It's 8PM again. You're back at your desk. Laptop's open. Lights are dim.
You're building that project.
Just like you did yesterday.
You've already bought the domain.
You've written some code.
Committed to Github.
Except... the last 3 projects are now in the trash.
Oh wait, you pause. Wasn't it more than 3 projects? It was 8 projects?!
They're not good, you thought.
Nobody's gonna like them.
And just like that, your drive diminishes, and this project will soon end up in the "Someday" list.
Never be touched again.
I'm tired. What I described was a lot of what I was doing.
I'm tired of building things and not finishing them, leaving most of them to collect dust, never seeing the light of the day. Because I've never shipped them, no one's going to use it and I will never find out if it someone appreciates it.
All those weeks of sweat I've spent building that something I thought might be useful for myself and the rest of the world... they have gone to waste.
I'm going to quit building things. BUT don't get me wrong, I'm not going to stop shipping products. I know you'll say this is a matter of semantics. But crossing that mental chasm is the first step to stop living a life of regrets like what i've described.
I'm done with giving excuses such as:
oh that's ok, i'm still studying.
nah its fine, the next project will succeed
i'll keep trying and get there someday
From today onwards, as of this public announcement, I WILL step outside of my comfort zone and ship everything I build in public.
The timing couldn't be any better. One of my personal indie hacking heroes, Rob Walling tweeted this:
1/ Doing things in public creates opportunity.— Rob Walling (@robwalling) March 25, 2020
But doing things in public (i.e. “shipping”) is scary, especially early in your journey.
It’s scary because you...
He suggests doing things in public can be scary especially when we're just starting out as a maker. People could criticize us. We could worry all day about how our products aren't perfect. Or that it's going to be discarded again, used by no one. Or that no one gives a shit about what we do.
But that's okay. If we confront these fears, we strengthen ourselves over time and gradually feel the joy and anticipation of building in public. There will probably still be fear, but it's no longer as scary as it was. If you have learnt swimming before, the cold water is always scary when you take your first dip into the pool. But gradually, you'll learn to float, and wade and then swim laps.
The journey will be worth it.
PS: Thank you Rob! Your essays and podcast filled much of my hour-long commute to school and home. They eventually helped me to gain confidence that this was all doable.
Over the past 1 year, I immersed myself ever more deeply in the internet. This meant striking up online conversations with makers / indie hackers that are interesting or I look up to them. While I've been reading volumes of articles, essays and twitter threads on indie hacking, these conversations added much needed context and the motivation to take action on what I've read.
It's very easy to read stories of entrepreneurs succeeding and use that as fodder to imagine future success . If I ship in public, there's going to be more eyeballs on my project. Some of these people might spot a mistake I'm making and sound this off early. It's definitely scary but I'd rather be pushed outside of my comfort zone, learn from people better than I am and iterate fast outside of my local maximum.
For the past 40 days, I've tried to write as consistently as I can. Some days felt like shit and I wrote stuff that I'm not proud of. But that's okay, I wrote what I felt and acknowledged those feelings. Most importantly, I knew that I was being consistent in writing daily even when I felt the most uncomfortable – sickness, anxiety, depression and more.
As I embraced my weakness and persisted in writing, I found strength in myself I never knew I had. I could actually still make progress even in my lowest moments. The next day, when I felt better, it was much easier to pick up from where I left off and catch up.
It also helps to tell myself, “not today. i'm still going to make that 1% progress even if I'm very tired." and this adds up over time. I knew, if I stopped now, I was going to create a bad habit of giving myself excuses the next time I ran into the slightest roadblock. Ryan Kulp, a successful maker also suggests that getting rid of bad habits helps you to make progress. Progress is a combination of pluses and minuses. The less minuses (bad habits) you have, the more progress you make.
By being consistent, I empowered myself with strong reinforcing thoughts that kept me going despite the difficulties that came my way.
As I embarked on my journey to become better at my craft of indie hacking, I felt lonely at times. I wasn't sure if what I was doing mattered. Was I struggling for nothing? What if all these efforts to be consistent were fruitless? These negative thoughts could be overwhelming at times. I remember wanting to give up many times.
Yet somehow, I found myself sharing what I wrote with different online communities. I put myself out there on twitter on occasion. Then something magical happened. People actually read what I wrote and tweeted and they told me it mattered to them. They were actually inspired and started building their personal sites and writing daily after months of procrastination.
It felt so good to be able to inspire others. I feel that all the effort I've put in after all left a positive impact on others. As they started building things after being inspired by my journey, I started to see all the amazing things come out of it. I became inspired to keep on building in public and sharing my journey.
I first found out about indie hacking through indiehackers.com when I was in my 2nd year of college. I lurked there for around a year until I stumbled upon wip.chat and it changed my life. Seeing so many makers share their progress and struggles with shipping their products made me think I could do it too. They started something and they finished it and got it out in front of the world.
And so I started building a platform for students to review their professors and courses in my college. To date, it has around 500 registered student who are verified with their college emails. They have written around 400+ reviews of courses and professors. Getting it out there and seeing it being useful for that many people for the first time in my life... it was life changing.
I knew I wanted to build more products and succeed at a larger scale. I wanted my products to get out there into the hands of many more users. However, there was ONE problem.
I did NOT have the fundamentals for successfully shipping profitable products.
Marc Kohlbrugge, the founder of WIP.chat and Betalist was really kind to advise me back then, before I started SMUMods. He told me "... try to build your MVP with specific aim to monetize." and I failed to do that. I'm still paying for the backend server's hosting out of my own allowance and it's not pleasant. I've tried different ways to monetize but it's really difficult. My team and I are still continuously trying and we might be close to monetizing soon. That's a lesson learnt in itself.
From this experience, I thought to myself:
I wished there was a sort of school or community where I could learn and apply these fundamentals of business. So that I could start building profitable products from day one.
Sure, there's indiehackers, reddit and stackingthebricks. However, they don't structure content in a way that:
Reflects the painful process of iterative learning (read: mailbrew's cofounder's account of how they iterated on monetisation).
Breaks down lessons by categories, circumstances, etc. For example, scaling growth for a marketplace startup can be very different from dealing with the same thing for a direct-to-consumer (DTC) startup. It's also probably useful to know a founder started a company under certain circumstances – struggled with studies, etc
Most importantly, making products while you're in school (high school, college, postgrad) can be quite different from that of working professionals. Our time isn't that clearly dilineated by 9 - 5 working hours. There's projects, group meetings, quizzes and examinations. As college students, our concept of making money by building and selling products might be quite different from what indie hackers know about it. Most of the time, we build products for fun and that's about it. But there's so much more students and young makers could achieve, if only they knew it was possible.
That's where Young Makers comes in.
I want Young Makers to be a community platform where young makers are exposed to actionable stories on building profitable products. They can connect with each other, build in public and document their learning process in a way that's easily accessible by other Young Makers. Mentors can connect with young makers and guide them, that they may learn faster and better. Masterclasses could even be conducted via the platform. It's the place where every young maker would want to be in.
As it's a Work In Progress idea, I'm open to hearing feedback from other young makers and potential mentors out there on how we could shape the vision to be something that's more inclusive and useful.
A lot of us read motivational stuff that inspires us. However, we don't always take action on all of them. They keep repeating in our heads over and over and one day it just ticks.
Thanks to Cedric from commoncog.com/blog for pointing this out. I don't say this enough but I'm very thankful for your insights and encouragement. They have really helped me to grow a lot the past few months.
Your advice of “look at where you are now and where you want to go and then figure out the delta of the skills you don’t have that you need to acquire to get there” pushed me into building up my habits / systems for getting there. If we must quantify the results, I've successfully written a daily journal for 40 days – i've never kept a habit intentionally for that long in my life. Writing is a skill I'm honing now and I'm starting to see results in personal growth.
Many acknowledgements to those I haven't mentioned: my awesome girlfriend for always encouraging me and being there for me. Chen Mor for being my shipping buddy, who also pushed me out of my comfort zone to build in public. Jim for building an awesome writing platform that I enjoy using very much, and for showing me how far passion can take a maker in building an extremely polished product like Reading Supply. Eugene Yan for exploring roam research with me and writing consistently on your blog; it gave me part of the motivation to keep writing daily and eventually, write this. Mentors Koo and Kai Xin from DataScienceSG who nurtured me and taught me what it was like to build and run a community from scratch.