Providing a SaaS product to both large enterprise customers and smaller startups means we’ve got a wide range of possible touch points with our user base. One of the benefits to this is the opportunity for 1:1 feedback. Sometimes it’s in the form of a formal business review, sometimes it’s a cold email to an employee that gets forwarded up the chain. In this particular instance, a budding entrepreneur reached out to our VP of Growth Marketing for some potential cross promotional activity, and our relationship grew from there. We hope you enjoy his story and learn how he’s driving real results with email using SparkPost.

Where Indie Hackers Started

Meet Courtland Allen, Founder of Indie Hackers. Started in August of 2016, Indie Hackers is a unique online resource for entrepreneurs featuring interviews of successful startup owners as well as an active community forum. Courtland founded Indie Hackers to inspire developers and entrepreneurs interested in launching their own businesses by highlighting the stories behind successful companies.

“There are tons of news stories featuring the traditional startup path, but there’s a growing trend of devs who are building or growing smaller side projects. These projects are not necessarily making billions of dollars, but are making enough to warrant a side income or small business.”

To date, Courtland has logged 130+ developer interviews from companies of all sizes, projects spanning from mobile apps generating $500 per month to those that have grown their businesses to $100,000’s per month. He prides himself and his content on transparency, so he makes a point to ask each interviewee the same set of questions, including how much income their projects generate.

Where SparkPost Fits

Courtland’s offering is two-fold, the interviews with entrepreneurs and then there’s a bustling community forum where aforementioned entrepreneurs can collaborate. He built the forum from scratch, which meant he was missing several features like email notifications. Around the same time that he built the forum, Courtland connected with Software Engineering Daily podcast owner Jeffrey Meyerson at a meetup. Jeff recommended SparkPost and Courtland reached out to our VP of Growth Marketing, Tracy Sestili. Courtland mentioned that he was looking for software that would notify members in his forum of when they received a reply and Tracy said that SparkPost does this and would love his feedback if he should try it out.

How Indie Hackers is Using SparkPost

Courtland easily implemented SparkPost for email notifications for his forum. In his own words:

“In terms of building the whole system, implementing SparkPost was the easiest. There was a little bit of guess and check and sending a few emails, but overall pretty painless.”

Here’s how it works: Courtland set up SparkPost to send his users email notifications when they get a reply to a comment on his forum. He uses Firebase for storage data for the forum. He wrote a simple script that runs every 15 minutes searching for new comments, then uses the SparkPost Node.js client library to send an email. To standardize the email message, he created a template inside the SparkPost UI that provides the HTML content of the comment and a link to click and reply. These templates use substitution data to provide a customized message to every recipient while still using a standard format. Eventually he wants to implement an inbound domain and relay webhooks, so that users can reply to comments without leaving their inbox.

What’s Next

Between the time of our interview and the publication date, Courtland has announced that he’s selling Indie Hackers! Stripe has acquired Indie Hackers and Courtland will stay on to run the business. In fact, his new title is “Indie Hacker at Stripe”. What this means for Indie Hackers: He’s no longer doing sponsor or affiliate programs. His number one goal is to expand the community and help aspiring entrepreneurs have transparent conversations and learn from each other. He’s also recruited his twin brother to work with him full time.

“Pretty routinely, I get messages on Twitter or emails from people who started companies because they were inspired by Indie Hackers. It’s hard to measure the influence that something you created has on other people, but if even one successful company gets created from Indie Hackers, I’m happy.”

To learn more about Indie Hackers or Courtland, check out his site or follow him on Twitter.

— Jen


Who’s my partner?

Startups and startup founders don’t operate in isolation. And whether you’re starting a company or a family, partnerships are hard — but they matter. A lot. They say business partners are like spouses: you’re with them everyday, for better or worse, in sickness and in health. There’s usually a honeymoon phase, and then, inevitably, reality settles in and the illusion of perfection crumbles. But all partnerships — even the good ones — take work. And despite all the hurdles and headaches, partnerships are a key factor in both success and happiness. It’s no coincidence many of the most famous companies are a result of partnerships: Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Hewlett and Packard. Ben and Jerry.

Remember that successful partnerships are not just about finding someone perfect and exactly like you. The brilliance often lies in the gentle tension. The slight difference in perspective. The ability to tease out ideas and qualities in another person (and ourselves). Our output wanes when we isolate, so don’t go it alone. But choose your company wisely. It’s easy to get caught up with the technical stuff, but the partners you choose matter. We truly are the sum of the company we keep, and this matters more than ever when you’re launching a startup. Two general rules of thumb that have served me well: 1) If your partner’s brilliant, but they’re personally a mess, it will seep into your business. Avoid. 2) Choose someone you wouldn’t mind getting stranded in an airport with. Life is too short to not spend it around enjoyable people.

Which assumptions need invalidating?

Just like technology, our ways of thinking are only cutting edge for so long. Eventually, even the most breakthrough idea expires and becomes outdated — but that can work to your advantage: outdated assumptions that are still largely perpetuated in the marketplace are a perfect place to start eyeing your next opportunity. Ask yourself, “Which assumptions are no longer valid? Which mental models are past their prime?” Most large companies don’t ask these questions or interrogate their way of operating until crisis strikes — when it’s largely too late. But as an entrepreneur, you have less to lose and aren’t accountable to all the stakeholders, so use your smallness to your advantage and discover what the big companies and industries are currently taking for granted. These are the areas most ripe for innovation, most likely to find investment (should you decide to go the VC route), and with the longest lifeline. You could be the next Netflix nudging out Blockbuster if you ask the right questions and look beyond the status quo.

Where is my sweet spot?

As a society, we’re passionate about passion. We want to be passionate about everything we do: our jobs, our hobbies, our life goals, what we eat for breakfast — everything. That passion can push us beyond our comfort zones to pursue our dreams, to take the risks necessary for success. But can passion alone be the X factor that catapults your next venture to the top? Every good entrepreneur needs passion to succeed, but the most successful entrepreneurs understand that passion must be balanced with real skills and demand from your audience. It’s the intersection of those three ingredients — 1) what you love to do and are interested in, 2) what you’re good at or could become good at, and 3) what the market is demanding — that creates the startup sweet spot. So, interrogate your passions, then check them against the practical components before you launch. In other words, ask yourself: Why this? Why you? Why now?

About the Author:

Guest Author Anna Akbari, PhD, is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the author of Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness.

Interested in hearing more startup advice? Check out the resources linked below!

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