Courtland Allen Founder of Indie Hackers

Episode № 12

Courtland's story is great because he's been on a bit of the roller coaster, and now he's starting fresh with Indie Hackers. He's interviewing other founders of businesses of all sizes and helping to shed light on what's possible for small independent software-based businesses. At the same time, the stories are also grounded in realistic stories of slow growth and hard work instead of just focusing on those businesses that hit the jackpot. Courtland's past experience combined with his discussions with other founders has given him some great perspective and insight on what works and doesn't work for small software businesses.

Garrett Dimon: All right. Hello. We’re here today with Courtland Allen, who’s running Indie Hackers. Which is a site where he’s been interviewing smaller entrepreneurs who are independent, and running software businesses, and building up some really interesting sustainable businesses bit by bit.

He’s doing his own thing with Indie Hackers. He’s making some money on that on the side, with some bigger plans. He’s also, obviously, talked to a ton of really interesting people with really interesting stories. I wanted to talk to him about what he’s learned, what he’s doing, and all of that. Welcome.

Courtland Allen: Hi, Garrett. Glad to be here.

Garrett: Go ahead and give me a quick rundown of your history, your backstory – how you got to where you are today, what has inspired you to get here, and where you’re hoping to take Indie Hackers.

Courtland: My backstory is that I’ve been a computer programming nerd since I was like eight years old.

Courtland: We first got the Web at my house, ended up going in MIT, getting a degree in computer science. I graduated immediately, started doing a startup called Syphir that ran out of money and didn’t do very well.

About a year later, I got into Y Combinator. I did Y Combinator in winter, 2011. Six years ago now we did a startup called Taskforce, which the app still exists, but we shut it down as a company that had all these big aspirations.

Three, four months ago now, I started working on Indie Hackers, which is what we’re doing an interview for, where I basically find the founders of profitable side projects, or online businesses, or tech companies. I ask them also two questions including how much money they’re making, how they got the idea, alternative ideas they considered, and how they’re doing growth and marketing, etc.

The story of my life has basically always been focused on entrepreneurship, especially tech startups and making money online.

Garrett: Right on, OK. You are interestingly focused on the transparency. One of the things that I think draws a lot of people to Indie Hackers is the transparency and there’s real numbers there, and all of a sudden something that is imaginary is tangible.

What drew you to transparency? Does that fit together with the motivation between the fact that all the other stories you hear online are so-and-so raised millions of dollars, or is worth millions of dollars, is making millions of dollars, is worth billions of dollars? How does all that tie together for you?

Courtland: Yeah, it’s intimately related. I think everybody’s seen those stories on “TechCrunch.” If you live in the Silicon Valley or you follow tech news, it’s what dominates the airways. How much money this company raised. How much money this company is worth on paper, based on how much they’ve raised, etc.

There’s this obsessive focus with these unicorn companies that are going for a billion dollars. Right? That makes sense to me. It’s really inspiring to see those big stories, but there’s also a lot of people like me, like you, and other people who want to be successful and they want to start a successful company, but don’t necessarily care for going for the entire like, “I’m gonna raise as much money as possible,” thing and like, “It’s all or nothing.”

I’ve seen a lot of stories like that shared online, with people demonstrating pretty… and… hearing these stories and I think, by reading these stories, I came to the conclusion that, “Hey, there are a lot more compelling stories and people care how much money they’re making.”

Having some sort of number is really interesting and it helps you, I think, put stories in context. If you hear about a guy who’s achieved a certain level of success and there’s an email newsletter that’s this big and… that it has a website with traffic. It’s hard for you to say, “Well, I want to do this too,” unless they say, “OK, I’m making $1,000 a month,” or, “$15,000 a month,” etc., because… people are trying… like this could actually be sustainable for them, if they could live their lifestyle off of a particular business. I think including the numbers makes all the interviews a lot more compelling.

It’s easier to put them in context and to decide, “OK, how does this fit into your life if you wanted to do something like this?”

Garrett: Yeah. It makes it realistic when there’s an absolute number on it rather than just talking about it.

Getting the word out about what you’re building is so important. It’s just as important as… I think, and a lot of people really underestimate it. They start building and they don’t pay any attention at all to whether or not people are going to like it or, more importantly, how they’re going to get the word out about it.

Courtland: Totally.

Garrett: Yeah. With Sifter, I never shared the numbers more for fear of it being a distraction than any concern about opinions. What have you encountered so far in terms of transparency and whether that’s hurt or helped businesses that you’ve talked to or interviewed? I’m sure some of them, talking to you, is probably when they share those numbers for the first time, I’m guessing.

Courtland: Mm-hmm, most of them.

Garrett: How have you seen that play out?

Courtland: Yeah, it’s interesting. The vast majority of companies that I’ve interviewed are like, “No, I don’t want to share my revenue numbers…crazy…

I have this giant list of 140 companies that it took me days to go through and try to find email addresses and email everybody. The vast majority of people are just like, “Fuck off.”

The people who have shared their revenue numbers, and all their secret sauce details, I think have benefited a lot because people really resonate with transparency. They really like to read about what’s going on behind the scenes.

I think it builds a sense of trust among your customers and to an audience when they know that you’re sharing all this stuff, because it makes your business a lot more personal. You… an actual person, making actual money, and you have things that you worry about, things that go well, things that don’t go well.

There are down sides, specifically depending on what kind of business you’re running. If you have some sort of business that depends on a top-secret algorithm, you probably don’t want to publish the code to that top-secret algorithm.

There are some businesses and some founders who’ve said, “Hey, I really want to share in Indie Hackers, and I think what you guys are doing is awesome, but I’m operating in the segment where it’s, like, kind of secret right now.

“And I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself until I hit some level of success, or I think I’ve built, like, the moats that I need to defend my business,” which I think is important in a lot of cases.

In that situation, I think you have more of a reason not to necessarily share revenue. I think I’ve had a lot of companies on the site who have also told me, “Yeah, there’s tons of people who’ve, like, released clones,” not necessarily right after they had an Indie Hackers interviews, but even beforehand, so I think that kind of mindset; but, overall, transparency is huge.

There are so many businesses that embrace transparency – like Buffer, like ConvertKit – that are just growing rapidly and successfully despite how open they are. Because, at the end of the day, no one’s going to clone exactly what you’re doing two years after you start and then catch up to you and pass you unless you’re just doing a terrible job anyway. It’s usually not the make-or-break factor.

Garrett: That’s what I was going to say. I don’t think it’s ever the truly deciding factor. Being somebody who has just never wanted to mess with that and go down that road. Looking back, it’s like, “Eh, it probably really didn’t matter.” For me, I was just really afraid of it being a distraction more than anything.

Courtland: On that note, I’ve been pretty transparent about Indie Hackers. I think it would just be hypocritical for me to have a site that requires everybody to be transparent and me not to share my own revenue. There are parts of it that are definitely distracting.

I write these month-end review blog posts – and I need to write one tomorrow, actually, because this is the end of November – where I share, “OK, here’s how much money I made. Here’s how many visitors I got.” In a way, it’s distracting because I feel like I’m making these promises and these goals in public. That makes me way more committed to try to follow through.

At the end of October, I was like, “I want to have 2,000… 200,000… and I stressed myself out over trying to hit this arbitrary goal that I just, on a whim, wrote in a public blog post. It’s definitely a distraction to have people know what your goals are, and what you’re doing, and to feel beholden to them and not try to let them down. I think it takes some alignment in transparency.

Garrett: You can do that to yourself almost too much, too. I know with Sifter my expectations were unrealistic going into it. Everything was going fine, but my expectations were just not fair. Then I’d end up disappointed even though it was doing well.

It’s tough to get that right going into it. Everybody has these big hopes and dreams, and it’s very rare that you nail those hopes and dreams. It’s easy to fall short and think you failed when, really, you’re doing just fine.

That’s a great lead into one of the things I want to talk to you about. You’re doing Indie Hackers. It’s not a software business in and of itself, but you have aspirations of maybe going there someday.

Talk a little bit about your master plan there for setting up some kind of revenue and income and then correlating that into something bigger.

Courtland: I wish I had a master plan. I’m winging it, but I’m a big fan of planning.

Garrett: A big picture, at least. Right?

Courtland: Yeah. I think of Indie Hackers right now as a content business. I think of it like it’s a hydra, this monster that has got all sorts of heads and each one does a different thing. One of them is the interviews, which is the bread-and-butter of the website.

The revenue that they generate comes entirely from sponsorships and advertising. They also generate the vast – like 90 percent – of the traffic that comes to Indie Hackers comes to see the interviews. Right now, I have an interview at the top of “Hacker News” that’s bringing in like, I think, a thousand people on my site right now, just because of that interview.

That’s the number one thing that I’m focused on right now, but I’m also focused on a podcast. I really want to release a podcast. A lot of people have asked me to release a podcast. That’s an entirely new way to bring in listeners and readers who haven’t heard about Indie Hackers before.

Also for revenue, because that’s extra real estate that I could charge for advertising and sponsorships, etc. In terms of the software side of things, because a podcast is also content, I have a few ideas in the pipeline for ways that I could actually make more scale, more income, using a SaaS application or something.

I think that Indie Hackers, more than anything, has given me an audience that, if I were to go that route, I would be able to launch to captive readers who are interested already in what I have to work on. That’s such a huge advantage that I think a lot of people miss out on or don’t take advantage of when they have it.

It’s really difficult to launch a new product into a vacuum, and I hope that it picks up steam. You need some sort of strategy to get it out there. The cool thing about Indie Hackers is that there’s just so many hundreds of thousands of visitors every month.

That no matter what I do, if I can make it something that they like, or appeals to them, or solves a problem of theirs, then it’ll get off to a good start.

Garrett: So many founders that I’ve talked to, one of the most common questions people ask is, “Where did you find your first customers?” The most successful people I’ve talked to are the ones who had built an audience of some sort. Not necessarily intentionally or with a plan, but just had an audience because they shared.

They gave stuff away. They put everything they knew out in the open to help other people. By the time they thought, “Oh, hey, I could build something,” they already had that platform to…It’s not going to be a saving grace, but it’s going to help you get kick-started.

You’re not having to desperately swim around looking for customers.

Courtland: Exactly.

Garrett: They’re already kind of built in. That’s how it was for me, with Sifter, as well. Man, I keep losing my thoughts. I get all these other good thoughts and then I lose it. What were you just talking about before that, because it triggered something?

Courtland: I was talking about releasing a SaaS application to a captive audience.

Garrett: Indie Hackers, is this your only thing you’re working on right now, or you have full-time work and this is your side project? How’s that?

Courtland: It’s my only thing. I did contract work for the past three years while, at the same time, working on my other app, Taskforce. I decided at the beginning of this year, I was just going to quit contracting. I had a decent amount of money saved up and I was just going to try to find a SaaS app, some sort of project that I could build.

Garrett: A little bit of a leap of faith then?

Courtland: A leap of faith, for sure. It’s been interesting looking at the money every month. At the same time, I was pretty confident that, if I couldn’t build a SaaS app of some sort, I could always make a content site or something where it’s a little bit easier to get kick-started, maybe. If that failed, then I could just go back to contracting.

Garrett: Did you give yourself a threshold of pain at which point you would go looking for work if your savings were running down too quick or did you just…?

Courtland: Oh, yeah. Totally. If I got down to a month or two of living expenses, I would certainly do contract work, but I think, personally, I’ve never held a full-time job. The only jobs I’ve ever had are contracting, consulting gigs, or start-ups and businesses that I founded myself. That’s just not part of who I am.

Even if I went back to work, I think I would try to find a way to work part-time so I could spend most of my time on my own project and trying to figure out how I can become independent.

Garrett: That’s very similar to what I did – paid off my credit cards, had savings, and then alternated between contracting and working on Sifter, as budgeting required.

Courtland: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Garrett: The biggest problem is when people think, “I’m just going to quit cold turkey, and then I’m going to build it, and then I’m going to make so much money I’m never going to look back.” But, the income doesn’t tend to grow like that except in rare cases.

Courtland: No, it doesn’t. It definitely doesn’t. Don’t do what I did.

Garrett: Yeah.

Diving into your experience, all the interviews, if you had to pick one or two mistakes that you feel like people say, “I screwed this up. I did this wrong. I should have done this differently,” what would those be, the recurring themes?

Courtland: Yeah, I tried to ask every single founder, “If we sent you back in a time machine, back to the beginning of your business, what would you do differently?” A lot of people like to say, “Oh, I wouldn’t change anything,” but I think that’s almost always a disingenuous answer.

You can look at their stories and you see common mistakes in things that people did probably would have grown a lot faster. The number one thing is marketing and distribution of your product. Getting the word out about what you’re building is so important. It’s just as important as… I think, and a lot of people really underestimate it. They start building and they don’t pay any attention at all to whether or not people are going to like it or, more importantly, how they’re going to get the word out about it.

Then they end up with this product, and they tweet into the abyss, and no one reads their tweet. They put it on Hacker News, no one upvotes it, and it just sits there. A lot of people get discouraged.

I don’t even want to know how many people would love to submit their company to Indie Hackers, but they tweeted about it, and posted about it, and no one said anything or used it and that was the end of it. They just abandoned it. The biggest mistake that I see is people not thinking about marketing from the get-go.

There’s the opposite trend. You look at the most successful companies, almost all of them have some sort of marketing or distribution strategy baked into the product. The very core of the product itself makes it easy to market.

These businesses that just make a product that’s so self-evidently good that it spreads like wildfire. Although those are, like the stories that people like to read, pretty rare. Most of the time, there’s some extra thing giving it a marketing push to get into user’s hands. That’s the number one mistake.

Garrett: Yeah, as developers and designers, the founders tend to come more from product people. They think, “I’m going to make a good product that doesn’t need marketing.” I don’t know if it was Steve Jobs who was always saying that, “Marketing is the price you pay for a crappy product,” or some derivative form of that.

We’re all a little bit idealistic thinking, “Oh, if I just build a good product, then I don’t have to market.” There’s two flaws in that. One, is when you first build it, it’s not good enough. Two, it needs marketing, period. Even Apple markets. Right?

Courtland: Right.

Garrett: I think we all just get a little idealistic and fall into that trap and think we don’t have to do that when, in reality, it needs to probably be a quarter, arguably maybe 50 percent, of your time reaching out, and doing the marketing, and planning it. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you want to write code. You’re like, “I don’t want to go spend time on marketing stuff,” but that’s…

Courtland: Right, right.

Garrett: I totally…

Courtland: I think that the best trick is if you could find out…Because I, personally, hate marketing stuff. The last thing I worked on – Taskforce – I was so discouraged whenever I needed to do marketing stuff. I would just spend tons of time coding when I wanted to do marketing stuff. With Indie Hackers, it… it’s been really, really different. It’s been surprising how much I’ve been able to focus on marketing stuff. I’ve realized it’s because the day-to-day tasks that I have for making the product and running the business, are marketing in and of themselves.

They’re things that were… It doesn’t even feel like marketing, but it’s getting the word out there. It’s really, really easy to do, much more so than it was with the other products. I think some of the best stories on the site are companies that have figured out a way to make marketing intimately tied with developing their product, or tied with thinking about their product, or tied with just… using… self in some way. I think, for developers – who aren’t necessarily enthused about spreading the word and really just want to code – thinking about that from the get-go and baking it into your product, there’s just no substitute for that.

Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. I have a really good question that I want to save for the end. Based on your learnings, what’s your favorite part of talking to them? What are you learning that’s opened your eyes to hearing over and over again, that you didn’t expect, or that caught you off guard, even with your own experience?

Courtland: I think I’ve got a lot of favorite parts of doing the interviews. Part of it is the personally selfish part, that I’m making all these cool connections with these really successful and inspirational people. They all feel connected to me, and I feel connected to them, and we collaborate on stuff.

I’m at a phase in my life now where I really appreciate networking and I think that I’m going to take full advantage of it. In terms of the interview content themselves, I’m constantly shocked at the amazing ideas that people are coming up with that seem so obvious once you hear them, but you just don’t…It’s like, “Why didn’t I ever think of that?”

Coming up with the idea for Indie Hackers, I spent weeks just thinking about different ideas, and most of them were crap. I hear these people’s ideas, and it’s day after day, great idea after great idea. I think that’s a phase a lot of people get stuck on.

How do people come up with their idea? Pretty consistently people are just solving their own problems, and it sounds kind of crappy to a lot of entrepreneurs who are struggling to come up with an idea, because they’re like, “I don’t have any problems,” or they look at the problems they do have and they’re like, “There’s no business there.”

I think it often comes down to having a variety of experiences, and this a thing I’ve been obsessed with in recent weeks. An idea is really just a combination of two other ideas. People who have a wide variety of experiences – like maybe they play video games, and they travel, and then they figure out some way to combine the two things – come up with the most creative ideas.

You can take almost any two random topics, and combine it, and come up with something that’s interesting.

It might not be a good business idea but, if you stick to that formula, and if you increase the breadth of your experience to the point where you just have a huge repertoire of things that you can work on, then I think you’re more likely to run into an idea and have that flash of insight that gets you started at least.

Garrett: On that note, I feel like a lot of people are stuck on, “I need to create SaaS, that needs to be the way to make money,” but, now, just looking over the interviews there’s plenty of people you’ve talked to that aren’t doing SaaS.

They’ve got some other form of either recurring revenue, or some other product or approach to what they’re doing to make money. What would you say to help people realize there’s more to it than just creating the software?

What if, “Start with this as your core and then build on that, and then maybe create a product that’s SaaS,” or all the different channels and paths that you’ve seen.

Courtland: Yeah, there’s so many of them, and I think that SaaS is this particular lure, especially if you’re a programmer. Just because it’s code, you don’t really want to hire people, you have this mindset, “I’ll just make a SaaS app. It’ll live on its own, and make a ton of money by itself.”

I don’t want to say that market is saturated. There’s still great Sass apps coming out, and there still will be indefinitely, going into the future, but there’s so many other ways to make money that might be an easier way to at least get started. It’s hard to make that case to a lot of people, to be honest. I think you should start off by trying to identify a problem that people have.

That’s the number one place to start. See if you can come up with a compelling solution to that problem that’s significantly better than what the competition is delivering, or that targets a niche, an underserved niche that doesn’t actually have a solution to their problem, so they’re doing it in some crazy way.

You don’t have to necessarily solve that with SaaS. In fact, oftentimes building a SaaS app takes months or weeks, and you can solve it by hand just to try to validate your idea and see if it’s any good before you write a single line of code. There’s this girl on the forum who started this business, her name is Tash, and she’s basically making a better Google alert system.

I told her, “Hey, I want to get all the news about Indie Hackers,” and every day she sends me all this information about, “OK, Indie Hackers is mentioned on Hacker News in this comment, mentioned on Core, here, etc., etc.”

She started off just doing this by hand, just to see if it was a viable idea, and if it was something that made sense. From there she could go anywhere. She could write this. It could turn it into a content business where she talks about the best way to do content marketing, because she is learning a lot about that in the process.

You don’t necessarily have to get your start with SaaS. I think, as time goes on, people will find alternative ways to make money, especially for the producing content. There’s just so many different holes that have not been filled in terms of the content that people are interested in consuming.

Indie Hackers is a perfect example. People want to read about these smaller businesses and no big tech publications are writing about them. To this day, not a single tech publication has written about Indie Hackers – not TechCrunch, not anything. No matter how much traffic I get, no matter how many times it’s at the top of Hacker News, so content is a good one and there’s a lot of others, too.

Garrett: Absolutely. Just trying to think. One of the things I’m trying to help people see, too, is just that it doesn’t have to start with a home run. You can hit single after single and then let them grow on each other and build on that next idea.

Starting something like that manually, going through…And I think Derek Sivers has a great blog post on this, where somebody came up to him with an idea and he said, “But I’d have to do all this and do this, and it’ll take me it’ll take me forever to get started.”

He’s like, “No, you don’t. You could start tomorrow. Just use a spreadsheet and do it by hand, and then talk to people, and then those people will give you ideas, and you can build on that, and then you could start writing software, and then slowly increase it.”

That way, a lot of people, too, are so worried about validation when it’s, “If you’re not sure, just find a way to do it manually, and then slowly automate away as much as you can. Use Google sheets and Zapier, or Airtable, or any of these tools out there to build something simple and start there.

“Then, if there’s something there, people are going to let you know, it’s going to catch fire, and you’re going to realize, ‘OK, I need to take the next step on this.’”

Courtland: Yeah. I think that kind of stuff happens all the time, with a ton of companies. You’re getting started using these hackie methods of people just using spreadsheets and stuff temporarily. People don’t realize it, because they don’t have this magical window into what happens in companies in their early days.

They just see the finished product and they’re just like, “I’ve got to go start there. Look at all these guys,” but I think…

You look at the most successful companies, almost all of them have some sort of marketing or distribution strategy baked into the product. The very core of the product itself makes it easy to market.

Garrett: Well and it’s developers too. I think a lot of peoples first inclination is, “Oh, I know how to write code. I’m going to write code,” but there’s even lower friction ways to get started that don’t require writing code. The less code you write to get started, the quicker you can test out that idea, see if it works, see if people enjoy it, appreciate it, find value in it.

Courtland: Yeah, totally. The less friction, the less time you invest up front to check and make sure that there is going to be an interest in that idea, the quicker you can focus in on the right thing, and really double down on it and put your time, apply it wisely.

I think that programmer thing is…The comments you made about programmers having this inherent bias to write code is so true. They’re just saying that, “To the man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. To a programmer everything looks like you need to write a SaaS app.”

It’s funny because a lot of programmers will undervalue the value of an idea, because they think, “Oh, it would be so easy for me to just write this.”

There’s been so many companies on Indie Hackers, or they’ve been on Hacker News, or some other place on Twitter, and a lot of developers pile on and they’re just like, “Oh, my God. This a dumb idea. Why does anybody pay for this? I could just code this for myself in 10 minutes.”

It’s like, most people aren’t programmers. They’re not going to learn to code just so they can make their own SaaS apps. I think sometimes it helps to take a step back from your own profession or way of viewing the world and think about…

Garrett: I think there is an echo chamber factor there, too. There’s so many tools being built for developers right now, and those tools get spread. They’re the ones that get featured on Product Hunt on Hacker News.

It all kind of piles on and Lord knows how many – Well, take me for instance – bug tracking apps there are in the world, or continuous integration, all these things, and a lot of them, it’s not to say they’re not the right products, but there’s so much opportunity out there, and products that are for people who aren’t developers.

Where you can take this knowledge and leverage it in a way to help people, like Derek Sivers. Obviously, he didn’t know how to develop, but he just started out helping musicians, and learned to figure it all out on the fly, and helped fill gaps whenever he came across them.

I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people to really get outside of the software echo chamber and build tools that are helpful to people outside of our niche.

Courtland: Totally agree.

Garrett: Back to all of these interviews and your experience. If you could sum all of these up and give people one lesson from those interviews – and you have to distill it to one, can’t be five topics.

Somebody wants to start some kind of business online – software content, whatever – what would that advice be?

Courtland: One piece of advice, it’s so hard because…We were talking about it earlier. It just depends on where you are. If you’re in one phase, you want totally different advice than someone else, and it’s so hard to give one piece of advice.

Garrett: Think about the people that are starting and have nothing yet. They’ve got a day job and they want to make this transition.

I think it often comes down to having a variety of experiences, and this a thing I’ve been obsessed with in recent weeks. An idea is really just a combination of two other ideas.

Courtland: All right. This might be an odd piece of advice, but the thing that I think would get the most people, maybe, off their butts, so to speak, is put up a landing page and try charging money for a product that doesn’t even exist yet.

Just try it. The reason I give this advice is because… it’s bad situation, which I think is the most…Most people have not started on anything yet. A lot of times paralyzed because there is so much work to do. Putting up a landing base and trying to charge money for it is like the simplest possible thing that you could do.

If you start getting orders, and you start making sales, I don’t know of anything else that will spur you into action faster than 5 or 10 people telling you they want to pay for this thing that you haven’t even built yet.

A really good interview that I did on that premise, Instapainting, which, to date, is the most popular interview on Indie Hackers. It was started by Chris Chen who did Y Combinator with me six years ago, but it was started two or three years ago.

He was literally in debt, in the red, had no money left, and he started Instapainting to get himself out of debt. He was like, “Oh, my God. I’m screwed. My company’s not working. I better start another company to make money.”

The first thing that he did was say, “Hey, if you send me your photos, I’ll send you back a painting. It’s only a hundred bucks,” and he got 20 orders or something and made $2,000 instantly. Then he had to build out this whole product that didn’t exist yet.

If he didn’t have the time pressure of, “Today I need to make money to get out of debt,” he never would have considered that. He would have kept making MVP after MVP of these products that took too long to build, and that no one really wanted to pay for, and that he was discouraged from. Sort of quirky, but try charging for something that doesn’t even exist yet.

Garrett: I think there’s two points I would add onto that, would be, one, make sure if you’re charging for it you can deliver it fairly quickly, because nobody is going to be more upset than giving you their credit card and then finding out they’ve got to wait three months to get the instant software they just signed up for.

Courtland: Don’t take their money, just give them the form to pay for it.

Garrett: The second is, the credit card as validation is…To me, that’s always the way to decide whether somebody’s serious or not. Talking to people, people are going to be like, “Oh, yeah. I would use it,” whether they think they would, or they’re just being nice, or whatever.

It’s so trivial for somebody to say yes to your idea, but it’s a whole other story to just simply say, “Great, can you give me a credit card and I’ll sign you up right now?” That’s going to change the answer, 9 times out of 10.

Courtland: Completely.

Garrett: You don’t necessarily have to charge the card then, but take preorders so that you can charge when you launch, and give people a discount for preordering, or something like that. Then, when you see all that potential just sitting there where you’ve got $2,000 of preorders built up and you’re like, “If I just ship this I can make $2,000 like that.”

I think that would really help and it solves both sides of it, where you’re getting that pressure building up so that you have that extra motivation, and you’re getting the validation that, “Wow. People really are willing to pay for this. There’s something here.”

I think it can really work together to, like you said, just get you off your ass and get you going and give you that boost that I think a lot of people have a lot of time getting past.

Courtland: Totally, people really underestimate the degree to which people will be nice when you tell them your idea and they’re under no obligation to pay. Definitely, definitely there’s no validation like actually getting a credit card number.

Garrett: I’ve heard too many stories where people have said, “OK, so I’ve talked to my friends and family and they all said they would use this.” It’s like, “All right, ignore all of that, unless they’re already paying for it, ignore it and start over.” It’s a story I hate to hear because so many people, “I’ve asked them, and then I built it, now nobody’s buying it.”

Courtland: Yeah. It’s funny because all of this advice that we’re talking about, it’s been discussed before. We didn’t just come up with this idea right here. It’s been discussed before. One of the things that I always tell people is if they haven’t, spend some time reading.

I think we all know the person who’s read like a thousand business books and hasn’t written a single line of code, or released anything. That’s one extreme. You could take it too far, but they haven’t read anything, and they don’t know the basic lessons that have been learned by people like you and me, and other people who’ve succeeded or have some experience doing things. I think you can go a long way towards minimizing your own misery and mistakes by learning from the people who came before you.

Spend some time in communities, or forums, or reading books or blog posts run by people who’ve done it before so you can internalize the lessons that they’ve learned and not have to repeat all those. You’ll hear things like, “Don’t necessarily trust people’s word of mouth, trust pay,” etc.

Garrett: Now, that’s absolutely the whole point for me to update the book, and write this second edition, and talk to people, and get different perspectives, and get all this together so that, hopefully, one or two people or more will hear that idea, that one thing and they’re like, “Wow. I never thought about that.”

It’ll save my week of effort and get them over the hump to launching or whatever it is that they’re trying to accomplish. Hopefully, if it works. We’ve just got to reach more people and help them see the opportunities there.

On that note, I think it’s a good note to wrap up on. We’re right on to 30 minutes anyway. Any parting words or wisdom to share.

Courtland: Great. Get out there. Don’t let anything hold you back. I think we’re moving toward a world where we’re getting a lot more independent foundations, or indie–I call them–money and figuring out their own path towards financial independence. Good luck.

Garrett: Right on. All right. Thanks for doing this. I appreciate it.

Courtland: Thanks, Garrett.

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