The end of the year is near, and it’s a good time to look back and reflect on what went right and what went wrong in my journey as a wannabe indie hacker.

Trendyt (January-April)

At the beginning of the year, I united forces with two long-time friends of mine, to try and build a startup. We had the idea for an analytic tool for Reddit, we called it Trendyt. Trendyt lets you monitor and analyze the sentiment behind the major trends on Reddit.

We enrolled in Start Up School (SUS) and started to update our progress, joined some 1-to-1 with other founders, and refined our MVP. The idea was to build an initial Demo, with a selection of the most popular sub-reddits and get feedback from the initial users.

The time up to launch was brutal, we spoke to potential users (sub-reddit mods, content marketers, content creators), built a prototype in Django, built the sentiment analysis model. But we all had a full-time job and moved very slowly. The insights from the potential customers were weak. We had many technical challenges. Reading the weekly updates of that time, it is full of “we had no time to work on the project” and one of us was about to leave at some point. We were not focused enough, we were not coordinated enough, we had different views on the project and we kept moving the launch date ahead. We planned to launch at the beginning of February using AWS and ended up launching mid-March, using Heroku.

After the launch, we tried to promote it, on Product Hunt, Reddit, Indie Hackers, and more. We planned to deploy on AWS but were never able to solve the technical challenges. The development of the product stalled, we didn’t get any positive feedback and the Weekly Active Users (WAU) never went above 5. After 2 consecutive weeks with 0 WAU I pulled out.

It was a negative experience that left me quite empty. I hated almost everything about it. The weekly updates of SUS, the calls with my co-founders, the work itself. I felt like I was giving a lot of energy without getting anything back. Negativity was the main mood and it is difficult enough to build something, without a positive attitude it becomes almost impossible.

I save the SUS videos, some of them are quite interesting and they make you think about your product, the way to develop your business, and what to pay attention to. Possibly more useful for my daily job at a startup than at my little adventure with Trendyt. The development version of the website is still up and running here.

Alfa Data book (May-July)

After the adventure with Trendyt, I needed something to bounce back. It was hard-lockdown time, I was spending a lot of time inside and playing videogames but I still wanted to build something, to show myself I was still capable of making and making money online, with my own work.

It was the time when Daniel Vassallo had published his very successful book on AWS, had launched his course on how to build a Twitter audience and he inspired me to try and do the same.

I have been betting on soccer in the last 4 years, have developed a strategy, using a bit of data science and coding. I already had built a SAAS around it (Alfa Data, more on this later) and I felt that I could share some of my secrets and inspire people to try and do the same, improving the way they bet on soccer, making it a more successful and enjoyable betting experience.

I decided to launch before writing, just to test the demand. I set up a landing page on Gumroad (copying the layout of Daniel’s) and started to accept pre-orders. I advertised only on my Alfa Data Twitter account, I think I had around 600 followers back then, so not a huge audience. To my surprise, I got 3 pre-orders. Now I needed to write. So I took every day my time to write and explain with code examples how to build a soccer betting model. I launched the book at the beginning of June and it got a lot of praise. I received many messages of happy readers, that wanted to learn more and encouraged me to write more. So I ended up writing a second book, more advanced, that I published around Christmas.

It was a very good experience that taught me a lot. I learned how to write a book and publish it on Gumrod and Amazon KDP. I made money! The product that I made the most money with. As of today (29 December 2020) I have earned more than 750$ self-publishing with Gumroad and Amazon (roughly 15% of the revenue coming from Amazon). I feel like these are almost like MRR as I am getting a constant stream of income from new sales since June and I have done no promotion for the books (I wrote a second one around Christmas), apart from a pinned tweet on the Alfa Data account. Each time I publish the weekly bets on Twitter or Reddit, someone notices the book and decides to buy. I am also quite sure that people are discovering the book via Amazon and Gumroad recommendations, which is fantastic.

Alfa Data SAAS (July-September)

Alfa Data is a soccer statistics tool that provides statistics, insights, and betting advice for all teams in the major European leagues. It’s a SAAS with a Free and a Premium Tier. I am running Alfa Data since 4 years but this year was different. When COVID hit all major European leagues were suspended and I stopped betting on soccer and updating the weekly tips. Luckily, in July all leagues re-started and I got some new subscribers. The churn is very high, but the good results of the betting portfolio made up for it and I was able to make a good profit.

Overall in 2020, I made 210$ from the subscriptions (up 9% from last year) and my betting bankroll increased of 85$ from the bets placed in 2020. Quite a good result.

What’s in the future of Alfa Data? I have a board full of potential features and it would be great to have the time to develop them. It would give me pleasure to see the product grow. On the other hand, I am aware that the product has brought me very little revenue and, although I am willing to work on it for a long time, it is not something that has blown up and can sustain itself. In just 6 months, the books have matched and surpassed the entire revenue from Alfa Data since 2018. There might be a way to grow it, maybe with ads and a more aggressive promotion strategy, but I don’t think it suits me to invest so much in promoting it. In the new year, I will spend some time automating it as much as possible, make a list of revenue and costs, and will try to find a buyer for it.

Other small bets

I am always looking for opportunities and I try to build small products or quick wins, that can become bigger features. Some work but some don’t. I want to list the things that didn’t work this year:

  • Rent It was inspired by Atmos. I saw the beautiful calculator they put online, that compares the house what you can afford in a big city in the US with the house you could afford in a rural area of the country. I said, why not do it with Italy? I built a similar calculator that gives you different rental options in Italy for a fixed rental price. It was very nice to copy the design of their landing page, but the product didn’t resonate a lot. It got only 5 votes on PH and no traction anywhere else. It was definitely a flop.

  • Twitter is still something I need to get good at. I love the place and I met many interesting people there. It was a very good way to keep some social interaction alive in a year when I spent 7 months of my life in a lock-down in another country. On the other hand, I kept trying different things to increase my number of followers, but nothing worked. Probably because I do not have the determination to keep posting every day. I don’t have much to post about after all. I will keep trying in 2021. I have found a format that might be good, picking an indie-hacker’s product and giving suggestions on how to improve it with Data Science. Already done a couple and got good feedback, definitely worth trying more.

  • Data Science Impact was the result of the Gumroad 14 days product challenge. I wanted to put my views on Data Science for some time and that was the opportunity to do it. The book ended up quite short and I am offering it for free. More like a lead magnet than anything. I published it in November and only 12 people downloaded it. It’s probably not that interesting and it doesn’t work as a lead magnet, but I learned many things in the process. Above all, how to make a book cover with Canvas.

Overall a year that brought me some extra side income, but not as much as I would like. My extra income coming from indie-hacking is still around 2% of my annual salary. Not enough.

But I don’t complain, 2020 was a good year for me. At least I have still my job. I am still not an indie-hacker but I will keep trying.