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After losing my savings as an indie hacker, I can't do it anymore. I quit. (indiehackers.com)
232 points by ChanningAllen 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments

This is a difficult post to respond to

Firstly, your issue doesn't seem to be anything other than social anxiety

If you have to 'lose sleep' after contacting someone on LinkedIn about your product, then you are just not suited to doing a startup

Secondly, there is nothing to feel bad about

Vast majority of people are not suited to starting a company or working in a small startup

Lots of good jobs in middle and large companies for you

Thirdly, the scale of stuff you are talking about is miniscule

I walked away from a Green Card to start my company

If I didn't succeed, I would have lost access to the developed world FOREVER

You are upset that your girlfriend had to stay at home one year and you couldn't take her out for dinner????

Finally, this is a Catch 22 situation. Not sure why you are submitting this or writing about your experience if the ENTIRE reason you quit was you couldn't handle doing sales and marketing and putting yourself out there

I'm reluctant to respond because people who have social anxiety can sometimes take genuine feedback and mis-interpret it

What I'm trying to say is that the extent of the risk you took is not very high

And the reason that stuff didn't work out is your social anxiety

So just make sure you don't take the wrong feedback from what life is telling you

When I was 13 I had a paper route. It was almost all modern except three or four households that still used the collection model. The paper company would take their subscriptions out of my pay and send me to collect and keep it and any tips. I decided it was easier to just take the pay cut than knock on those doors.

The whole concept still makes me intensely anxious and I would sooner quit a job than begin dealing with customers directly.

But I'm hella good at my job and I'm quite comfortable not being that kind of person. As you said it's not for everyone.

Glad to know I'm not the only one. I had to give up my paper route (mid 1980s) because I was too shy to collect. I could get up at 5:30 a.m. every day and spend an hour biking hard to deliver the papers rain or shine, but I collections freaked me out, even though all my customers were nice people.

The crazy thing is that it never occurred to me to discuss this with my parents, nor (AFAIK) did they ever consider having me see a counselor. I just kept on carrying a private shame about my cowardice.

I really hope that parents are better these days about noticing when kids are privately suffering with various neurological / psychological issues, and that more resources are available for helping.

My anxieties have made me super sensitive to those of my kids. I am careful not to project onto them. I'm also always paying close attention to discover any moments of "you just need someone to notice you're struggling."

Same. Sorry you're in the same boat, but it's nice to hear that it's not just me :/

What is the collection model?

The collection model is that the person delivering the newspapers has to knock on doors and ask the subscribers to pay for the subscription. This is in contrast to the subscription model where the subscribers pay the newspaper publisher, which pays the person delivering the newspapers.

> Thirdly, the scale of stuff you are talking about is miniscule

Is it ? So is the lack of empathy.

> I would have lost access to the developed world FOREVER

No you wouldn't have. You would have temporarily forfeited the ability to _live_ at _one_ rich country.

> So just make sure you don't take the wrong feedback from what life is telling you

What IS the correct feedback? Certainly not yours.

I think if you trying trying to sniff out a shortage of generosity, you might find enough in your own reply as well as in the parent.

The way I read the reply is that almost all small businesses fail, almost all startups fail. There is absolutely nothing unique to "indy hacking" in the original post that doesn't apply in general to the small business/independent contractor world, and if you spend any time talking to one of these people, they will have plenty of similar stories. Thus the "well, what did you expect" tone of some of the replies that you seem to take offense to.

The best course of action for low risk tolerance people who don't want to do everything themselves is to find a big company to work for with stable employment that is focused on their core passion, rather than forcing them to deal with customer support, billing, tax issues, HR issues, VISA issues, facilities maintenance, infrastructure, sales, working capital management, and all the other stuff you have to handle on your own if you are running a 1 man shop (or even a small business).

All of the above should be absolutely obvious -- why do you think these big companies have tens of thousands of employees and have dozens of non-developer full time staff for every developer? If you want to do everything yourself, you will need to take on the responsibilities of all these other people.

None of this will ever change, either.

Btw, this was the topic of a nice essay by Joel Spolsky called "The Developer Abstraction Layer". The original author of the post basically lived out the parable in Joel's story. You might want to take a look:


Interestingly enough, the theme of Joel's story is that developers take this abstraction layer for granted, and thus end up being shocked when it turns out really hard for the indy developer, who is missing this layer, to do everything for themselves.

Ever thought that his anxieties are the result of his failing business and not how he started? And life is telling nothing. There is no guaranteed way of success. You can have all the abilities and knowledge you need and still fail miserably. Luck is a large part of every success story. Nobody has really unique capabilities.

Not to be harsh, but that seems even worse. If you can't handle failures and set backs, you even more so should not be in the start up business because those things are definitely going to happen, a lot, if you are running any sort of business.

Its the same as if you are terrified of heights, being a professional mountain climber is a very bad plan. You either need to get over it somehow quickly or choose a different career.

And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have unique strengths and weaknesses. Success comes from following our strengths not trying to plow through our weaknesses.

I am confused by this sort of comment pointing out that he was not cut out for the life of an independent developer... well, yeah, that is what his essay is saying - that he is not cut out to be an independent developer. He thought he was, did it for a year, and realized he was not cut out for it.

I don't understand this comment and the other similar ones acting like they are somehow adding insight... yes, he couldn't make it as an independent developer, that is literally the point of the essay.

Repeating the reasons he lays out in the essay and saying "yeah, you won't succeed as an independent developer" seems a little like hearing someone at Alcoholics Anonymous tell their story and then responding, "Yeah, it sounds like you can't have a healthy relationship with alcohol"

I'm responding to what the parent wrote not the original article.

To the extent he is speaking only for himself and not making any kind of larger point, I'm not sure why it's on the front page of Hacker News.

To the extent he's making a point such as "I gained nothing from this experience" or that he's asking for advice or thoughts, I think some of the thoughts -- such as working toward your strengths rather than through your weaknesses -- are interesting.

I'm terrified of heights. I used to install antennas and satellite dishes. It was great I had to get over my fear. I got to the point where I enjoyed getting up on a two story roof and walking around.

Fast forward 15 years of not doing it and I'm terrified to go up on a roof.

My point is you may have an inclination to be afraid of something but don't let that limit you. You probably can face your fears and overcome.

Who says he can't handle failure? There is between processing a situation afterwards and be activly in it. And it seems to be his first time. If he tries a second time, it could be a different outcome.

That is certainly not how it came through in his post. I thought he made it pretty clear he had terrible anxiety promoting his ideas and products.

> Firstly, your issue doesn't seem to be anything other than social anxiety

And your issue doesn’t seem to be anything other than inability to empathize with someone that is legitimately venting how freelancing can be a nearly impossible hurdle for some. Anxiety is not the same experience for all.

> the scale of stuff you are talking about is miniscule

This is NOT a competition.

Speaking as someone that used to have a major problem with depression and anxiety, an important thing part of recovery is realizing that the shit you're worrying about isn't that important. Having other people tell me that the thing I'm worrying about isn't worth the anxiety was important.

But that's completely different from having someone tell your your problem is minuscule compared to theirs. I mean, technically any possible angle might possibly work for someone somewhere sometime, but this does not feel to me like the right angle to use.

> Thirdly, the scale of stuff you are talking about is miniscule

> I walked away from a Green Card to start my company

> If I didn't succeed, I would have lost access to the developed world FOREVER

What? I'm British; before HN I'd never heard of a 'green card'. Maybe it's a policy that the USA won't let you in if you walk away from one once; maybe Canada cares about that too.

But I assure you, the majority of the 'developed world' (a) doesn't give a shit about; and (b) isn't equipped to take into consideration, American 'green cards'.

I'm a spaniard, and while I agree that green cards are obviously unknown here, I would tell you to get a closer look at the requirements for someone from the third world to come work to your country - they EU is awesome, but out of that it's all atrocious.

I had a girlfriend that moved here from the US of all places, and almost 5 years of avoiding pitfalls later she still can't be sure she'll be allowed to stay...imagine the chances of someone from, say, somalia making the jump.

I'm not claiming it's easy, just that having turned down an offer from the USA doesn't matter.

I don't think he meant that the non-US developed world doesn't count.

It doesn't matter what 'the developed world thinks'.

For someone who wanted access to a Green Card, to have to give it up is fairly substantial.

And FYI anyone in the developed world, were they to know what a 'Green Card' actually was, would find it probably invaluable. The optionality that comes along with being able to move freely and work in the US is a big deal even if it's not apparent at the start of one's career.

The parent comment was responding to the grandparent comment's apparent claim that a green card is equivalent to the whole developed world. There's no dispute that a green card is valuable.

A more useful correction to the parent comment: GP probably just meant that the green card was what currently gave them access to the whole of the developed world, not that it's the only way to access some of the countries in it.

A US green card doesn't give you 'access to the whole of the developed world' though, it's meaningless outside of America.

France's customs for example don't care whether you have a US green card or not, it makes no difference in whether or for you're allowed to stay in France.

I think you are confused, this was posted on Indie Hackers under the self care section, not to hacker news directly.

Besides that, there is no point to compare risks and suffering, both are relative and subjective experiences.

And lastly, social anxiety could be (or not) by it self a major problem, bigger than losing a Green Card, your comment sounds too condescending and not really useful.

I disagree... In the article, the writer says, "If I share an article on Reddit I feel anxious for a week"..

Clearly he was in the wrong line of work. I'm not saying it wasn't worth sharing in self-care, but I don't feel we should be overly sympathetic when the bottom line is that the guy seems to have made a series of predictably bad moves. It sounds like he was hoping to make short term sacrifices for some sort of startup dream outcome, but clearly that only happens a small amount of the time. He's probably on r/entrepreneur right now dreaming about drop shipping.

Thanks for saying this ! It was akin to responding to someone suffering from something that people in Africa have it worse and they shouldn’t be complaining ...

Are you seriously shaming them because you think they have social anxiety and you don't think they took a big enough risk?

While the tone may be a bit condescending, what's the shaming? The social anxiety diagnosis seems very realistic to me, and there's no shame in not being suited for starting a company.

I am familiar with startup company working, but I'm positively not suited to starting (or being a CEO of) a company, and I don't see any shame in it. To each their own.

> there's no shame in not being suited for starting a company.

There is around here (on Hacker News). If you don't run a company, the entrepreneurs around here don't believe you deserve anything more than a "competitive" salary and a job.

Err, what else would you ‘deserve’? A salary and job is indeed what employees get... (I don’t run a company btw)

> I would have lost access to the developed world FOREVER

What's wrong with being a programmer in a different country? Maybe I don't understand but as someone who writes code and doesn't have a "green card" (afaict that's some USA immigration thing) I really don't see the problem there. Not doing anything fun for a year seems like a much bigger sentence than not being allowed to stay in a place that you apparently didn't come from to begin with. There are a lot of other rich countries in the world if that's what you're looking for? I heard some of them even score higher on happiness indices.

I do agree with you that OP seems to have social anxiety. Reading that they have a lot of trouble posting things online, that's not normal and definitely doesn't seem like a good recipe for someone who wants to make a living with a developer job in this digital world. But I don't agree that because you went through self-proclaimed bigger risks, this person isn't rightfully frustrated after not managing to make money from self-employment.

I was painfully shy and started my own business. There is a lot of value in the startup experience even if he does not stay in the startup world.

How did I do it? I had small goals each day and each week and focused on those goals rather than the outcome. It is the outcome that creates angst for the introverted.

I had my own business for 3 years. The first year was painful the 2nd 2 years were productive.

When I went back to traditional employment I had a confidence that I would not have had if I stayed on a traditional business path.

On a related note, social anxiety can be awefully crippling, I personally struggled with it for decades. The main tool that helped me overcome it was the book The Charisma Myth. Can't recommend it enough, it literally changed my life. It does take some work and dedication though.

Thanks for the recommendation, Ill give it a shot. It feels good to know other people have beaten it. Social anxiety has prevented me from working with others in any form (feedback, delegation, marketing).

I remember first day of speech in college when it was my turn to speak. I got up, walked out the door, and dropped the class.

It was hard to even work up the courage to post this comment. But i did. Baby steps.

> But i did. Baby steps.

That's the spirit!

And it will definitely be baby steps at a time, you just need to keep going.

The Charisma Myth book has plenty of interesting research and content, but by far the most important things are the exercises. At a basic level they are about being very aware of your internal state and then learning how to change it. When I first started going through the exercises, it kinda felt like I was learning a new language, and it opened a whole new world of possibilities.

Btw, if you just want to test it out before buying the book, check this summary[0] out and follow the "Three quick tips to boost charisma" mentioned in the second bullet of chapter 1.

0: https://github.com/mgp/book-notes/blob/master/the-charisma-m...

I have social anxiety and started a company. Social anxiety is not the root cause. Sales and marketing (entrepreneurship) is indeed at the hearth of a startup, but the difference is I find these activities fun and rewarding, and a huge opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

So much to learn like writing, doing presentations and conducting a sale (B2B), public speaking, crafting a brand, hiring, designing processes, organizing and managing teams, company structure and culture...

I love to code, but it’s a small part. The larger “real life build your company strategy game” is more interesting for me.

Or, you know, the stuff didn’t work out for reasons other than their social anxiety. While it undoubtedly doesn’t help, the bigger factor might be the actual products they were trying to produce/sell.

>Firstly, your issue doesn't seem to be anything other than social anxiety

I guarantee you it's more than that. If you create a product that actually solves people's problems, people will make the effort to reach out to you. I know this from experience - I have poor social skills but a good business sense, and would regularly make sales even when I was overwhelmed and avoiding contact with the outside world for weeks at a time.

The thing that you can't lose is that spiritual drive that is the engine of your venture. With out it, all is lost, even your mental health. It's hard to predict how life will be when your gamble starts coming up short. It's hard to keep focus when your dealing with your girlfriend's anxiety, or when your running out of money without any backup plan. I have felt the author's pain, but from the pain comes a set of lessons you can't understand from reading a book. I hope that after he picks up his pieces he eventually executes again with a new game plan: to manage his downside, to have customer's chomping at the bit, to find proper financial backing, to establish a team of fellow believers, to sell into a well established network through a partner, or whatever lessons he has learned.

> Secondly, there is nothing to feel bad about - Vast majority of people are not suited to starting a company or working in a small startup

There is around here on HN. Entrepreneurs here view you as, at best, an interchangeable cog who deserves nothing above a job and perhaps a bonus if you help a company succeed.

If you're a really good, perhaps you'll even get to keep your job when the founder walks away with "Fuck You" money.

Is it any surprise someone who wants to succeed feels like they must to become a founder to leave the daily job behind?

I'm not sure the authors anxieties are cause or effect in this case.

It sounds like they poured their soul into something and now are dealing with the fall out of it failing.

I think this post is nothing more than an emotional release. A cathartic venting of the disappointment of failure.

I think it is unfair to say he is not cut out for a startup. If he has trouble doing some of those things, he needs help from someone who is good at those. People in a startup have to wear a lot of hats, but they don't have to wear every hat.

From another article written by the same author, it looks like the author mainly tried to create two-sided businesses (e.g., markeplaces/social networks):


This is one of the most difficult kinds of business to start. You need to attract both content creators (sellers) and content consumers (buyers). Attracting just one group is hard enough. Attracting both is just about impossible. It's even harder when you're kind of shy and sensitive to criticism.

Hats off to the author for trying the almost impossible anyway. I imagine there are some really good lessons in that experience.

Marketplace platforms are the hardest ffs. a16z's articles breaking down the complexities of those platforms are enough to give me anxiety already.

I definitely agree with this. A red flag for me is that this is too many ideas to iterate through in 1 year. During the write-up, I was hoping he'd say that he iterated through different landing page and sales pitches for his product instead of switching to different products.

The regret you feel having lost a year would probably pale in comparison to the lifelong regret at not having tried to achieve your dream.

There's plenty more positives you can take from this experience.

1. You learned how crippling your social anxiety can be (perhaps you already knew?), so maybe you can take some steps to work on that.

2. The door of indie developer is now firmly closed, which means you can explore new possibilities (whatever they may be), with wholehearted commitment not distracted by the siren's call.

3. You learned just how supportive your partner is. They stuck with you and are still with you. That's gotta be a good thing right?

Exactly. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do".

Said only by people lucky enough never to have made any truly grave mistakes in their lives.

I've made grave mistakes and hurt people in ways for which I cannot ever make amends. The only amend I can make is to be a better person, which I think I am.

For me it was important to forgive myself even when no one else would. My view is forgive (myself) but not forget. Forgiving allows me to move forward. Not forgetting is a guardrail against moving back.

Having said that, life is full of actions with consequences that are truly final and one-way tickets. I'm not judging how people perceive the pain of their own dilemmas. That's a deeply personal call.

Is that really a silver lining? This is just a cautionary tale to everyone that even a story of redemption is not fulfillable and you always have to live with that.

Contrary to some other HNers, my opinion is that you clearly lacked a social network that would have given you momentum and clear goals. You worked alone, you did not build the product for one specific client and you did not succeed in building relationships with potential clients.

Sure, social anxiety might be part of the reason. But I think the biggest contributor to your lack of success was that you did not have a team around you to build the product. With a team, I'm sure you would have found it much more acceptable to cold email people and just feel no shame basically promoting the product.

But that's one part of the whole picture. Sometimes, I guess, you just have to admit that people don't want to buy your product. Maybe it's because you don't know how to market it or maybe it just doesn't provide that much value.

I wish José best of luck to future endeavors and I recommend getting to know other start-up oriented people. Possibly salespersons. To start your next project. Don't get discouraged, that's my advice. With the right people in your team, I'm positive you can succeed.

> I had around $12K in savings. Enough to cover a year of expenses and a bit more. I stopped spending money on almost everything.

Yeah, that sucks. I'm sorry you had a bad experience.

I think one thing for the community to take away is you need to be in a good position financially before you can start a startup - unless you can get funding. Especially for indiehackers who don't usually take outside investment, $12k in savings is not enough. It is not normal to have to stop going out at all or to be pinching pennies. Not everyone can afford to start a startup. For some reason, this concept is almost never talked about in the startup community, but it's really important.

I don’t see that takeaway at all. He didn’t fail because of lack of money. His life is not worse due to spending his savings. He still has a highly valuable skill set and can easily replace that with 1-3 years of working at a company.

If he has $500k, spent $20k living cheaply for a year, I’d bet he would be in a similar position that he is in now and choose to re-enter the workforce after a year of failure.

> He still has a highly valuable skill set and can easily replace that with 1-3 years of working at a company

1-3 years of work is not a casual expense.

I think if he had started with more savings, he would have been less bitter about the failure. He still would have been able to take his girlfriend out for dinner.

This complaint made no sense to me. What was his girlfriend doing? Why does she rely on his largess to go out? Is she also a failed indiehacker, or was she using her own income to cover rent and all shared expenses? I think it's irresponsible to take a big risk with someone else's finances, and becoming bitter as you lose that gambit just makes you seem out of touch with reality.

No doubt about this, when I reached that part of the article I was startled with that relatively low amount of savings and the courage on starting a venture like that... It can not be understated on how having enough money saved up really helps not only enduring periods with no money but also a much lower anxiety associated with that (you need to be in a good mental shape in order to do things after all).

Depending on what point of your life you are at, $12000 could be quite a chunk of money.

When I was 21 that would last me probably 20 months.

At 25 it’d be down to 12.

At 32 (with a family) I wouldn’t last more than 3 months.

Luckily savings more or less keep up with spending :)

I wish there was a better support framework in the US for people who want to quit their jobs and work on ideas. I really, really hate working for other people but the things I would like to work on instead are time-consuming and the core work is not easily farmed out.

I'm currently saving up to do just that and its like, "I could buy a house with this money" or "I could go on sabbatical with this money", or "I could bet everything on a business that may or may not succeed and potentially lose it all"

And if I do? There is nothing except going back to the tech grind, or homelessness, or another (far less lucrative) career. Unemployment won't help me (which is complete and utter BULLSHIT for the amount of money I've paid into it), and I'd be ineligible for social security due to that previous tech income hanging over my head. There are no, "sorry you failed, here's some money to get back on your feet and try again" grants

It really underscores the reality that most of these founders have rich family or friends to fall back on.


I've been working (with a co-founder) on a side project that's about to pan out for the past 2.5 years. About 1.5 years of that was working after hours, then about 10 months or so of 6 hours at my day job and 2 hours in my company, then just recently I quit my job with about a years worth of savings and am full time in the company.

The risk I took, until recently at least, was almost nothing, since I had a job all along and was actually saving money at a quick pace.

You too can start a company without going bankrupt with a bit of planning and a bit of frugality.

nb. I'm counting my project as a success if it brings me >= 1x median wage on the side, which is a low bar. Also, I am not rich.

'Working on the side' doesn't work so well for me. I've tried it, and I really struggle to make any progress. I also make art and usually that's where my productive free time goes. And switching off the artistic side is bad for me, mentally. Side projects and art draw from the same pool of mental energy as my day job and they both get the back seat, unfortunately.

That's part of why I would really like to make a clean break... I just can't do the weekend warrior thing

You can still do a 6 or 4 hour work-day at your day job, and dedicate the rest of the work-day to your project.

Want some cake with it too?

I don't really see how trying to find a way to sacrifice one's cushy job and income instead of free time is "having your cake and eating it too"

I believe the parent comment is actually implying the opposite.

You said, "it really underscores the reality that most of these founders have rich family or friends to fall back on", someone else replied saying that they've been bootstrapping a business on the side and you come back with, "I just can't do the weekend warrior thing".

You can't say "well only rich people can start a business!" and then dismiss bootstrapping as an option just because you personally can't "do the weekend warrior thing".

I wasn't dismissing bootstrapping. That's how I intend to do it. All I said was that weekend warrioring wasn't for me. I have a plan that allows me to optimize for already-spoken-for free-time; that's what this entire thread is about

Working on the side comes with the opportunity cost risk.

> I wish there was a better support framework in the US for people who want to quit their jobs and work on ideas. I really, really hate working for other people but the things I would like to work on instead are time-consuming and the core work is not easily farmed out.

I'm sorry, did I misread you or are you saying that work for hire is beneath you and so you you should be able to work on your ideas (which are all brilliant, no doubt), while being supported by other people, aka peons?

This is an instance where it helps to have a spouse that can support you, or parents/family you can live with.

Would a co-founder in that case be beneficial? Assuming you both take the risk, it's less hard on you if it fails. Obviously pros and cons with this.

Maybe, but I don't know anyone I would trust with that kind of thing

Honestly the safest option seems to be relocating to a third-world country where the labor and the cost of living is cheap, so that said money can be stretched out over a few years. Or waiting til that pile of money gets a bit larger and living off ramen for a while

>relocating to a third-world country

There is a large part of Europe (and I'm sure the US) where the standard of living is decent and you can easily get by on <15k€/year.

Even in a lot of Germany you can live on less than 15k€/year, just not very comfortably. In Eastern Europe a frugal person can probably live on a lot less.

Average gross salary in Poland is ~$1400 if you are looking for options. But please do some research before relocating, current political climate is one of the reasons why I'm not really considering moving back there...

As much as I would like to relocate to Europe, I don't have a Shengen passport and I would prefer to avoid the kind of region-hopping one needs to do to live long-term on a tourist visa.

Right now I have my eye on either Latin America, rural Northern California, or Nevada. Humboldt area is very cheap right now, I am seeing 2br houses renting for $1000 and studio apartments for 3/4 that in Eureka (which isn't all that bad; I just visited)

Yup, those places are potential options. I try to use my travel time to scout places like these out

I feel that I have lost a year of my life.

I had a similar feeling some 10 years ago after my first startup failed. I felt that I had wasted one year of my life and was very bitter about the failure and the personal sacrifices that came with it.

In time my thinking came around. I better understood my limits, knew my preferences, and developed some new capabilities. I was also better able to navigate startup #2 which is still going great as a bootstrapped company. My cofounder ended up on a corporate software dev team, and is also doing well.

Bottom line: things will get better. Regard this as a learning experience that helped determine a more rewarding future path (probably not doing your own startup, but that's OK, too)

Agree with this sentiment. When you're in the moment, it may feel as if you're loosing time. But failing should be the best school you ever have. You might had to do research on X or train some aspects of your development skills etc. You always take that with you. The experience itself, is never lost.

It’s also possible and common to just lose the time with no redeeming experience, learnings, perspective, etc., no matter how open-minded, self-reflecting and positive you may be. Not all experiences have meaningful lessons within them. Sometimes a large chunk of lived experience is just totally void of value.

And that’s ok too. Not everything has to be recast as value additive or enriching from some more mature or greater perspective.

Yes, making money with a personal project is much harder than the pop articles make it seem.

People that stay at a job might actually just have a much more accurate assessment of chances involved and their own capabilities.

That job at Amazon? Go for it! It probably has some stock options too.

Honestly the whole idea of startups has been somehow perverted beyond belief. At least from reading the US news, startups are basically a standardised product themselves, in the same way you have building codes. For an investor the startup is a fungible sprocket that just found a different niche. This kind of... conformity seems the opposite to any true creative business making.

I don't know that I'd agree that you lost a year of your life. Rather, I think it took you a year to learn a valuable lesson and to learn it relatively early in life. For most of us "tech types," building stuff is the easy part. Telling other people about it, about why they should use it, why it's better than the other guys' -- that's the part we struggle with. You tried something difficult and learned something valuable. I hope your relationship survived/survives the experience, but remember that life is itself a series of experiences. That's what I would take away from this: it was a new experience, I learned something, and I came out of it on the other side a wiser person.

Spent a year doing something different. That has to be worth something.

Apparently, this is a list of things built over the year:

- https://nomadnest.org an alternative to Couchsurfing

- https://coffeelist.co - a coffee community

- https://nomadasdigitales.com - a digital nomads community in Spanish.

- https://lanzame.net - a Product Hunt in Spanish.

- https://classline.io - a SaaS for teachers to simply communicate with students over email, this is using the technology that I created for nomadmail.

for one person this is just too much to get it right in one year I guess. How much time can one really spend to deeply understand customers and their wants/needs?

Apart from that - answering the classical questions like what problem does it solve? why now? etc. points me to a lot of issues with copy-solutions, especially some of these ones during a pandemic.

thinking ahead: if the code quality is good, I can imagine a lot of people paying decent money on learing how he did it - although also in this niche there are some players.

True! Doing something without listening client needs it’s really worthless. You cannot throw the idea because somebody didn’t like the first version! I’m leading two successful SaaS services. One of them is SimpleLocalize.io At first it was just an app for maintaining the big json with translations. Now I’m providing really cool easy to use solution for managing translations in software project. I’m mainly focused on fronted frameworks like ReactJS and Vue. But people really loved Excel import/export option. Would you believe that? I started from providing a SaaS which was maintaining JSON, now I got CLI, CDN and more!

That's unfortunate and I've been basically in the same position of yours.

I've written here already about some issues I faced. In my case, I've lost all my savings and much more, but I'll not compare my situation to yours, that would definitely not help you. Only you know your own situation and what you're feeling.

People will say that you might not have what it takes to be a successful startup owner. That may be true, but people often forget that there are other kinds of companies than startups, and you can perform really well even if you don't meet Paul Grahamer criteria for successful founders.

I'm currently working on a regular job and planning to come back within a year or so. But I'm not taking that as a hard requirement -- I'll assess the situation by then and decide if it's really a good idea.

I've come to realize that myself and my weaknesses are really big competitors of mine, and I'll try to manage them properly. I'll separate some money that I won't care too much if I loose -- I believe that that will help me to manage my own anxiety and the truckload of poor decisions I make after months of anxiety and stress.

And I'll hire a salesperson to help me on this. Many say this is bad idea, that you yourself have to sell your product and so and so, and I thank you all for the advice but I'm not following it this time and OK.

I'll work on presenting myself a bit stronger to people. It's interesting how condescending people become when they see that you are performing bad. They start to patronize you and feel overconfident to give terrible ideas. I don't blame them too much but, even to be fair to myself, some pieces of bad advice contributed to make my situation a bit worse.

That's what I'm planning to do, see if it helps.

Not that this helps the author, but some of the most successful people failed many times before succeeding. In fact, those who fail before becoming successful seem to be better able to repeat success than those who win on the first try.

There is a big element of luck in success, so multiple attempts may be necessary even if funding is available.

Steve Jobs did NeXt, which was considered a "failure."

However, NeXtOS (and NeXtStep) became MacOS, then iOS, which is the operating system for the iPhone; probably the most successful product ever made.

I empathize with the author, but it takes a lot to be an indie hacker. I am not an indie hacker. I'm a software engineer that is doing my own thing; with no thought of compensation. there's no way that I could have done that when I was younger.

I just love doing this stuff. I'm good at it, and I don't have to prove anything to anyone; which is nice.

I think it's important to note that each attempt is a gamble, and not everyone can afford to keep losing.

> I think it's important to note that each attempt is a gamble, and not everyone can afford to keep losing.

This is true, and pretty much always has been. It's also why, despite much propaganda (some know it better by the name of "The American Dream") and a few lucky exceptions, entrepreneurship has mostly been an endeavor of the more privileged, with access to enough funds to make several mistakes (or sometimes multiple in parallel) before hitting a jackpot.

For some reason, this often appears a rather touchy subject, if not a cultural taboo. In particularly in the USA, where many apparently believe that taking a risk as an entrepreneur should somehow result in success if you persevere. Some might even feel almost entitled to it, or so it appears. Which is rather odd, if you'd ever look at the statistics of failed business. Not to mention the many crazy and often totally unrealistic ideas some folks come up with.

Maybe it's all just a product of (cultural) brainwashing, ignorance, or just too much hope on a better live (or desperation about the current one).

EDIT: To be clear, I'm not saying that how the system works is fair. As a personal opinion, on the contrary. But complaining about how things didn't work out as you believed/hoped they should have, is like being angry at a bull for attacking you while being a vegetarian. Neither bull nor the system care.

This reminds me of the famous Keynes quote, "Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent."

Even if you have the greatest idea, you can't predict whether people will even want to try your product. It's a numbers game and a luck game. As we've seen with other posts about successful solo projects, sometimes you get lucky and a social media influencer boosts your product, but you can't bank on it.

I can relate to this, in a number of ways, including the complete inability to self-promote. Many years ago, I had an idea for some software, so I left my job and worked on it. (My wife was understanding and supportive.) I did not have a business idea, I had a technical idea. I worked with a "business guy", who turned out to be worthless. Every time I had to leave my desk, where I was having a blast programming, my stomach knotted. I just could not stand any activity related to marketing/selling.

I was finally acquhired (to use a term invented later) by a local startup that needed what I was doing, for a signing bonus, decent salary, and a big chunk of equity. (This was in the late 80s. My "plan", such as it was, would not work now, because software is basically given away.)

I guess the lesson is this: know your limitations, and work around them. If you hate doing X, then don't force yourself to do X, because you will suck at it compared to the many people who love doing X. And you will be miserable. Find a situation where you can do what you enjoy, and are good at, and somebody else does X.

Thank you for writing this. It is making me see what's at stake, which is basically this:

> So the real cost is more than the money I lost. I made my girlfriend stay home for a year, we didn't do anything, we didn't buy clothes and ate the cheapest food, etc.


> I got much more from the articles that I wrote here on Indie Hackers than from any of my projects. And I did those in a couple of hours.

I know you don't like that it only took a couple of hours. But if you got more from them, why not go further into that? 80/20 etc.

> Every time that I want to promote something, my stomach hurts. If I share an article on Reddit I feel anxious for a week. When I go to a Facebook Group to suggest my apps, I feel sick. If I send a private message on Twitter or Linkedin, I can't sleep. All the time I think people are going to hate me, tell me that I am an idiot, a con maker, that my ideas are terrible, that I suck. And they did many times, and I can't handle that while making $0. So, I quit.

That sucks. I'll be on the lookout for these signals as well. If I have them, then I either try to find a growth hacker type of person, or quit as well.

> I always wanted to write more. I love it. But I felt that I couldn't write if I wasn't successful. But I guess there are no rules.

Indeed, there aren't. When you write, you get to set the frame and tone of your message.

- doing the project in your spare time and gradually transitioning to full time after you validate and start making money means less risk and less poverty

- was this a problem-driven product? Because this seems like a crowded market, which means you probably need to be able to outcompete the existing products

- startups aren’t for everyone; those gut feelings could have been identified by spending a few weekends doing market research and validation.

- so it took a year, a year is nothing. You learnt you don’t want to do startups and probably learnt a bunch of stuff that would be useful in the future. You challenged yourself. And you’ll be more grateful for that regular pay check in the future.

It’s not a disaster, it’s learning and experience and those things are valuable.

A lot of people within these comments are saying crazy things like "your issue doesn't seem to be anything other than social anxiety" and talking about people's startup suitability as if what is important is having the right personality trait. Others talk about how he "[learnt] a valuable lesson" or act like he is only a few more failures away from a successful startup. It's condescending and misguided.

I think he's the only one giving worthwhile advice here. You're very unlikely to succeed at bootstrapping a startup and people often don't realise this or act like through perseverance they will definitely succeed. He's lucky to have realised that he had other things in his life he cared about more after only a year.

Many people want a family or want to buy a house. Others want to enjoy their 20s (or 30s for that matter). Others want to put money into investments or a pension for their old age. You could sacrifice all of these things chasing a startup dream and end up with nothing. There is a high likelihood of this. Unless you believe you've very different odds or a much lower cost (e.g. an investor) you probably shouldn't do it.

I think these types of posts are important to read, to contrast with the success stories we typical see online. Read enough success stories and you start to believe that success is a given if you just work hard enough.

I'm reminded of the chapter on Stardew Valley in the book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. That story is also about a developer who worked on a solo project, years, however, and who brought in no income while his girlfriend worked to support both of them. Obviously that one has a much happier ending. (I will say one huge difference is that from early on, it was clear that there was a fanatic user base just waiting for the game to be released.)

This is almost exactly where I find myself right now!

I've spent a year and half building out something that i can see bringing value and enjoyment to a wide swath of people.

I just flail hard at the thought of putting myself out there to market it. My personal problem though is "its not good enough yet" and I just stop. A lot of advice here says "its just not for you" but I dont entirely believe that.

I've enjoyed creation, autonomy, and the freedom to define my path. There was to be a way to get out of your own way...

I spent 9 years on a groupware crm. Made $5,000 total on it mostly begging for users to make a "donation".

Drove myself and my family into the poor house for something people enjoyed using for free but wouldn't pay for... made plenty of mistakes.

I thought if I didn't quit on it I wouldn't fail, but looking back it started failing the second I launched it as a generic product... you need a big marketing budget to launch i ended up giving it away free just to see people use it.

How did you stick with that for 9 years? That's a pretty solid effort, but that just sounds soul crushing.

I tried and didn't succeed at a product where I spent my savings too. It's just the reality of a lot of startups. It's unsexy, but it's the reality.

I had this crazy idea I would go it alone and that if I would just keep working on it until it was a success regardless of how long it took. I spent 3 years on programming it to get it the way I wanted it, starting development in 2001... I still have it set up and one day I plan to convert the design into Bootstrap and try again but going after niches this time. But at this point I am not stable enough financially to work on it the way I want to just getting it all into Bootstrap would take months.

I have a repo I hack on from time to time that purposely isn't in a domain I would ever try to sell as a commercial product. I sort of use it as a way to build up to eventually having a full blown commercial grade piece of software that I can then just pivot the domain into one I want to compete in and launch a product again. By that time it really would be a good few years working on it. Software really is a team sport. It's crazy how much effort it is to go it alone.

It sounds like this dude started nearly broke if he wasn't taking any external funding.

Doing this stuff self-funded with a nearly nonexistent budget is harder than Hard Mode.

True, I got significantly more in savings than what he started with and that's just my buffer that should last a few months (without downgrading my living while I look for a new job) plus pay for something expensive breaking (in case such unfortunate circumstances come together) without having to sell ETFs. Also, assuming they're from the USA, life is probably more expensive than where I live.

Nevertheless, if that money was enough for them to last a year, that isn't a super small amount of time either. But around the 6-9 months mark, it might have been a good idea to start looking for alternative funding (a regular job, even if it's just a low paying one), especially if there is no social welfare system where you live (if there were, you'd be able to live indefinitely on $0k while you try that self-employment thing; though similarly you wouldn't be going to any restaurants).

I wonder if our pop culture and awareness/focus on unicorns and startups is leading some people to think they have a high chance of success when in fact it's like playing the lottery.

Seeing all these TV shows, movies, HN posts about people starting their own company, etc. I think people greatly overinflate the chances that you make it even somewhat mediocre big -- if you even have an idea that's any good.

Like one of the big logistics companies advertising that, hey you can be a truck driver in control of your destiny -- when in fact, it's paying up front for the training, taking out a loan for the truck, and being in debt for years. Or kids enrolling in music school hoping to become a celeb.

Except here, you do it to yourself through hopes and dreams.

From what I've seen there seems to be three main paths to being a successful indie entrepreneur:

1) The "Maker" Path: you slowly improve your own skills and reputation as a developer (or designer) until they give you a big enough advantage that you can translate them into a successful product. This usually means first growing an audience through blogging, conferences, courses, etc.

2) The "Marketing" Path: you become so good at the "business" part of your business that the you're able to launch new products from scratch without a preexisting audience. It's tough to know if this really works or not but I assume with all the money spent on Google Ads some of it has to work… right?

3) The "Idea" Path: you have an idea that you believe in so much that you'll basically stop at nothing to make it work, even if it takes years (which it probably will). You usually pick up the other skills along the way.

I feel like the poster here suffers from not quite fitting in any of the main paths: they did not seem to have a large pre-existing audience or network to launch to, hate anything related to marketing by their own admission, and their ideas –while perfectly good products, such as https://nomadmail.io/– do not seem to be the kind of project that would inspire the kind of passion necessary to sacrifice years of your life.

The struggle is guaranteed, the success is not.

There are different types of business people. Some people are fine with hardly any support. Some people can't stand to do it without support. Also, not everyone can be an entrepreneur, nor should they, just like not everyone can be an employee either. There's no shame in it, you are who you are. If anything you've gained extremely valuable insight into yourself and you were brave enough to confront who you are.

I don't want to read too much into your article, but I just wanted to add that it sounded like you were doing things on your own which can be extremely hard (or easy) depending on your personality type. Also it sounded like having a marketing/sales co-founder could have made a difference. I'm not sure where I came across the advice that a start-up needs a hipster, a hacker and a hustler, but it's a rare individual who embodies all three qualities.

My first 2 business failures were because I was inexperienced as an entrepreneur and didn't understand where my strengths and weaknesses were. My next venture was a success because I had co-founders and I could focus on my strengths.

I'm sorry things didn't turn out well and I wish you luck in your next move. Whatever you do just be the best version of yourself... whatever that is.

This is the classic problem all technical people starting companies face.

Technical people both enjoy, and know how to build digital products. But they don't understand that a product is not a business.

A product solves a problem.

A business has a steady stream of customers actively searching to fix that problem (a market) and a set of reliable channels for converting these leads into customers (distribution).

If you're not in a reliable market and have no reliable distribution within that market...you have a product, not a business.

A good way to figure out if you'll enjoy being an entrepreneur is to start building an audience first (namely an email list built through social and blog content). It's all of the vital marketing/sales work and talking to customers you'll need, without burning all your savings on 6 months of product development that might be wasted.

If you don't enjoy building the audience of customers, selling to them, and talking to them, you won't enjoy being an entrepreneur.

Sales doesn't suit everyone (most people aren't in sales). Here's an alternative I used - though for a product not as an "indie hacker", so maybe not applicable.

- It took a bit more than a year.

- Meanwhile count users, not revenue. (need a free version)

- Marketing, not "sales". Your product does a useful thing, for people with some need. Create a "pitch" - a short, memorable description of the problem and your solution. The idea is word of mouth: people repeat your pitch to someone who needs it, like a virus. (A meme, by Dawkins' original definition). Free sales and advertising.

- Focus on the product, not yourself. Like Feynmann saying his nerves disappear when focussed on the thing he's talking about (not him). Avoids self-consciousness.

Less efficient than sales and advertising, but a way to make money without them.

Yeah, running a financial endeavor like a software business requires you to be 50% tireless robot and 50% narcissist cheerleader. Most people can't do that.

Moreover it seems like the exception rather than the rule to find a successful businessman who is also a positive and generous person who is great to work with as well as down-to-earth and rational, with a good sense of work-life balance.

To me that sounds like a nice model to aspire to though, and those people would be worth their weight in gold if you could find them.

The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately.

I can't tell you how many things I tried and failed. It really doesn't matter if it's a start up or not either, plenty of people put everything into new jobs including moving and failing sucks just as much.

I finally figured out how to succeed but it was a difficult and deeply personal struggle that took a long time.

There are still times I just want to pack it all in and give up.

Infact I just had a meltdown a month or so ago and almost sold off everything. I think it's a part of my personality to never be completely satisfied.

Lastly I chuckled a bit when I read about him feeling bad about his girlfriend, at least he still has one! He should be thankful that she stuck around and should show her the appreciation she deserves for supporting him.

I would have rather tried and failed than to have never given it ago.

The huge positive here is that you tried, now you won't spend the rest of your life thinking what if. I'll bet you'll appreciate your normal life so much more after the sacrifices you made. Well done for trying.

Best advice a serial entrepreneur ever gave me: don’t risk your own money. I have seen a lot of people losing everything chasing a dream. It’s the most probable outcome of entrepreneurship. Heal your wounds and stand up!

Coming up with good ideas is hard. Executing on them is hard. Marketing and selling the end product is hard. The same person being able to do all three is damn near impossible. That's why you need a co-founder.

I don’t have a startup. Still, for the last 7 years I’m an independent contractor, which is probably close to being an indie hacker.

Wasn’t the first try. Two times before that I only had a single client, one time they cancelled the project, second time I delivered the software and the client didn’t have other work for me to do. I lived in a big city then, both times I just searched and found another full-time office position.

When I think I have an interesting idea, I sometimes pursue on my free time. So far, the only outcome I got is couple dozen stars on github, and in one case a hundred thousand of free downloads of my app. Pretty close to nothing. https://github.com/Const-me/SkyFM https://github.com/Const-me/vis_avs_dx https://github.com/Const-me/Vrmac

This is the side project in question: http://nomadmail.io/

His landing page has a number of grammar issues.

> nomadmail is made for normal people: writers, authors, content creators. People who want to write newsletters to another people.

If he wanted to have another shot, that's an easy problem to solve to get the ball rolling. Run your copy through a service like "Grammarly" or hemingway, and get it fixed.

Without any intention to sound overly harsh, I sincerely doubt that better grammar could make the project a success.

For me this is one of those (typical) examples, of a rather (too) generic tool, solving a problem that is already being successfully solved by a number of other (free) tools.

AFAIK, tools like these can sometimes still succeed, if you pick a very specific/narrow niche market and focus all your marketing on that market, and offer special(ized) features for that particular market.

But as a generic tool, or one that tries to "do it all" for too wide a market, I don't think I've ever seen that succeed (commercially). At least not from this position, being a new kid on the block and competing with already established tools doing the same. Just not enough of an edge over the alternatives, I think.

I do feel sincerely sorry for the creator, if he believed this would work out for him. But I (also sincerely) believe it just never had much of a (realistic) chance from the start. I can't make it sound any nicer than that.

I don't disagree with your comment, and it's not too harsh. I was just thinking that there are some easy things he can work on, perhaps to get him back in the groove, and start rolling to improve the product so it's marketable.

Market it to which market?

I think he would need either a tremendous marketing capital to reach enough people, or have some superb selling skills, to make a profit.

Maybe I'm just too pessimistic. I certainly do not belong to his target audience, which probably doesn't help.

I used tailwindUI too! hahaha https://www.outseed.io

It's not really a lost year, you learned for a fact what you like and don't like to do. You don't have to obsess with what if I quit my job and gave it a try questions and doubts. You can find a job/project that is a good fit to your personality type and skill set and be comfortable and happy.

That’s really rough and I am glad you are on the other side of it.

I don’t really know your motivation for trying this path, but if that motivation remains or returns, you might want to start with a friend, so you can divide up the efforts. Or perhaps you just decided that this path is not for you — nothing wrong with that!

Good luck either way!

As far as friends go:

I Started my first business with two friends: one was really good at cold calls and asking for things (I.e. orders) — I struggled with that similarly to you. The other was super comfortable asking friends to come work with us. I had other things I contributed — and we all programmed.

For the three of us it turned out to be fun. I am sure none of us could have done it alone.

I believe the way for more technically minded folks to approach startups is this: I will fail, I will fail many times, I can lose a lot of time and money. I should see if people will pay me before I build it.

Startups are REALLY, REALLY hard to make a living wage on the whole in a smaller period of time when selling things by the drip (eg: SaaS, Ecomm low price points, etc). The business is an art, which is different than the skillset engineers build up over years in their domain - yet want to achieve 'break even ASAP'.

Edit: Business is a very 'social sport' - if social isn't your thing, you have to: compensate, overcome, hire out, or fail.

I'm glad it's out there - for most people, the 'boring' software dev career at a larger tech company is better off financially at critical junctions in your life and often lets you solve more challenging/advanced problems as compared to doing accounting/sales/pm/hr/dev work all by yourself. I've been following an ex-googler who reached $30k in revenue after two years (total), compared to his previous salary+options of around $225k/year. But most importantly you're not stressed out as much.

Look on the bright side: burning through $38K in order to earn $60 means your true vocation is as a venture-funded startup founder. Go forth and pitch!

Looking at the things he's built [0], it seems like he focused on what he could build rather than what people wanted. A lot of developers do this.

Without an existing audience or funding for ads, he had to do cold outreach, which I don't blame him for disliking.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25105735

> All the time I think people are going to hate me, tell me that I am an idiot, a con maker, that my ideas are terrible, that I suck.

so..... what's the problem here?

> And they did many times, and I can't handle that while making $0.


Yeah that makes sense. Better to sell shares of your SaaS company at 40x revenue and let your customers and investors lob the con man sentiment at you. Survivorship bias breeds this behavior :)

This may be one of the most off-putting paragraphs ever:

> I made my girlfriend stay home for a year, we didn't do anything, we didn't buy clothes and ate the cheapest food, etc. I feel that I have lost a year of my life.

You made her stay home...

You lost a year of your life...


My two cents

1. If money is very pressing, you should save up enough until it isn't. Spending all your saving is obviously going to induce a lot of stress.

Better yet - spend other peoples money. That means raising money, but you'd be surprised how many angle investors or startup programs there are out there, that are willing to seed you with (relatively small amounts of) money. The catch here is that they typically want a very solid business and marketing plan, and will probably turn down typical cookie-cutter ideas (marketplace, social network, etc.).

2. Yes, it's hard to do when bootstrapping yourself,but hire people to do the marketing and sales. These things can and will make or break early startups and businesses.

Let's take he music venue analogy:

Imagine that you want to build the best concert venue in town. You've poured your hard-owned money into it, along with blood, sweat and tears.

Finally the venue is finished - but there's a problem: No one knows about it.

You figure it will pretty much sell itself, and hire in some artists to perform there - but have done zero advertisement or marketing. Concert comes and goes, but no-one showed up - because no-one knew about the concert. Bands and artists still want their money, same goes with utilities and what not.

Point is - if you can't do the sales or marketing yourself, you need to hire someone to do it for you. You're just throwing money into a black hole and getting nothing in return, because potential clients don't even know you exist. If you can't afford someone - anyone - to do that for you, then you probably don't have enough funds to begin with.

edit: It just seems like your biggest troubles stems from the fact that you (seemingly, or due to anxiety) hate sales and marketing yourself, and that your product/segment may have been quite a tough to succeed in.

This is in part why I try to convince friends to stay employed. At least until they have a product and the first customer that isn’t family.

Not much luck though. Like OP they decided to go all in. Fingers crossed for them

A year of trying but not succeeding does not mean you completely failed, or “lost a year”. The things you do in the future will determine how much you’ve learned and how “lost” that year really was.

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.

In my experience there is only three options to bootstrap successfully. You can sell, your cofounder can sell, or you can afford to hire someone who can sell. The idea that if you build it they will come needs to die, these situations are extremely rare.

I don't think the founder in question thought that if they built it that people would come. They just didn't anticipate the difficulty of trying to do something (the marketing activities) that they didn't have the right constitution for.

Before you ever try it you think that if you just consume the right books, blog posts and podcasts then you will be armed with all the information you need to succeed. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. You can only get the information on whether you're personally cut out for it by giving it a go. When you find that you really struggle with a critical piece of the puzzle that can be tough to accept at first, so you can throw good money after bad trying to deny it, but eventually you will succumb.

People can throw out the generic advice that you just need the right co-founder, but that's not always a panacea either.

Failure doesn't finish you. Quitting finishes you.

We all get to decide when to stop trying something. A year may seem like a long time, and it may be long enough for some. But for others, it's just the dark time before daybreak.

1. put on your X hat 2. make your life miserable 3. no profit 4. quit

what is wrong with that, where is the error?

how can one "quit". indie hacking is not a "job"

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