This is so important and not discussed very often. It's so easy to get caught up with the insane amount of information distractions. It is pivotal to narrow down your focus and attention on the really important things (deep work). Eliminate and minimize the pointless information hysteria.
I've worked with people who claim they 'work 12-16 hour days'. Yet, watching them work, they spend most of the day reading news articles and on Twitter. It is easy to get caught up in all of this, and it gives an illusion that one is "working" as it is very stimulating to your brain.
The only answer I've found to remaining positive about the world and staying productive has been to ignore >90% of the information out there. Very little news. No social media. I even ignore most of the things people say, unless I know that they are knowledgeable on the topic. But I guess this is what HN is for... One of the only places for decent information.
It’s never chugging along at a consistent marathon pace. It’s always a series of sprints.
Of course, there are always five other things you know that need to get done besides the problem in front of you, but it can be a challenge to find the correct level of engagement, versus just sitting and 'marinating' in the problem in front of you.
I think the paradox is that if I spend all day doing nothing but reading documentation and farting around on Hacker News, nobody really notices. Not in the same way they notice if I spend a day on 'the wrong thing' (because I know for certain what needs to be done on this other thing). It's seen as wasting resources, because certainly I could have put that energy into the 'right thing'.
The 6 days (not always 6 - maybe more, maybe less) let me come up with and throw out stupid ideas before i've coded them. By the time I come to build something it's a carefully considered thing that'll actually be useful most of the time.
It's not just feature ideas either, it's code design, data design, anything that might be complicated enough that I used to spend multiple days experimenting. It doesn't always work out, but when it doesn't, i've thought it through enough that I have a head start on coming up with a better design.
As someone who has inattentive-subtype ADHD, I must say that this sort of pattern can result in a great deal of loneliness. It is far better to watch the course "learning how to learn" and use something like the Pomodoro technique to explicitly decide whether to be in
- focused mode
- exploratory mode
- actually relaxing and paying attention to your relationships mode
Essentially, what is your 'reward model'? --
Test-Driven-Development is one example of this.
My sprint is not now, my sprint starts later.
The sprint toward my spirit starts now. Reading this comment, reflecting this thought. And another is below.
Upvote the comments that you can relate to and see what bubbles up
Basically a giant filter through which you consume the firehouse of FB/reddit.
Although it works for me, I've no idea how practical this is on a wider scale. Would you use something like that?
As for monetisation, I've thought about this a lot - and I don't think the time wasting is needed to create a good product. Google Search certainly isn't fueled by dopamine hits, and from an ads standpoint, our users are saying exactly what they want to see every morning.
Then, it'd be nice to know how I could tweak the algorithm and its config values, so it would find such articles, thereafter.
And to dry-run the algorithm to verify that now it does indeed find that article.
(You don't have a website yet?)
I have an MVP and real userbase which I spent time growing. Now I have a platform to experiment with the grander idea here.
That being said, I'm not willing to link to this yet because it's tied to my public persona and not yet my full time job.
Mind you, there's a lot of people (myself included) who want to keep up to date on what others find interesting at the moment.
The popular/news sections of Reddit are also more heavily based on non-vote signals, like FB.
I also think that allowing the user to track the changes made to this algorithm along with some metrics ( like how much time user spent on topics, time wasted etc) would provide a helpful feedback loop.
edit: and i'll typically run through those scenarios while doing seemingly unrelated stuff, like shitposting on reddit or sitting in a blacked out room.
Of course if you try three ways to get the right way, you've "wasted" time on trying to two wrong things.
E.g. when selecting a library it's often hard to find the one case that breaks, just from reading documentation, instead playing around with the library can get you there faster.
1. Never becoming confident enough in the problem to start solving it.
2. Never getting the rubber-duck collaborator to help you even imagine how you would solve it.
Do I find the non-stop inexplicable US politics fascinating? Yes. Is it helpful to my business? Nope.
Every week i have to revisit my goals, decide whats important, and remind myself that I don't need to learn everything, be all things to all people. It's okay to choose and to say 'no' to distractions, information sources and people.
We all have had conversations with coworkers about some manager who just doesn't 'get it' and is out of touch. One way or another they are filtering out a bit of reality that it turns out is very important to us, or someone in the chain of command is filtering it out before they ever hear about it.
I wonder if the right solution is to 'audit' the information. Spend most of the time in your information bubble, with brief excursions in alternating 'directions' just to make sure that you aren't overfitting. Regular sanity checks where you turn on the firehose for a moment to see what comes out.
Because I mean, realize how big Twitter is. Its much larger than the Twitter that you are generally aware of. The popular stuff for your language and interests is a tiny fraction of the total number of tweets.
Likewise, every subculture has thousands if not millions of web pages or whatever. Every city, state, country has their own news.
Depending on what you are interested in, there may be decades or even centuries of interesting things to study or play with just in that area. For example, if you are into C64, there are thousands and thousands of games, applications, demos, magazines, etc. You could literally spend 20 years exploring it if you were motivated. That is just one subculture.
If you are interested in world history then there could be thousands of years of documents and artifacts to study. Or maybe to understand some ancient literature you need to become fluent in written Latin. You could easily spend five years learning Latin to a high level.
I just feel that if you were to really give all of the interesting stuff that's out there a chance, it is many many lifetimes worth of information.
Which is to say that the number of potential distractions is actually effectively infinite.
i have worked these hours in the past, plus my colleagues, and when there is so much pressure the least we wanted to do, and the least we did, was spending time on news sites because we were constantly tired and would rather choose to spend half an hour more on sleep
HN is hit or miss. If you believe everything said here you’d reach the conclusion that only today in 2020 can we finally build websites all thanks to microservices, kubernetes, react and rust.
Make a product that people want and are willing to pay for.
The product may be in what appears to be a crowded field. Identify niche opportunities or cases where an established leader is doing a poor job.
It's fine to do some consulting on the side to pay the bills. Of course it will take time away from the product you are building; just be able to recognize when it's too much and scale back consulting or turn off the spigot completely once product sales take off.
It's fine to work according to your own schedule and needs, not some idealized '100 hours/week' VC fantasy schedule.
Investors don't care about you, they care about their returns. As you don't fit the pattern of what they expect for a successful startup, they will either ignore you or make very unreasonable demands - find a co-founder, work twice as hard, follow this or that model. Ultimately, it's a waste of time at best, a loss of control and failure at worst.
Once you have cashflow, offload certain business tasks to pros who can do it better and cheaper than attempting it yourself. Hire when you have sufficient cashflow + cushion.
Take pride in what you are building, the customers you attract, and the skills you are learning.
Great point. The long-term survival of a business distills down to being able to bring in more money than it costs you to produce a product. It's such a simple concept, but it's easy to forget when you're swept up in the excitement of coding and engineering an idea you're excited about.
Ironically, it's the most ambitious engineers who tend to make the mistake of doing too much engineering work before trying to validate the product. I can't count how many times I've signed up to follow ambitious engineers' startup ventures that turn into years of highly-detailed marketing updates for products that never seem to get any closer to materializing. These are the startups that fizzle out 2-3 years later with blog posts blaming the industry, the timing, the economy, or other external factors for their failure.
In reality, most of them could have determined their market fit, or lack thereof, much faster by launching a smaller version early and iterating with customer feedback.
We like building things, and making them fast and powerful and efficient.
The customer doesn't care about any of that though. They just want something that helps them.
What happens is that most of the time making something fast, powerful and efficient implies so much resources that the ambitious engineer can not complete the project in time.
Customers prefer something that works today, even with limited functionality that something perfect that only works inside the mind of the engineer.
That is the reason Steve Jobs said no so many times, because this way his company could ship products in time.
That in engineers mindset problem: It is painful to say No, like the song says, we "want it all".
Only if the thing being fast, powerful and efficient actually solves their problem better.
Is that really the most common problem? I would probably be one of those engineers (if I'd start a business) and I'm a lot more afraid to sell something that doesn't exist yet than the other way around. Because now in addition to your usual problems you have legal obligations to deliver a product. I think this is one of the reasons for the crazy crunch culture of many startups.
Instead of selling a fake MVP product it is probably more healthy to be upfront to customers and let them pay for your development time like a consultant... And then repeat the work faster for different customers until you can spin the process out into a actual product.
In the case of the startups you describe I always imagine they have great sales and marketing people but no actual product, and thus survive only until the VC money dries up...
> Instead of selling a fake MVP product it is probably more healthy to be upfront to customers and let them pay for your development time like a consultant
Careful, no one is advocating selling "fake" products. The key is to develop a minimal product that can be sold. It has to work, though. Fraud will sink a startup very quickly.
From there, you can contract with additional customers to expand the product to meet their needs. This is more difficult than it sounds, though, as you'll quickly be torn between working on what's best for the product as a whole, and what's best for an individual customer's unique needs.
I've seen many startups go down this path with best intentions, but ultimately become contracting shops with a single customer. That's fine if that's your goal, but it's painful when the contracts dry up and you don't have a product that appeals to the mass market.
The most common problem, if you're a really talented engineer, is that you could work for a big company and be paid more in a single year than your business will bring in for its entire lifetime.
Conversely what you really find is, the people running 20+ person companies with tens of millions in investor money to bring in only $1m in revenue a year - they lacked the talent, actually, to just make the money at a big company. That you should start with the assumption that capitalism works, and that the person doing this thing is not stupid but just shut out from a better opportunity.
So maybe you're a really talented engineer but you are foreign so you'd need an H1-B to work for Google. Or maybe you're a former product manager from Microsoft who didn't quit, but was laid off, so you really can't just go and make the money.
A transplant surgeon brings in about $1m in revenue per day for heart transplants. There is no risk there, there is unlimited demand for heart transplants. It's just extremely hard to become a transplant surgeon, it is extremely competitive, much more competitive than making a website. While I'm not suggesting every startup CEO is just a washed-out up-and-coming surgeon, there is other stuff they may have washed out from broadly, like just medicine itself, that led them to chase the worse economics of where they are.
I have met some people who implicitly or even explicitly claimed they were above being an employee but I think they weren’t being honest about their actual employment prospects.
BTW, raising tens of millions for one million in revenue doesn't happen that often.
Odds are you'd make more money taking a job at BigCo, live like you only needed half what you're making, and invest that extra money into the public market. This isn't as fun though.
Do they not then own at least a share of the IP? You'd be lucky to find a customer that takes you on as a consultant but lets you keep the IP you develop during that time.
? Not trying to be argumentative but that doesn't seem ironic to me at all. I would expect the most ambitious engineers to think that simply building the thing would be enough.
If you need to build for years to release something , it's less likely that you're addressing a real need. The best products can start dead simple, even ugly, but still solve the problem.
 Deep tech is the obvious exception here.
Asking for sales up front means you have to face that right away. It's better for the business but harder for the founder.
I remember when I was an undergraduate physics student, looking forward to grad school and idolizing all the famous physicists. My adviser, who was not the most soft and cuddly type of guy, always pushed this type of hyper-alpha stuff on me, even telling me that he himself only sleeps 2-3 hours per night just so that he can do more physics. It really does damage to you and your self image, and I don't think the advice he gave me was really meant to help me as much as it was meant to help him feel superior.
Anyway, a bit later in life now I look back and realize that there are so many times when I've idolized a certain way of living / doing things that are actually not productive at all but rather just feed that same type of alpha-image.
There's no reason why you can't be successful on your own terms, even if that means taking the weekend off, being a solo founder, or whatever. Sure, I get that startups are hard and draining, but (not to lean too heavily on cliches) there's a difference between working hard and working smart and more often than not I think these types of alpha-founders are glorifying busyness.
It's always fascinating to see people make claims like this, despite all evidence showing that it's impossible to maintain. Some extreme genetic outliers may be able to sustain performance with around 5 hours of sleep per night, but no one is going to last very long on 2-3 hours per sleep each night.
Going all the way down to 2 hours of sleep is doable for short bursts, but it will catch up with even the genetic outliers before long.
Many of these people are just exaggerating for effect. If you have poor time management, poor accounting for where you spend your time, and an erratic sleep/wake schedule, it's easy to get confused about actual sleep durations. Some people also use stimulants excessively during the week and then crash on weekends, but they'll only tell you about the nights where they barely slept.
Some people learn to normalize sleep deprivation and coast on a diet of frequent naps. If you take 30-90 minute naps a couple times a day you can coast for a long time on 2-3 hours in bed at night, but you're still sleep deprived. Those weird polyphasic sleep schedules that claim to reduce your need for sleep are simply normalizing sleep deprivation and masking it with naps throughout the day.
Finally, there's a common phenomenon where people misperceive some of their sleep time as being awake: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_state_misperception This is a common explanation when people claim they didn't sleep at all on a certain night. It's not uncommon for people to claim extreme insomnia, but then sleep 6+ hours as soon as their sleep is objectively monitored.
In short: You can't trust self-reported sleep times. Especially not when someone feels they have something to gain by claiming minimal sleep.
I've read a lot of sleep studies, and besides some non-scientifically published variations on Buckminster Fuller's 30 minute nap every six hour sleep schedule I haven't read about someone getting such low amounts of sleep.
On another note, I can't be the only person who finds this kind of bragging to just fail to register, or even to backfire. Am I meant to be impressed by how poorly they've arranged their weekly routine in terms of work/life balance?
This is even a problem in the sciences! Everyone wants to kick the can (getting feedback on their pet hypothesis from reality) down the road & play with their shiny, awesome tech/math in the meantime.
"The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." Thomas Huxley
What is hard is keeping mistakes/ignorance marginally less fatal than the ground you gain in your successes... forever.
In my very limited recent case, I produced a Kindle booklets series earlier this year (20 academic literature reviews) and started selling some through targeted ads on Amazon.com, at $0.03 per click, on top of a very few thousand visualizations per day.
Ramen profitable, but a platform to start from for small incremental updates in the mid- to long- term, hopefully.
Exactly. In fact, it's not even about the product. You need to solve somebody's problem in a way that they are willing to pay for. The product is just how you choose to do that. The designs and code and engineering decisions and artwork etc. etc. aren't for the customer, they're for you. What the customer is paying you for is solving their problem.
There are lots of tools people on appreciate when they are gone, and getting people to pay for them takes a much better salesman than I'm used to having available.
The full-time employment entity is your own company (if you are the founder) or your full-time employer and there could be other companies or individuals to whom you work for part-time (1 day a week, adhoc days/hours, weekends etc) and you are paid for that work.
You have two things to consider:
1. Make sure it is legal (for example if you are on certain types of work-permit visa in some countries it might be illegal to work for anyone other than the work visa sponsor).
2. Make sure you don't have conflict in your employment contract clauses (many full-time employment contracts have clauses that prevent you from working for others even for part-time without explicit permission from the full-time employer).
Usually if you ask your full-time employer, they may permit you to do one-off consultations to other companies (and get paid for it) if they think it would not take your focus away from your FTE work and if there is no conflict of interest or potential to reveal trade-secrets (example: if that other company is a competitor etc).
I’d love to check it out. I bet others here would as well.
1. Solo founders are most often devs, which means they focus 90% of their energy on dev and what little remains on marketing. Unfortunately this is a easy trap to fall into and you should invest equal if not more time doing/learning SEO, content marketing (which you've done here very successfully btw) and building an audience.
2. Making a product without any user feedback. You work 1 year on a product and realize people don't get your idea. That's why it is essential to get feedback every step of the way and your spouse doesn't count :D
3. The good news is being a solo founder is no longer very unique thing. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are doing this and hang out on online communities like indiehackers, makerlog, etc.
4. After trying out hundred tools I've found that nothing beats trello. To each his own though but you really need a todo tool when working alone to keep on track. I've actually written a local trello for myself with one twist - the tool assigns me a task daily and as soon as mark it as complete it assigns me the next item from the list. But at any moment there is never more than 1 item on my "doing" list. It was because i was spending inordinate amount of time bike-shedding when i don't have one single todo.
For B2B (SME+) - Absolutely invest in Sales. Worth mentioning that it isn't too hard hiring seasoned sales professionals, with existing relationships who are trying to find their next career move etc. They'll often agree to a higher commission payout in-lieu of a base salary. This doubles up as a good way to get feedback from the market.
For B2C or smaller B2B - Definitely invest in marketing and customer experience if you would like the main driver behind your business to be product-led growth or some form of a self-signup/self-onboarding.
Start with Senior Sales Leadership. Ideally someone with experience in your target market.
Reach out to a few individuals, in your network or on LinkedIn or similar. Ask them for advice, see the type of advice they provide. If you like them, ask them to recommend someone – the hope is they recommend themselves.
Do you think it would be possible to get part-time help using the approach you describe? Alternatively, do some sales professionals work on a commission-only basis?
Also, do you have any idea what typical commission is expected?
However it's tricky, in that they wouldn't do it if there was a conflict of interest of any kind, they'd be more likely to do it once they know these people a bit more. There is also the WIIFM factor.
All that to say, it is possible to get help.
On sales reps:
As others have mentioned the biggest factor here will be how long it takes to close a deal. If you have quick close cycles (typical in the small to mid-market), a higher commission component or commission only is possible.
Typically, I've seen commissions in B2B to be about 7-10% of Annual Contract Value (ACV) for the first year. Mind you this is highly generalized, based on my experience.
Most sales compensation plans aim for sales reps to earn 1x base as commissions if they meet target. So a base of $60K, would result in $120K in income if they performed.
Based on this you could try finding reps on 14-20% ACV on a commission only basis, paid out on paid invoices.
To be candid, I wouldn't try doing commission-only positions for my own ventures. That said it's worth a try if there are constraints that make it hard to pay a base.
Sales reps will happily work on commission only if they see a huge market for your product. Which might be difficult to show with a new product.
The commission rate is negotiable at the hiring point. If they are great at sales and know there is a big market they will want a lower base with a higher commission. You should also set a commission cap at some point as your variable costs increase your profit will drop and you could end up at a point where the sales team is making more than the company.
It also depends on who you're selling to as well. Consumer/SMB customers may require less sales efforts than enterprise customers. You will always want to start with talking to users regardless, which is sales.
Given that, do you have any recommendations for developing channels of customers? I haven't really hired for marketing before - what should I be looking for in that role?
- Content writers: Helps with Long tail SEO and building thought leadership; Ask within your network if they know someone.
- Website design and branding: Make a good first impression
- Banner and booth design for Conferences: Hopefully the folks from the design and branding can do this. caveat: Once this becomes a viable channel again.
- Ranking etc: Sign-up for a subscription of SEO Moz or something similar
- Adword: DIY
Honestly it's much much harder hiring for Marketing. If you do hire someone – find someone good at Project managing external resources.
From my experiences over the last year I would say there are too many channels that require so much work to reach a point where your reach matters. So unless you have a team I focus on one channel. If you pick youtube learn to create effective videos and use other social channels to reenforce the youtube content by posting on fb, ig about your new videos.
But that's just general advise trying to cast a big nest. The more effective channels usually come from being part of an existing community (think reddit forum or website forum or facebook group) and offering a product that fixes what people want.
As for hiring. Hire someone who has done marketing before or hire someone who is part of a community you want to be in who is usually doing a lot of unpaided work to make the community better.
The way I see it is that product development should still come first, but marketing and building an audience should be tied into that process instead of being an afterthought.
When you're building the product out initially there's just so much shit to do, I think if you don't dedicate most of your time to building it takes too long to get anything done.
Perhaps I'm biased as I'm trying to juggle a full-time job and building my product. I barely have enough time to build stuff, let alone get distracted with things like SEO.
Unfortunately it's very badly written (sorry) because I wrote it just for myself on a weekend and is very limited, just enough to get the job done for me.
Anyway I'd be interested in learning Taskwarrior, but in my day job I work in a team and I can't make them use that kind of tooling.
I've been wondering about this for a while. It seems to me that everybody is doing it anyway, and that in the end what counts is that many pages link to your page. Meanwhile, search engines heavily penalize certain "optimizations".
If you have a page that loads instantly and contains all the standard meta tags and keywords, does additional SEO really make a difference? Are there really any "tricks" that work?
Just think about how you find a new service, chances are you googled it and tried the 2-3 results.
Now as for the question - is it necessary? The answer is yes. Because if you don't do it your competitor will and as the joke goes "The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google".
> Are there really any "tricks" that work?
I'm no SEO expert and so I don't care for meta tags, keywords. Title and page description are still important I think. I believe the most relevant things are the time user a spends on your page and social signals (shares, etc) and unfortunately backlinks from high authority pages (this is the worst part of SEO).
The good news is that you don't have to do anything sneaky to do SEO anymore. Make an excellent page on which a user spends a lot of time (so good that he actually bookmarks or shares it) and it starts ranking. For all its evilness Google is still doing something right here.
Keyword density (just the right amount) and total word count seem to have an effect and I’ve seen targeted landers work very well for specific search phrases.
Backlinks will probably always be relevant to rankings as they were the original bedrock principle behind PageRank. If you get prominent blogs to link to you, that can help a lot. Inversely, use rel=nofollow on anchors to avoid seeping relevance to other pages.
Ever since Mobilegeddon your site MUST be mobile friendly or you will get penalized. Also other UI stuff matters (E.g. don’t put ads above the fold)
Not an SEO expert here but I would consider those effective and small things you can do for SEO.
Not really. If you write good content, with relevant keywords, and people link to it, that is good SEO. Not clear what distinction you’re trying to draw.
There may be some scammy stuff with short term results, but you’re always one step away from an algo change or a manual penalty.
Edit: I forgot good internal linking/url schemes. Those matter.
For example, as a solo creator, anytime I resolve my single-biggest source of stress I get in a flow producing my best work. I'm more open to looking at problems from new angles.
Without the typical external structures, emotional fitness dictates everything: ability to make decisions, ability to forecast, willingness to learn a critical new skill/approach, persistence through challenges, willingness to take risks, etc. Basically, if it matters, being mentally/emotionally healthy fosters it.
I don't know if it's a saying, but it should be: Great products come from great teams, whether that's a team of 1, 10, or 1000 people.
I think solo founders (including myself) should ask themselves: why are you solo? If you (like me) want co-founders but can't find any, maybe your idea isn't so great. If you prefer to be alone then scouting customers may not be your strength.
Don't burn out your friends talking about your startup. It's not that they aren't interested. But nobody needs a single vector relationship.
Also remember that VC's give tons of bad advice to founders. Or rather founders tend to put VC's on a pedestal, and misinterpret what they are saying as advice, when it is really just filter, convenient lies or lazy analysis. Be hugely skeptical of anything VC's tell you, including "you need co-founders".
One things that I realized is that what happens to your business tells more about what _market_ you are in, that it tells about yourself as a founder.
A great entrepreneur in a bad market will still have a bad outcome, and vice versa. Like a program is not about the programmer, a business is not "about" its founding member(s).
So a good advice you don't hear often could be "start in an easy market".
This is not the same as ‘good’ advice, and will often be diametrically opposed to it.
I was particularly surprised to learn that Moodle is open-source. I used it in school before the world of software development and open-source was on my radar.
I'm also a fan of investing in solo founders: https://shl.vc
Are you still working full-time at Gumroad or you are more into VC or "influencer" nowdays?
I'm also a solo founder. I'm happy that you have sympathy to solo founders. Maybe I'll apply to your VC later.
This is my 35th month as a sole founder. A few things I did to fight "loneliness" as a sole founder:
1, Invested in productivity. Life is not easy, so you should treat yourself well :) I spent time building scripts to make dev & ops easy. I rented a WeWork desk (first 6 months), then upgraded to a private office (2 years), then moved out wework (recent 6 months, due to covid-19). I bought SaaS products from other companies - I like spending money to save time.
2, Make it easy for others to contact myself. I put my contact on every page of my website . The happiest moment of my day is always the time when I talk to inbound emails from some strangers. Yes, there will be trolls, but most people are nice & with good intention. Nowadays, I spend at least 1/3 of my time reply emails everyday.
3, Share progress on the Internet. I write a monthly email newsletter to report my progress  and some blogs to share my experience & thoughts , which help me make some friends on the Internet :)
4, Meet people offline. Quite a few of my former coworkers are doing startups now. We hanged out a lot pre-COVID-19.
5, Unfollow some people on social media (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook…) and avoid seeing news from TechCrunch and other unhealthy VC-focused online media. Avoid status game.
First few months were tough (no money, no customers), but things suddenly clicked towards the end of 2018 and we got a fair few users. I even managed to sell to a few corporate clients, which really bumped up the revenue. The version from 2017 still serves as the core product today (with a few tweaks for our corporate clients). Three years on, after receiving lots of feedback from our users, we're getting ready to launch Bx 2.0 in the next few months. I can honestly say, nothing has been more enjoyable than working on Bx, despite the ups and downs.
I don't think I would have stuck it out for so long if I had a co-founder, as I've generally not found many people I can work with for a prolonged period of time. I think the most freeing thing about being a solo founder, is that you can own your mistakes without having to be answerable to anyone.
To be honest, even in my finance job, I operated as a bit of a lone wolf on the desk, so working solo just happens to suit me. I admit I am not the best team player, but I am a good at delegating, dependable and back myself to get difficult stuff done. I think those things are really important when you have no one else to rely on or blame as a solo founder.
I have done Meditation, gratitude journals and focused transitions. It all helps.
However, for me the activity that helps the most is hard workouts early in the morning. Once I get going, I am fighting against gravity and fatigue. I am no longer thinking about my past, future or even the day. Just focused on the moment.
I am in a similar boat as you OP. I am very happy on a daily basis, building the product. I am also pretty financially stretched so that adds a level of stress. I hope your product is a giant success.
Been running my company for 8 years, and I take the same approach to the day.
Also, if you work alone and get stuck on a problem or need a little help with being creative (ie: UI design, marketing), try smoking a joint! It might not be as good as bouncing ideas off of someone else, but it's definitely helped me think of ideas I might not have come up with otherwise.
This is interesting, thanks for sharing, I’ll try this out.
All the best to you too. It’s good to know that you’re happy. I hope everything works out the way you want them to.
> what I had underestimated was the difficulty involved in finding a co-founder and how that would compound the difficulty involved in finding an investor
I just shelve ideas until the pieces align.
If my idea involves being able to get into certain rooms to be taken more seriously because I have a co-founder, then I don't do that idea until I have a co-founder, and do other ideas.
Look guys, your competition has a lot of ideas. A lot of viable ideas, and this is not a coveted position, it just is. If your brain coincidentally functions like that once, it isn't a good enough reason to pursue it.
I group tasks into three categories:
1.) Stuff I don't want to do but really need to do.
Get the most important stuff over with so you don't need to feel the shame of procrastinating and you will feel clearer too.
2.) Stuff I shouldn't be doing.
Opening you Inbox first thing in the morning is something you should /NOT/ be doing as a solo founder, aswell as checking social media or news sites like Hackernews. Email (for me) is a TODO list created by other people, and social media just wastes my day on mindless trivia. It is not productive in any way and serves only to make the founders of those social media companies richer, and you poorer.
If you must get your news, setup alerts for major events, or read the Current Events page on Wikipedia which I find to be unbiased and comprehensive.
3.) Stuff I can delegate to others.
For example, do you really need to write blogposts yourself? There are plenty of good content marketers that can churn out good quality blogposts for a fee and you don't necessarily need to be blogging all by your lonesome. I can understand the need to write a personal blogpost that others can't write, but most posts don't have to be personal anecdotes, they can be technical and draw from different sources on the net.
Some pointers and observations I've learned along the way.
1. The hardest part of persisting is the emotional game. Improve your motivation by doing things in a way that even a failure of your primary business goal still leaves you in a better position career/skill-wise than when you started. Also: figure out how to separate your identity from your business, otherwise every tiny failure or criticism will sap your energy.
2. For many — maybe most — products within reach of a solo founder, marketing will take up at least as much time as development. Unlike programming, marketing is shrouded in something not unlike the fog of war in RTS games. It is highly exploratory and experimental in nature. But dealing with this uncertainty carries its own intellectual appeal, one that you can learn to embrace — or even enjoy.
3. Outsource as much as can. If some work can be done for less than your hourly rate as a freelancer, then, overall you're more efficient to code for $$$ then pay someone to handle that part of your business.
4. The technical skills that are most useful to a solo founder are more to do with system design than programming languages and frameworks. You should focus on things like data integrity, uptime, redundancy, error-tracking, rapid response to production issues, integration testing, etc. rather than which React.js state library is better.
5. Get to know other solo-founders. I formed a monthly meetup with about ten other people in a similar boat in my town and these sessions acted both as a support network and as a way to get feedback on my (sometimes harebrained) ideas.
I've a lot more to say on this topic and I go into way more depth in the screencasts I post over at https://www.semicolonandsons.com/
Think about how much of a disadvantage you are, early on, when you have to switch between tech and business. Longer term vision vs short term. Running a product vs running a company. It's almost impossible.
That being said, you mentioned "how that would compound the difficulty involved in finding an investor." The good news is after you get a bit of success, this goes away. You can hire the things you're missing. Some things, like having a cofounder, are an early signal that goes away once things go well.
(If you ever need to talk, my email is in my bio)
Otherwise "get a cofounder to get a cofounder" can definitely ruin a project. Am someone who went through 3 in one year, made it harder to change things, strategize, and there was always some misalignment between product, sales, and content. Find that I'm making significantly more progress as solo founder now.
I wrote about some techniques how to keep persistence for solo founders: https://email@example.com/how-therapy-turned-out...
My advice is, hang in there. If you like what you are doing persist and adapt.
My best product thus far is an API I built to support my original business plan. The original product I tried to build is long dead.
All the best.
It's also fine to just dance back to a 9-5. Having a paycheck and living an OK life if perfectly fine.
Currently geocode.xyz and geocoder.ca are my most profitable businesses.
The main take away is goals, tasks, ideas, and random thoughts, you have to get them out of your head and onto paper (digital or otherwise) and this could be as unstructured as the thoughts themselves. They key is to materialize internal thoughts externally, to capture the essence outside myself, and to give myself room to work on that small task that will push me forward now.
Drawback : Social validation !
Of course, your friends, your familly, many potential investors will not be friend at all with the idea of being alone here. So yes, this is tough. It was for me.
Now, I see it more as a test : If you can accept that being alone for a while is socially painfull but not that horrible, well go on : build your software, full time or part-time if you have no more cash.
And think about it. How many people is needed to drive a car ? A Solo driver.
Solo mean YOU DRIVE the experiment --> This is good
I was a solo founder and at the end of my journey, I realized I would have given up 25-50% of my company just to
1. have someone else to talk to on a daily basis
2. have someone I could bounce ideas off,
3. someone who could have focused on the parts where I was bad (even if they didn't have that skillset).
I would have done twice as much as solo founder.
Push yourself to find a co=founder. Invest 10% of your time in it. Have no expectations. Slowly you'll get a nose for the kind of people you will want to work with. Also you'll polish up your people skills which you'll need to raise money and to run a sucessful business in the future.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further go with a team.
(There is no fast startup.)
so in the end, you remained a solo founder?
This reminds me of a trick I deployed while studying for an tedious exam back in the college days, that worked super good at the time but I haven't tried it since.
I used to have the problem to wander off in my thoughts unrelated to the exam(task) at hand. It would often also be interesting thoughts: "well if X is true as this course material claims what about Z? oh that remind me of Y! let me just quickly google/wikipedia...." so letting the thought go was incredibly hard.
The simple solution was to realize as quickly as possible when I fell in to those thought pattern, write down what started the thought, and what associations propagated it. Then write down where it stopped, and the potential rest of the thought chain I could think of. All on one A4 paper that I promised to review at the end of the day after the exam study. The mere promise of reviewing it at the end of the day reduced the procrastination due wandering off from approx 2-4 hours a day to 30min max.
Worked quite fine, and it was easy to see what thought were actually interesting and demanded follow ups, and what was just useless (but enjoyable) thought experiments.
It also helped to have the "Todo today list" A4 paper next to this "chain of thought" paper while writing it down, to get back to the study quicker.
It's really hard to write this, but I'm sharing because I can see that I'm not alone.
I've been working solo for a very long time. Working solo has taken a heavy toll on me in many ways, both good and bad. I didn't want to work alone but the people in my network only had excuses for why they wouldn't work together. During the time that I've worked alone, competitors have entered the market, thrived, and even successfully exited. It has been crushing for me knowing that my vision and market were spot on accurate, and here I am watching others succeed at what I knew was real a long time ago. Yet, they have taken a far more risk averse approach, leaving the holy grail for someone like me. I didn't want to work alone but I persist because working alone on this dream is worth more than not working on it at all. Hope remains. Things are finally changing this year, but it's because I've given up working alone without trying to raise funding. My risk profile has changed during my solo career. I'm not going to fail to fundraise because I'm solo, anymore. I'm bringing strong, modern tech assets, expertise, and validated business strategy to the table. I'm going to crush any reservations that investors will have about me for being a solo founder. The fact that I'm solo is nothing more than one person's excuse for not getting involved. Being solo was a legitimate concern years ago, but it's not anymore. I don't need a founder. I'm a hardened soldier who doesn't need a shoulder to cry on but rather CBT, exercise, and sleep. I have enough love in my life to carry on, and am very fortunate for that. Moving forward is a frightening experience, but I will remain no matter the outcome. I accept my fate and will fight like hell to arc towards the positive.
For the Dune fans:
Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
My perspective is that this proverb is right on: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Having a cofounder completely changed my second company's trajectory. Having someone who takes on the parts of the business where I am weak, and visa-versa, has made a world of difference.
P.S: Native Malayalam speaker here - love the name "ente.io". Nannayi varatte :)
I can also relate to the need for focus and attention, but it saddens me to see founders and passionate developers who think they need to cut off social ties and events for their product to succeed. This isn't something that I like to hear, but perhaps it can be effective for some.
My response, and my question, to solo founders and developers working on their passion projects:
Do you use or know of any resources for finding good teammates?
Do you have to do it alone, or do you want to?
I've made a few friends on angel.co, but I think it would be great to have some kind of resource that helps pair or facilitate partnerships for healthier product development.
With respect to partnerships, I find it difficult to consider someone who I have not built things with or shared emotional baggage with as a business partner.
So if I had to approach this problem, I would pick an arbitrary problem and as an experiment start building with the friends I find on such platforms/communities to see how the working relationship evolves.
Having contact with customers who pay you for something they find worthwhile, rather than just pitching VCs for money to buld your, can reduce these feelings of floating and inadequacy, and give you some human contact.
It shouldn’t feel hard or even lonely to be a solo founder. There’s so many people you will have to interact with that are not your co-founder. There’s so many people you can share your feelings with that are not your co-founder. And having a co-founder is no guarantee you won’t be lonely; a technical co-founder spends most his time heads down coding and a sales co-founder spends most his time out making deals. Occasionally you may have meetings about customer feedback and high level strategies but that’s about it; the intent of the relationship is not to spend weekends hiking or riding bikes together or other social activities. If you are feeling lonely the source of that must be coming from other aspects of your life.
Most of the time the loneliness a founder feels comes from the fact that almost no one that matters is enthusiastic about their idea, or at least not enough to pay for it. It creates a mentality that it’s you against a world that just doesn’t understand what you have to “offer”.
I hope he will realize this before too much time has been wasted.
Give this an upvote if you agree.
*edit: I wanted to elaborate on why this is a zombie startup in case people think I threw this out too casually. He calls his product a friendly privacy oriented photo organizer. First off, drop the word friendly, that’s a meaningless word when describing apps and usually just a way to say an application has some decent UX, which is expected by default anyway. Second, “privacy oriented” is a red flag unless your startup is deliberately targeting people who have something they feel they need to hide. This will do nothing to move the needle for most mass market consumers who already consume tons of products without any regard to privacy. A lot of your marketing will have to rely on first making people paranoid so they seek out a privacy focused product, which is kind of scummy. Third, what you’re left with is essentially a photo organizer, whose novelty is questionable in a world that has no lack of photo organization. There’s no way this will be a successful business at this rate. Sorry if you think otherwise, but feel free to justify why.
To reiterate, this really is the happiest I've been.
The initial few months were not smooth (as indicated by the article). Mostly because was an expectation mismatch with respect to how comfortable I believed/was made to believe life would be for an "ex-FAANG engineer" starting up.
Also, the loneliness I felt was more about not having someone to rant to about roadblocks or share small achievements with. This was something I had taken for granted at work.
I wrote down this essay now after I felt that I was in a comfortable place, and that there were learnings that could possibly benefit someone going through a similar journey.
> a zombie startup
That's definitely the case now, and will be for a few more months. I've never been a fan of "ship fast, apologize later". So while it's less exciting to work on a product that's not live, it's something I'm okay with.
But thanks for your thoughts, I can see where you are coming from.
1. I'm scratching my own itch. I wanted a privacy friendly alternative to Google Photos to store and organize my memories, I couldn't find any that were as convenient, so I'm building one.
2. I have a clear path towards a public release, so I'm not worried about it being a "zombie" forever. Some projects take longer to see the light of day, and I'm okay with the delayed gratification.
I am always quite surprised that many people think "yea, you always can build a software in a few weeks. If not bah, not good'.
I think SOME softwares requires month if not years of building. Because there are difficult technically.
Those complicated softwares can be a game changer in the field, because well, the technical entry is so hard.
So let's see more those softwares like perhaps future BIG success. Not just future 'obvious failures'.
I think this makes sence.
My issue really is with taking 7 months to build and not shipping anything. I see the authors comment that he's not a fan of ship fast and apologise later but surely you can put a beta out there even if it's just for feedback from the indie hackers and hacker news communities.
As the existing photo organizers to increasingly creepy things - face recognition I do think there might be a market but how long are you going to spend before actually testing that out? Right now it's just a theory.
So I spent the first couple of months chasing an on-premise alternative to photo storage. Then I realized that the product was difficult to sell, and required a substantial investment of capital so I pivoted to an E2EE alternative on the cloud. I also spent a non-trivial amount of time trying to raise investment, which I regret at this point.
> how long are you going to spend before actually testing that out?
If things don't go terribly wrong, the project should be up for beta testing in early October.
I'd lead with "Share your family's photos, access them everywhere you want them" rather the rather conspiratorial "corporations cannot be trusted". At least if you want to appeal to families. But what do I know!
I pay $99/year for Mylio which does importing, syncing & basic editing between devices, but my goodness it's slow - the only saving grace is that it's faster than Lightroom. Mylio doesn't really trade on privacy despite the impressive self-hosted cloud sync, and it doesn't trade on sharing between family members despite that being quite useful! If you want to see a very similar product, check out their forums and their very vocal customer base.
I'm also working on a solo startup (accounting) and I feel a lot of your pain - I've got 2 kids and it's mega-slow trying to work about 10hrs/week, but I'd echo what a few other people said here: however painful it feels, spend 50% of your time marketing and testing to make sure you're building the right thing. I have an embarrassing prototype of my product out right now, but it's valuable to a few users who are giving me feedback.
Good luck and keep in touch with HN :)
Mylio looks really cool, thanks for sharing!
> spend 50% of your time marketing
As a thin-skinned introvert, marketing doesn't come naturally to me. But yes, I've been trying to internalize this and in fact this blog post was a step towards putting myself out there.
> I have an embarrassing prototype of my product out right now
That's fantastic! I hope things work out the way you want them to. :)
I have a bunch of happy beta users that had previously tried and given up on Mylio. You're certainly welcome to try it out!
If your question is from an engineering perspective, I'd say ~65% of my working hours were spent in writing and rewriting code.
I'm 9 months in to having given up my job and have taken on some consulting work. Time will tell if the business grows or if I go freelance/employee.
I'm living in day by day land now rather than fantasy land.
Though an extremely tough market to crack, something drop box realised early on and moved out of photo business
- I started a newsletter with progress updates to keep myself accountable but found that as time goes on I haven't needed it as much
- Motivation can be variable over time and you need to keep making progress even on your down days. I think this is (one of the ways) where a co-founder is super valuable, as you can motivate each other when one of you is down.
On the theory that this thread will be a honeypot for other solo founders: if you're interested in potentially working together or just someone to bounce ideas off of, shoot me an email (address in my profile)
I spend alot of time thinking of decisions which is awesome and because I'm solo I know I have to do everything I can to make sure it's the best choice. To do this, I balance with as much research on each challenge as possible with quite morning walks(with my dogs) and journaling where I talk myself through ideas.
I've become a huge fan of journalling as a business tool and highly suggest it for solo and non-solo leaders.
I wish you luck, and I sincerely say this to try and help you, but I think you should stop adding features and start trying to convert people to paid to see if they will.
> people who understand and care about end to end encryption could just set up a NextCloud instance
This is the exact problem I'd like to solve. It worries me that currently only the tech savvy can afford privacy. I'd like to take a shot at making privacy accessible to a larger audience. Something along the lines of what ProtonMail is doing to GMail.
Of course I might fail at attracting enough attention for this to be a viable "startup", but I would have still built something me and my family can safely use. Also there would be learnings along the way, and I'll just move on to building something else. :)
I use emby these days for managing photos and auto uploads.
how is it tho ?
Ive tried a bunch of things to get myself into flow state over time - meditation, exercise, journalling etc. they all help.
Recently I was trying to lose some weight and did a few 48 hour fasts. Holy moly doing about 6 of them over a period of 20 days give me increased clarity and focus for the next 30 days.
I'm planning on doing a few every month.
one of the keys, from my experience, is early feedback. Start showing your product to people as soon as you have something that might be useful to someone. No matter how imperfect it is. Do not wait until it is polished. I wrote about that here: https://successfulsoftware.net/2007/08/07/if-you-arent-embar...
The comment about going from dev to marketer is huge. I'm in that phase now and it's pretty daunting. I've spent so much time obsessing about the product and now that I finally have something...how do I get people to use it?
I just started brainstorming ideas and it's actually fun to start diving into something I haven't had to think about before. Yes, daunting but so is everything about being a solo founder. It's just another hurtle to jump.
If you're serious about your product and enjoy the solo founder journey, you'll find comfort and stimulation in the new adventures that present themselves to you.
If you know what you're building will excite your target demographic, it's super easy to market.
I'm D2C, so social media strategy, brand building and generally getting enough volume to convert in order to sustain the product without a huge ad budget is very tedious. Very much the long game to get people interested (probably over the course of years unless you go viral and have good network effects).
There's lots of great advice here, and I'll add getting in the habit of sending out monthly update emails.
Pick a group of people (friends, family, maybe ex-colleagues) and once a month summarize what you accomplished in the last month, what you want to accomplish in the next month, and some goals you want to accomplish 4-6 months out.
One of the hardest part of going it alone is lacking perspective. Monthly updates are a really helpful tool in keeping you oriented.
Of course posting your blog post here is a great example of evangelizing, so keep it up.
Corollary: The optimal communication outlet is your users. Your friends and coworkers might just tell you what you want to hear. Your users will tell you what they need from you in order to make your product.
How much certainty or revenue did you have before quitting your job?
I’m in the common dilemma of not being able to leave my job because my business isn’t making money. But my business isn't making money because I’m working 10 hours a day for another company and don’t have time to work on my business.
I led a team of a few engineers for two years to build network products from bare-metal to UI in browser. two years that is.
now I work alone to build a product(software for hardware, I don't make the hardware) and it's very difficult, I have so many coding work to do and it just drive me tired, hiring others is not an option, I'm struggling to find reason to keep going on, before returning back to consult or a permanent job, neither I really enjoy these days.
on the hiring part, I probably can afford a few engineers overseas for a while, the problem is that finding them taking so much time, and it's hard to find good candidates when you're a little "start-up" with uncertain future, been there done that.
yes I'm stuck.
One I fired after a short while as he wasn't carrying his weight.
The remaining co-founder has been a God-send. In January, I was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, and he took over the reins. He stepped up in a way I couldn't have ever imagined. Days I was suffering from surgery pains or (daily) chemo, he kept the ship afloat.
Everything OP says is correct, but one of the things my co-fonder gave me was an unplanned plan for the unexpected.
Without my co-founder, I'm not sure we'd have survived.
One thing that I have taken to in my quest for zone-out material is to put this type of music on a separate Hi-Res music player; I have a Sony A20 Walkman, Sony PHA-1A DAC / Amplifier, and Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones as my setup.
Github.audio is perfect for when I don't want to/ can't set all that up
Repeat founder here. But I always have same co-founder. Startup is an emotional experience so my suggestion will be get someone passionate (not money minded).
Can you pls also suggest starting guide for Naval's meditation challenge.
I have a question from community. Like many I have a routine of creating a to-do list. Often times I end my day with guilt that I didn't do much despite of finishing tasks. It also happens that if I am doing an important task, after X mins I feel to give up and not fully engaged. While I feel this i start feeling bad and try to fill the slot with another task which often makes me unsatisfied and not happy. I feel I did not utilize my time. I don't know what should I do.
So no, I think most don't regret it.
One advice I can give you is to learn an open-source project that you love and sell support for it. Then find out what is missing and what kind of product someone will pay for that would be commercially viable. Again, Manual>Automate>Repeat.
Hope this helps.
Access to our Slack used to be paid but we've recently opened it up to everyone.
We have gradually iterated from that point toward training and community because we've seen that has a much bigger impact on founder outcomes than supplying ideas.
I guess I could set up a daily random idea email if you wanted. But I couldn’t guarantee the quality of said idea :)
The act of describing what you're doing clearly enough that a 3rd party can make sense of it already helps, no matter who your conversation target is and how much they care.
I'd like to learn more about their strategy for fund raising, as I'd guess most people going down this path would be tending more towards the bootstrap/indie hacking/rev generating end of the spectrum
Repeat founder here. I always do with same co-founder. Startup is an emotional exp. My recommendation is to get a co-founder who is passionate and not in for money.
Also, can you pls post Naval's meditations starting guide?
There are benefits to working alone (insert Mr. Incredible Meme here)
No need to worry about salary or splitting the company. You can pivot really easily and you have 100% control of decisions.
You may want to use Flutter or similar tool so you don't have to write it twice.
And yes, I am using Flutter to build the mobile apps. It does come with its own set of problems that I have to bang my head against, but I can’t complain as it’s saving me quite a bit of effort.
Could you point out what problems you faced with Flutter? I ask because I'm planning to use it to build an app.
Everyone should try meditation atleast once.
Interesting insight. Usually we think of it the other way around.