Podcast Notes: "How Courtland Allen Found Freedom with Content, Consistency, and Community." Today, we are condensing a podcast episode with the founder of Indie Hackers into something you can digest in seconds. In the podcast episode, egghead founder Joel Hooks talked to Indie Hackers founder Courtland Allen about how he managed to build and monetize such a successful side project. Hooks asks him about the advice he has for others building side projects based on his experience and interviews with those who have done so.
What is an indie hacker, and what is your website indiehackers.com about?
- An indie hacker is somebody who has chosen alternative ways to make money to give them freedom, whether that's financial, creative freedom, location, and more. Typically, indie hackers are the likes of developers, digital marketers, or others building online businesses.
- Indiehackers.com, Allen says, is a community of these indie hackers focused on the idea of people helping people, where people share learnings, accomplishments, ask questions, and basically help each other run profitable online businesses. There are different groups for different types of people, including, developers, no-code makers, podcasters, digital nomads, and more.
And was there nothing similar online? Why did you start Indie Hackers? Why was that a project for you?
- Initially, there were similar things out there but they weren't too good, and he didn't want to go down the venture capitalist approach to achieve the freedom he desired from the business.
- But he couldn't find people who were indie hackers easily as they weren't really front-page news or in the likes of Tech Crunch. In 2016, he could only use Hacker News for that.
- He began reading posts on HN that were about topics such as "Oh, how are you building your one person SaaS business?" Or, "How are you making a profit from your side projects?", and looking for patterns.
- He realized...
So, you build Indie Hackers, and when did you reach critical mass? Because, creating a community is non-trivial, you can't manage a community into existence. So, how do you as an individual foster and grow it? Is it just kind of sticking with it, or just showing up, or how did you build a community?
- From the beginning, Allen says he knew he wanted it to turn into a community. His biggest inspiration was Nomad List started by Peter Levels, whose Hacker News comments about the steps he took to build his community Allen often read.
- From reading these, Allen decided his strategy would first be to produce "super helpful content" useful to people like himself, parlaying it into a mailing list. Once he reached people on a weekly basis, he planned to continue interviewing but also start building the online forum from scratch.
- Initially, it was just "empty," Allen says, admitting he even initially created fake accounts where he would ask himself and answer his own questions on his forum...
So, this started out, I assume as a business idea. You wanted to create this community and monetize it in some way. People are always using that word. How are you going to monetize this? What was the plan initially to make money, and make this sustainable for yourself?
- Allen never went down the venture capital approach. Initially, Allen pondered two ideas: the first that he rejected was to actually charge money to be a part of the community. The second, was going with sponsorships, which is what he ended up with." Indie Hackers basically attracted an audience of developers and entrepreneurs who are pretty lucrative to advertise to. And...
So you mentioned patterns and that you've seen these recurring patterns, when people were trying to become Indie Hackers, or start their own thing. What are some that stand out to you as maybe outliers that occur more than other things? What are some of the patterns that you've noticed that have worked and failed?
- B2B businesses make a lot more money than B2C. "I don't think that's because selling to consumers doesn't work. I think that's because consumers just buy very different things than businesses," says Allen though.
- The prevalence of education-based businesses, like Joel's egghead, is another big pattern because that one of those consumers really wants...
You built indiehackers.com from scratch. You built your own bespoke forum software. Why not use something off the shelf like Discourse?
- Allen notes when he started Indie Hackers, he created a list of mistakes he had made in the past that he wrote down. One of these mistakes was spending too much building as opposed to launching or releasing an app...