. Many will disagree with my "spray and pray" stategy and that's ok. But I am going with my hunch here and will be experimenting with many different ideas.
I truly believe this is a numbers game and huge inspirations for me have been the lists of projects of Josh Pigford of Baremetrics, Pieter Levels of NomadList and many others.
2. Don't code unless validated.
Notice how I said "experiment" instead of "launch"? I won't be making the same mistake building projects no one is ever going to use. A landing page with a "Buy Now" button built with a no-code tool in 10 minutes is just as good as a full blown marketplace built with the best technologies under the hood, as far as validating goes. Believe me, I have learned this the hard way, with Telemonetize.
An "experiment" or "launch" can be anything, it can be a landing page, a Reddit post, a Facebook group question, ten cold calls with potential customers. I am planning to experiment with > 50 ideas in 2020, that is at least one idea per week. It's not easy, it's not a perfect plan, but it's doable and I want to try it.
Basically the philosophy is this. You have an idea. Don't build anything. Suppose you have already built it. Now go sell it. This will force you to find people to talk to, so you'll identify the distribution channels, and most importantly, by talking to potential customers you can mold your idea to something else that will be of value, something like a pivot.
3. Only B2B, never B2C or Enterprise.
Consumer products are hard. First of all, consumers are stingy, myself included. I bet there is at least once that you saw an app that cost $0.99, thought it was too expensive, only to go out and throw away $5 on a coffee. Exactly.
Now, suppose you have a business making you $20K every month and you find a tool that will make your business a little more productive, aka make you more money and/or save you time. Paying $100/mo for a tool that will make you more money makes a lot more sense.
Although I have launched many "supposedly B2B products", I have never ever ever ever gotten a check from a company. All my money were from consumers so far, and I got to $200 MRR. With GitGardener I got $5 checks, with EpilepsyBlocker $10 checks, with Telemonetize $20 checks. If I had success with a B2B idea, maybe I wouldn't be writting this article right now.
Let's say we want to get to $2k MRR this year. One way would be to have 400 customers paying us $5/mo, or 40 customers paying us $50/mo, or 20 customers paying us $100/mo, or 10 paying us $200/mo. What sound more plausible and easy to handle? Definitely not the $5/mo one.
You can also go all the way to Enterprise, but I believe it's stupid for an indie developer since they are not generally "early adopters" and prefer stable, older, established companies and also the sales cycle is larger. Trust me, I tried with Epilepsy Blocker.
4. Pick a good market.
This is as important as the previous step. Now that we have decided to go B2B, we have to decide which market we will focus on. Not all markets are as lucrative. It's better to be the least successful shipowner that the most successful shoe mender, as far as money goes.
There is so much money being spent in the world right now that it's not even funny. It's like strong flowing rivers full of fish where all you have to do is find your little spot and place a net, and you will catch some fish (customers). If you are going to rivers where there are no fish or there are very few, even without competition and the largest net possible, you won't have good results.
Since I am deeply involved in tech and I am also going to be working at a high tech startup, I think I should focus on that market. B2B, selling to startups. The funded ones have big budgets and are generally early adopters.
5. Don’t fall in love with ideas.
This is perhaps the most important one for me. I was generally ok with this in 2018, but once I went viral with EpilepsyBlocker and people started saying good things to me, I was hooked like a lab mouse on cocaine. Comments like "wow, this is so cool", "you are a genius", "you are truly making the world a better place, thank you", whether it's from potential customers or just people at a social gathering you meet make you feel important. But underneath this "great idea" and "great product" is not a business, it can't sustain itself. It's a consumer product, the market is really poor and the only other option for B2B is Enterprise. But I couldn't let go, I wanted to make it work. Ultimately, I made it free and moved on. Making money is not the goal of every product.
We feel like we have to be important and make important stuff, but normally what happens is we end up making junk. Just build something people will pay you money for, since that means it's useful. Be useful, don't be a dreamer and build junk. Once you do that, and you have money, then you can think about your mission and how you want to impact the world. Shit, make money and give 10% of your income towards planting trees or cancer research, if you are so inclined. You will truly help the world!
Ok, enough theory, let's talk about the process. How is this going to work?
Pick big, already existing problems. If you can find a new approach into a big but apparently played out field, the value of whatever you discover will be [multiplied](http://paulgraham.com/sun.html) by its enormous surface area. Ever seen how many email marketing companies, or hiring companies, or cybersecurity companies are making money? They are tackling big problems that companies are willing to pay $$$ for.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Statistics say that even all creative geniuses just produced an awful lot of shit and we remember only the good ones.
At the same time, if you feel stuck, don’t be afraid to change it up. Try to validate a productized service. Try to validate an art company. It’s free after all! Get crazy! But keep it around tech and B2B. Momentum is king.
All I need is ONE validated idea, in a good lucrative market, with a good price tag (>=$50/mo) and with good distribution channels. That's my goal for Q1 of 2020.
Find a market you will serve first, then start thinking of ideas.
It has to be tech. I know the distribution channels, I have a small audience, I know where they hang out, I have the launching platforms. They are good early adopters. Now whether it’s cybersecurity startups, medical tech startups or developer tools or marketing tools for startups, I don’t know.
Build good landing pages, like Landen and PH Ship and collect emails.
Either pay for Product Hunt Ship and collect emails and schedule calls, or build landing pages with Landen and post them online on Reddit etc.
Validate before building.
Validation is getting ten people to say they would pay for it or get ten people to click on a "Buy now" button and entering some details.
Prefferably get people on the phone and ask if they would pay. If they say no, ask why and then try to find other pain points in their workflow in order to find new ideas. Conversations are great for forming new ideas and molding already existing ones.
Launch on PH, HN, private Slack groups, IH, Facebook groups.
We know where the tech folks hang out, especially founders and developers. Leverage that. Also, since the products will be in the same market, I will find out how to do this in a way that is ethical, not spammy and easily reproducable.
Presenting to you, the lab!
This is what it looks like. The app is called Pipefy.
You basically drag and drop the entries from one column to another, in order to be more organised.
A pipe for the idea lifecycle.
And a pipe for the sales lifecycle.
This HN comment summarizes the whole strategy pretty well.
And... that's it. Easier said than done but I'll give it my all. Let's see where this goes! I will be posting every week my progress and let you know what is happening whether things are going good or not. I will keep it 100% real.
Wish me luck, and keep it touch, I will certainly need some feedback and help along the way!