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Week 4 of 52 to Indie Hacking

In case you missed it here is what happened on my previous weeks.
Week 4 of 52 to Indie Hacking
By Jim Zarkadas • Issue #4 • View online
In case you missed it here is what happened on my previous weeks.

My first project
On Monday I had a call with Paul, one of the founders of the Tideline app. One week before our call, when I was validating the eyeball reports idea, he commented and told me that their app does exactly what I wanted to build. Even if there was somebody already working on this I decided back then to proceed and continue investigating this idea. I wanted to understand the main challenges and see the reactions from the surfing community. During our call I saw that our vision and goals were very close. The eyeball reports was something they wanted to focus on heavily.
I realized that I had to make a decision. I would either compete or help them. My goal with this project was to help the community, and competing felt too selfish. So, I decided to find a way to team up with them and work together. I came up with the idea of helping them as a design advisor for their app and proposed them to do regular design feedback sessions. His team consists of pro-surfers that know the ins-and-outs of the surfing ecosystem. By working with them, I will expand my network and get more integrated into the community. It felt like a smart move. I focused on what really matters. I hope they will accept my proposal and start these sessions soon.
A few minutes later I brought up into our discussion another project I wanted to work on. “Carpooling for surfers”. Many surfers are not living close to the beach and don’t have a car to go there. If they can share their ride with a fellow surfer from their city they can save time and money and also meet new people. This is a problem I also have myself.
I asked for his feedback and he told me that indeed it’s a real struggle that many surfers have. “Awesome, I should give it a try.”, I thought. Once we were done with our call I started thinking about how to approach this project. I knew that especially now with Covid19 it will be complex and the timing may be wrong.
Defining the MVP
“The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
The next day I started by mapping out a plan for this project. My first goal was to validate the problem and see how many surfers relate to it.
That day, one of my subscribers messaged me on Twitter to share her enthusiasm about this journal, and to offer me help and advice on my projects. She is also a fellow surfer. “How cool is that”, I thought. She is the first person that messaged me out of the blue to offer me help and share her excitement. She made me feel proud that I started this journal and decided to be transparent about my journey.
We started discussing the carpooling idea and advised me to keep it simple. To focus on identifying as fast as I can, all the challenges that surfers will have with carpooling. For example girls may be interested into carpooling with other girls only. I have to try and see. Her background is more business related. She is not a technical person and that gave me a new perspective. Her definition of “keep it simple” was different than mine.
My first suggestion was to “Develop a super simple website where people can ask and offer a carpool to a certain surf spot in Netherlands.”. If it ever gets any traction only then I will start improving it. As a product designer and developer I am used to building products. But sometimes this is not the right way to go. Once I suggested this, she brought me another perspective that really changed the way I think. “Most surfers are already in Facebook groups and interact there. Why don’t you create a Facebook group instead of a website? People can do the exact same thing. Ask and offer carpool rides”. At first I didn’t like the approach. “I won’t have anything to design and develop this way", I thought. “It will be boring”. That was the moment I realized that I was wrong. A Facebook group could solve the problem. Only when the group gets big enough, there will be a real need for an external website.
I decided to go for it and created a Facebook group called “Car Pooling - Golfsurfers in Nederland”. I posted about it in some surf-related Facebook groups and 6 people joined in total. Not the most positive reaction… I was feeling disappointed. My previous post about the beach eye reports idea, got almost 100 reaction. But this one had no strong interest from the community. Maybe the timing is wrong. Maybe the idea is bad itself. Or maybe it just needs some time to grow and spread the word.
I decided to focus and appreciate the fact that I did a first step and brought this idea into life. Now there is a place where people can offer and ask a carpool ride in Netherlands. That’s better than nothing, no success comes overnight. The goal is to experiment and move fast.
The ROI of helping
All of us are born investors. Even if we don’t realize it. Every day we make small or big investments. Investments of time and energy. I used to think of investments as something that is only related to money. But I was wrong. To invest is to allocate money/time/energy/you-name-it in the expectation of some benefit in the future.
Three weeks ago I wrote in my journal that I will start helping the indiehackers community actively. That I will teach myself the value and beauty of giving back. Two weeks later I started seeing the return over this investment (also known as ROI).
On Wednesday I had a call with a fellow surfer and indiehacker based in Portugal. He is building his own product for surfers called Dedica. During our call I gave him a lot of user feedback on his product and helped him to overcome some design challenges he was struggling with. My goal was to help him and didn’t have the intention of asking something back. A few days later I made a similar call with another indiehacker.
After both calls I had the same feeling. A feeling of satisfaction and gratitude. When I share with people the knowledge that I have, I give them courage and make them smile. I put my ego and competitive-self aside and give without asking. They say that “rich people are the ones who share”. I always believed into this idea and now I am integrating it even more into my everyday life.
On a business level, helping others can also have a big return too. It makes me more confident, it brings more people into my network and in the long-term it brings more opportunities. For example during one of my calls I learned about the no-code trend. No-code is the idea of building a digital product by using visual tools and not writing code. This way you can move faster and keep the complexity low. Now that I am aware of it I can build my next project easier and move faster.
That’s the beauty of networking. When you meet new people you don’t know what’s going to happen, and how they will change your life. The only thing you know is that you have to trust the process, be open and let the mystery unfold.
Networking as a project
As days went by the value of networking was becoming more and more clear to me. Meeting new people was as important as working on a project. I realized it’s an essential part of the process that requires time and energy. A must-have. Not a nice-to-have.
At some point during the last week I started thinking about the process I have for networking. I was feeling I didn’t have any solid strategy for it. I only had the goal that “I want to meet as many people as I can in these 12 months”. However a goal without a clearly defined strategy is nothing more than a dream. “Where will I find these people? How will I approach them and how will I build a relationship with them?” Many questions started floating around in my mind.
“When I build a product I have a pretty much solid process.”, I thought. I start with the problem definition, I write down the problem I want to solve, and then find users to validate it. After that I build an MVP and bring the product into life. Why not follow a structured process for networking as well? Why not measure the progress and come up with everyday tasks that are focused on networking?
That was it. Once I realized that I needed a process everything started to get in order. “I will treat networking as if it is a product that I am going to build”. I created a new group of items related to networking in my todo list and started writing everything I’ve achieved so far. I also wrote new ideas I want to experiment with in the future. I started getting creative and networking wasn’t anymore beers with random people on design meetups. There was a vision and a strategy behind it. Like in a real product.
A few hours later a past experience came to my mind. Some months ago before Covid19, I started volunteering at the local indoor skatepark of Utrecht. Two times per month I was doing a bar-shift there, serving drinks and issuing entrance tickets. It was a way for me to make new friends from the skate community, and feel more integrated to the Dutch society. I am an expat here so it’s really important for me to feel as a local. I did these bar-shifts for one month and turned out to be amazing. I met new people and made this skatepark a place of mine where I can hangout and chill. It took me months of emotional struggle to come up with this idea of volunteering. My main problem back then was that I had nobody to go skateboarding with. Once I wrote down my problem, and started coming up with ideas to experiment with, I started seeing some progress. I had to try multiple ideas until I find the volunteering one. I even tried asking other skaters to film them for free with my GoPro so that I can meet them and eventually hangout with them. I tried it two times and failed. It was too weird and not the right way to socialize. But the point was that I experimented and tried various approaches. And failed until I succeed. I didn’t treat it as a problem, but as an opportunity.
It feels like a roller coaster
My music corner
My music corner
“Motivation gets you going but discipline keeps you growing.” I won’t lie. When it comes to discipline, I have lots of room for improvement. Procrastination is a real struggle. Emotional ups and downs are a struggle too. We tend to believe that when we are 100% free to chase our dreams, everything will come in an easy and fun way. That’s not true. Freedom requires discipline and structure. It’s not easy to be free and do whatever you want. You can get lost and stressed. Suddenly you have to decide what you are going to focus on. There is nobody to take decisions for you. You are on your own.
Now that I am able to build any product I want, every week my emotions are mixed. On Tuesday morning I may feel like I am going to succeed on everything I do, and on the next day I may feel stressed and pessimistic because my ideas turned out to not be that good. I am emotionally fragile. Half day I can be full of excitement and the other half full of disappointment.
What I miss here is discipline and balance. The discipline to manage my emotions and enthusiasm. Of course excitement is good but when it’s too much it’s bad. By not getting overexcited, I won’t get over-disappointed. Business is full of try and error. If for every error I feel disappointed, it’s over. I won’t make it. That’s why I need to work on this and observe myself. Like I do when meditating. I need to observe my feelings more and develop a perspective to protect myself.
The week was over and I took some time to sit back and relax. To observe and realize that everything is fine. Indie-hacking is cool. But enjoying life and doing things that make me feel calmer is cooler. Appreciating life is not easy. You can’t say “Now I will appreciate life and feel gratitude”. It doesn’t work like that. It needs some kind of activity that forces you to relax, slow down and feel the gratitude of being loved and alive. Music is one of these activities for me. It’s like a spiritual process. There are no thoughts. Only emotions.
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Jim Zarkadas

On the 1st of June 2020, I quit my job and started pursuing a career as a digital solo entrepreneur (aka indie-hacker).

For the next 12 months , every week I'll be sharing all of my learnings as well as the behind the scenes of coming up with an idea and making it happen. I've no clue what kind of products I am going to build, and figuring this out is also part of my journey.

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