The Problem With Indie Hacking That Nobody Wants To Talk About

The Problem With Indie Hacking That Nobody Wants To Talk About
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

The internet, for the most part, is a winner-takes-all market. That means the best app in any given category will, given enough time, take over competitors. Take Stripe or Google as case studies.

As an indie hacker, this presents a problem. How can I, as one person, out-compete funded companies with actual engineering teams and runways measured in years instead of months?

In reality, there are some things that complicate the winner-takes-all theory. For one, sometimes it's not about having the best product, but the the best connections - landing the right few invested customers, for example, is a strategy.

That said, more people are getting into tech as the world increasingly gets onto the internet. That means more indie hackers, and equally, more big players with VC money. The digital product scene is branching out and niching down quickly.

I remember launching products between 2006 and 2010, back when the internet was younger and smaller. Tooling and building things was so much harder, but getting people to use your thing was so much easier. There generally weren't that many competitors and the bar was so low that you'd actually have a shot at just about any new idea no matter how bad your marketing was. Things are much different now.

With the increased competition, it now requires much more business strategy to launch a successful startup than it ever has. Simply launching a super high quality product is no longer a viable strategy on its own - incorporating a distribution strategy that is built into the product is key.

As indie hackers, I think we have only a few options.

  1. We can give up on being indie hackers and raise money.
  2. We can launch products for tiny markets that are too small to attract a lot of competition. This is what the vast majority of indie hackers do, and it's totally reasonable - but it also severely limits your upside. Then, even if you stumble upon an idea that's big, you won't have much time before serious competition catches up. If you don't get enough of a head start, you'll probably have to raise money or get out-competed.
  3. We can have strategic, invested customers. This is the one that I'm newly exploring, and which I think is talked about less often. It could be an argument that B2B is easier for indie hackers, too. Essentially the thought here is that there will always be a number of large customers around a product that want some level of customization and personal attention that's not available in other mass-marketed products. In short, they want to know who they're doing business with, and know them well. In these cases, you can actually have just 20 customers, for example, paying $1,000/month, and hit $20,000/mo in revenue. These 20 customers might choose your indie hacker product over popular competitors not because you're a better product, but because they can get on a phone call with you and ask a question, and because you might even be able to deliver custom features just for them.

I don't have this all figured out, but I am generally aware of the problem with being both an indie hacker, yet trying to compete in the winner-takes-all market. It's a hard problem, and one that nobody is talking about.

Lastly - I know a lot of successful indie hackers that have launched products with revenue in the tens of thousands of dollars who would probably argue with me, but I think that there's something to be said for the fact that (1) they are not the norm, they are the exception, (2) they've already maxed out their niche, or (3) they are likely not going to be around in 10 years unless they raise money and keep up with the market.