I've been flip flopping between 3 different paths for the last couple months. And it doesn't feel good, it feels like a struggle and it doesn't feel like progress is being made. And it hasn't been effective. SO the goal of this thinking out loud session is to choose and commit to one path, after I go through the pros and cons of each.
(Come on in, welcome inside my brain. There is usually a lot going on in here but I'll try to keep it calm and entertaining.)
So first things, some questions to self:
Question 1 - what are these 3 paths?
Question 2 - why but why, why do I have to choose, do I really have to choose? could I keep working on everything in parallel.
Here are the three paths:
Path 1 is teaching, continuing to teach programming 1-on-1, making more screencasts, finding other ways to teach at scale.
Path 2 is building a SaaS, with possibly building a Shopify app, doing some Sales Safari on the Shopify forums to find real a problem to solve.
And Path 3 is consulting or contract work
Okay so those are the 3 paths I've been flip flopping on. Now to answer Question 2 do I really have to choose, why can't I do all of these activities in parallel? There is two reasons for that:
Reason 1 is the reality of time and it being finite and all. The fact is currently, I have about 15 hours per week to work on all my indie hacking activities. All my other hours are called for. at least for the next few months, that number may increase in the future. But for now, that is a hard number that I need to account for in my plans.
That's the first reason for why I have to commit to and go all-in on one path. The 2nd reason is a bit philosophical. Recently, I've had this insight that in order to aggressively execute, my brain needs to feel committed to a plan and feel that my daily actions are aligned with a clear goal. I want to feel like I have one goal, one direction that I'm steering towards at a time. And it's okay if that path leads to a local optima and doesn't lead to the ultimate destination right away (And by ultimate destination I mean the shared goal of all indie hackers which is financial independence, couples millions or whatever your FU amount is, in the bank). That's the ultimate destination, but it's okay for there to be lot of zigs and zags on the way. However, at any given time, I need to, all parts of me need to be rowing in only ONE direction. And my brain needs to produce sharable and durable output at the end of each week or even each work day.
Okay so based on those 2 reasons, it's clear I need to commit and go all-in on one path. So now let's think through what's attractive and what's challenging about each of the 3 path.
I'll start with option 3 and go backwards. Option 3 was doing freelance or contract projects.
What's attractive about that option? Why do you feel drawn to it brain? I like the idea of starting and finishing something and getting paid for it. It's satisfying to do work and get immediately rewarded for it. The other thing I like is the feeling of helping someone unblock in their business with the skills I already have. Using my existing programming skills and strengths feels good. One special type of work in this category is consulting with no-code founders and helping them when they run into contraints of no-code. For example I had this conversation with someone recently about Stripe payment links. While Stripe payment links is a no-code way to collect payments online, it has some constraints. For example, your customers don't have access to a place to change their credit card info or to update/cancel their subscription, etc. Integrating Stripe Customer Portal requires some coding. I bet there are many things like that that no-code founders run into.
Another example is that I recently helped a friend set up her consulting website, with a ghost blog, and advised on how to use stripe of invoice clients and she was up and running and independently earning in a couple days.
One strength, one superpower I have here is I can teach, so not just do the work for someone, but explain technical things at the right level of detail for them to feel self-sufficient and confident going forward. I like giving people that feeling "oh I get it!"
So what is the issue with this option? The challenge is that I've never really done contract/consulting work. I've always been employed as a full-time sw engineer since 2005. I don't have a contractor's profile online, all of my reputation as a developer is locked in private repository of my employers. I feel like I'd have to build up a portfolio of projects in order to get high-quality clients. It wouldn't be worthwhile to get random clients on upwork and such. I don't have an existing network. So ultimately contracting is not in my wheelhouse. Skills like contract negotiation and client management and such I'd have to learn. It's not part of my existing skills.
Ultimately this is not a business. It's short-time work with smaller immediate gratification. It's still trading time for money. So I can see that this is not the right option to go all-in on.
Next, Option 2 was building a software product, a SaaS business. What's attractive that? SaaS. This is the business model I understand. Build a software product and then charge for ongoing access, monthly or yearly subscription. i.e. a SaaS - software as a service. SaaS is what I know and understand. That's because I have been a professional software engineer, getting paid to build software products all my career. And I've spent over a dozen years living and working at tech companies in silicon valley. In fact, SaaS is all I knew when I decided to go out on my own and do my own indie hacker thing.
Two years ago, I had no idea there were other ways to make money online. I had never heard of anyone making books and other info products or paid newsletters and sponsored podcasts, or paid communities or premium courses. I learned about all these in the first half of 2020. Of course, since then I've made a few info products and made several hundred dollars from each of them. nothing big. Written a book, written a newsletter and joined couple paid communities. But nevertheless, the idea of building and growing a SaaS is still appealing, especially to my introverted nature.
One challenge with the SaaS path is that I don't have an idea that I believe in currently. I have lots of ideas in my notebook that I'm excited about. But there are all nice-to-have consumer things and none are like must-have pain killers for other businesses. I don't think I am going to make my million from building software that people don't urgently needs. For example, one idea that I'm excited about involves books and reading and making a place to log a lifetime's worth of reading notes. I have all kinds of ideas here but but...this is not an urgent problem for anyone. So I'd be only be able to charge only $10 at most, etc. I don't want to go down that path.
The other thing in my SaaS bucket is a Shopify app. I've built an app just as a way to learn the API and tech stack. I like the tech stack, it's normal stuff like React and GraphQL plus Rails which I have experience with and like. I have the scaffold in place but haven't identified an actual problem to solve that merchant are ready and willing to pay for.. I would have to do some really good Sales Safari in the Shopify forums to uncover the right problem. Guess I could do that, feels exciting in some way but on the other hand, I don't feel confident about my chances of success on this path. I do like that a Shopify App would a B2B SaaS, I'd be helping other businesses. And if it helps them get more customers and make more money then the price of my app would be naturally justified vs. my consumer ideas would need to different more heavy duty marketing I think. Okay, not sure.
(I'm still attracted to Shopify App idea, the company seems good I actually invested a little bit and money on Shopify stock. Toby seems reasonable. They also announced recently they wouldn't take a cut of App revenue up to a Millions...so yeah that's all attractive).
Okay let's move on to Option 1, which is teaching programming and making screencasts and finding other ways to teach at scale: Before I get into the details and pros and cons of this option, I've noticed that I've had a mental block around this option which I want to think through first. SO In order to scale beyond 1-on-1 teaching, I know I have to create content. And here's the mental block: I don't think of myself as a content creator. And I sort of feel allergic to the word content. It's silly, maybe it has to do with ego. Like if someone IRL asks me 'who do you do?' and I say 'oh I make screencasts and content to help people learn programming' They'd be like 'ok that's cute' It doesn't sounds like a real business in the same way as a SaaS does. <pause> Yeah. I know I know it's wrong to even think this way. There are plenty of examples of people who are killing it at this content thing and the creator economy. It is a real business model. It's just, content creator, is not part of my professional identify. My identify equals software engineer, those are the words I've had in my job title for the over a decade.
So that's the mental block. The reason I want to confront this mental block is so that I can move around it. It seems, to be a successful with this teaching path, I will need to evolve my identify. (And I think I can do that, evolving is great and I can do it if I'm intentional about it. If someone had told me I'd be recording solo podcast 6 months ago, I would've said "no way, you're crazy, that doesn't sound like me)
But here we are. Also I don't have to call myself a 'content creator' (add Alex's tweet) I am a teacher, an educator, an explainer. Okay with that out of the way, let's think about pros and cons of this option.
What's attractive about this option: I've been doing this for a long time, as a hobby. I was a TA teaching assistant for the computer architecture class for two years in undergrad. I've mentored several new developers at my work. I volunteered as an 'industry' mentor at coding bootcamps in San Francisco all the way back in 2013. And I've been doing paid 1-on-1 teaching since March of 2020. And apparently, I'm in the top 0.1% mentors on this platform, with most number of 5 star reviews. So in conclusion - I enjoy it and I am good at it?
What's the main challenge with this option?
challenge 1. Other than the 1-on-1 sessions. What else could I charge for? how do I make meony. One thought is live sessions, workshops, etc. So then the questions becomes, how do I get the right people to show up to these things? Other than the handful of students who are already paying me, I don't have an audience of people who've learned from me. So I'd need to go about building an audience.
(As an introvert, I'm not sure I have the personality to run a community or facilitate a course. These things seem necessary to teach at scale.)
challenge 2. It's more time intensive. I plan to run live workshops and office hours and then cohort based course and built a learning community. All of that is active time. None of that is passive income. So I need to mindful of that and see what I can fit into my 15 hours each week.
Another fear I have is this, since I've been teaching as a hobby for along time, will I stop enjoying it if I try to go all-in and try to scale it as a real business that aims to earn an actual income that can support my family. (and can I make my million from teaching? I know people have like Chris Oliver of GoRails and the tailwindCSS guys, those are helpful data point at least)
OK that is a lot of thinking. So we'll try to wrap it up here.
What do I want? Ultimately, I want to feel like I'm making progress. At the end of each week, I want to feel like I'm moving the niddle in one direction...so I can allow myself to relax and enjoy the weekend with my family. That's what I want.
How will I get there? what's the decision? I'm still torn between going all-in on teaching OR digging deeper to find a SaaS or Shopify App idea.
What if...I just picked one and decided to go all-in for the next 100 days? So mid December and then evaluate? Let's say I go all-in and focus on CodeCurious (That's the name I gave to my teaching business) Of course the next question is what milestones or what proof points do I need in order to decide what to do after those 100 days? Okay, great question and that will be have to be the topic of a future episode.
Welcome to thinking out loud, my way of building in public and thank you for joining me for the very first episode! Until next time.
(Anyway, I'll leave you with a quote: "We're under no obligation to remain the same person we were 6 months ago. We're here to invent ourselves")
ATM life (note: ATM stands for "after the million" that's how I refer to my life after achieving the goal of financial independence. And I plan what I'll do with my time once I don't have to work to earn money)