July 25, 2020

My answer to "Should you quit your full-time job to be an indie hacker?" - after a year of being indie

Terry Xu

This is not going to be a theoretical post with a vague conclusion such as: "Either way is ok, it's up to you." That kind of posts doesn't end up telling you anything lol.

My answer is a definitive "Yes". However, if you're currently employed, you can be better prepared and strategically choose the time to take the jump.

I joined IndieHacker a year ago. I've been employed for 12 years by then and I've tried to start many side-projects over the years with various milages. The thinking was "I'll do this thing on the side and if it explodes, I'll quit my job to focus on it. If I fail, I can say it's because it's a side-project and I wasn't serious."

Last year, I decided this is a waste of time to me. Life is too short to try a few things casually and conclude that it won't work. So I quit and started working on the idea I am most passionate about.

3 months later, when the progress was slower than I thought, I felt "Oh man, I should have prepared better before I quit. What if I go back and keep this as a side project?" My wife then told me "Don't give up, keep doing it. Give yourself a chance." So I continued.

What a classic example of lack of conviction - wishing I could work on a project full-time but when it actually happens, wishing I could work on it part-time. lol.

So here is what I learned being an indie and why my answer ultimately is "yes".

  • Launching a startup full-time is already hard. Doing it part-time requires MORE discipline to become successful, not LESS. So launching a successful start-up part-time is actually an "ADVANCED" mode, not the "EASY" mode as I thought.

  • I get 10X done when working on my product full-time than part-time. When I can work on it every day, there is no context-switching, I can use the most productive part of my day to work on the most important tasks, instead of doing them after a long day of work. That means I can see the progress and get feedback much faster, which keeps me motivated.

  • I can sustain momentum and traction. When I can consistently tweet to my followers, release updates, it really creates that sense of progress and boosts my users' confidence in this new company they've just heard. It's impossible to build that momentum when you release once every 2 months or tweets every 2 weeks working part-time.

  • Ultimately, the reason we all want to become an indie hacker is to build wealth, instead of selling our time. I am 3X happier working on what I am passionate about and it really boosts my energy level. We are definitely on the right path.

Lastly, I want to share what I could have done better before I quit. This is completely optional.

  • Build an audience. "Shamelessly" promise some products that you will deliver in the future. Don't feel guilty or insecure that you can't deliver. You can. Because when you have 1000 users waiting to see what you'll create, you'll be motivated to deliver like crazy. And if you ended up pivoting, nobody is going to blame you. They just move on.

  • Talk to customers. Figure out the pain points before you actually start building things. I generally find talking to customers to be less energy-draining than building things. Try to avoid quit and then figure out, "Oh, Who am I selling this to?" Which is what I did lol.

I hope this gives some insight to the many talented developers who are looking to become indie hackers.