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Vic Vijayakumar: Indie Hacking

Season 1, Episode 4 | February 1, 2021

In this episode, Vic talks about Indie Hacking and gives us his take on when to ship, what to focus on, and the value of diverse opinions in your community.


Vic Vijayakumar

Principal software engineer at Research Square, a preprint platform

Show Notes:

In this episode, Vic talks about Indie Hacking and gives us his take on when to ship, what to focus on, and the value of diverse opinions in your community. He also talks about treating life as a lot of drafts and about building things that you're passionate about as well as things that others find valuable. He cautions against the danger of survivorship bias, recognizing that it's difficult to find a path in indie hacking and that many of the popular voices have worked through challenges and no longer effectively represent how difficult it is to create a product that's successful.

Links:

Vic:
Vic's Projects:
Low-Code Tools:

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Transcript:

Bekah Hawrot Weigel:

Hello, and welcome to Season 1, Episode 4 of the Virtual Coffee podcast. I'm Bekah, and this is a podcast that features members of the Virtual Coffee community. Virtual Coffee is an intimate group of developers at all stages of their coding journey. And they're here, on this podcast, sharing their stories and what they've learned. And we're here to share it with you. Here with me today is my co-host, Dan.

Dan Ott:

Thanks, Bekah. In this episode, you'll hear from Vic Vijayakumar. Vic is a principal software engineer at Research Square, a preprint platform. When he's not at his day job, he works on his bootstrap startup, Everyoak, a school management system. Vic is addicted to building things. Vic sat down with us to tell us about his experiences with indie hacking, and gave us his take on when to ship, what to focus on, and the value of diverse opinions in your community among many other things. It was a really great conversation. And I personally learned a lot. Just as a production note, this is actually the second time we've recorded with Vic. We had a technical mishap and lost the first recording. But Vic was gracious enough to sit down with us for a second time. And so, I just wanted to say another thank you to Vic for joining us again.

Bekah:

We start every episode of the podcast like we start every Virtual Coffee. We introduce ourselves with our name, where we're from, what we do, and a random check-in question. Today's question is, if you could add any superpower to your abilities, what would you choose? We hope you enjoy this episode. Hey, I'm Bekah, I am a front-end developer from a small town in Ohio. And if I could add one power, I would add telepathy.

Dan:

Telepathy is dangerous. Hi, I'm Dan. I'm a front-end developer from Cleveland. And I think if I could pick a superpower, it might be teleportation, that always seemed like a-a good and handy one to have.

Bekah:

Solid choice.

Vic Vijayakumar:

You would save so much time.

Bekah:

Mm.

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

Hi, I'm Vic. I am a full stack principal engineer from Raleigh, North Carolina. I'm also an indie maker. My preferred superpower of choice would probably be to be right the first time, every time.

Bekah:

Also would save you time.

Vic:

[Whispers] So much time.

Bekah:

All of these, this is- this is what it essentially is all about. We just want the superpower that saves us the most time.

Dan:

It's really just telling honestly [laughs]. We're just telling on ourselves.

Bekah:

[Laughs] Awesome. Well, thank you, Vic, for being here with us. We are very happy to be recording with you. So, we always like to get a little bit of background on our guests. And so, we'd love to hear about how you got into tech.

Vic:

Sure. Okay. So, I actually have kind of a- a traditional background, if you will, in the sense that I have a- a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from Iowa State University. But before that, probably -- so, we- we used to own a computer when — not like when I was super young — but when I was in high school. And then probably the first like programming thing I did was that in high school, one of my parents' friends actually, they invited me to come do like a- a month-long internship with them. So, I wrote software for them the very first time. Like, I'd never written code before. But they helped me kind of write code for the Kenya duty-free shopping network. So, I've worked in Visual Basic and ... Visual Basic and like, Access or something like that. And for that, they paid me with a US robotics modem. So, that was my very first quote, unquote paid project for writing code. And then, let's see. And then really, I didn't do anything else kinda like, programming related, until I went to college. Where I kinda did a lot of different, like, tech support kinda jobs. But my very first kinda like breakout into software development, like, web development, came when I got let go from the support job and then I was just looking for something else. And the Office of Admissions that I was in the university, they were looking for an entry-level programmer and I was completely unqualified for this job, but I applied for it anyway because someone said I should. Then I figured, "Okay." [Laughs] So, I applied for this job. And they pretty much told me that. They said, "You are not qualified for this role at all. But you sound confident, and you look like you could learn." And so, they gave me this job, and which then became a full-time role after I graduated college for a little bit. And then, when my girlfriend then wife now moved to North Carolina, I got another job. And I've been at that job for 14 years. That actually is the entirety of my journey into tech.

Bekah:

I love that. And there are so many hot tips dropped there, apply for jobs that you are not qualified for.

Vic:

Yes. Definitely.

Bekah:

Sound confident. Who knows? All right. So, that is how you got into tech. Now, how did you come to find Virtual Coffee?

Vic:

Oh, this is a fun one too. So, I think I saw one of your tweets, Bekah. It was April last year, everything was a dumpster fire. And I think I hadn't, like, seen any adults in a [chuckles] couple months. Because I -- you know, I haven't been going into work anymore since about February or so actually. And then I saw your tweet, I think it was in a CodeNewbie's thread or something like that, where you talked about Virtual Coffee. And I figured, "Hey, I should go make some new friends." So, that was probably I -- no, I remember responding to your tweet and that I missed the first one of those. And then I came to the second one. And I think I've come to just about at least one session every week or so.

Bekah:

Yeah, that is awesome. You have been here for almost the entirety of Virtual Coffee, because we did -- I think it was the first week of April, we're coming up on our- our one year birthday, or anniversary, or whatever, very soon.

Dan:

It was crazy.

Bekah:

Right? [Chuckles]

Vic:

Virtual party.

Bekah:

It's like, literally, I have an issue open in a repo that's like, [soft festive voice] birthday party [chuckles]. Okay. So, we are talking to you today about indie hacking. And so, the first time I heard the term indie hacking, I thought it meant like, somebody that hacked independently, and [chuckles] so, let's start there with the actual definition of what indie hacking is.

Vic:

Sure. I mean -- so, it is a portmanteau of independent and hacking, but hacking in this case actually refers to -- I think indie making is probably a better term than indie hacking, that -- but I think right now it's used kind of synonymously with the indiehackers.com community, which is like one of the largest community of indie makers. But it, you know, oftentimes refers to people that are just independent, like solopreneur, like bootstrap developers that are kind of making and pushing out various products. You know, sometimes you do it for money, a lot of times you just do it because making things makes you happy. I fall into the latter category.

Bekah:

All right. So, let's talk about some of those things, because you're making lots of them, right? [Chuckles]

Vic:

Yeah, some things end up- some things end up going out publicly. And a lot of things don't. And I'm trying to do a much better thing of that this year. So, I built a lot of stuff. And then I used to kinda have this outlook of, "Oh, I didn't -- this thing is not perfect." And I'm just going to kind of, you know, not let it go out. And my- my thing now has been to like, push things out as drafts and kind of talk about them publicly, because you never know who is going to be interested in the thing you're building. Let's see. One of my biggest projects — and it's actually used — it's called the Everyoak. It's at everyoak.com. It's a preschool management software. And it's used by my kids' school actually. I was really sick of filling out all the various forms that I had to fill out when I dropped them off. So, like, right now they do COVID screening, they don't use paper because they use, you know, Everyoak. When you're applying, you have to fill out all these various forms, you have to fill out all the allergy information, and when it changes, you have to go drop off new forms, and all kinds of things, and I didn't really want to do that. So, I worked with them to basically build this thing. And a lot of different schools were interested in it. I have two schools that use it right now. And, you know, it's profitable. But yeah, that's probably the biggest one. I've dealt a few other things that -- so, I run this -- [chuckles] ran- ran this beer festival for the last 10 years in Raleigh. It's not happening this year, but it happened the last like nine years or so. Let's see. What else?

Bekah:

Well, I just want to pause for a second and touch on Everyoak, because I've got four kids. So, filling out those forms requires an incredible amount of time and ridiculous effort, because we're doing it every single year. The same forms, right? Like there -- why do we have to continually do this? So, anything that makes that process easier is in my book, like, the best thing ever [chuckles].

Vic:

And a lot of parents think that too. Like this -- so, usually what happens, right, is the schools open up enrollment, and then it like goes on for like, a month or so. And then the schools- the schools take another like, I don't know, month or so to do the assignment. And at my- at my three-year-old school, they actually just finished doing enrollment, and then did a class assignment in like, a few hours, and send all those out already, and the parents all love their choices. And meanwhile, you have all these other schools that are still having their parents drop off forms. And- and I mean, it's, you know, it's a pandemic out, even if you're not lazy, I still don't wanna come drop off forms. And then their class assignment takes so long. Anyway, it's -- the parents love it, the schools love it, and it's -- and it's going decently. It -- you know, I don't expect to get rich off of the -- of what the [laughs] preschool square [??] me, but it makes me really happy to be able to do this. And it makes me especially happy that I don't have to fill out forms.

Dan:

So- so with- with Everyoak in particular, I- I imagine with the indie hacking sort of like mantra is, you know, if you- you- you have an idea of something either in your life or- or- or something that like, you are excited about, or would like make your life easier, and just kind of go for it, right? With Everyoak, there's, like, the motivation from your side as a parent is clear, you know? The -- a-and it seems like a cool problem to solve. And you said you- you -- so- so, the next step at -- you know, you can either do it in a- in a vacuum, or you said you actually worked with your school to figure it out. Especially with- with daycares, and- and things like that, that seems like a tricky thing to step in-into, unless you have, you know, some assurance that you [chuckles] -- you know, you're doing it the right way, or the- the way that a school would want. So ... so, how- how, like, how did that process work out? Like, at the beginning, at least?

Vic:

Yeah. So, you said the right thing there, which is that it -- so, it definitely is easier to work on things that scratch your own itch, because you just have to talk to fewer people, right? But in order for something to be -- I mean, it depends on how you define success, right? If you want to build something for the sake of building something, and just get those -- you know, get that muscle memory working of just building things and getting them out, you know, maybe you want to only scratch your own itch. But if you're trying to monetize it, or if you're trying to help people other than yourself, you're gonna have to go talk to people. It's definitely easier when there's -- when you're working with just one school, right? But then the- the fun thing is -- so, I built something very custom to that school. But then I saw things in their process that I could improve. So, I would work on like, those improvements, and then show it to them. And they were really happy with what I did. And they just -- they kinda just -- once- once they realized that I was making their process better for them, they just let me just do the things that I thought were good ideas. And [chuckles] ... and then when the next school joined up, I said, "Here's a system that works really well for school one." And they said, "Great. If it works for them, it'll probably work for us."

Dan:

Sure [chuckles].

Vic:

And then -- so, at this point, [chuckles] I'm- I'm basically, you know, becoming an expert in building workflows for- for preschools. And they trust that I know what I'm doing because some other school uses it. So, it's kind of like ... I don't know what to call it. It's kinda just like ... I- I don't know what you call it. Cloud by- by just faking it, I guess.

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah. No, that's- that's really interesting. And- and, yep, I don't know. I lost my- I lost my train of thought there [laughs].

Vic:

I mean, I've worked on a few other things there too, that like, don't necessarily kind of -- are not that easy in terms of thinking about how to make it work. So, let's see. So, I have like -- I mean, you -- do you want me to tell you about things that didn't work?

Bekah:

Yeah!

Vic:

Because it's [chuckles] --

Dan:

Absolutely. I mean, absolutely.

Vic:

Yeah. And then, you know, and it- and it was a thing that I learned. I definitely did learn something there as well. So, I built something called ... well, it was- it was called Dog Ears because I- I just found this picture of this dog I really liked with droopy ears, and I was like, "That's a good name for this thing." So, it was just a- it was just a product that would help you, like, search through your- your Twitter likes and retweets and whatnot, because Twitter's interface itself doesn't like let you do that really well. So, I built this thing. And my goal was just to like, see how fast I could build this thing. And it took me about like, an hour a day, for 12 days is what it took. And ultimately, it failed because I was using like a trial version of Algolia and I realized that if I had to pay for ... like, it was just not-

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

-sustainable at the price that I'll -- I could charged for. And so, I just let it die. So, the website for that is still out there, but you can't really sign up. And -- but I learned like a ton of stuff. I learned about, like, all the wrong things you could choose. I learned about, like, needing to make sure that something was sustainable before you, you know, spend time on it. And the thing is this wasn't even a, you know, this wasn't even like something that scratch my own itch because ultimately, I didn't care about this problem-

Dan:

[Chuckles] Yeah.

Vic:

-you know? So, I just let that one die. But I learned a ton of stuff out of it. I learned a lot of new tools that I had not previously used. So, you know, I got something out of it. And I consider that a win.

Bekah:

For sure. I think that the framing of what a win is, is really important there, right? Because you are learning something, you can take that to a different project, maybe it's not going to be the same product to that you're making. But now you have experience that- that guides -- the next thing that's gonna be better. And if it's something that you're interested in, then, great.

Vic:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I have a lot of things like that, right? Where the next thing I build, I'm not gonna be starting at zero, because I'm gonna take whatever, you know, all the failed parts -- all the good parts of Dog Ears that you know, didn't fail. I'll probably start from like, something where I already have a site, I already have a way to charge people, I already have, you know, all of that going. And then I saved myself a whole lot of time. And I think i-it definitely is helpful, like, that way to have like a- a framework, you know, a framework of how you would do things because it means you don't spend time chasing- chasing, you know, shiny things of like, "Oh, let me like, build the -- a whole new framework of, like, how to do this." Instead, you're focusing just on like, "What problem am I going to solve?" It's been helpful for me anyway. I don't know if I, like, said that clearly. But [chuckles] --

Bekah:

I just learned so much from everything that you just said. I love that. Like, and th-th-this starting with, you know, this idea of you're not starting at zero the next time, right? Cuz there's this like sense of like, "Oh, I- I failed at something. And now I have to start over." But you're- you're not starting over at zero.

Dan:

Yeah, I think another- another-

Vic:

Yeah. Totally. Totally true.

Dan:

-sorry. I was gonna say, I think another interesting aspect of that is that in -- I mean, we can all agree to not view this as a failure, or at least as a negative thing, right? But knowing when to pull the plug or stop ... you know, stop putting effort, or money, or time into a- into a- into a thing. I think like a side project like this. Do you have like a -- you mentioned you had sort of lost interest in the problem itself, which is [chuckles] I'm sure a big warning sign, but do you have like a rubric that you use for your own side projects of when to- to leave? Or is it just like when it feels like [crosstalk 00:18:07,650] I've done this?

Vic:

Yeah. So, this is -- that's a- that's a very good question. And it's actually kinda deep, right? It's -- so, I have this problem. Had? Have? I- I don't know if I still have it or not. But it's [chuckles], it's this thing of like -- I- I like- I like starting new things, far more than I like to -- so, I like starting new things. And that, you know, that's the kind of like the most exciting part of it for me, right? But it -- but it's- but it's a bit of an -- like a- a negative addiction, right, to start new things but to not actually like, keep working on them? So, I have to kind of plan for the possibility that I'm gonna lose the interest in that thing. So, the way that I kind of work to mitigate that is that I start to -- I have to start to launch things as soon as possible. And if I use the- the preschool management thing as an example, right? So, the moment I launched it, and rail people started using it, it was no longer a thing that I could just say, "No one uses this. I can just shut this down and move on to something else."

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

Now there -- now first of all, I have proved that someone wanted to use it, you know? And the real consequences to me, I'd be ending it and not working on it anymore. And the fact that someone was using it, then made it a lot more fun to like keep working on it-

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

-so, it kind of -- like kind of -- it kind of helped that situation. But [laughs] not using that example, when do I know when to stop working on a thing? When I'm not having fun with it. Because if I'm not having fun doing something, I'm not gonna keep doing it. So, people often like, talk about like, "How do you choose a problem to work on?" And so, there's several schools of thought on this. One is that, you know, work on something that is going to like, make you rich for example. I don't know. That's- that's a- that's an actual rubric some people go with. Or work on something that like, you're passionate about. Maybe that works for you. Or like work on something that, I don't know, some other- some other rubric for you. And I guess if it's not -- if you're not having fun with it, if you're no longer motivated to keep doing that thing, that's probably the [chuckles] time to move on. Or at least, you know, pause it. If it's the sort of thing that can like, keep going while you can focus on something else, then that's good. If it's the sort of thing that if you stopped working on it will just die off -- I don't know. Maybe you should have launched earlier or -- I don't know. It's- it's totally fine, right? It's totally fine to just stop working on the thing.

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

If that's what makes [chuckles] you happy.

Dan:

Yeah, that's- that's a struggle that I have had wi-with things like this, it is -- it's sort of guilt, you know? I mean, like, losing interest a-as a kind of automatically stop working on something if nobody else is asked me to.

Vic:

[Laughs] My abandoned projects need friends.

Dan:

Right? Like [laughs], I don't know, or guilt, or, I don't know, shame even, you know? I mean, it's not like deep, dark shame. But it's still -- it's like, I have these, like, random side projects, there's links to them on my site probably, somewhere, you know, from years ago. And it's- it's sometimes it's hard to not f- not feel bad, you know, or- or embarrassed of- of- of a thing where- where you can clearly look at this and say, "Oh, this is a failed side project," right? Like [chuckles], you know, a- a thing that went nowhere. Whereas the framing of this was a side project, and it was kind of fun, and I learned some stuff. And, you know, it -- I think it's a very healthy and good way to frame things. And it seems like you have [chuckles] -- it seems like you personally have that most of that figured out pretty well.

Vic:

I hope so.

Bekah:

All right. I wanna touch back on this idea of when to launch, you said, "Well, like maybe you didn't launch early enough." So, I know there's like, lots of different perspectives on when you should launch and how much you should have done, what features you have planned out? Or have you completed most of the features on your list? So, I wanna know, what is your personal take on, on process and when to launch?

Vic:

You should launch as soon as you feel ready. That's the thing. But sometimes you have to force yourself to- to accept that something is ready. Otherwise, you will keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And it's possible you might lose the motivation to launch it, right? So -- and the thing is, I- I think when I say the word launch, people often think like press release, or like tweet about it. It doesn't have to be that. You could silently, quietly launch and tell nobody. But it might just be a psychological win for you to know that though that thing is on, you know, on production on a secret URL, but I can access it, and it works, and I can log into it, and I can use it, might be the psychological win that you need to keep working on it. And that's totally fine. Or sometimes you can just launch something with just a sign-up URL that says "Coming Soon" and "Sign Up For This", which is good enough, right, for you to -- for at least like drum up some excitement or whatever. But yeah, I would say that, that is entirely up to you, but I like to default toward pushing something out early and then iterating on that, as opposed to waiting a long time and then like ending up with, you know, dead rock or something like that.

Bekah:

I feel that also deeply. I am the person that creates things and then doesn't put them out there. And I was working on this project earlier this year. And it was a very, like, deeply personal, but I had like quietly launched it just -- so, I knew about it, and one other person, and I had said like, "You know, I'll probably put this out to the public in about a month or so." Well they missed that in about a month or so and then like posted about it on social-

Vic:

Oh, no.

Bekah:

-media. And I was like, "Okay, well [laughs], I guess somebody pushed me off the diving board and- and now I'm going for this." Which in that sense, like, was really good. The project wasn't done, I scrambled for a couple of days, but also, I might not have launched the project had somebody not been talking about it.

Vic:

You know, if- if- if you push something out, and if someone starts to use it, and their feedback to you is, "This is good but it could use more," that's good feedback. I would rather that then no one use it. You know, it's ... yeah. I would totally- I would totally get negative attention [chuckles] then like none at all for, you know, something that I launched. But I'm glad you were able to do that. Like that would prob- that situation would probably stressed me out if someone did a -- an announcement of something that I built but I wasn't ready for it yet.

Bekah:

It stressed me out. It did [laughs].

Dan:

[Laughs] Can you talk a little bit about, like, some tools you use to make- to make this process easier, you know, when you're working on side projects, things like that?

Vic:

Yeah. So, I- I use a lot of no-code tools actually -- low-code tools, I should say. So, I'm not one of those people that like, builds entirely with no-code stuff. But I- I do use like, Airtable and Zapier are probably like, my two biggest things where I just, you know, duct tape things together when I need to get them to work really fast. So, the other day, I had this- I had this like, I don't know. I- I thought of this joke. And it was kind of a really silly joke. And I- and I told you, Dan, or I said it's a- it's a community for people who are working from home to talk to each other. And then there's sweatpants. It can be called meetsweats.com. And then, I laughed about it for so long.

Dan:

[Laughs] I was -- because Vic- Vic Slacked me this on a Friday night. I was watching TV with- with my wife, with Emily. And she had to pause what we're watching because I was laughing so hard [laughs]. And then -- oh, I shared it with her too, which she also laughed. But I was just sitting there on the couch ... on my phone laughing, and it was just about meetsweats.com [laughs].

Vic:

I -- and I was like, "Surely that's already a website." So, I went there, and it didn't exist, and the domain was available. So, I bought, you know, meet, like M-E-E-T, sweats, like, you know, sweatpants. So, I bought meetsweats.com [chuckles] for $4 because I was like, this is -- the -- like, $4 is gonna be worth it for me. And then, I think I spent like the next two hours -- so, I- I put my kids to bed. And I was still kinda giggling about it while they -- while I was brushing their teeth, and they're like, "What is it?" I was like, "Nothing. It's nothing. Well, get it." I put them to bed and ... and it feels like forever, but it was just last week. And while they were- while they were- while they were falling asleep, I just sat in a room with my laptop and I built out the site for this and launched it. And it took probably like, I don't know, like an hour and a half or so. And for that -- so, I just, you know, I went on Carrd, C-A-R-R-D-dot-co, and I -- so, that's a- that's a site that I use for this, where I push out a site, and I built a form on the site, and it uses Airtable and it like, people can sign up to be notified. And like, all of these are super helpful. And it's a way to early launch something, right? While you decide if this joke is [chuckles] worth any more than like, the airtime we're already got. And whether or not -- the thing is -- the funny thing is like, something, like, 15 people signed

up to be early notified [crosstalk 00:27:

39,000] after it's made up [unintelligible].

Bekah:

It's me. Number one [laughs].

Vic:

Yep. [Laughs] You were the first sign-up.

Bekah:

Founding member.

Vic:

So, this gonna be a really good example of like, you know, or like -- I mean, I don't know anymore. Like, is it a joke? Well, it's -- if it's- if it's just a joke, you know, like, all these people wanna be- wanna be notified of like when this thing launches. And then a few other people like, quote tweeted it with their ideas of what it should be. And, you know, I think this is kind of a vote for like building in public, right? You don't really know what it should be yet, but you take ideas from the community. And, you know, this whole thing — so, was Carrd plus ... Airtable, and I think that's pretty much all it was. And it went out there. But a few other tools I use are Zapier like I said, and then I use, you know, things like Mailchimp to- to manage, like, newsletters and stuff. But otherwise, I have a pretty traditional -- just to -- not traditional, I guess. I should say, I have like a skeleton -- I have a skeleton project that I just spin up for everything. And that way, I'm not spending my time, you know, trying to figure out, "Oh, what should I choose for this project that I'm building?" And it's just something that I've kinda forced myself to not do anymore. Where I don't -- like, it [laughs] kind -- unfortunately, it removes the excitement of it. Like, I used to be like, "Oh, I'm gonna do this thing." And then, I would spend the first week of it just like, building the authentication and doing all these little things. And now I just know that I don't have to do any of that. I could just spin up the skeleton project and just start off. And I know that at like minute one, it can already charge people, which means that I focus on like, the actual problem instead of like, the distracting other parts of it. So, that's really helped me out. It also means that I start fewer things. Because it means that I have to like actually come up with like, what I'm going to do before I, you know, start on it.

Dan:

Yeah, I think that [chuckles] -- I mean, I think that's great. I think that's a- a- a great and sort of newer way to think about a lot of this stuff. And as a -- I mean, I, you know, as -- I've been a developer for a long time, and it's natural to like s-s, you know, think of a problem and say, "Okay, I'm going to start writing React from scratch," and you know, or- or- or whatever it is. Because- because, I don't know, because that's what my job was, you know, or is. And like -- sometimes it's hard to not do that. But making it easy for yourself to- to get going and solving the actual problem is- is- is seems very -- like a very good way to do things like that. Especially if you're starting things from scratch, often, right?

Vic:

Uh-huh. This year, I plan to do that many, many more times. Like, I- I was hoping to like -- I was hoping to start a new project every month. Or, I don't know. I don't -- I haven't yet decided, but it's January 28th that I think Meet Sweats is probably like the- [chuckles] the project of this month. But in February, I'm- I'm gonna have to decide like, how much more work I'm gonna do on that. Or if I'm gonna pick a new project. It's just- it's just training, I guess, to like, you know ... to just push more things out ... in public.

Bekah:

Yeah. I really like that mindset. And I -- I've got 37 projects. So, if you would like one, I will let you

do it [crosstalk 00:31:

20,000] for February [laughs].

Vic:

No, thanks.

Bekah:

Yeah. That -- the point Dan was making before about using things -- there's- there's a tendency to devalue tools that make projects easier if you could use something harder, like React, right? Or building a site from scratch rather than using a template. And I wish that more people were talking about how you can do these things to spin up projects like what you're doing, or saying, like, "Look, this is just as valuable as a site that's done in React because who really cares if they are solving the same problem [chuckles]?"

Vic:

Exactly. Yeah, your customer -- your user doesn't know what you did. I mean, they don't care what programming language you're using, they don't care what CSS framework you're using, they just care that you're making their life easier. You know, it does -- I don't think -- I don't believe that, like, you know, if you use something easier, like, I don't know, like, I mean, you- you know, you're playing- you're playing a video game. I guess it's entirely only in your head as to, you know, what mode you were playing it on. It really doesn't matter ultimately. I- I think- I- I think, I like just thought of something a little bit more insightful for the sake of that, but [chuckles] that's all I can think of right now. I mean, I use lots of low-code or no-code things all over the place. It's -- and you know, it's not even just for starting, right? Sometimes -- so, like that- that beer festival that I- that I talked about earlier, you know? I don't remember what it used to be at the very beginning, but it's been running on Airtable for like, I don't know, like four or five years now. It works just fine, you know?

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

I -- and I will never replace it. I'm not going to, you know, spend a bunch of time moving it over to Postgres or whatever. It- it works.

Dan:

Yeah, absolutely. We- we ... in Virtual Co- one of the Virtual Coffees last week, or maybe Tuesday? We were -- somebody was asking about, like, if- if they were freelancing, and somebody asked them to make a site, you know, like, what- what- what they should do, right? And ... and some of the answers at the beginning were, "Oh, just write it in, you know, I don't know, React or Gatsby or something, or, you know, even 11ty," and- and th-then we kind of were talking about it for a while, and especially if somebody's paying you to do it, they also probably don't care [chuckles] what technology it's written in or- or what you use. And if you are able to stand up a site, like, you have that -- like using Caard, for example, right, for a -- like Caard i-i-is a service that -- is basically a landing page service, right? And you can add a form to it, I think, and maybe- maybe something else, but --

Vic:

Yeah. So, I have an example about this actually, where -- so, when I started Everyoak, it used to be just in the Airtable form. Where -- so, it was just -- it was a -- so, it was a React page -- it was a- it was a React form, but then it's submitted to Airtable, and that was actually it. Because it -- there was no login or anything like that, you know? Parents would come, like, fill out their application. And then the rest of it kinda got built around that. And like -- it ran that way for two years, where all it did was submit to an Airtable. Like, I didn't move it over to like MySQL or anything like that for a good solid two years, and it worked just fine, you know. The parents don't care. It still makes their lives easier. And then the reason why I moved it was ultimately because [chuckles] I exceeded Airtable's like free limits. Not because I thought like, "Oh, I'm -- like, I'm doing something that -- you know, like -- you know, really good programmers don't do," or anything like that, you know? I- I moved it because you -- I just didn't want to pay money for- for what I was doing. That's fine with it.

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

And I don't think people should be like, "Oh, if I use a-", you know, "-low-code or no-code tool, I'm not a good programmer," or something like that. That's -- if- if, you know, if someone is telling you that, they don't know what they're talking about.

Dan:

Yeah. I -- I mean, I agree. And the framing of- of- of how a person values themselves and their abilities, I feel like ... is either starting to shift, or- or maybe I'm just like finding better vocabular- you know, vocabulary about it. But, that like, if a client, for instance -- I mean, I- I- I'm independent developer. So, clients are the way I think about a lot of this stuff, right? But if a client is paying, like is- is paying you, they're not paying you for code or, you know, React or- or whatever, right? They're paying you to get the thing that they want [chuckles], right? They're paying you to have the daycare, like, management software done. Not to do it in the most, you know, detailed way that some other judgy person will judge you for [chuckles], right? They- they don't care.

Vic:

[Chuckles] Exactly.

Dan:

And- and so -- you know, my point is just like, to provide value is the thing- is the thing that you're working on. Not- not that you're working on becoming like a React expert, or- or whatever, you know?

Vic:

Right. And- and, you know, it depends, of course, whether you are doing this in a job or -- but actually, even at my day job, we actually use a lot of Zapier and- and Airtable. Like we had -- we're on the enterprise levels of both Zapier and Airtable, because like, you gotta maximize, you know, your value. And we don't want to be building all these -- so, this is just going to come off as like product placement for Zapier or Neotel but, [laughs] you know, there's- there's so much stuff that we just don't want to -- all this duct tape we just don't need to do.

Dan:

Yeah.

Vic:

Cuz it like, it's cheaper to pay for- for those tools on a monthly basis than it is to spent any amount of time, like building all the plumbing.

Dan:

Yep.

Vic:

That- that's [laughs] all I'll say about that. So, this [chuckles] doesn't become a huge, like, endorsement or any --

Dan:

No, it's true though. And cheaper. Like, if you build for the hour, or if your employee or whatever, like your -- anybody's time is worth money and somebody's paying for it eventually [chuckles], right? So, anytime you can save yourself time in, you know, a productive way it -- that it's like easy to -- it's an easy win [laughs]. It's an easy decision. I- I love it. I -- Zapier for it like -- I have just started scratching the surface of Zapier for over the last couple months. I think based on your recommendation. But it's just been, I don't know, it's been a revelation.

Vic:

I kind of use it all over the place. I have some zaps that just told me like -- okay. So, this is a pre-2020 story. But I have some zaps that's -- that just tells me like -- it monitors there is like races that I used to run — like road races — and it just tells me when like, registration opens up for those races, so, I could [chuckles] go register and get bid number

one [crosstalk 00:38:

06,000]. So, I just have like a bunch of random automations like that.

Dan:

[Chuckles] That's awesome.

Bekah:

Can you, or one of you, explain what Zapier is?

Vic:

Sure. It's plumbing [chuckles]. So, okay. So, let's see. What's the best way to describe Zapier? So ... let's see. So, I have a -- it- it- it ties together various services. It takes events from one service and kind of like, pipes them into another. So, as an example, let's say that I have ... okay. This is a real one. So, anytime an event starts on my calendar, I have Zapier watch for that. And three minutes before that event starts, it marks me as "Do Not Disturb". And like -- and then, three minutes after the event ends, it like, changes my status back on Slack to, you know, to clear. I have some, like, a lot more complicated ones, where -- like, I have, you know, I- I run a little script that watches the- the- the race website, and it looks for like a specific word on that website, and if that word was found, it sends me a message on Slack, and sends me a text message, and it lets me know that I should go register. But you can like, have this -- you can have it like send emails, or I can have it say that, "Anytime someone fills out this form and a new record appears in an Airtable, I want you to do like these 15 other things." Like, maybe fill out an invoice, or send out an email, or like, you could have a do a bunch of different things.

Dan:

Mm-hmm.

Vic:

And it can be many, many steps. It can run like every five minutes or something like that.

Bekah:

So, it is a time saving superpower?

Vic:

It is 100% a time saving superpower.

Dan:

Yeah. A-and, the -- for me, I found that once I've started like using it, because I read about it and been like, "That sounds cool," but, you know, not really dug into it. But once you start using it, the ways that you can use it, like, it changes how your brain thinks about everything [laughs]. It's really -- it's- it's- it's pretty crazy to think about. The -- what we're using on Virtual Coffee- Virtual Coffee's site, we have some random forms that collect information in various places, for example. And those forms are submitted on Netlify, and so, now Zapier is getting notified when that happens, right? So, the form goes to Zapier, and then, for instance, we are saving the record in a -- right now in a- in a Google sheets row. And also, submitting an issue on GitHub for it, or whatever to. The -- like, that's just one way that we're- we're using those -- we're using Zapier right now. It's ... I don't know. It's very cool. Could you tell us about Airtable as well?

Vic:

Sure.

Dan:

You- you talked about it a lot.

Vic:

Airtable is just -- I mean, it's- it's very much like Google sheets or any other spreadsheet. You know, there are rows, and you can group them, and sort them. But once again, it allows you to like do things based on row's changing. And it has a really, really nice API. So, I, you know, I've used- I've used it as kind of like a back end for a lot of stuff. There's a- a site that I built recently, like, to allow parents to buy t-shirts for their kids, and then pay the invoices, and then I was using the Airtable for that. Yeah, there's [laughs] not really much of dark [??] wise. It's very simple. A lot of people use it. I think they're like a -- they're one of those like, big billion dollar companies.

Dan:

So, if you were building a service where you had to st-st-store

content, basically, in- in any way, at the beginning [crosstalk 00:41:

37,000], that's- that's -- it's ... the first thing you reach for? Yeah.

Vic:

Yeah. And then Access, it doesn't need an API [??], right?

Bekah:

Cool. Can we jump back to indie hacking for a second? Cuz-

Vic:

[Whispers] Yes!

Bekah:

-I wanna talk a little bit about what the community is like, and the kind of how you found a place in that community?

Vic:

Sure. So, I guess it probably starts when I, like, started to follow various people on Twitter. And I realized that, "Oh, there is a name for this thing." And like, "Oh," it's like, "I shouldn't just like, hide the things that I do." Like, it's actually good to, you know, like, share it in public, right? Then I found indiehackers.com, which is probably one of the largest of these -- and I'm in a few other communities like that. They're all like Slack communities. Let's see ... wait. [Laughs] What was the rest of your question?

Bekah:

It -- just kinda like, how you found your place in the community, or like, what the community is like?

Vic:

It's -- I find it to be, like, very welcoming honestly. It's -- there- there are, of course, a lot of very, very successful people in these communities. And you gotta- you gotta make sure that you follow people that are, you know, slightly out of yours, slightly below you, as opposed to just the people that are like wildly su-successful, because then you kinda experience this like survivorship bias when you follow people that are just, you know, making, you know, tons of money or have very, very successful products, and you don't really learn anything from them, because ... I don't know. They've- they've kind of, you know, they're -- they- they paint a much rosier picture of their success than- than perhaps what is like real [chuckles]. So, I find that it's important to follow people in these communities -- like- like Twitter is probably, honestly, the best place for this. You know, find someone that has like, under 1000 followers, under 2000 followers, and is like day- you know, posting daily about their, you know, what it is they're building, and a lot of them share their learnings, like, successes and failures, and you learn so much about it. And- and I get so much value from reading about people's failures. And knowing, you know- you know, I should not do that. And similarly, when I find people that are maybe, like, still just starting with it, and I'm able to share like, my successes and failures with them, I really enjoy doing that. So, I'm in the Slack community called MicroB2C, where it's a bunch of people that build micro business to consumer products. So ... let's see. So, they like -- you know, Lunch Money as an example there, like, GG app is another example. There's lots of different ones there. And it's just- it's just great to, like -- it's great to be able to post questions to them, for example, like, "Oh, the Apple store has changed some policy," like, you know, and they say, "Oh, you need to write your terms of service to be like this." And you know, it saves you from [chuckles] going through the hassle of discovering all this stuff on your own. It's -- they- they're good places. There also some paid communities. I'm not really a part of any of the- the paid indie communities.

Bekah:

Yeah, I love this idea of learning through failures because -- I don't know. We grow so much, but also, it helps with our time saving superpowers [chuckles], right? Like you [chuckles] get to -- I don't know -- you get this knowledge and understanding that you might not get in any other place, right? And so, some of my favorite conversations recently have been from people who have been there before and can share those. That's one of my first questions like, "Okay, can you talk about, like, your failure and- and failures in what you've learned?" Because then, you know, like, I'm a step ahead of where I was before. And I don't have to go through that, like, really painful process.

Vic:

Exactly, right? So, I- I- I love those people who share immediately, like, very forthcoming with you about what they failed it. That- that's just like such good vulnerability, and they don't want you to go through like, the stuff that they've gone through. And I'm not a fan of [chuckles] the people that are like, "Oh, you'll find out." No, I don't want to [laughs]. I want you to tell me. I want, like -- and so, I bias a little bit toward the oversharing and failures.

Dan:

One- one of the- one of the things that you said, sort of in the same realm of- of following people that are on your -- basically, on your level of- of learning in- indie hacking, I've -- I think is really good advice for- for anything, for anything --

Vic:

I mean, that's not to say you shouldn't follow wildly successful people, right?

Dan:

Right. Right.

Vic:

You just have to take their learnings with a mountain of salt.

Dan:

Yes.

Vic:

And- and like, I don't know, maybe aspire for their success, but not necessarily their journey cuz everyone's journey is completely different.

Dan:

Oh, absolutely. I- I was- I was going to say, it -- I feel like it's very good advice. Just ... I don't know. Learning anything really, or ... not just indie hacking, right? I mean, I- I would give the same advice to developers. I don't think I- I had framed it that quite the way you did. It -- but it made me- it made me think that I should start framing it [chuckles] that way, right? Cuz when people- when people are in a different phase, their perspective is different even, you know? So, if somebody is- i-is not just that they have forgotten about the failures along the way, and they happen to have a successful product, you know, but they're -- the things they're thinking about are different if they're managing a successful product, versus trying to learn how to, you know, trying to- trying to learn at the beginning. It's just something I've been wo-working on a-a-a lot with Virtual Coffee, you know? A-and one of the things I've enjoyed the most is ... becoming close with people, you know, at different- at different phases of- of the developer journey, their career journey, like, you know, everything. And -- I don't know. I- I just think it's such good advice, you know. I-it's -- don't -- just don't always pay attention to the people with the million followers, you know, in- in whatever.

Vic:

Yeah. I mean, they probably have valuable things to say. It's just that not all of it is going to work out for you. But the person that is like, closest to you has a actionable advice right now that, you know, that is applicable and timely.

Dan:

Yeah, absolutely.

Bekah:

Yeah, for sure. We talked about that in my breakout room today in Virtual Coffee, this idea of processes and growth and how -- so many times you might have a blind spot, especially like, you know, if- if you haven't been there recently. And so, you know, being able to fill in those blind spots are probably the person who is closer to the problem or your stage in the journey. And ... that's incredibly valuable.

Vic:

Totally agree.

Dan:

I mean, I could talk about this, the low-code, the services stuff for hours. I -- it's -- this is just one of those-

Vic:

What services?

Dan:

The- the low-code services. A-airtable-

Vic:

Oh, yeah.

Dan:

-and Zapier, and just like the way different ways to hack -- like, hook all this stuff together. Are there any other notable low-code services that you like to use besides we have mentioned so far — Caard and Airtable and Zapier? Are there any any other interesting or cool ones that you like- like to use?

Vic:

I think I probably use those more than anything else. Trying to think. But -- I mean ... let's see. No, I think the -- I think those form a bulk of my, like -- I think I can build anything with like, just those three things. I mean, plus, you know, I- I don't just use that, there- there are people that use like, you know, something like, I think it's called Bubble or any of those other like, things that let you like, build a whole app with just like, you know, in no-code local stuff, but I actually have them as part of my React app. So, although like, you know, a NextJS page that just happens to use, you know, Airtable as a- as a thing. And I actually have a- I have a lightning talk on, you know, building an- an Airtable backed app next month at the Virtual Coffee.

Dan:

Yeah. I'm looking --

Bekah:

Oh. This will probably drop [crosstalk 00:49:46,000] in February -- on February 26th.

Vic:

I'm- I'm looking --

Dan: [Chuckles] Yeah [crosstalk 00:49:

48,000]. I'm looking forward to that talk.

Vic:

I'm looking forward to it.

Dan:

And learning more about how you like, hook up next -- you know, that side of it as well. Again, I could talk about this stuff for [chuckles]- for hours.

Bekah:

So, we talked about having community members around your space and the journey that you can learn from too. And so, I'm curious to -- you know, how close to your projects are they, in terms of the things that they're making? Like, so, are you just mainly focusing on people who are doing things similar to you? Or, you know, how do you kind of learn from the people around you?

Vic:

Oh, you mean, like, the- the specific niche I'm in? Nich? Niche? I don't know.

Bekah:

Yeah, I know. I say it both ways too.

Vic:

They're kind of all over the place actually. I follow several people that are like, making candles, you know? Or -- but like, you learn something from that too, right? So, this person makes candles, and, you know, they happen to use Caard and Shopify to put together a site really quickly. And, you know, it's- it's once again example of like, shipping quickly, right? And I don't mean like, literally shipping the candle. But like, actually like the -- I think the process for a lot of bootstrap founders is very similar. So, like in the candle making example, you could decide to build a whole business and build, you know, build an elaborate site, and then like, you could release it, and find out that no one cares. Or you could announce that, "Hi, I a small business solo founder. I'm thinking about-", you know, "-making hand pouring candles." And it turns out that 100 peep- and then, you know, you launch a little site on like Caard, or Shopify, or whatever, and 100 people have pre-sign up, and it tells you that this -- you know, there's interest for this, and that, you know, it's something that you wanna do, and this particular one, so, Terra Simply is the candle company I'm talking about. But it's just like Shopify, and she just pours candles, and, you know, in her house in Missouri, and it's like, really, really -- so, you know, I learned a ton of stuff from this. Even though it has nothing to do with- with, like, building software products, right? And I follow like, some people that- that like, you know, have other like, direct to consumer stuff, like printing t-shirts on demand, you know? And I learned -- you learn -- you never know what you're going to learn when you start following someone. And then you do when you realize that, you know, this is like, something that actually is really useful to you. I mean, and I just learned -- I just like learning random things. Like, I'm super good at triage [unintelligible] your team. I just know random factoids that I shove in the back of my head for like, someday when it's going [chuckles] to be useful. And- and I find that just falling like kind of this diverse group of people, the only thing in common between all of them is that they are solo founders, you know, is actually really useful. I listened a bunch of podcasts, too, where I learned a lot of stuff from.

Dan:

That's a great point. And- and just the diversity of -- si-si-since it's not all around a technology, right? I-it's not -- you're- you're gonna have diverse solutions and- and all the different problems, you know? It's -- that's -- it seems like a very cool community to be a part of.

Vic:

Yeah. And you're gonna learn about, like, some tool that someone's using that like, you'd never even thought of, you know, like, "Oh, wow. That's gonna be useful for me and my preschool thing," or whatever.

Bekah:

All right, Vic. I think this is been a fantastic conversation, and I am so glad to -- that you came here to have this with us. Where can our listeners find you?

Vic:

You can find me on Twitter at twitter.com slash Vic, V-I-C, Vijayakumar, V-I-J-A-Y-A-K-U-M-A-R. Or you can find me on my site where I blog about the most random things. So, vicvijayakumar.com. Once again, spelled the same way. And, yeah. And I'm gonna be sending out my first

newsletter this [crosstalk 00:53:

56,000] month, I think.

Bekah: Woohoo. [Crosstalk 00:53:

58,000] I'm sign up for that too.

Dan:

Yeah. Yep.

Vic:

A bunch of people that have signed up. I don't know what I'm gonna write about yet, but it's going to be interesting.

Bekah:

Listen, I will let you know I sign up for everything that Vic does, because he's super awesome [chuckles]. So, I

can't wait until [crosstalk 00:54:

08,000] Meet Sweats drops.

Vic:

[Laughs] Thank you.

Bekah: Because [crosstalk 00:54:

13,000] I know it's gonna be life changing. Doesn't matter. You made it. I'll be there [laughs].

Vic:

[Laughs] Who knows what it's gonna be about? It's gonna be the fire fest [??] of our day.

Dan:

[Laughs] Amazing.

Bekah:

Okay, well, we'll have all those links in the show notes, and you can find Vic and all of the very, very cool projects that he is working out there.

Vic:

And at the Virtual Coffee community.

Bekah:

And at the Virtual Coffee community.

Vic:

Bye, y'all! Thanks for having me.

Bekah:

Bye!

Dan:

Thanks, Vic.

Bekah:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Virtual Coffee podcast. This episode was produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel, and edited by Dan Ott. If you have any questions or comments, you can hit us up on Twitter @VirtualCoffeeIO, or you can email us at podcast@virtualcoffee.io. You can find the show notes at virtualcoffee.io. Plus, you can sign up for our newsletter to find out what we've been up to.

Dan:

Please make sure to subscribe to the Virtual Coffee podcast if you haven't already. And if you feel like writing a review, we'd love to hear from you. Next week we'll have Cameron Bardell and Rahat Chowdhury on the podcast to talk about mental health and tech, and the intersection of the two. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next week.


The Virtual Coffee Podcast is produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel and edited by Andy Bonjour at GoodDay Communications.