Special: Acquired x Indie Hackers
As regular listeners know, we typically cover some of the biggest companies who often receive the most media attention (see Airbnb and DoorDash). But today's episode is a little different. In our conversation with Courtland Allen of Indie Hackers, the largest community of startup founders, we dive into the stories of underdogs. What happens when there are millions of people doing small business entrepreneurship? How does anyone having access to the globally addressable market of 3 billion internet users open the door for the niche-est of products? We tell the story of Courtland’s own “Indie Hacker” journey, how he came to found Indie Hackers itself, and the lessons learned along the way.
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* This episode is supported by Teamistry, a great new podcast from Atlassian that tells the stories of teams who work together in new and unexpected ways to achieve remarkable things. It's one of our best new podcast discoveries in 2020 and we think Acquired listeners are going to love it. Our thanks to Teamistry for their support, and you can listen here: https://link.chtbl.com/teamistry?sid=podcast.acquired
* Thank you as well to Kevel and to Capchase. You can learn more about them at:
Playbook Themes from this Episode:
(also available on our website at https://www.acquired.fm/episodes/special-acquired-x-indie-hackers )
1. As long as you don't quit your journey, you're still in the act of succeeding.
* Indie Hackers was Courtland's seventh company. Before it, Courtland had started six other companies, each with a few thousand dollars in revenue but never as big as he wanted it to be. Looking back, Courtland has realized that everyone has a certain number of companies they need to start before they succeed: for some, that number may be one, for others, 36. For him, that number was 7. So his advice? All you have to do is not quit before you get to that number.
2. The journey is as important as the destination.
* While Courtland was working on some of his earlier companies, he was miserable. A few of those working years felt like a complete blur. But sometime before he started Indie Hackers, he realized that in order to keep going until you succeed (see playbook #1), you must structure your life so that it's easy for you to not quit. In other words, you have to make the journey fun — almost like the emotional counterpart to Paul Graham’s famous “default alive” concept. With this reframe, Courtland began to enjoy the journey — enjoying the new people he met and the new things he learned. This mindset helped him level up as a person. Instead of worrying and asking "am I there yet?" he was able to enjoy the building journey.
3. Stories are always paramount.
* As we discuss so often on Acquired, stories can be an incredibly powerful force, and their value is one of the core theses/value propositions of Indie Hackers. One insight Courtland came to from Hacker News was that people didn't want to just read comments about people who didn't succeed. They wanted high quality, verified stories that were trustable in some way.
* Indie Hackers sends a survey out to users 6 months after they join the community. One of the questions the survey asks is, "would you have started your company if not for Indie Hackers?" 15-20% say they would not have started without some story or interaction on Indie Hackers!
4. Don't try to create budgets — sell to people that already have them.
* Courtland originally tried to monetize Indie Hackers via advertising, and shared advertisement opportunities with the Indie Hacker community. But he soon realized that these smaller businesses weren't exactly the best customers to sell to. Eventually, he transitioned to selling to enterprises, and was pleasantly surprised by how much easier it was to sell.
* The sales process simplified is: educate, then win. If you're selling to someone with a budget, you essentially bypass the education step.
5. Utilizing platforms, like everything in business, has tradeoffs.
* There are no hard or fast rules in business. Everything has tradeoffs. Platforms may help with distribution but make it harder to build a brand and also create risks and dependencies. For Courtland, it was important for Indie Hackers to have its own brand. Additionally, he already had a distribution strategy (Hacker News). Hence, it made sense for Indie Hackers to be its own site, as there were many risks but few benefits to using some other platform like Medium.
6. Trust and mission alignment are critical in acquisitions.
* Acquisition terms are about much more than just the purchase price. Sometimes, other considerations are more advantageous than cash (e.g. equity), and there are creative ways to align their incentives.
* For Courtland, it was crucial that he retain freedom over his time and control over the direction of Indie Hackers. Hence, it was — and still remains — key that Patrick and Courtland's relationship have a high degree of trust.
7. Acquisitions can enable established brands to take bigger risks.
* “Intra-preneurship” can be difficult because the initiative is constrained by internal processes and standards as well as external expectations. Hence, you can often take bigger risks through an acquisition. Google video versus YouTube is a great example of this.
8. There is an infinite number of "indie hacker" opportunities.
* There is no end to the number of niche problems that can be identified and served. Big businesses and platforms create massive opportunities to go for the long tail. New businesses can build on top of these platforms or build for these platforms, creating tools to help people use them. For example, there are thriving tools business ecosystems today for Stripe, Shopify, WordPress, and still many more use cases yet to be addressed.
* Indie Hackers: https://www.indiehackers.com