The Rise of the Indie Hackers

Remember when half of the tech world were startup founders and the other half were aspiring startup founders?

When startups became all the rage, they redefined how new companies are built. Terms such as product-market fit, idea validation, and growth hacking became part of the day-to-day English language. And who could forget the mom test?

The lean startup methodology took over the world, and for good reason. It gave up-and-coming entrepreneurs a framework to guide them from idea to first investment and beyond. But, a different mode of thinking has been brewing on the internet.

The world would be wise to take notice.

The startup assumptions

The traditional startup path was built on a couple of assumptions:

  1. You should fail fast and try again with a different idea. Failing fast means ruthlessly validating your idea by talking to people.
  2. After you validate an idea, you should seek an investment to help you with initial marketing and development.
Both of these assumptions have been struggling to maintain their validity recently.

Assumption #1 is correct in that the modern entrepreneur should fail fast and try again. The question that has been on many entrepreneurs’ minds is: what is the best way to fail fast? To be more specific: what if building an MVP and marketing it for a while was less expensive than traditional idea validation?

With new tools, new open-source technology, and more freely available knowledge, it is now much more simple to build products than it was 10 years ago. You now only really need to build the very core of the product. For everything else, from subscription models to design themes to machine learning algorithms, there are a number of high-quality out-of-the-box solutions. When you get an idea, you can often have a functioning basic product within days or weeks. This is evident on Twitter, where creators are releasing new products every day.

What about marketing? They are marketing them on social media as well, for free, to followers that they’ve accumulated through incessant activity. They are marketing them to user groups that they’ve contributed to in the past. In this world, your audience is your community and your community produces your most loyal customers.

Thus, building a product takes less effort than ever and marketing a product takes less up-front money than ever. You can build a simple product and test it for traction for virtually no cost. There are people on Twitter who have released a dozen products in 2021 already.

Why, then, should they bother with the traditional startup path?

Meet the indie hackers

Success is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy for the most determined within this group. Every released product increases their audience and their credibility. Every increase in their audience increases their chances of success in future projects. They often build them in public and receive live feedback from followers who are happy to be along for the ride.

So, who are these indie hackers?

They are predominantly software developers (which makes sense if you consider they are out there building things with no budget to speak of).

Most are not in full-time employment (which also makes sense because they are out there hustling every single day). Many are freelancers, some are in college, and an increasing number are still in school.

Nearly all of them are happy to openly interact with customers.

The best ones improve at a lightning pace because of their uncanny ability to filter public criticism into useful data.

The indie process

It all starts with a tweet or a LinkedIn post (or even a Reddit post if you’re really after harsh feedback). You announce that you’d like to build something. You pledge to keep your audience in the loop, win or lose. Already, you have more engagement than the majority of targeted marketing campaigns.

Next, you build a landing page. Maybe a simple screengrab explainer video. Maybe a

few blog posts. You post every step to your audience and you invite rigorous feedback. This being the internet, you get what you asked for.

You discuss features. You think out loud about possible paths to success. People start signing up on your landing page. Some out of curiosity, some because you just told them you’d be building a feature they like, some because they simply like you. After all, they’re not used to companies treating them like human beings. Meanwhile, you’re building the product and posting daily updates. Your audience is your boss, your user base, and your accelerator wrapped in one. You probably don’t have a single mentor, but you crowdsource knowledge from other indie hackers and you are happy to return the favor.

Once you’re ready to open up shop, you go all out on promotion. You let your audience know you’ve made your first dollar. You have no qualms about posting daily updates about your revenue. You keep discussing features openly. You take customer support requests whichever way they come — via Twitter mention, private message, email, or carrier pigeon.

Or, you fail at any one of the steps above. No biggie. You’ve gained followers, experience, and reputation. On to the next idea.

You’re leaner than the leanest startups ever were.


Handling failure is easy with so little to lose. But how do you handle success?

Sudden growth can overwhelm even the most industrious indie hacker. This is where they approach a crossroads: transform or stagnate.

It is technically easy to expand an indie project into a full-blown startup if you so desire. The first tricky bit is letting go of a part of something that was your brainchild. The second tricky bit is putting a team together. Getting funding is the third.

Still, all three tricky parts are easier if you’ve got a working product and enthusiastic customers compared to when all you’ve got is an idea and an enthusiastic pitch.

Indie hackers who decide to form a team often seek cofounders among other indie hackers that they follow and interact with.

What the future holds

Flexibility and adaptability are valuable qualities in a remote-first world. And, make no mistake, this paradigm has shifted already — the world has gone remote because of the pandemic, but it won’t go back when the pandemic is over.

Indie hackers are nothing if not flexible and adaptable. Some investors and accelerators are already taking notice. Various platforms are emerging that cater to this group of superlean entrepreneurs — from websites that allow you to list and promote your indie product to marketplaces where you can sell it.

Eventually, great, billion-dollar successes will emerge from this primordial soup of ideas and hustle. Then, the whole world will take notice.

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