Is it time for a new term?
They all kind of say it but none of them quite do.
Maker I love. It's obvious. A maker makes things. However, it doesn't quite capture the business intent side of things that I'm looking for. I certainly identify as a maker. Making things is awesome. Making things is what I live to do. But to the outsider, "maker", I fear, is just not taken seriously. Certainly, a maker can be business savvy, but the term itself doesn't capture that essence.
Indie Hacker is great too. I dig the “indie” notion. Indie meaning independent. On your own. Doing it your way. But “hacker” is, well, kinda lame. Reminds me of "growth hacker". Hacking is sort of like trying to cheat. Trying to find the easy way. It's not all that respectful. And "hacker" also has a bit of “unprofessionalism”. (Which is the point I suppose.) And, although it doesn’t these days, it does have a bit of negative origin. Hackers can do good, but more often they do malice.
It's also unclear to the outsider what an indie hacker is:
"You independently hack? What are you hacking?"
This causes it to not be taken all too seriously. Certainly, that's a matter of choice, but to the outsider, I'd hope it's crystal clear my intent.
I've also experienced that the word can be a bit divisive. Can an indie hacker take funding? Can an indie hacker be a team? When do you stop becoming an indie hacker? 🤷♂️
Bootstrapper nails it metaphorically. I dig that it makes clear you're using your own skills and funds to get your business up off the ground. I suppose all businesses at some point are initially bootstrapped—at least up until the point that they no longer were. 😅
I do, however, also get Hiten's distaste for "bootstrapper" (he elaborated on the IndieHacker podcast). He prefers "self-funded", which I too really dig. "Bootstrapper" kind of nails you to the wall on not raising money. There might be a good reason for doing so. "Customer funded" is also great, but really, all these terms are just means to an end — a way to fund the efforts required to create value for other people. They ultimately don't describe what the person doing the work does.
Entrepreneur certainly works. It's all-encompassing. Everyone gets it, but, frankly, everyone and their dog are ✌️entrepreneurs✌️ at this point. And using the term to self-proclaim that you are has a fairly douchey connotation to it. The term tries to hard. It proclaims too much to the uninitiated. Just like on LinkedIn, you know someone isn't an entrepreneur if they use the term "entrepreneur" to describe what they do.
"Elon Musk and I are entrepreneurs." Ok.
CEO. Sure. If you are head of the operations in an organization with your name on the paperwork for the entity filing, you are the CEO. This all makes sense. Especially in large and established corporations. Someone is responsible for it all. This isn't necessarily who I intend to be or how I intend to operate. Maybe someday? And right now, I'm not even certain I want to have employees (at least until necessary) or should I get the business to a point where raising funding makes sense. Right now, I'm just trying to get a business afloat and calling myself a CEO sounds a bit much.
Founder is perfect. You're the one "founding" a business. You're bringing it all into fruition. People get it. Silicon Valley has made the term commonplace. It typically indicates things are early stage.
The problem I have with it is it typically indicates funding. Again, funding is totally cool, but once you're funded, you're also beholden to your investors. That's certainly not a terrible thing. If anything, getting funded is a badge of honor and stamp of approval.
The term also typically indicates a certain size of business too. As in, it probably has a fairly established business model, a polished product and bringing a certain amount of respectable revenue.
Ultimately though, to say you're a "founder" means you've established and are growing a business (or are at least attempting to). It's a great term.
So, indie founder it is.
What makes an indie founder different from a founder?
Indie is independent. That independence means not reporting to anyone but customers.
This means an indie founder is staying afloat by a combination of the following:
- Supplementing with consulting or other productized services
- Product revenue (aka customer-funded)
Indie founding also doesn't mean you are a "solo founder". You could be an indie co-founder or indie solo-founder.
Should somebody want to be an indie founder?
It's not that anyone should want to be an indie founder. It just indicates a matter of your circumstance to fellow founders or employees and any potential investors — "I'm figuring this out and doing it on my own."
Does that mean an indie founder shouldn't raise money?
No. Every business or founder may get to the point they are confident enough to raise money. "Throwing some fuel on the fire" could help grow the intense fire they've started.
Some indie founders may find value in the network of an investment partner.
Some may be happy to give up some equity to have some money in the bank to buy some time.
And some indie founders may find it sufficient and satisfying to stay small.
Does it even matter?
I think this is a fair point. I've always made a point to not give myself a title. Why not just state what I'm doing?
"Hi! I'm Corey. I'm helping you turn your thoughts into words that matter."
But what I have found though is since I've started presenting myself as an "indie founder", fellow founders or potential business partners have begun taking me a bit more seriously. It's appreciated. Saying you're a founder means something. It means you've got skin in the game. It means you're committed. That you believe you have the skills necessary to build a truly valuable business. And saying you're "indie" means you're on your own. I think others can respect that.
Ultimately though, for most businesses, your customer really shouldn't care all too much what your title is. They care if you're delivering value.
Indie founding is now possible. Previously we had "independent software developers" and I think the term is essentially the same sentiment, but I think it was more restricted to mobile or desktop software devs or shops.
Tech today is enabling indie founding to independently bring meaningful change to the world.
What's awesome about tech today is that it's fragmenting and become capable for a solo-founder or small team to craft solutions that solve real problems for niche communities.— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) August 20, 2019
In the past, you had to raise a ton of money to hire the team, build the tech, to capture a big market.
Today, you can niche down and serve a small market while requiring far less funding to stay afloat.— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) August 20, 2019
There's a sort of "mom-and-pop"-ification of business happening now.
Don't limit yourself by thinking you have to become a multi-billion dollar business out of the gate.