The Sport of Indie Hacking

Running your own businesses is a lot like competitive sports, only the score is money.

Sporty Indie Hacker

The Indie Hacker Athlete. Image by MidJourney

A few months ago I almost convinced myself that my indie hacking career was over.

After a hot summer of sales for my SaaS starter kit, SaaS Pegasus—triggered, in part, by the AI / ChatGPT gold rush—things had dried up. Two weeks went by without a single new sale. Two weeks where my income essentially rounded to zero.1

Thankfully, it didn’t stay that way. Sales picked back up to their normal pace, and my life went on approximately the same as before the slump. But during those sale-less days, I stressed about what had gone wrong, tried everything I could think of to boost sales again, and questioned whether I’d have to go back to working a day job. In short, it sucked.

There is a lot to like about the indie hacking life. Freedom, working on your own terms, and making money while you sleep—it’s all great when it’s working. But many of these same attributes can make life especially hard when things aren’t going well.

I believe I wrote this sometime during the slump.

It turns out that indie hacking (which I’m defining as selling digital products on the Internet) is a lot like competitive sports. There’s a score—your income—which varies day by day. More importantly, you don’t control the outcome. I can work my ass off building and marketing my products, but ultimately I can’t determine how well they’ll sell.

Since there’s a score, and since you don’t control the outcome, that means that sometimes you lose. Sometimes you have bad days, bad weeks, even bad years. I’ve built entire products that have completely failed. Several, in fact.

My project history has many more failures than successes.

Dealing with an unpredictable stream of wins and losses—ones that are literally tied to the amount of money in your bank account—is not for everyone. On those rare occasions where I earn thousands of dollars in a single day, I feel invincible. But, in the periods where things aren’t working, I get completely dejected about my future. It’s exhausting.

I’ve come to believe that building up resilience to things not going well is perhaps the most important skill required to be an indie hacker. No matter how good a coder or marketer you are, if you can’t handle the hard times, you’re not likely to succeed. This too is a lot like competitive sports.2

Your whole goal is not to quit. Courtland Allen, founder of Indie Hackers

I’ve focused so far on the downsides, but the things that make sports great also make indie hacking great. There’s no feeling in the corporate world that matches the thrill of landing your first customer—precisely because it’s not something you control. As you progress, these joyous moments come regularly—with every new customer, new revenue milestone, and so on. Indie hacking is one of the few careers where you get the same highs as winning the big game, only the outcome hits your bank account, too.

Is indie hacking hard? Yes.

Is it fun as hell? Also yes.

Do I recommend it for everyone? Definitely not. Just like with sports, you gotta love the game.

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I’m the creator of SaaS Pegasus, Scriv.ai, and many other software products. If you liked this you can follow me on Twitter, or subscribe below to get an email when I publish something new.

Notes

  1. I was still earning some money from my other projects, but more than 90% of my income comes from Pegasus. 

  2. At least from what I’ve been told. 

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