👨🏼‍💻 Indie, a Competitive Advantage

• 5 min read

“How can I compete with them? I’m just a single person and they’re a VC-funded company with millions of users.” 💩😩

It was 2016, I had just quit my job to start Insomnia, and was second-guessing myself. I knew I had the skills to build a great product but doubted whether or not I could compete with real companies who’d been around for years.

Eventually, I asked myself the question: Is there anything that I have that big companies don’t? Luckily, yes, there is! Along the way I’ve discovered many advantages that being an independent founder brings with it and I’m excited to share them here.

🔍 Find success in a niche market

Let’s get right to it. What’s the one thing big companies need most? Money💰. What’s something you can’t get from a niche market? $1,000,000,000 ARR. Pick a niche that has a passionate and active community and serve there needs like no one else can. Remember, you only need 500 customers paying $30/month to sustain yourself.1

Picking a niche market not only puts distance between you and other companies, it also gives you a more specific target audience to hit. It’s impossible to please everyone, so the more narrow the audience, the better.

🏄‍♀️ Adapt at super speed

As an indie you likely don’t have investors, and you definitely don’t have a boss. If a radical change needs to happen to better suite your customers, do it! Large companies have to deal with bureaucracy, enterprise needs, and massive complexity, so aren’t able to make changes as quickly as you can. Run circles around the giant ships in your tiny speedboat. 🚤

One of the turning points for Insomnia was deciding to release the code as open-source.2 This was a huge decision and was something I’d been debating since the beginning. Then, one day, I just woke up and decided it made sense. A few hours later I flipped the switch and it was done, no need to ask permission from anyone.

❤️ Connect more deeply with customers

Some companies do a great job presenting a friendly face to the world, but don’t be fooled, cracks in this facade are bound to show eventually. Just got locked out of your account? Concerned about a recent product change? Have a feature request? Just want to chat with someone who cares? Good luck finding someone who really understands.

It’s not the fault of the employees either, they just simply aren’t close enough to the business to deliver the compassion, care, and knowledge that a solo founder can. Providing amazing customer support and detailed documentation is one of the best ways to get ahead. 🚀

In Insomnia’s early days, I received a couple 1000+ word emails from passionate early adopters. This information was invaluable during the early stages of product development. There’s no way the same thing would have happened if those customers thought they were talking to a faceless corporate entity.

🙌 Showcase passion and care

No one is as passionate about a product as you, the person who created it. Take advantage of this and share as much as you can with the world, in an honest manner. This will give your audience a real person to associate the product with, leading to deeper interaction, evangelism, and patience.

Here are a few things to try:

  • Share your struggles, not just your wins
  • Treat customer support as if you’re talking to a friend
  • Write in detail about intricate design decisions
  • Go overboard with small details that delight the user
  • Use lots of emoji 🙌🏻🚀🌟 (big companies hate ‘em)

Similar to meeting the chef at a local restaurant, learning about the person behind the creation helps provide context and create a lasting impression.

💰 Charge money more easily

Even at $5/month—the price of a fancy coffee—people don’t like paying for software. Improving the conversion rate would be a huge advantage, wouldn’t it? Sticking with our theme, if users know that their money is going directly to the creator, they can be much more willing to give up the dough.

While it’s difficult to know the exact proportion, I’ve heard from dozens of users on Insomnia’s $5/month Plus plan who say they subscribed simply to support the product. Insomnia has also received numerous donations from individual users of $100 or more.

💌 Get help from other indies

The indie community is an amazing and welcoming place—probably because it’s depressing to walk the path alone. Take advantage of this and make an effort to reach out, share your stories, or ask for help. I’ve met so many awesome people through Twitter and Indie Hackers and have even had the pleasure of connecting with some of them in real life.

A great example is Micha, solo creator of an app called Paw, which directly competes with Insomnia. He reached out very early on to run some ideas by me and we’ve kept in touch since. There’s enough food at the table for everyone to eat, regardless of competition. 🍔🌯

Learning to embrace the identity of a solo maker was a long process. I’ve wasted a lot of time over the years trying to present a more professional, corporate identity. Things like saying “we” instead of “I” were commonplace. But now that I’ve discovered just how many advantages there are to showcasing my true self, I’m never looking back.

I hope some of these things can be applied to your journey too. If you can think of anything I missed, let me know on Twitter so I can add it (with credit to you, of course)!

  1. 30x500 popularized the concept of getting 500 customers to pay $30/month
  2. Insomnia was released as open source in 2017
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