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Indie Hacking is Dead, Long Live The AI Creator
Rather than creating software, should we be showing people how to use it?
We live in an era where it is easier than ever to be your own boss and make a living from the comfort of your own home.
Beyond that, you could come up with a good idea, have it go viral and become instantly rich in the modern world of online commerce and content virality.
Thinking about it makes me downright anxious with FOMO and analysis paralysis as to where to apply my efforts in this age of opportunity.
But as with any endeavor worth the pursuit, the factors that contribute to actually achieving success are far more broad and nuanced.
They require that your idea is actually something people want, that you are informed on the market and know how to promote your business, and that you have the hard work ethic and resolve to push though the iterations of failure required to increase your chances of success.
The reality of it is, online or otherwise, most businesses fail. Even more so in this age of rapid iteration and ever advancing technological breakthroughs constantly changing markets.
But the opportunities exist, and new markets are being created every day.
Indie Hacking And The SAAS Dream
An Indie Hacker can be described as: an individual entrepreneur who independently builds, manages, and grows a digital product or business, often in the technology or software sector, with a focus on innovation, self-sufficiency, and minimal reliance on external funding.
Over the last decade or so, the dream online business of indie hackers has been the SAAS. The Software As A Service (SAAS) model has been the ultimate scenario for scalable, recurring revenue. The formula being: have a good idea, build the software, expand your user base to thousands through online marketing (way easier said than done) and convert to get them to sign up for monthly subscription fees that flood your email with glorious Stripe transaction receipts.
Set it, forget it, and live out the rest of your days in luxury on an exotic beach somewhere (probably in Bali or some cool nomad destination).
The reality is obviously a lot more involved than that, but the potential is extremely appealing.
Another greatly appealing aspect of the SAAS model is that it is completely achievable by a small team, partners or even just one savvy solopreneur who possesses the well rounded business, technical and marketing skills to make the dream happen.
Often called Indie Hackers, there has been a whole movement created by these ambitious types, with entire communities developing around the premise. A great example being one that I’ve frequented is indiehackers.com.
Within these communities and beyond, a handful of indie hackers that have reached almost cult like status in their circles.
Founders like Pieter Levels (Nomadlist), Sahil Lavingia (Gumroad), Arvid Kahl (FeedbackPanda) and Nathan Barry (ConvertKit) have embraced sharing their journeys on social media to gain celebrity within the indie hacker community. And by sharing their journey and successes, they have helped convince droves of others to follow in pursuing the dream of online riches and freedom.
As a software developer and tech head, I include myself as one in the admiring masses clinging to every tweet and post analyzing each for insight into what perfect app to build. And because of its popularity and promise, the SAAS model has often been the main focus as part of my dreams of freedom and making money online.
The AI Market Boom
With new markets come new opportunities. Arguably there hasn’t been a big shift in digital market opportunity since the iPhone put an online shopping cart in everyone’s pocket. (You could argue that crypto, web3 and the metaverse qualify but they haven’t reached a broader mainstream scale especially after some retraction along with the economy in 2022-2023.)
But with OpenAI releasing ChatGPT a year ago and subsequently triggering an avalanche of progress and capability in the mainstream market around AI tools, new opportunities have been popping up like wildfire.
With Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and more heavily funded startups joining in the competitive race to market, new API capabilities and tools have been released at almost a weekly cadence for the entire year.
And with each new feature, indie hackers jumped on the opportunity to bring a glut of new products to market.
Many of these products have been dubbed “ChatGPT Wrappers” for the fact that they basically took core functionality of the large language model and its ability to process text input, and wrapped it with a user friendly user interface and experience.
Even this seemingly simple app creation concept has provided great value to the average user as the interface and usability of ChatGPT can be extremely broad and open ended, making it difficult to achieve goals in a directed and concise fashion.
Indie Hackers rejoice and quit their day jobs in droves.
AI Giants Eating Everything
There has been an interesting difference in the lifespan of opportunity in this new market, however. More often and more quickly than in previous markets cycles, there have been indie hacker products taken over by the release of similar features from the large AI tech companies.
Armed with the advantages of vast amounts of data for training, proprietary models, computing power and most importantly, existing user base and brand trust, the titans of tech are able to quickly jump the moat and squash indie hacker dreams of a sustainable business.
Some indie hackers even speculate that the bigger AI companies cherry pick features from the indie market based on their success to then develop internally and release to massive user bases.
This trend continues with new recent releases of “Custom GPTs” by OpenAI and “Copilots” by Microsoft that promise to make niche, business related software tasks easily trainable with custom AI.
All is fair in love and capitalism, but it marks an interesting potential shift in the competitive software market and the long standing dominance of the indie hacker dream. Especially as the power of AI improves the ease and speed in which software is created.
The prevalence of online opportunity is far from fading, however.
The Emergence of The Creator Economy
Recently within the same timeline as indie hacker SAAS dominance, the Creator Economy has also emerged as viable way to create a scalable business online. Even higher on the dream chart, it’s one that promises the opportunity to achieve success through being your authentic, creative Self! (With some business savvy of course.)
The creator economy, in casual terms, is the digital market where individuals (creators) can earn money by producing and sharing their own content or products online. By making videos, writing, creating art, podcasting, or even creating unique digital and physical products, people have been turning their passions and skills into income with platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Patreon, and Etsy.
By building a personal brand and connect directly with fans and customers, creators can make money through advertising, selling merchandise, sponsorships, or by receiving direct support from their followers through purchases, subscriptions or donations. It's all about leveraging digital tools and platforms to turn creative work into a livelihood.
Online creators like Mr. Beast (YouTube), Charli D'Amelio (TikTok) and PewDiePie (YouTube), for example, have made millions and millions of dollars online from their creative content and niche audiences.
Speaking honestly, in the past I had been skeptical about the opportunities emerging within the Creator Economy, writing off its potential as reserved for only young, attractive and hip, dancing extroverts that easily attracted eyes through savvy viral trends.
In recent years, however, the foundations of the creator economy have proven to be sound as it continues to grow and spread into niches of all kinds, far beyond just trivial trends. Creators in coding, gaming, philosophy, crafting, music production and even ASMR food sculpting are making healthy livings online.
In 2008 Wired editor, Kevin Kelly, coined the notion of 1000 True Fans, citing that a creator would need only roughly that number of patrons to support a personal business. In doing so he essentially predicted the forthcoming of the niche creator economy that we are seeing today.
Driven by tech advancements, ever increasing internet and social media use, and diversification in monetization options, predictions for continued growth of the creator economy past 2023 are extremely encouraging.
The AI Creator Economy
Returning to software… Given the increased competition in small market software, the breakneck speed of advancement and capability of AI, and the new markets created as a result, there is a lot for consumers to process and understand in terms of choosing the right digital products for their needs.
AI is broadly powerful, but currently nuanced in how it responds to our desires and directives. Using ChatGPT as an example, it can be difficult to know what to ask for, and how to ask it, in order to get what you want.
Similar frustration can found with text-to-image and text-to-video generation apps, such as Midjourney and DALL·E 3. The results are often impressive, but it is difficult to achieve a specific direction and vision without extensive experimentation and prompting.
AI will continue to evolve and become smarter and easier to use in time, but for the near term future, there is great opportunity in creating and demonstrating ideas and processes around how to harness its power.
Enter the new and improved: AI Creator Economy.
In it, I see a new wave of online creators that are both technical and creative showing us the way. With innovative ideas and processes they will demonstrate how to harness massive AI power to run businesses and create exciting content and art.
I personally hope to be a part of this movement, and I encourage you to get involved as well.
The fact remains it is an incredibly exciting time to create businesses online. There is still a huge amount of opportunity in both software and content, and the potential will only continue to grow as AI tools rapidly advance to create new markets and opportunities.
One thing is for certain though, the future of society and business is AI augmented.
We need Creators to show us the way.
Exciting Tech of The Week
Generative AI enters the merch industry. You can enter a prompt on the page and see the results inline, directly on the apparel. From there, quickly add to cart and easily checkout. The resulting designs are a bit novel, but the ease of turnaround is impressive, especially for those without budget or design skills.
My Creative Updates
I’ve been working on bass lines and demo tracking to get a better overview of the style and arrangement that I want for the songs on my upcoming EP. Every time I pick up my bass, I remember how fun it is to bang on the heavy strings and really lean into the music.
I’m looking to make more progress and get close to finishing the initial demos and arrangements over the Thanksgiving break next week. After that, it will be on to the final tracking!
I’ll be sure to share some demo clips within the next couple weeks. 🎶🎸🎤
Here’s my Spector Euro4 LX bass, doing the good work this week:
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