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Indiehacking

Why I prefer indie softwares

The greatest consumer software tools that exist out there are built by hobbyists and indie makers.

I prefer to write my notes on Obsidian. For scheduling tweets, I use Zlappo and Typefully. For creating AI interior renders, I use interior.ai.

One thing which is common among all these examples is that they are all built by hobbyists. I would like to call them “indie softwares”. These are businesses that are profitable from the very beginning, instead of optimising for “shareholder value”.

Most of them are used by handful of nerds, and have not peaked on the popularity index of SaaS startups yet. They are obscure. You can see them getting mentioned somewhere on X, and the demand keeps coming in through positive word of mouth.

The reasons why I prefer indie softwares over unicorns are a plenty. In the Substack essay aptly as the Tyranny of the Marginal User, Ivan Vendrov talks about how for startups after reaching a definite scale, the product becomes satisfying for the new user, and gradually become terrible for the existing user.

Take the example of OKcupid which later on got acquired by Match, only to have a steady decline in the usage to the point that it became unusable!

A friend and I were recently lamenting the strange death of OKCupid. Seven years ago when I first tried online dating, the way it worked is that you wrote a long essay about yourself and what you were looking for. You answered hundreds of questions about your personality, your dreams, your desires for your partner, your hard nos. Then you saw who in your area was most compatible, with a “match score” between 0 and 100%. The match scores were eerily good. Pretty much every time I read the profile of someone with a 95% match score or higher, I fell a little bit in love. Every date I went on was fun; the chemistry wasn’t always there but I felt like we could at least be great friends.

I’m now quite skeptical of quantification of romance and the idea that similarity makes for good relationships. I was somewhat skeptical then, too. What I did not expect, what would have absolutely boggled young naive techno-optimist Ivan, was that 2016-era OKCupid was the best that online dating would ever get. That the tools that people use to find the most important relationship in their lives would get worse, and worse, and worse. OKCupid, like the other acquisitions of Match.com, is now just another Tinder clone - see face, swipe left, see face, swipe right. A digital nightclub. And I just don’t expect to meet my wife in a nightclub.

This isn’t just dating apps. Nearly all popular consumer software has been trending towards minimal user agency, infinitely scrolling feeds, and garbage content. Even that crown jewel of the Internet, Google Search itself, has decayed to the point of being unusable for complicated queries. Reddit and Craigslist remain incredibly useful and valuable precisely because their software remains frozen in time. Like old Victorian mansions in San Francisco they stand, shielded by a quirk of fate from the winds of capital, reminders of a more humane age.

But why does this phenomenon occur? Shouldn’t software get better over time? Why is it getting worse despite billions of dollars in R&D and multiple version updates?

The logic goes like this —

If a software already has a billion users, optimising for revenue means optimising for DAU (Daily Active Users). If you’re optimising for DAU, and if your software products charge zero or a flat per-user fee, in order to operate on a margin, you optimise the product NOT for the billion existing users, but for the billion-plus-first user. If the billion-plus-first user is incentivised to not stop using the app, then it’s a success.

Wouldn’t neglecting the user experience of the existing users cause a loss?

Not necessarily, as the milk has already been churned through the one-time user fee. And by the time the loyal users leave, everyone in the team is already promoted, so who cares? The only thing worth caring about is the attention of the new user.

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together about the marginal user. Let’s call him Marl. The first thing you need to know about Marl is that he has the attention span of a goldfish on acid. Once Marl opens your app, you have about 1.3 seconds to catch his attention with a shiny image or triggering headline, otherwise he’ll swipe back to TikTok and never open your app again.

An A/B test on the DAU performance with an addition of a new feature might be heavily influenced by the choices, the “billion-plus-first” user takes. Stickiness takes a priority over Loyalty.

Although there are some exceptions such as reddit, craigslist etc. which have kept their “core” intact, these are very rare.

Optimising for the “average user” leads to average products.

Most of the VC-funded SaaS businesses have succumbed to optimising their product for the “average” user to keep up the hockey stick growth. Monetising low value users through ad-spends becomes a priority for them.

Optimising for the “extreme” user lead to high-value products (which might not be as profitable for the shareholders).

Indie softwares are opinionated and highly niche.

The makers have skin-in-the-game while building these indie softwares.

If there is a fault or a bug, I can directly contact the indie maker on X. As the indie makers have a shared risk when the indie software fails, they take swift action. Compare this to a “faceless” customer support AI agent to whom bugs are shared.

The trust is more when you know the creator who has made it. It’s not just skin, there is soul in the game.

Participating > Marketing

In the world of Indie hacker and makers, Participating is greater than marketing.

Take this example of Dagobert Renouf who used to reply to 500 tweets a day, scaling his growth to more than 700K Followers. Here’s an excerpt from Indiehackers blog:

Dagobert and his wife, Lucy, started working on Logology back in 2018 and launched in 2020.

Their launch flopped because they didn’t have an audience. They were expecting traction and didn’t get it, which brought about that cold-sweat moment that many of us have faced… that “oh damn, I actually need to do marketing” moment

Of course, as a developer, he didn’t want to do that. More to the point, he didn’t know how to do that. But he did know his target market: founders.

So after struggling to get customers for a year, he took a very small step. He started contributing to founder communities: IH, Reddit, Slack channels, and (you guessed it) Twitter. The sentiment being:

Participating > Marketing

But “participating” wasn’t just lollygagging with friends online. He made himself spend hours a day replying to people, which we’ll dive deeper into later. And after a few weeks, one of his replies went mini-viral and brought traffic in the thousands. It even brought in a couple of sales.

He stayed consistent.

Napkin SEO for Indiehackers

Research keywords: Use AHREFS or a similar tool to check the keywords you want to rank for, e.g. “case study.” Type in “case study” first and then try to find more keywords. You should aim for the ones with the good ratio difficulty to volume (more volume, less difficulty). Long-tail keywords (i.e. consisting of a few words) are your friends usually.

Carry out on-page optimisations:

  • H1 with your main keyword, like “case study.” There can be only one H1 on page.
  • H2, H3 mentioning keywords.
  • meta description and title tags with keywords and good catchy descriptions — they’ll appear in Google search and affect your click-through-rate. Unleash the best copywriter in you. With keywords and decent descriptions.
  • Mention keywords you dug up in your KW research phase generously throughout your texts, but with no implications for the text readability or quality.
  • Using slugs in the URL usually helps, i.e. sitename[.]com/case-study-with-gorgeous-mockups
  • Overall, you can check your on-page SEO at https://pagespeed[.]web[.]dev

Use Google Search Console to monitor whether you’re ranking, how you’re ranking, & for what queries. It’s free. You can submit a sitemap there, too. It’s useful if you have multiple pages — helps Google index your site faster.

Now, go out & try to get backlinks to your page. Mentioning your keywords in the anchor tags helps. You’re on a hunt for do-follow links.

<a href="yoursite[.]com" rel="follow"> is amazing, <a href="yoursite[.]com" rel="nofollow"> ain't bad, but it won't affect your domain rating that much.

Backlinks can be toxic, if pointing from a garbage site. Strive for those from reputable sources that have a good domain rating (DR).

Rule of thumb: Google understands whether you’re reputable and should be shown to people by a myriad of factors, one of which is whether other reputable source point their fingers at you (in a good way). Kind of like in academia.

The most important thing personal website holders/content creators should look into is this: Intent Based SEO

For example, if someone is looking to buy marathon running shoes, they will look for: Keywords use specific intent modifiers - “buy”, “how to”, “best”, “cheap”. High CPC, low volume ones are less competitive.

How to find right long-tail keywords?

More specific, the better. From “t-shirts”, to “blue t-shirts” to “blue american apparel t-shirts”. Long tail keywords also make up the majority of the searches.

With short-tail keywords, we don’t really know what they’re looking for. So the intent is a bit obscure. This would not be a great keyword to target.

How might we enable nurses as health educators?

Demo

‎Care Companion India
‎ A mobile platform that supports frontline healthcare workers of the Care Companion Program across India .

Vision

HEP (Health Educators Platform) is to be a digital service that better supports our health educators, including nurses and counselors, the ones who conduct sessions at the ground level across different hospitals.

We use this to monitor the health education sessions conducted by healthcare workers who are a part of the larger Care Companion Program of Noora Health.

What's the need for HEP?

  1. Currently, there isn't a way for us to regularly interact and engage with our nurses, as of now it is very much localized.
  2. Either we will have to travel hundreds of miles every day to understand the challenges of our educators, or we will have to rely on the information provided to our program associates through WhatsApp or phone calls.
  3. Also, the current method by which we are allowing our nurses to capture attendance for the sessions they conduct is not very efficient.

Current Journey

Before digitising the health education sessions through HEP, this is how the journey looked like:

  1. Nurses conduct health education sessions
  1. Nurses fill attendance registers

Attendance books go missing. Some of them run out of paper and need to be refilled. Some of our healthcare workers might forget to fill it in from point to point. It's time consuming, prone to errors, and involves hefty amounts of paperwork.

  1. Nurse sends the image over on Whatsapp

Once they do conduct the sessions, they are asked to send the image over to the respective field staff on Whatsapp.

  1. Data team manually downloads images

Data team manually downloads the images from the respective Whatsapp groups and digitises them for monitoring and evaluation.

Evolution of HEP

The initial idea for a mobile application, came about with the goal of engaging Noora Health's nurses and counselors both socially and functionally.

Socially: Community Engagement via facebook-like feed where the trainers are communicating with Noora and each other. The purpose behind this is to break location based communication barriers and bring all our care companions on to one single platform.

Functionally: Having a digital directory of all CCP tools + access to learning platforms + digital attendance recording and to present the application as a one-stop-shop for all their CCP needs, right in their pockets.

We then decided to incrementally test and validate the need for these features.

Roadmap

Dec 2021: We began discussions to pilot the Care Companion app in Bangladesh as part of the initial CCP sessions in the country. The initial discovery process involved created medium-fidelity prototypes on Framer, conducting usability tests to evaluate the interaction design. We compared drawer/tab navigations and certain usage patterns and used this as a basis to roll out the MVP.

April 2022: An MVP is rolled out with just the digital attendance feature. User feedback is gathered.

August 2022: Version 1 of the App is rolled out with refined user Interface and features like OTP login. Digital flip charts were integrated for easy reference. 

Key features

  • User Interface built in Bangla for the nurses to capture CCP attendance data with the click of a button.
  • OTP login with mobile number for secure and fast authentication
  • Offline functionality, ensuring reliable usage in remote areas with poor network connectivity
  • Access to flipcharts and training manuals to enhance the quality of CCP sessions
  • Session Feedback feature to track nurse satisfaction and improve the service
  • Nurse Profile to personalize the experience and increase engagement 
‎Care Companion India
‎ A mobile platform that supports frontline healthcare workers of the Care Companion Program across India .