My First Steps as an Indie Hacker

Capt. Michael
4 min readAug 25, 2023
Mayflower II Leaving Plymouth by Montague Dawson

This is not a recipe for indie hacking success, but a collection of my early experiences as I started my journey. Take what works for you and leave the rest — there’s no single path to indie hacking success. But if you keep an open mind, experiment, and stay curious, you might find something useful for your own journey.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I spent around a week refactoring the user and related modules of Clear My List, so that I could create a reusable user system for all my future indie hacking projects. While it required a lot of refactoring and bug fixing, it also made me think deeply about what it means to be an indie hacker.

The harsh truth is that very few indie hackers can make enough money from a single project to retire and live on the beach. To have a chance of earning a living from indie hacking, you’ll likely need to develop and maintain several projects that generate a reliable income. It’s important to build reusable systems and processes to make this sustainable.

Your most powerful asset is your workflow, not any particular technology or tool. Workflow is more about how you structure your time and approach problems, rather than what specific tools or languages you use. A well-optimized workflow can make all the difference between success and failure.

Before spending too much time honing your workflow, first make sure you understand who your customers are and what problems they have. It’s common for developers to get caught up in creating solutions without considering whether anyone actually has the problem they’re trying to solve. The most important thing is to find people with a real need that your product can address. Ask questions, listen carefully, and focus on solving real problems rather than imagined ones.

While it’s tempting to focus on industries or markets with high earning potential, this approach is not always realistic for indie hackers. It’s better to think about the problems you’re uniquely positioned to solve, even if they’re less obvious or lucrative. After all, as an indie hacker, you’re essentially a one-person army, and you have to play to your strengths. Think about what problems you’re passionate about solving, and how you can use your skills to solve them.

GCP Monthly Cost of Clear My List in 2023

It’s also important to be mindful of your budget when using third-party APIs and services, especially if you’re still in the early stages of development. I learned this the hard way when I used Google’s Natural Language service for text classification and ended up with a hefty bill! I realized that I needed to rethink my approach and refactored the function to store the text and tag pairs in a database. Now, I only call the API when I don’t have a match in the database. By refactoring this function, I was able to keep the same functionality while significantly reducing my costs. This experience was a valuable lesson in both programming and budgeting, and it made me more mindful of my choices when working on new projects. It’s important to consider not only the technical implications of a decision, but also the financial ones.

If you’re just starting out as an indie hacker, it’s normal to feel unsure about your next steps. But remember, every journey begins with a single step. My advice is to establish your brand early on, even before your first project release, and keep it consistent across all your products. This way, when people find value in your first product, they’ll be more likely to explore your other offerings, because they recognize your brand. For example, think about Apple. When someone loves their iPhone, they’re likely to be curious about other Apple products like the MacBook or iPad, because they’re familiar with the brand and trust its quality. On the other hand, if you launch a bunch of unbranded products, users may not even realize they’re related to each other, and you’ll miss out on the opportunity to build brand loyalty. So, think of your brand as an investment that will pay off in the long run.

As an indie hacker, you don’t have to chase huge profit margins or aim to become a unicorn startup. Instead, you can build a sustainable business by creating valuable products that solve real problems for people, even if those problems are small. You can build a lifestyle business that brings in a modest but reliable monthly recurring revenue, and you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working for yourself. Don’t worry about whether it’s right or wrong — just focus on doing what’s best for you.

In summary, indie hacking is an excellent opportunity to go beyond basic coding tutorials and practice your technical skills in a more realistic and challenging environment. You’ll be forced to think critically and problem-solve in ways that you wouldn’t in a typical learning setting. By following your workflow and working on different projects, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your technical stack and become a more well-rounded developer. This experience will definitely benefit you if you ever decide to return to a traditional job.

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Capt. Michael

A full stack developer, freelancer & restless slave of probability.