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Bootstrapping 2.0: Indie Hackers, Micro-Acquisitions & Micro-Angels
The lowest ever barrier of entry to creative & financial freedom
Most of the projects I’ve built or contributed to in my career were built as a result of a market inefficiency.
As a freelancer, I worked with so many people in pursuit of launching new projects, and eventually startups.
Despite some successes (for which I’m forever thankful), a tiny fraction of those projects ever even came to fruition, with a declining success rate over time.
If you keep trying to build startups the traditional way over and over, you’ll find that the older you and your team get, the more complicated life becomes for everyone and the chances of things materializing go down with time.
If you work or want to work as an indie hacker, then you’ve probably run into a similar catch-22. You want to build awesome shit with your talented friends, but they need to put food on the table.
You might be willing to eat ramen for a year to earn your freedom, but your new-Dad friend can’t because he’s got a newborn and a very tired wife to look after.
So you want to build something, and everybody’s on board, but the plane never quite makes it off the tarmac. The wick never takes.
And if things do manage to kick off, you may find that despite your best efforts, the time you manage to invest in your product is miles away from the level of commitment you know is needed to achieve meaningful progress with your project…
…while bearing in mind that you need to exert that level of energy with determination over an extended period of time.
It will be awhile before you begin to see compounding growth and returns from your efforts, and half the war is won by showing up every day, maintaining momentum and staying motivated.
Indie hackers become indie hackers because of this realization.
You need to be doing this full-time, for a sustained period of time. If a job is in the way, then you might feel it needs to go so you can go do your own thing.
And then plan around that outcome and how to materialize it.
On a more ambitious level, you may have some pedigree in the pure tech startup world, having raised capital and/or pursued a Big Startup Idea in the past to improve the world and get rich in the process.
It’s totally fine to go raise money as a means of solving for the catch-22, but in practice, it very rarely works out:
Most traditional angels or VCs will walk away from a deal where the team isn’t working full-time on the product.
But you can’t work full-time on a product without funds. So you’re trading one catch-22 for another.
The world of startups truly is like the Wild West.1
Of course, the big secret that indie hackers have discovered is that it is very possible to build meaningful, recurring income by owning the full startup stack all on your own: building product, attracting customers & earning MRR.
The major key is to keep a small scope so that the entire stack can be manageable for a one-person operation. Save Big Startup Ideas for multiplayer play.
That is how the world of Micro-SaaS came to be, and why I believe the future holds the vast majority of the growth for this entirely new class of entrepreneurship.
The reason you’d want to build, buy or invest in a Micro-SaaS is because it’s a gateway to freedom. And freedom means different things to different people over time.
If you asked me what my freedom meant 10 years ago, I’d have answered that above all else, I wanted the ability to divest my time, money and attention from anything that I did not want to do.
Today, it’s simply the ability to explore meaningful work with the people I care most about. I could be past the rat race, but it’s still relevant either for me or the people I care about.
In my case, I’ve spent the majority of my career (very) successfully growing other peoples’ companies. My team and I have suffered from the freelance catch-22 for as long as I can remember.
Until I decided to teach myself to code and build my own shit.
In cryptocurrency communities, you’ll often see investors writing
ETH to the MOON! 🚀.
When someone sells their crypto after a long period of holding, they are congratulated for reaching their moon.
I say: to each his moon.
Don’t judge someone for selling out because you don’t know what their moon is. For some, crypto gains erased student debt. Others bought lambos. To each his moon.
I’ve… got a few moons I want to reach.
My first moon is to gain the freedom to work with my crew on stuff that feels like play, without jeopardizing the ability to stay bootstrapped or raise money at extremely favourable terms.
If that feels kinda vague, it is purposefully so.
My second moon is to just play the game, and win it on my terms. That could mean indie hacker success from doing it all on our own, and maintaining that level of independence for the foreseeable future.
It could mean reaching market/product-fit with a high-potential team/product and having the financial capacity to forego salaries if raising money2.
This would greatly amplify the impact of invested capital (i.e. more headcount) and gives me more clarity with decision-making. I know too many founders who rely on their runway for rent.
For me, it’s just having the ability to listen for patterns and being nimble enough with my time to fully explore them, thru and thru, without reservation as to their potential return.
Chaotic exploration is where I do my best work, and where magic usually appears. And I want way more of it, for as long as I walk this Earth.
For the past little while, I’ve taken the time to really understand what about building in public creates so much uplift in the success rate of Micro-SaaS businesses.
Is it the fact the products are simple and straightforward and thus less likely to fail?
Is it the fact that many Micro-SaaS businesses are tools for the creator economy, and the act of selling to other indie hackers creates a rising tide that helps all boats?
I think there’s something so much more powerful at play:
Building in public is the anti-startup playbook.
It’s a fundamentally opposite approach to secretive building, boring stuff like brand tone-of-voice and deliberate content marketing plans.
It replaces the artificial parts of building a brand out of nothing with an authentic story of personal survival, grit and determination.
Brand stories are narrative. They are planned. This is felt by everyone. It’s what gave birth to product-led growth3. People hate being sold.
The good news is you don’t have to chase authenticity. You can just be yourself. Your own story is far more compelling to the world than that of an icon.
This is why building in public — or more simply, documenting as you go — is marketing in its purest form. It cuts out all of the bullshit you hide your true self behind.
It creates a direct channel with your end-consumer from the moment of founding to the moment of onboarding. If it takes 7 touches to earn a sale, building in public is earning a sale by 1,000 touches.
The creator and passion economies are the next frontiers in entrepreneurship. They are the catalyzing forces behind the Next Great Era. The future of work has arrived. We’re here.
Platforms like Shopify, Patreon, Substack, TikTok and others have opened the door to the anti-career path. The concept of selling time for money is antiquated and quickly diminishing.
To participate in this new economy, indie hackers sign a contract with themselves to be unhappy and broke until such time that their product becomes default-alive.
The searing pain inflicted by this decision is the very thing that drives scrappy developers to hack together simple solutions quickly and efficiently. It has to be small but it needs to sell, and fast.
It’s also what stops so many incredibly talented people from jumping in. The pain is very real, and not everyone can sign up for it, even if they’re mentally/physically/financially prepared for it.
There’s a huge number of developers for whom pain + time is the only available equation to reach indie hacker success.
I believe there’s an equally large number of entrepreneurs who can become indie hackers by buying the right to play, rather than earning it with time, sweat and pain.
While this new approach requires capital, it doesn’t require much. You don’t have to invest much to cut significant amounts of pain and time out of getting started.
What’s amazing is that micro-angels represent the missing leg in this micro-ecosystem of creative and financial freedom:
Indie hackers build & sell products
Micro-angels enable indie hackers to get out
Indie hackers enable micro-angels to get in
Platforms like MicroAcquire enable the ecosystem
The PE game isn’t new. What is new is that the game is becoming more accessible. The reason there are indie hackers today is the same reason micro angels will exist tomorrow.
There are two kinds of micro-angels:
1) An operator who buys to work on the product. Usually just one.
2) An investor who buys to hold a portfolio. Usually many products.
They’re completely different paths if you want them to be, but they can re-converge at your whim:
On the operator track, you could kickoff your indie hacker journey by buying a small product for not much money.
When that product reaches a certain ARR threshold, your motivation will be to either continue doing what is already working or to diversify yourself and start working on other products.
This enables you to start thinking at a portfolio scale.
On the investor track, you’d start off by investing in a few micro-SaaS products that fit into a given investment thesis.
Over time, Pareto’s Law causes one of the products in the portfolio to become an outlier.
Granted the fact you’ll be able to reach your portfolio multiple with that one product, you decide to double-down and spend most of your time on that product alone.
You might even go as far as sell off the other products in the portfolio to reinvest the returns you get from them into the main outlier.
I love the possibility of that duality, and I think it exists because micro-angels like myself earned our wings by building and growing products, and the best way we know to make money is to simply continue doing what we do best.
Freelancers want to be the masters of their own destiny, and are willing to pay for a shortcut to become indie hackers rather than slogging for years trying to find a point of entry.
Full stack engineers, effective sales professionals and proven marketers earn a premium in the startup marketplace.
There’s enough meat on the bone every month to save up for a small acquisition, and to leverage that to get to meaningful revenue faster than if they were to start from nothing.
Sandwiched between the micro-angels building and buying, and the indie hackers building and selling rests incredibly fertile land upon which a single individual could build a fortune doing something they are truly passionate about.
Platforms like MicroAcquire will continue to launch, arm the rebels and democratize the opportunity to participate in this new and exciting world.
I can’t wait to see where this world takes us.
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This is an oversimplification.
There are plenty of fundable startups. One of the core characteristics of a startup founder is that they are jobless, either by choice or otherwise.
It’s going to be next to impossible to raise money for an idea you’re working on part-time, and my point isn’t that you’d raise money so you could pay yourself.
The catch-22 is that you need to work on a product nights-and-weekends to make it fundable. If you manage to reach that milestone, why would you ever raise money?
The true purpose of pre-seed money is exploration. Seed is a structured attempt to reach market-product fit. Series A+ feeds the engine.
My point is: you will have trouble raising a pre-seed on a part-time basis, so if you take the leap to build a product on your own time to be able to raise a pre-seed, you ought to instead spend that time to build the same product up to revenue, immediately, and own your destiny. Then, if you want to raise money to go faster, it’ll be on your terms. Most of us prefer freedom.
I’d much rather raise capital because I have a working engine than to discover what the engine is.
I know too many founders who rely on their runway to pay their rent. And no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, that’s going to cloud your judgement, consciously or otherwise.
People no longer to be sold. Product is the number one growth driver because it is the most authentic place from which to create a discourse with customers.
It is infinitely more natural to have a discussion about how to use your product for value than it is creating fluffy awareness pieces just to fill up your retargeting audiences.
The opposite approach solves this problem by enabling the product to generate demand for itself, rather than constantly having to go out there and create demand for the product out of thin air.