I talked to Peter Levels earlier this week, and he had several controversial takes that he shared with me during our conversation. But in the acting being dead, that was probably the most controversial one of all.
The conversation around this topic started with a tweet by Peter. He mentioned more competition, less community, and saturated niches, all leading to the demise of Indie Hacking. I’ve come to a conclusion here, too, along with others who have been in the field for a while: Indie Hacking as we know it is actually dead.
But just as we know it.
Not as it’s going to be moving forward.
Because it is still going strong, but it has changed a lot from what it was in 2016 when it became a term.
In the past, building an indie software tool in a niche without much competition and expecting easy growth was possible — there was a lot of fertile and underserved market ground to be had. That “easy way” is probably dead now. There still are unexplored corners and niches in the market, but the way to go about it has changed significantly.
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That said: Indie Hacking as a way of life is more alive than ever. And it’s still indie: it’s self-funded, unencumbered by organizational restrictions, and revenue-driven. But the “hacking” part skipping steps in the playbook– is over.
What’s dead about Indie Hacking? A strong sense of community that kept people from competing with each other. If that ever truly existed, it’s gone now. Nowadays, people are more likely to clone each other’s work after sharing or discussing it than ever before. Most successful indie hackers see copycat attempts on a weekly basis.
What protects them against this clone army is having distribution figured out.
Indie Hacking now requires some form of distribution from day one. People like Pieter Levels —who I talked to on the podcast about the death of Indie Hacking this week— succeed by building in public, experimenting with ideas, sharing their progress, and building an audience around themselves as entrepreneurs.
It’s less likely that your first product will be successful without this kind of distribution because you’re competing with equally skilled founders who aren’t just good technicians but also understand how important social media has become to the buying decisions of their prospective customers.
If you build an indie business in a hype-based field like AI or audience-building, competition is strong, and you have no technical advantage, because you’re building on someone else’s platform. OpenAI, Twitter, Shopify: you depend on a much bigger business to run your own, and they don’t care much about you. They’ll allow you to work with them, but they’re not going out of their way to promote your things. You need your own distribution to be successful. This reminds me of Rob Walling’s stair-stepping approach: he suggests starting small with tiny projects and plugins before building a larger SaaS product, building a portfolio, and, more importantly, a feeling and a platform for distribution along the way. Funnily enough, Rob introduced this concept in 2015, before Indie Hacking was the big thing. Back to basics, I guess.
Indie Hacking has matured; it’s now indie entrepreneurship rather than hacking your way into growth. Growth hacks are so common that they’re nothing special anymore. They’re really not even hacks, just someone else’s playbook. And we have books, too: guides to Indie Hacking exist —I have written one or two myself— and many people follow them as strategies for building businesses and legacies.
Breadth & Depth
So what else does Indie Hacking require now? More than ever before, a specialized niche. You must be specific in your choice of market because you’re going to be competing with other indie hackers who may be more nimble in serving customers or quicker to build their products. The only advantage that will be hard for them to emulate is expertise.
Indie Hacking isn’t for those without prior experience anymore. Even if you’re an experienced developer, that doesn’t guarantee success in building a software business. It doesn’t even mean you’ll succeed in building developer tools as your product. You have to be extremely specific and knowledgeable in what you want to solve and who this will help.
Before starting to code your indie software product, gain experience in an industry you care about. Understand its dynamics, politics, needs, regulations, and everything that shapes the ecosystem. Your advantage comes from your expertise in the field. Successful indie hackers usually have a large following or are experts in their field. The best way to start both of these things when you’re just starting out? Get a job! Learn from the people around you, share that learning journey, and slowly build the knowledge and reputation that will be your distribution platform.
If you’re already experienced in a certain industry, focus on business ideas related to that field.
Let’s say you’ve worked in publishing. To start, look for platforms with plug-in compatible marketplaces, like Shopify. For example, can you create a tool to help publishers sell their books better? Or build a plug-in for WordPress to make attractive book sales pages? These plugins might be quickly built, but your advantage is really “getting” your customers. When you provide support, they will see this, because you understand the underlying problems, and that’s what they came to get a solution for.
The Constant: Change
Indie hacking has changed. You need both distribution and expertise now. But Indie Hacking, in its core, is still about solopreneurship and building a lifestyle business without outside dependencies.
It’s not just about “bootstrapping a SaaS” anymore. Indie hacking is more flexible in terms of making money and building a business. Some sell lifetime subscriptions or pay-once-use-forever tools. Others offer one-time licenses with lifetime support. The way you monetize your business doesn’t define indie hacking; there are many ways to make money from customers and achieve independence.
So, is Indie Hacking truly dead?
Of course not.
But it has evolved and keeps evolving. Modern indie hacking is less about shaky prototypes and more about expertise and distribution. Focus on your strengths and experiences to build a successful business in today’s software business landscape.