20 Jul 2023
I suck at entrepreneurship. At least, that’s how I sometimes feel.
Ever since I was a teenager, who recently learned programming, I wanted to build a company. Fueled by the myth of the software companies of the 80s and 90s I dreamed of being the next Microsoft or ID Software. A bunch of smart hackers building something massive and then riding off into the sunset on red Ferraris.
Being a penniless Mexican kid though, far from Silicon Valley, made this dream a bit too far to reach. When I got out of school I realized that having no money and zero connections would be a rough start, so I joined the work force as a programmer, it seemed that learning about how businesses worked from the inside, while making money, was the only path to follow.
Hello Code / Chopeo
Fast forward a few years and I was living in San Francisco and working for a cool startup, but, I had the nagging thought in the back of my head about starting and building something up.
So, I decided to do something. I quit my job, and in what was a weird move, I came back to Mexico to start something up.
My first thought was to do something on my own, I had savings and could work on my own for a while. I wanted to build a small product that I could build and support myself. I had no idea what, or how, but that’s what I wanted!
On my way back though, I promised a friend I would take a meeting with his brother who wanted to invest on a technology business, that didn’t really fit my plans but I wanted to be polite and took the meeting, and, as these things go, I did accept and decided to build whatever I was going to build with some investment and as a part of a larger group of companies (not tech).
We built Chopeo. A build-your-own-ecommerce application tailored for the Mexican market. At the time Shopify was making a big deal of entering the Mexican market, and there were other larger incumbents, like Kichink, but we thought we could carve a decent niche for ourselves, sadly though, small niches aren’t that great when you have investment pressure.
We probably made every mistake in the book. Not validating the market, not setting up good channels for customer feedback, we didn’t try multiple marketing channels and focused in the ones we knew and we probably did it wrong.
But, I enjoyed the experience a lot. We built something that users loved. I did a lot of customer support because I enjoyed connecting with our users. I loved watching their reactions when we fixed a bug they reported, or when we released a feature they asked for hours later (sometimes minutes!). It was just magical.
But, alas, we failed. We closed down.
We got lucky though, and another startup that was building a point of sales app wanted our technology to offer ecommerce as part of their whole suite. We sold it for a “whooping” 120K USD.
A couple of years later a friend came to my house and said something to the lines of “let’s open a bar”. At the time I was deep in the culture of craft beer and food, and even though I knew it is a difficult business and we would probably fail, I said yes.
So we opened Kraken Gastropub. We had a clear vision of what we wanted. The type of place we loved to eat, drink and could only find while traveling. A place with bar food (burger, hotdog) but, high quality. A great lineup of craft beers. Music to our taste. People left sometimes because they wanted to change the music. Or because we chose not to display sports on our TVs most of the time. When people asked for a beer we could try to share the culture of craft beer, what it was, different styles, what type of flavors, what type of food to pair it with, etc.
We were uncompromising. We knew that if we made something we actually liked and not compromised on our vision people with similar taste would love it (and people with different taste would hate it).
We made many, many mistakes as well. Our location was bad, it had zero foot traffic. Most people that walked into our restaurant knew they were coming before they left their house. We had large operating costs. Rent, premium ingredients, a large staff. We didn’t know how to market it or where.
But, after two grueling years we started seeing some black ink in our balances. Slowly but steadily we grew. Word of mouth was great. We had a lot of loyal regulars. A lot of our customers would come with us when they had important events, graduations, valentine’s, etc.
And then the COVID pandemic hit. And with the uncertainty of what would happen, how long it would take, and our high operating costs, we had to shut down. You can still see our “we’ll be coming back soon” post in Instagram.
And that was it.
What would I do if I had 100M USD right now? That’s a good thought exercise when trying to figure out what is it that you truly want to do.
I’ve thought long and hard about what I would like to build and how. I really like developing products and have a close relationship with customers. I love building high quality products. With close attention to detail. Something that is a pleasure to interact with. To use. To be in. I’ve decided to give solopreneurship/indie hacking a try.
I am building now a small web application for photographers. A tool for picture proofing that allow photographers clients to review and approve their photos. I got the idea for this from my wife. She’s a photographer and she has complained multiple times about the tool she has used before. Why not build something that could give her a helping hand? If it eases her workflow and improves her service, chances are, it could do the same for other photographers out there.
Did I vet the market? Build a few landing pages to decide which product to build? Did I interview many potential users? (this one I actually did, but low volume, just a few photographers I know, plus my wife). I did not.
I know there is a market. But I don’t know the size. There are some competitors out there. I know a bunch of photographers (through my wife). And to be honest I don’t intend to build a big company. If I get enough users to make it worth working on and build something good, I’m down.
I am also taking the opportunity to build it entirely on my own so I can exercise some of my weak skills, like HTML and CSS. Also I am using this to play with some technologies I wanted to play with (HTML over the wire).
I am not trying to build a perfect product, but I am definitely paying a lot of attention to quality. I am trying to keep it as small in terms of features as possible so I can build them to a standard that satisfies me.
Doing that takes more time? Yes, it does. And, taking long to build something just to fail is the mistake we developers commit a lot. I understand all that.
Will it fail? Probably. Hopefully I will learn some lessons for the next time.
About indie hacking
I have a lot of internal conflict between my own personal goals and “the way you’re supposed to do it” when I consume the indie hacking content out there.
Much of the Indie Hacking content out there, especially on Twitter, seems to promote rapid production— the more products, the better. The notion is that the quicker you produce, the faster you’ll hit your market.
It makes sense, right? A lot of products fail not due to their quality, but because they couldn’t find a market or because they couldn’t reach that market. So, the more you produce in the shortest amount of time, the faster you find the one that will be successful.
But, when I think about that, you must have to make a lot of compromises, right? Like building your whole app in a single file. I don’t think that’s wrong at all, it suits their purposes and they are evidently doing great.
But I am not sure that fits my goals. In a hypothetical world if I build a product that actually has a modicum of success I don’t want to deal with something like that. My “dream” would be to have a great base to keep building a great product. With attention to detail. A well crafted product.
The argument could be made that once you have a product with traction you can actually improve it and make it better. And it’s a good point. But I really want to enjoy the journey, not just the end result.
I guess I will find out!