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Week 8 of 52 to Indie Hacking

Week 8 of 52 to Indie Hacking
By Jim Zarkadas • Issue #8 • View online
In case you missed it here is what happened on my previous weeks.

Learning VS Procrastinating
On Monday I finished reading “The Mom Test” book and finally had all the insights I needed to interview my audience properly. However for some reason I was feeling uncomfortable and couldn’t understand why. I started asking questions to myself trying to figure out what’s wrong: “What should be my next step now? Should I start reading a new book? Should I pick an idea and start validating it?”
No good answer came up and I spent a few hours reading articles online. At some point I found the following post. “How do you get good at indie hacking?”. Its first comment hit me immediately.
Sell something tiny to an audience you already belong to.
Most folks wanna get fancy. They read all the books, buy all courses, sign up for all of the software, test out off of the tools.
But getting fancy without foundations will get in the way of you understanding the basic rules of why business works: why people buy, who buys, how to reach them, and how to do it all over and over.
Every single successful business owner I know can tell you the turning point when they made their first sale to a stranger on the internet, and for most of them, it was something very, very small.
Going through the entire experience of selling something very small isn’t about the money you’ll earn from that tiny thing, it’s about seeing the reality of every step of the experience, and learning how it feels.
I realized that my main focus should be on sales and customer development. This wasn’t something new to me as I was already doing it with some of my weekly UX feedback sessions. The main point was that I had to get more serious with it. I needed to find companies that make a profit and find expensive problems to solve for them. Not just fellow indiehackers. The UX feedback sessions was my comfort zone and a small first step but it wasn’t enough. I needed to start contacting more people outside of the indiehacking community and figure out a way to make them give me the feedback I needed.
On top of that I also realized that reading books and articles all the time is the perfect excuse to procrastinate. It’s an easy way for me to avoid getting out of my comfort zone. I fool myself by saying “I am studying and preparing myself to do it the right way”. “But when am I ready enough to go for it?” Truth is that I will never be 100% ready. At some point I just have to find the courage and learn by doing. Reading is good but only when there is balance. Real life experience always provides way more insights.
Sales > Marketing
So I started thinking “How can I contact a stranger and make them talk to me about their business problems? Should I find their emails and phone numbers and just call them?” This approach of calling somebody out of the blue is called “cold emailing/calling”. Personally I have been a big hater of this approach for a long time now and I always believed that marketing is the right way to find customers. I used to believe that the right way to grow a business is to create meaningful, inspiring content online and let potential customer find you on their own.
Last week I realized I had no clue what I was talking about. Marketing is great. But it’s impossible for most companies to survive only with it. How am I going to survive during the first steps of my company if I just write blog posts, create videos and wait? I need something more practical with immediate results.
To be honest it was hard for me to put my ego aside and admit I was wrong. I was feeling that I was about to harm my values for the shake of making money. I asked myself “What’s so wrong with sales and why do I hate them so much?”. The answer was easy. “Because most sales people I’ve interacted with didn’t respect my time and were too aggressive. They were intrusive, pushed as much as they could and they only cared about getting a deal closed. In other words, they didn’t give a fuck about me. They only cared about getting money from me and were not willing to listen.”
“Ok makes sense” I thought. “The question now is how can I do sales without acting like that and without being unethical? How can I contact people, show respect to them and make them talk to me?”. I had no idea how to answer that so I started researching the topic of ethical cold sales. After a few google searches I found out a great interview of Steli Efti in Steli Efti is is the founder of Close CRM a Software as a Service that helps sales teams do their job easier and faster. Close CRM is pretty successful already and makes multiple millions of revenue per year. His interview was 45mins long so I closed my Mac and lied on my couch to fully focus on listening to it. The main takeaway was that sales is like a muscle and skill you develop. You learn by practice and you need to accept that you will get embarrassed some times during your first steps. However the more you do it, the more empathy you develop for your audience and the better you become at it. He also explained in detail why new enterpreuners avoid sales and what’s their main emotional struggle.
It’s a much softer thing to direct with than going to a coffee shop, showing my thing to ten people and everybody’s telling me this sucks. I’m going to get a much stronger emotional-felt reaction of rejection and failure, and we all like to avoid that. This doesn’t feel good to any real human being.
A sales experiment
Half of the week was over and it was clear to me what was my next step. I had to overcome my fear of trying to sell something to strangers. That’s why I was finally feeling uncomfortable back on Monday.
I needed to go out there, do mistakes and learn. There is no way to succeed from the first try. I decided to act smart and stop finding excuses to procrastinate. The week before I wrote that I am going to focus on building tools for the tech and design industry. I didn’t have a solid problem to solve until then and therefore I had no product to sell. I knew this was the perfect excuse for me to say to myself “Jim unfortunately you have no product to sell yet. It’s not that you are not brave enough, you just don’t have the product. You can leave the sales challenges for later.”
“But do I really need to come up with a product idea to do that?” I thought. “Why don’t I take a product that already exists and try to sell it to somebody and see how it feels.”
That was the aha moment for me. Since Greek is my native language I came up with the following idea. “I can find a niche in Greece that hasn’t modernised the way they work and sell them an online tool that already exists in another country. That should be easy and there won’t be any language barrier like here in Netherlands.” It looked like a cool idea, so I picked the nutritionists and dietitians niche. I found this tool and wrote down its 3 main selling points. After that I started writing a sales script and mapped out everything I should tell them on the phone. The last missing part was to find some phone numbers to call. I opened the google maps, searched for nutritionists in Athens, the city where I grew up and I wrote down the first 3 phone numbers I found. That was it, I had all I needed. “A product, an audience, a sales script and the phone numbers of 3 potential customers.”
At some point I started laughing. “Man, this is so uncomfortable. It’s really exciting that I proved myself I don’t have any excuses to avoid cold calling but I feel totally out of my comfort zone. I feel like a small kid trying to become a man.” “Hmm, a small kid trying to become a man. I love that.” That’s why I finally love entrepreneurship so much. Because I always have to face this challenge. I have to take risks, force myself to get out of my comfort zone and grow up. It’s a way for me to constantly evolve myself, and become more independent.
I spent some minutes staring at my phone, trying to visualize how the call will feel and what will I tell them once they answer. At some point I took a deep breath and made my first call. No reply. “Shit” I thought. “Let’s go quickly to the next one before I lose my momentum.”. I called the second number and they picked it up. I introduced quickly myself and felt my heartbeat speeding up. I explained briefly the reason I am calling and asked them if they have 5 minutes for me. They stopped me right there and said. “I am sorry I am busy at the moment is it ok to call later?”. “Sure no problem I can also send you an email if it works” I replied. “Cool that would be great” they replied, and hanged up. A few minutes later I also tried calling the last phone number I had on my list but got no reply unfortunately.
That was it. The day was over and I had an achievement to celebrate for. I forced myself to do this call and got out of my comfort zone. Did I make a successful sale? No. But it didn’t matter, it wasn’t the goal in any case. The goal was to just push myself and stop being afraid of it. Now I feel way more comfortable with trying it again and keep learning by failing.
Weekly design mentoring - A new experiment
In one of my previous issues I wrote that I enjoy mentoring others. I feel happier when I help fellow IndieHackers with their products and share my design knowledge with them. Back when I was in TicketSwap and had the responsibility of the design lead my biggest accomplishment was to see the team growing. They didn’t grow of course just because of me. They tried hard and they put a great amount of effort to do it. What I did was to facilitate and guide them as much as I could. I also tried my best to create an environment in our team where they could spend their time learning and growing and not just executing tasks.
The last few weeks I’ve been in frequent touch with Toon, a fellow IndieHacker also based here in Netherlands. All these weeks we have been discussing our updates, and help each other by sharing our learnings and our challenges. Sometimes just describing my challenges to somebody helps me form a better understanding of them. The previous week I came up with a new idea. “Since I enjoy design mentoring, why don’t I suggest Toon to mentor him on a weekly basis? His main expertise is not design and he would appreciate some help on that. This way I can see if I like doing it on a frequent basis with a specific person and I can also see what’s the value of it in the long-term. Maybe I could create some micro-service out of it in the future, and make some side-income by having fun.”
My first reaction was to overanalyse it. “What am I going to teach him, what will be my process? How much time will I invest? Will it be a loss of time or will it be valuable for me?” I stopped thinking and took the lean approach. “I will try a few sessions and see how it goes.” No clear plan, no structure, nothing. I will figure out everything along the way. That’s one of the beauties of doing it for free, nobody will judge me, instead they will guide me by showing me what they need. Together we will find the right path to follow. Having that in mind, I sent my idea to Toon and he finally liked it. We were both pretty excited about it and we planned our first session later in the week.
The day came and we finally did it. The session was really fun and very helpful for both of us. We mainly focused on his product strategy and asked him to describe me his audience in detail. What tools do they use, what lifestyle do they have, and what problems do they struggle with. We took a look on the overall ecosystem and some competitors and at some point everything was clear to me. We continued by taking a look at his landing page, and at some initial mockups of his app. While we were going through all the screens he had designed, we both realized that the product strategy was not solid enough yet. It wasn’t crystal clear what problem the product was trying to solve and how it fitted into the current workflow of his audience. Therefore we decided for our future sessions to refine the problem definition and design a prototype around it.
“But how is this related to design?” somebody would may ask. For me this is what product design is all about. Strategy. As a designer my job is to design a solution to an existing user problem. In order to achieve that the first step is to get into the user’s shoes and understand their problem as much deep as I can. Only then will the product user experience make sense for them. Designing a form, a web page or an app is the easy part of the job. The big challenge is to make sure this piece of design will be useful for them. Good design is transparent. It’s much more than what users see. It’s humble, hidden and makes everything more fun. And that’s why I love it so much.
Did you enjoy this issue?
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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