My product is my garden
I’ve been part of the internet startup scene for a while. There are so many different camps: the bootstrappers, the VC-backed tech-bros, the crypto “investors”, the people marketing their courses on marketing courses, the newsletter gurus, the micro-saas homeboys. The list goes on.
Each of these groups have their own, unique views on building companies and products. Some are moonshots, others are sustainable “grow-slowly” types, and each has its own subset of hard-core, flame-war inducing followers. Ah, the internet is a beautiful, terrible, magical, ghastly, colourful place.
I’ve been associated with, and in some cases, been a part of a few of these various subcultures. After working at a VC backed startup, I went the bootstrapped route (popularised by the IndieHackers movement) with my own product. It was an interesting ride, but was still rife with the Marketing Course Joes who just made $3000 last week with their “How to market no-code apps” course, as well as the Hustle Boys with their Twitter feeds full of “Work like no-one works today, so you can live like no-one lives tomorrow. #entrepreneur”. Neither of these resonated with me.
I have found my own analogy/ideology. My product is my garden.
During the early days of lockdown, my girlfriend got deep into gardening. She would spend hours nurturing her tomato plants, weeding, watering, puttering about. She would spend afternoons reading articles on permaculture, figuring out which plants grew well alongside other plants. Lavender with tomatoes kept the pests away, slight shade for the granadilla vine, some water, but not too much for the root vegetables. It was lovely to watch her coax tasty and nutritious food individually out of the ground. I can’t imagine full-scale farming being nearly as enjoyable.
That’s what I want from my products. I want to putter about, feel connected to the process, and have fun doing so. I want to make things that don’t scale. To see people tuck into them and enjoy them as people, not as stats. I’ve done this fairly successfully with JustSketchMe. We have a small, diverse, and amazing community of artists and illustrators making awesome things. I’m trying to build a similar product with Bear Blog. Something niche but valuable. Something I can spend time on because I want to.
Being able to talk to, and interact with the people using my tools is fulfilling. Spending time meticulously improving subtle aspects of the product is enjoyable.
Obviously, to do this a product has to reach a basic threshold of profitability. This will differ depending on where you are. I live in Cape Town, South Africa where the cost of living is low (compared to the US and EU). I reached basic profitability, matching an average developer salary here, about 10 months ago, and since then I’ve been improving my projects. Not to grow at all cost, but to ensure that people using the tool have an ever-improving experience.
This is my garden, and I intend to putter.