Tony Dinh — Ups and Downs of an Indie Hacker Journey

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Arvid Kahl 0:00
Welcome to The Bootstrapped Founder. Tony Dinh is a prolific indie hacker and I’m talking to him today. I’ve been following Tony’s journey building and designing products in public on Twitter for years now. And that’s what I wanted to talk to him about today, indie hacking in public. We dive into how he creates visually stunning products and his approach to pricing and revenue models. You’ll find out how he navigated the recent Twitter API price increase and then ultimately sold his popular browser extension Black Magic to Hypefury for a fraction of what he could sold it at a few months ago. The indie hacker life is one of ups and downs. And Tony is sharing it all with you today right here. Before we dive into our chat, just a quick thank you to our sponsor, More on that later. Here is Tony.

You’ve become one of the most interesting indie hackers to follow on Twitter at least when I’m concerned. I love following you. And I think you’re taking building in public to the next level. And so far, I’ve watched you build four different products in public on Twitter. And I think that’s incredibly impressive. And even better, I think your products are incredibly well designed. So you’re not just building awesome stuff, you’re also designing it so well. And most indie hackers, they don’t build good looking products. They’re not good at design at all. So how did you learn to create such visually stunning products? Where does this come from?

Tony Dinh 1:24
Wow, first of all, thank you for the kind words. I really don’t think I deserve all that. And secondly, I think most of the indie hackers I know on Twitter are very good at design. You look at loss knack and the product side CBT by hunnu. Hope I pronounced his name right. And product by Faulk John. Everywhere I see, the indie hackers usually have a very good sense of design and they actually do the designs by themselves very well. So I kind of feel like I am always somewhere in the middle. So I’m not sure if very good design compliment is fit for me. But

Arvid Kahl 2:06
Nice deflection right there. I think you’re really good at it because I think I’m not good at it at all. I use Tailwind to get like a basic level, you know, to have some kind of design. But after that, if I were to like build a custom component, it would look really bad. And I’m using several of your products like black magic. And we can talk about the whole journey and the acquisition in a bit. But I use that tool. And it’s part of my Twitter process, obviously, right? I use it every day on Twitter. And I’ve been using it most recently from my Twitter tear downs where I look into other people’s accounts. And I tell them how did you build a better Twitter profile. And it’s just so good. Like I look at it and it has the pie chart for the things that they do and the timeline. And it’s also visually clear. And I think that clarity and how to present data, that’s something that’s kind of what I mean with design, not just the beauty of the product, but your clear visual representation of data. And you have that in all of your products. So that’s what I’m saying. Do you put some extra effort into this to make it visually very clear?

Tony Dinh 3:10
Actually a little bit difficult for me to tell exactly how I got good at design, but also not that good, but okay. The one trick that I always use is that I always try to use as much built in components as possible, as you already mentioned, you use Tailwind, right? So I bought the Tailwind component library and just use that as much as again. So not a lot of components I use in my apps are like custom built. And about the chart, like I think I’m mostly I just use whatever reliever in the library itself. And sometimes I have to tweak a little bit about a spacing issue. But other than that, the only trick that I use is just stick with a template or stick with a component library. And usually it will come with a good design. But it’s not fair to not mention that I also have a bit a little bit of skills in Photoshop in the earliest stage of my career so and also I used to work as a front end engineer and I had to work with a lot of designers building HTML, CSS and JavaScript, right? And back then, they were very strict about how you implement the design into the front end code. So they have a very good designer so they don’t want to waste money when you don’t translate the design into something like 100% to be so perfect, right? So I guess over the years I just pick up like what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense, how is it good spacing and some other common sense around design. So that somehow get in me and help me with, you know, design some custom components when I need to. And then yeah, could be a little bit disappointed

Arvid Kahl 5:09
No, not at all.

Tony Dinh 5:13
I trained the design skill in me. So, yeah.

Arvid Kahl 5:17
Well, that is the answer, right? The answer is that you’ve done all of this before and you have good designers to show you what good design looks like. Not everybody has this if you come from a technical more background kind of background, right? You’re building database stuff or you’re just a DevOps engineer and you want to build something like a tool for other DevOps engineers. You only know what, I don’t know, like Jenkins looks like, right? The software that looks like it’s from the 80s and you don’t have the kind of sense of what it could look like if it was well designed. That brings me to a question I asked on Twitter just a couple of days ago, before this has been recorded, obviously, who had a question for you because you’re so big on Twitter now with 90,000 followers, which is crazy, right? And people asked a couple of questions. One was asked by Kevilyn Pit. And he asked how long you’ve been a software engineer before you went into indie hacking as a business building effort? And it sounds like you’ve been doing this for a while, right? So what’s your story in terms of, you know, how this came to be? And when did you choose to start indie hacking for money?

Tony Dinh 6:21
Right. I’ve been a software developer for seven years. So seven years working professionally for companies, right? But when I started writing code, I was like 15 and writing code in high school already. And I was very, like, interested in computers and coding in general. Back then I was writing application with Visual Basic in Windows applications. And I was having a lot of fun, a lot of fun. So when I graduated and graduated from my engineering school, life getting away, I just go with the flow, you know and just graduated, get a job, get a high paying job and learn everything about the industry, everything that you can then get another job with higher salary and then go on and go on. So I’ve been doing that for like seven years. And during the years, I’ve jumped around quite a lot of roles. First I started as a front end engineer. And then I switched to back end and while I was doing all of my full time job, I always have some side projects where I practice on mobile development, database, DevOps and everything in between. So just a little bit of hobby and a little bit of professional work combined together. So I was learning a lot during those seven years.

Arvid Kahl 7:50
That sounds very much like the journey that I had with myself. I started many, many years ago, did some stuff here, some of the stuff there, always building side projects, always exploring the other things in the field. So would you think that this is just looking at people who want to start indie hacking who have the, you know, they want to be like you, build really cool projects and then sell them, you know or build big MRR projects and monetize their lifestyle through that? Would you suggest they go and actually work in enterprise businesses first? Is that something you would like actively suggest?

Tony Dinh 8:28
It depends. So usually, I would say that my seven years of experience is one of my very big unfair advantage. So the way because of that, I got advantages. So a lot of my products, like, I was able to build them very fast, very quickly and get into the market very quickly. So if someone is who is a very new indie hacker and jump into this game, they could use the same strategies as mine, which is working in the industry for long enough and gather on experience and use that as their unfair advantages. But they can also use other ways to acquire some unfair advantages on their own. Because I say that because I have seen a lot of other people who are not like working in the industry that long, even for people who are from a completely different industry jump into learning to code and then they was able to build something while learning to code and then the business went big. So definitely is not the only way to have some advantage that you will have to work for companies and other people, but it is definitely a way and that is what I was doing and not necessarily had to copy the whole journey. But there’s many other ways to approach this.

Arvid Kahl 9:59
Yeah, I would agree. There’s definitely no silver bullets in indie hacking, I guess, any kind of entrepreneurship, right? It’s always a risk. It’s always a risk to take. And the path, there usually is a pretty round path. It’s never a straight line. I really liked that. When did you I think one of the first projects you built was DevUtils, right? That was one of the first things. That is, for people who don’t really know, it’s a collection of software tools for devs, that you sold kind of on a one off basis, right? It’s not a recurring subscription, right? Is that what it is?

Tony Dinh 10:37
Yeah, it’s a one off license that include one year of update. So in the next year, if they don’t want to upgrade to the new version, they can still continue to use that for as long as they can, if they want. So it’s the kind of the model that similar with some other popular software’s like JetBrains IDE, if I remember correctly. So yeah, people can buy one time and use that forever or they can just upgrade it when they need it. They don’t have to renew it every year. So yeah, just one time budget.

Arvid Kahl 11:16
I’m asking these questions because in our circles, indie hackers, everybody’s talking about MRR, right? Everybody’s talking about recurring revenue and subscriptions and stuff. And you started with something that was not at least technically a subscription business. I think the next one you build like Black Magic was a subscription business. And then Xnapper was a non subscription business again. And now TypingMind is a subscription business again, like you were oscillating between these two. Is that always just a choice that you make about a particular product? Or how do you deal with pricing these kinds of products?

Tony Dinh 11:49
So usually, the common sense I have is that if I don’t have a recurring costs to maintain the software to maintain the product, then I don’t have to charge the customer a recurring cost, right? A recurring price. So for DevUtils, for Xnapper, they are all software. If I don’t update it, people can still use it normally no problem at all. So I don’t have a lot of costs in the server to maintain them. So I only charge them like one time purchase. But for Black Magic everything is like data and database and

Arvid Kahl 12:25
Yeah, Twitter API, right?

Tony Dinh 12:28
Yeah, yeah. So a lot of maintaining costs and also is online service. So I need to monitor the server and everything so very closely every day. So a lot more cost associated with that. So that’s why it makes sense for those type of businesses, those types of products, I will charge a subscription costs. So usually, I don’t really like subscription model when I buy stuff. So I don’t want my customers to have that feeling as well. So

Arvid Kahl 13:06
Yeah, I can relate to that. I think mostly if you’re selling as an indie hacker to other indie hackers, you kind of know what they feel right? You get the sense of what do they like. What do they not like. I really appreciate this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts because it shows to me at least right now how much you care about the people you’re serving, right? The people that use your products, you don’t want to charge them money if you don’t need to. That is a really, really kind sentiment to have when you’re building a business. And you’re still making money. You’re kind but you’re still making money. I just want to point this out because so often people just charge, charge, charge because everybody tells them to, you know, get MRR out of products. And then you know products don’t change because they just milk them for money. I appreciate because I’m a customer of Xnapper. And I’m not a DevUtils customer, but I am a Xnapper customer and I love the product. It’s something I would probably pay you monthly if you asked me to because I like you. But as the product itself, it was a super easy choice for me to just buy it. And I guess that is revenue for you. And it makes it easy for people to purchase, right? I would like to talk to you a little bit about Black Magic. That to me is one of the other tool of yours that I use. I think I use two of your four products. I’m a big fan of you and your product. And Black Magic, like I said earlier has been an integral part in my professional Twitter life and I think evermore has been an integral part of your life, right? You recently sold the business to Hypefury and you posted about that on your newsletter. You sold it for and I’m just going to throw a couple of numbers in here $128,000 overall in deal value to them. And there’s obviously a big story to all of this because you had acquisition offers in the past. I think the first one was like 40,000, I guess, a year and a half ago and the second one was 500,000. But with 100 upfront and then the other kind of staggered over time and now you sold for 128. Ups and downs, right? That’s the indie hacker journey. And I would like to talk to you about this. Maybe, for people who are completely oblivious to what’s going on on Twitter, can you explain to me why you had or felt you had to sell this browser extension based, really, really cool Twitter tool? What happened there? What was the process for you?

Tony Dinh 15:31
Yeah, oh, man. Like quite a journey for me from the beginning to the end. So yeah. I mean, if you’re on Twitter, you know about the pricing change in the Twitter API when Elon Musk decided to get more revenue for the company. So a few months ago, when they announced that the Twitter API price will increase and there will be no more free plan, I was like, very optimistic that the price will be somewhere like $100-$200 a month. I can definitely afford it, right? At the time, it was like at 14K MRR. $14,000 a month, definitely I can buy this, buy the subscription, buy the idea. But then there was rumor going out. There was a few people contacting me in my, so there was a private group of Twitter makers, who originally found it by the Twitter community themselves and they organize this. But when Elon took over, this group, kind of nobody managed this group anymore. So a few people from this private group reached out to me and saying that there’s a rumor that Twitter API will no longer be free. And not only that, it will cost you minimum 42K a month. 42K a month is not like 42k a year. It’s $42,000 a month. And basically, they are going to kill all the existing app anytime now. So when that person told me the information, they also told me that I only have like one or two weeks before they decided to cut off the API access for every app. And he actually told me that the Twitter team tried to get off on the app already somewhere in like last week already. But they couldn’t do it because some technical issue and that result in a Twitter outage. I don’t know if you remember that. Yeah, the data just went out and the rumor is that they tried to cut off access to the top of the apps, but accidentally get off their own.

Arvid Kahl 17:58
Oh, boy.

Tony Dinh 17:59
So yeah, we have a little bit more time. So yeah, at the time, that was a shock. There’s no way I will be still staying profitable with that cost in mind. So at the time, I was wondering about considering about a few options. Firstly, try is to complete the sale. Another option is to somehow try to use private API and on that shady stuff, but I don’t really want to do that. I really hate to use private API and unofficial thing because I’m trying to build a legitimate business, right? And the option is not from another Twitter community. Some people have an idea of like, maybe we can unite together and create a company then we buy the API assets, then we can share that between all the small apps, including Black Magic, which is still considering small at the time, right? And considering between those three options, the private API, I don’t want to, the unite together and share the API key, it goes against the Twitter terms and condition, obviously. Twitter doesn’t want to do that. And later on in the story, I get to later which show that Twitter really doesn’t like it and they are actually verifying if you are doing that with your API key. So yeah and eventually the only option left is to sell. And at the time, I was looking for a few people to sell. One is the one who reached out to me and I reached out to a few others. And I got two offers out of three potential buyers and then Hypefury was one of them. I talked with Samy. Samy also got the rumor somewhere together, so I kind of know him before because I listen to his indie hackers podcast and I know his story and I know about Hypefury and stuff. So we kind of get in touch with each other, we got into a deal, signed a letter of intent and then we just move really, really fast because there was only one week or two weeks to move everything. So imagine that if I don’t move fast and if the deal haven’t closed yet and Twitter will cut off the assets, people start to leave and customer become angry. The value of the business will be much less, you know and things will be much more difficult to sell if that happens. So we kind of both understand that and we move very fast with the acquisition. Yeah, as soon as we sign the contract Hypefury contacted Twitter to share about the news so that Black Magic is now belong to Hypefury so that, you know, in the future Twitter, if you are going to cut off the access just don’t do that. Like, so yeah, we kind of facilitate that. And we manage to keep Black Magic alive when they started to get off access to other apps. And yeah, at the time, it caused a lot of problems. So yeah, that is the whole thing. So it went super fast. I didn’t have enough time to you know, look for as many buyers as I can as I want to. I am pretty sure that it will be possible to sell at a higher price than at the price I sold. But yeah, you know, critical time and also the first time I’m doing this, right? So

Arvid Kahl 17:59

Tony Dinh 18:00

Arvid Kahl 18:00
Yeah. That’s a common problem for indie hackers, particularly when there is a crisis, like the one that you were in, like, you have no experience dealing with, like being acquired, like nobody does this before they do it for the first time. So everything is new. Everything is dangerous, you never know, right? Can you trust people? And is everything going to explode? I remember the process when you were purchased or when you were acquired. And you had to do this migration too, righ? From the authentication from inside Black Magic to Hypefury. You did that really well. I just want to tell you this. I think you did a good job at making it very accessible and very easy. But there was a lot of work to be done to migrate the business over, right? How much did you have to do to move the business into the Hypefury family of products?

Tony Dinh 22:36
We just mostly spent the time on transferring the access, the ownership of the access. So in terms of the business and the product is there’s not much changing, like not at all, besides the ownership, you know. So right now, still two separate business, separate customer base. And if you want to use both products, you still have to pay for both. Not a lot changed since then. So most of the effort is spent on transferring the ownership. And at the beginning, we only spend on transferring the absolutely necessary access, like the domain and the payment stuff so that we can move fast with the process. And then later on, we start to transfer all the stuff that there’s a long list of services where I need to, you know, transfer ownership, that means permission to the new owner. And also a lot of services I use from my personal account, so split that out. So that’s definitely a lesson there if it goes in the future, you know. Your business make sure to register everything under your business domain. It will make everything easier. But at the time, I know that earlier. But in order to save costs, I cannot afford to you know, register a new Cloudflare account every time I open a business and new account everywhere. So that’s some account that I still share with my personal account. And only when I’m confident that the business can live on their own. It was difficult, but there was a lot of work. And we’re still transferring everything now. I still haven’t transfer the mobile apps yet because quite a lot of requirements from Google and Apple to transfer those mobile apps. So still haven’t done but we got everything working and the customers experience no interruptions, which is the top priority, right?

Arvid Kahl 24:42
Yeah, that’s good to know that you’re still working on it. And yeah, it’s complicated. Even if these things were in your business’s name, which is something that I regularly do suggest from the start, right? To separate your personal and your professional finances, logins or whatever but even if you had it like that, it would still take a long time with these walled garden systems like the Apple App Store and Google Play and that kind of stuff to just move things around. It sounds like you’re still very actively working on this. And I think that’s part of the deal, right? You’re gonna stick around with the product for a while. How is that structured? What are you going to do? And when are you going to move out of that?

Tony Dinh 25:21
Yeah, so now that we have a new, I hire a new freelancers to work dedicated on the project. So previously, just me and my other freelancer who worked with me on all of my projects, right? So I cannot afford to, you know, let him go work with Hypefury all the time because I have many projects for him to work with me. So we hired a new freelancer and we train her to work on the project, like, understand everything about the technical part of the product. And I will be monitoring and, you know, like, providing assistance to the product in general and I still coding for the product if I wanted to, but there’s no obligation at all from the contract. So basically, just for me to continue to work on Black Magic for at least a year. So I will maintain and make sure the business is running and everything is working correctly. And then after that, you know, whenever I wanted, I could just move out and we have a new person to take care of the business right now. And also have re onboard a team of customer support. So, you know, they’re really a big team right now compared to what I learned from the last time I listen to the podcast. So now they have grown into a pretty big team. So they have customer support to take care of the customers. I don’t have to, like closely monitor them anymore. That is a lot of free time for me. So yeah, I guess from now on, I will still continue to contribute. My part is, you know, what features to develop next and how to work with the system and train the freelancer to be able to fully manage the product. And then I guess at some point, I will declare the end of my relationship with Twitter in everything, not material account you know, building products with Twitter. The whole thing about Twitter API change and Elon Musk really like decrease the confidence I have in the platform in general, especially the recent changes in the Twitter company overall and in the API team. So for example in the Dev forum, you will see that they don’t really have any one monitor there anymore, maybe one or two people at the time. And I also heard that from people on Twitter, that even though they have access to the enterprise accounts, they still don’t have a lot of support from the Twitter team. So I guess it’s really a mess out there. And I really have have like, admire people who are still sticking with Twitter and on the products out there like have free obviously and other products would still stick with Twitter. And yeah, I guess at sometime, I’m gonna look for something new. Yeah.

Arvid Kahl 28:31
Yeah, you ran into platform risk, right? You really felt what platform dependency means and what the risk is of building on something that is super shaky. I do have one question and this might be a painful question. But how did you feel when like a month after you sold, they introduced the $5,000 plan? Like that would have been something you could potentially have afforded, right?

Tony Dinh 28:53
Yeah, initially I was like, ah shit. If only they announced it earlier, but then you know, others considering it seriously. I find that if they announced it 5k, it will be a word of pain for me. So first of all, try to squeeze down the obligation to you know fit into this plan. And also is not like the whole Twitter team and Twitter Dev and Twitter API is working normally right now. There’s still a lot of downtime and there’s absolutely no customer support from Twitter even though you are paying $5,000 a month. Even 42k a month, you still have no support. So and all of that is it could feel like I will be spending more time doing useless things if I try to fit Black Magic into that 5k. So I guess in a way, missed feeling, missed feeling. On one hand, I could have a profitable business, right? 5k a month, I can pay for that, still have like 10k left for me to pay the cost and then some for me to take home, right? But on the other hand, I will be, like, stuck with Twitter and don’t have a lot of time to explore other stuff.

Arvid Kahl 30:11
That’s right. Yeah. And that’s what you did, right? You left that one platform and you went to the next platform, went to open AI, built something there. But I do wonder and let’s talk about the thing that you’re actually working on right now, right? Let’s talk about your current project. You now have a project that made $30,000.

Tony Dinh 30:34
Yeah, correct.

Arvid Kahl 30:35
Okay. Well, I gotta be precise here. And this is obviously some good money. And I would like to talk to you about this because this is an AI project, right? It’s built on top of the open AI ecosystem. How did you fall into that? Because you were in social media, you were building tools for like Xnapper to me is technically a social media tool. Because it’s you know about presenting screenshots in a really nice way. It can be used on on social media. And then Black Magic, obviously, is a social media tool and then you went to Typing Mind and Typing Mind is something completely different. How did that happen? And what kind of business are you building around that?

Tony Dinh 31:12
Right, so Typing Mind, the original idea was that I was using the chat app from open AI, the default one, you know, the ChatGPT app. So there was a lot of thing I didn’t like about it, about the app and I wanted to do it. And originally, I wanted to build a Chrome extension to, you know, change the way the application worked on my browser. But then at the time, I didn’t have time to do any of that. That’s just my idea. I just tried to explore what this Ai thing will be and what can I do with it? Can I be with some business or others? And during this time, I use ChatGPT a lot. And that’s how I came up with, you know, some pain point that I wanted to face with my ideas. But then at some point, ChatGPT did a very big move. They released an API. Wow, I was not expecting that. They released API. At first, I was like, okay, they have a chat app. There’s no way they’re going to release API because otherwise, who are going to use their channel anymore? But they did. So that is something I really liked about open AI. They’d really, like developer focused and all the other later announcements. Since the time they announced the chat API, till now everything they do is that is like focus. And they put a good effort on maintaining the developer community and supporting them. So yeah, anyway, they announced the API, if I remember correctly, on the first of March, if I remember correctly. Yeah, a few days later, I built a very first version of Typing Mind. I register the domain name like, one day after. And then one day after I have a first version of Typing Mind, which is a very small, like. So the pain point I had with ChatGPT was that I was not able to create folders, that is the only thing. And the second thing is, I cannot search for my previous chats, you know that quite obvious common sense things that people would want to do when they have a long list of chats. But you cannot do that in ChatGPT. So I built a one simple app that allows you to search the history. So I released the app. I shared on my Twitter and people liked it a lot. And one thing that they really liked about it is that you don’t have to like you have to use your own API key. And whatever you use, you pay OpenAI to use your key. You don’t have to pay me for everything for every chat that you made. So I saw that. So a lot of people on Twitter are excited about the app. And so I decided to put a price tag. I charged people, like, if you want to use this, right now is free because it’s in beta. It’s free. You can use it, but if you buy right now you can buy it for $9. And then people just started to buy. And the first day I think I made like $1,000 or something. And then the next day $2,000, next day $4,000 and then 8k and then $10,000, which is my pin tweet on my Twitter profile at the moment, which is celebrating 10 days $10,000 of revenue. And yeah, it really took off from there. And since that point, until now I just focused on talking to the people who are using it, talking to customers, adding new features, extending it, expanding it to other product lines, where I offer some like hosted service. So yeah, that’s how product works.

Arvid Kahl 35:00
So cool. What a story too like, surprised by your own success. That is the indie hacker dream, right?

Tony Dinh 35:07
Yeah, at first I thought I was like, okay, I sell this for $9. Maybe I can make like 10 like $5,000. And then I can sell the whole thing on microacquire for $10,000. And then I’ll exit the game. Who knows? Wow, I did not have that much customers. So that really took me by surprise.

Arvid Kahl 35:26
That’s funny. Yeah, that is surprising. Did you like actively launch it like in a big, big way? Or was it just like sharing it as a build in public project and people just took it off?

Tony Dinh 35:37
Initially I shared on Twitter and I obeyed everything on Twitter. But when I started to see initial traction, when I reached $10,000 of revenue, I prepare a launch on product hands. And I basically use all my resources that I have, all the years of the last two years. I only started this two years ago. So I use all of my resources to focus on that product and launch. And at the launch, I made like, another $14,000 if I remember correctly from the launch itself. So there was an official launch of the product, which happened only a few weeks, two or three weeks after the first version is released. So yeah.

Arvid Kahl 36:23
Your quick, your MVP is take one day to build and

Tony Dinh 36:29
I feel like I was living again the days where I build Xnapper and build Black Magic. I wake up every day. I got in the morning and then in the afternoon I shared on Twitter and talk to people and then repeat the coding, coding everyday, everyday release. I deploy in production like 10 times, 20 times a day.

Arvid Kahl 36:50
That’s so cool. How much customer service do you get like customer service inquiries do you get on any given day?

Tony Dinh 36:56
Right now, I think every week we have like 10 or 12 customers emails.

Arvid Kahl 37:03
Oh, wow, that’s not too much. So you actually have the time to focus on coding. You’re not consistently barraged with like, question, question, question, right? Is there any way you deal with this?

Tony Dinh 37:13
There was a lot of customer support question as well, especially in the early days and in the launch days, too. I use Lemon Squeezy, which is the new platform that I use. So I also that is something new as well in this project. So there was a few problem with the payments and people contacted a lot. So I really had to spend a lot of time on email and answering people’s questions. Some people really don’t understand how the app works. And they suppose you will need an API key to work to use the app. But some people don’t understand what is an API key and what is that because they see the launch and they see the discount price. They wanted to get it, you know and then in the end, I have to answer all the questions. But in the end, till now I have someone to help with me on this already. So this is something also different compared to the previous products that I run, right? Right now I don’t run a loan anymore. I have a team of one customer support. She’s basically my business assistant. She helps me with everything, content, marketing, customer support, social media, everything, right? And I still work with a freelancer that I have worked with over the last year. And yeah, it’s bigger is more time for me to focus on deliver the features that I really like and I really want. So it’s something different this time.

Arvid Kahl 38:41
Yeah, it’s different. You’re not a solopreneur anymore, right? Like all of a sudden, you’re a big business leader, that’s who you are.

Tony Dinh 38:50
I still consider myself solopreneur because I don’t really want to step into that management, you know, role. And I still feel right now the way I work with freelancers is I don’t spend a lot of time on managing. I really, like put a lot of trust in their work and focusing on making them independent like me. So no deadline. No meetings and everything in sync. So

Arvid Kahl 39:20
Do you have a lot of process like do you have like internal documentation for certain things like how to deal with problems? How to communicate with customers?

Tony Dinh 39:29

Arvid Kahl 39:33

Tony Dinh 39:33
Yeah, don’t have anything. So everything we kind of talk, we jump on a call and I just explain what is this? What is that? And luckily, the team was learning very fast and they kind of get what I’m doing. And I also like, give them every resources that I have that I can to make them understand the big picture. For example, everyone on the team can answer to customer support request, developer and my business assistant, right? They can access to customer support and they can talk to customer, understand what is the problem they have. And they can just sometimes the developer just fix the bug with the customer on the Customer Support Portal, without even me taking a look.

Arvid Kahl 40:24
In an early stage business, like the one that you’re currently in, I mean, it’s a couple of months old, right? It’s not that old. This is the way to go. And then I’m only asking you about your process or documentation because we were talking earlier about Black Magic and how you are still transferring things over, right? That would be easier if there was a, you know, good business manual and Operations Manual, like a franchising document for business. But that takes some time to establish.

Tony Dinh 40:51
That is something we’re learning to have as a solopreneur business.

Arvid Kahl 40:56
Yeah, that’s the problem, right? For many solopreneurs, they never start doing this because they always want to be solopreneurs. And then they sell their business and they figure out, oh, wow, I need this now. I need to train somebody to do all my jobs. And it’s usually not that you need to train one person to do all your jobs. You need to train like five people, customer service, developer and operations and marketing, right? All of these things that are in your head, you need to take them out and give them to other people, which is why and I don’t want to turn this into a lecture about documentation. But as a German, I love documentation. So you have to forgive me about that. It’s just solubility of a business becomes much more easy. You can sell it more easily if you have stuff figured out. And that’s kind of why I’m asking because you said something just a couple minutes ago, about oh, yeah at $5,000, I’m gonna put it on acquire and I’m gonna sell it, right? And just just to let you know, is sponsoring this very episode of the podcast. So they’re probably interested in that the rationale there too, like, you wanted to put it up maybe for a couple $1,000. But now the business is actually taking off, do you still maybe think about eventually selling it? Like what what’s going on in your mind about this?

Tony Dinh 42:08
For sure, like every product that I own right now have a price you can just give enough. So I’m, I’m a developer, and I’m a businessman, you know, everything has a price. So at some point, I guess I will, I will open for selling type in mind with the product. But at the moment, I am having a lot of fun with it. So it will cost a little bit more to overcome that barrier. I actually have someone contacted me and asked to buy the product. Wow. But yeah, I also tell them the same thing. I’m having so much fun with this. There’s gonna be expensive to take it away from me. Not not for the product alone, but like you’re taking the fun away from me. So which is remind me of the same thing I said, when when one tries to buy black magic from me. 5000 gay, I reject that. Then a few months, only a few months later.

Arvid Kahl 43:09
Yeah, that’s that’s I have the I just read through the article again, like earlier today that you wrote when you said no, I’m not selling it. It’s like the same arguments are happening here. And obviously, it’s a different situation. Right? You as you said, Open AI, the company is much more developer focused. And it’s kind of if I’m thinking about this is kind of what Twitter used to be for developers, where they had like a really nice ecosystem. And they didn’t make it hard to build stuff. They free, everything was kind of free. Everything was available. I mean, it wasn’t enterprise plan. But you know, that’s, that’s for big, big companies, for indie hackers, we could just use the API, as we saw fit. I think opening I is still in that stage. I hope that they’re gonna stay in that stage forever. But they might not because you know, Microsoft, and it’s also a business essentially.

Tony Dinh 43:54
So the way I always can just go down anytime.

Arvid Kahl 43:57
That is the next problem right here. We are living in this kind of up and coming wave. And it makes me wonder how are you dealing with platform risk now that you’re again, building at least on one of potentially many platforms right now? Are you considering building a more platform agnostic product that interacts with many, like, how are you dealing with this so as to not make the same? I wouldn’t call a mistake, because nobody knew that it was going to happen with Twitter, but to not run into the same problem again, what are you doing?

Tony Dinh 44:27
I talked about this at the very beginning of the product type in mind. So I mentioned that in order to use Wi Fi, you have to provide your own API key, right? Which mean, right out, I mean, my I run the product, but I don’t have any API key at all. I don’t need any, because the customer, they’re gonna bring their own. So open API. They don’t have anything from me. I don’t have anything from them as well. Maybe I need the API to develop the app to test it for whatever. But when the app is done, I don’t need an API. To maintain the app, so they cannot ban me, right? It’s not like they want to or it’s not like I am challenging them. But just in theory that I don’t depend on open AI, my customer do so. So that is something that I thought at the beginning, I don’t want to make another API like, API Gropper around open AI, and Josh, the customer, a little bit more expensive than what opened it, I would have judged, that would have been a like, you want something that term is the grupper business as a new term, rapper business, which you take the API from someone else, you take the API from open AI, and then you build something like very slightly on top of it, and then you charge more more people’s so at the beginning, I don’t want to do that is not the applet that are gonna ask the customers to provide the API by themselves. So. So that’s how I was thinking about, like, navigating and escaping this platform risk in the future. And also right now I type in my is not only about GBD, from open AI, I do support all the models as well. For example, you can use open source models, like ZBD for all Vicuna, llama and all the model right and also support anthropic cloud, which is the new model. And also the Google model, the POM to model will be supported soon as well. So this is something like I, I consider this is, you know, the app where the postman app where you use it to send HTTP request to some server, you don’t know you’re everywhere. Yes, I consider this as application, a job application, the generic application that you can connect to any LM model, AI assistant. And you can have a conversation with it with all the fancy features, like just the history, add to folders, and all the fancy prompts and characters and stuff, right. So I considered it that way. So that it can stay a generic app and not dependent on any of the of the platform. So cool, is really cool enough to escape this, you know, the platform rich nightmare.

Arvid Kahl 47:22
Yeah, thanks for sharing your thoughts here, because I see two layers of defense that you’ve built. That is really cool. Because I only thought about the one, I thought about the second one that you were just talking about, like integrating other models, right? Because that’s kind of what you want to do. If one of them dies. If open AI implodes, let’s hope they won’t, because the product is really cool. But if anything happens to any of the models, it’s nice to still be to be able to support to support other models. I just like having a business that has a lot of different customers. And if one of them churns while you still have the others. And that’s kind of what you do with it with the platform to support but the thing that really I find really smart is to not sit as a wrapper on top, but to be kind of like what you said with postman is just a tool to connect different to different tools. And that brings me to another question because I know postman, I’ve been using that a lot. Actually, I think I’ve used poor, the Mac client that does something similar. And I think there’s also Nocturne or something, some other tool that is very similar to that. And that reminded me of, well, a lot of people probably think, Okay, this is a cool tool, I’m going to build the executive tool, you know, clones, let’s talk about that. You build in public a lot, you share all the things you build and all the ideas that you have. Are you a little bit afraid of people cloning your work? Or how do you deal with with people that are just copycats in this very public world of indie hacking that you’re operating in very publicly to?

Tony Dinh 48:47
Yeah, there will be copycats everywhere. So every product that I have built, there’s copycats. I mean, it is not it’s not an exception. So I guess at this point, I the best action to do with copycats is just to ignore them. So I do have I do keep a list of like more than 10 Even 20 now of the topic as who are like ill fated copycats so there’s a few way that people can inspire from your work right some legitimate way that people see what you’re doing and they see that make sense and they have their own way of doing it. But there are some people who just like for example a few copycat that I saw a copy of the design copy the copy there’s a few FAQ session that a copy the whole thing that the same time same answer. They were they were very carefully replaced that product name unlike the lifetime you know that some people someone copy my deputies up without even changing the name. I find out if you have doubts. So um, yeah, I do know about all of those. Not all but I do keep track of those at some point. And then but Mostly I will ignore them on social media. And now I don’t really even keep track of them anymore. Because it weighs too much this wave of like, chat Do I like aI chat UI, and also open source projects as well. There’s just too many, it doesn’t serve any purpose to keep track. Right now I lose job. But this AI, this AI, UI application type of product are everywhere now. So I guess the advantage here is that I just have, like, first mover advantage, I have a lot more features, and is more useful. Have a lot of users as well. And I guess that I will keep that as is an advantage to compete in this world? I guess.

Arvid Kahl 50:51
Would you consider your pretty sizable almost six figure, Twitter presence to be one of those advantages as well? Like?

Tony Dinh 51:00
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. At the beginning, when I shared that on my Twitter, it was the beginning of the product. If the if that tweet didn’t blow up, if I didn’t have like 70k or something followers? I don’t think the product will have we have seen the the day of light live day. Yeah.

Arvid Kahl 51:20
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I think for indie hackers, like you like yourself, who’s very publicly sharing stuff, but much of the success the initial success, not the overall success, but the you know, the initial interest in the product comes from having so many people that might be interested in it. Also your capacity to launch a product and at knowing how to do it right. I mean, both snapper to me, black magic and typing mind. They’re all indie hacker slash Product Hunt compatible products, right? You could be a good day, or good on Product Hunt, because the people who go to Product Hunt will want to figure out what this is, particularly with snapper I feel it was just beautiful. And I’m just gonna tell you, you build an amazing product. Let me just serenade your product a little bit. It is really nice. It’s super usable. It has features that other people never thought about, like redacting text, or putting like, that kind of stuff was always important to me, particularly as an indie hacker, because when I share a screenshot, I don’t want to share my name or my login credentials, right? I want this to be good. Does that redact it that you audit?

Tony Dinh 52:22
The Mallory thing that you like the balance thing in the stopper app?

Arvid Kahl 52:26
Yeah, yeah, that is that’s, among other things. So I think it’s the fact that you have your gradient thing in there, the redaction that did the little arrows and did that they have slightly different shapes. That’s what I was saying earlier, with good design, you have an understanding, not just for visual design, that that is already great. But I think you have an understanding for experienced design in your product. Right. And that is something that that comes I hope, from being exposed to good designers and doing front end work and understanding what an experience is, right? And that that’s something that you can’t really, that you have to learn, you can’t just have that by random chance, you have to understand it and learn it. So what I’m trying to say, Yeah, you’re awesome. Let me just say this. It’s really been very awesome. The what I what I’m trying to say is these products are particularly good for Product Hunt, because people on Product Hunt value, good interfaces, good design and usable tools in their own journey. So what I’m also here kind of feeling with these products is that you built them mostly for an audience that you really understand. Well, that would be indie hackers and developers, was it always a conscious choice to sell directly to indie hackers or to people in your own community?

Tony Dinh 53:41
Actually, I just built for myself, I that is the first priority. I don’t really spend a lot of time to targeting indie hackers and founders I, I spent absolutely zero top on, on that. So a lot of people see that all of my products like somehow feel like targeting indie hackers and founders. But I really don’t intend to do that. It’s just, I guess it’s just like, the Duda circle that I am in have a lot of indie hackers and, and founders, so that if make it feel like the product are targeting in coincidence, yeah, in general, it just be for me, I guess. And somehow, like, it makes sense with other people. So they do it and because I have a lot of indie hackers in my followers and my audience on Twitter, so it may feel it may feel that way.

Arvid Kahl 54:40
Okay, that is an interesting perspective, because I would have just as well accepted Yes, this is all intentional would have would have been an acceptable answer to but you’re just saying you’re building stuff for yourself and the people around you are like you it’s not surprising that we are in communities that are like us, and that they like it. Okay, cool. What you have like four products now, you probably weren’t Hang on more than we’d love to know where this is going. But before we get to the future, that’s when we talk about the reality of running multiple products at the same time, right? You have dev utils, and you have snapper. I don’t know how much work goes into this, it’s probably not massive. But there is work to be done. There’s always maintenance and stuff. And like magic needs to be not only like maintained, it needs to be transitioned, and you need to train people. And then we’re taping mines, you’re now also training people and you’re building your features. How do you balance all of this, like, this feels like a lot of work for one person plus a couple of people helping,

Tony Dinh 55:32
right. So as you can see, all of my products, not a lot of them are like recurring revenue, right? So they are mostly software. So snapper videos are on software, low maintenance, low maintenance, I don’t really have a server for like, license license key check ins overlay, right. So very small maintenance effort for me. And from time to time, I just come back to add new features and push our new update. And that is that is actually it, there’s not a lot else going on, I don’t even receive a lot of customer emails anymore for those products. So low maintenance and for, for typing my wish is the current active product. So that’s why I spend like 80% of my time these days, on type in mind. So because my primary product right now, right, and for black magic, is quite demanding when it was active. And when I was actively working on that, because it’s surprising product and, and a lot of customer use it every day. And they sent me a request feedback, but reports. So I think at the time I was wrong, I was still running black magic. I spend all the time on Blackmagic because it was a very demanding business. And the other the other software, not a must maintain a needed. So even though I have multiple products, but I only focus mainly one at a time. So so I don’t feel like it’s that difficult as you would imagine. Let’s say if I have multiple, like recurring revenue businesses right now, it will be very difficult for me for sure. I, I wasn’t I cannot be like sustainably run two businesses at the same time. But for a software business, it’s just like you have an app on the App Store and it just keeps making you money. You can come back and release an update whenever you want. But other than that there’s not much else going on.

Arvid Kahl 57:38
Sounds like mostly passive income, mostly. But still.

Tony Dinh 57:44
I haven’t pushed our new bid for snapper for quite a while. So I’m working on that.

Arvid Kahl 57:48
Okay, good. I have a couple ideas. No, no, no pressure. It’s a tool. It’s definitely good enough for what I need, right? And there’s always room to improve. But you don’t have the same I think the same pressure to add add add features with a product that doesn’t have this recurring cost and recurring revenue attached. Cool. So a couple of standard on software products. On the way out like magic going to somebody else still kind of working on that and putting all of your efforts and typing mind. Where where’s this going? What are your goals as an indie hacker, like, what do you have like long term goals for this? Do you have short term goals? What’s the future holding for you?

Speaker 2 58:30
Ah, I don’t really have a long, long term goal and a long term plan I am really bad at planning. I guess that’s one thing I wanted to do in the far future is is to make a lot money, a lot of money. Okay, those are good go. And at some point where I can just buy any house that I that I want. That is the level that I wanted, which previously, it was like 5k a month, which is when I was first started my indie journey, I want to make 5k a month and at that point, I will be independent and I don’t have to go to work for any company anymore. And I will with that kind of money. I can live anywhere in Vietnam or at least in C not in the US, you know, but yeah. But right now now that I have achieved that I’m have lived that life for more than a year now. I think they’re still quite filled in that I cannot do yet, right? Compared to you know, be the levels. And I understand that that could be a very deadly trap that you just keep going forward. So I told myself that I yeah, yes, I want to make a lot of money right now, to the point where I just can I can just buy any house that I want without looking you know, closely at the price. But I would do that in a very peaceful pace and enjoy life at the same time. So every day, this day, I only worked like four hours a day. And whenever I wanted, I just take the day off. And I purposely make all of my business so that I don’t really have any contract any deadline. And because of that, I also don’t really give any deadline to my employees, and my freelancers. So I’m trying to achieve that go without sacrificing sacrificing life and family. So

Arvid Kahl 1:00:23
that feels like a much more relatable goal than making infinite amounts of money, right? Because living the life is always so right. And that’s, that’s the hedonic adaptation problem, right, the treadmill where you just keep running, running, running, I think it’s smart for you to recognize it already. That is the problem, potentially. But it’s also a good goal. I mean, if you if you want to live the life that you dream of then having that dream, there’s no problem with that. I think that’s a really nice transition from you know, where you are right now to where you might go, I think, yeah, living the day as you want to take being able to take days off, that is one thing that I had after I had my exit for the very first time in my life, you know, having a choice over my own time, that makes such a difference in the quality of life. So I’m glad that you’re at this point already. I’m glad you’re, you know what, I’m glad you’re seeing success in all these different varieties, you know, like you, you got your half a million dollar offer, didn’t take it and then you got another offer. And you did take it. I mean, that’s still an offer. That’s still an acquisition, right? It may not be the perfect thing, but we never get the perfect thing anyway. So it’s, I think it’s right. It’s great that you did it. And it’s great that you share it. So thank you so much for sharing all of these things here with me today. And obviously, all day, every day on Twitter. What if people want to find out more about you and follow you on your journey to being able to buy whatever house you want? Where do you want them to go? Well, what do you want them to check out?

Speaker 2 1:01:50
The easiest way, right now is to go to Donate, which is my From there, you will see my Twitter or if you want to hear my horrible user name on Twitter, it is the i n h underscore me, underscore me. So yeah, I guess it will be easier to go to and see all my links over there. I do have a newsletter, on my website, where I share all of the stories, including the acquisition story with a lot more details and numbers in there, compared to what I share here on the podcast. So yeah.

Arvid Kahl 1:02:30
Yeah, thank you so much. I recommend following you on Twitter, obviously. I think most people that are in the indie hacker space should already follow you if the 90,000 followers is any indication. But still, that is a Twitter account worth following and in the newsletter I’m subscribed to it to, I think you’re so good for sharing all of the numbers and all the details that just makes it more real, and gives people both things to look up to and to compare themselves to and to aspire to, and to see like the ups and downs of our journey. Highly recommend that newsletter. Tony, thank you so much for being on the show today and talking to me about all these things, your long journey and your many products. That was really, really insightful. Thank you so much.

Tony Dinh 1:03:10
Thank you so much for having me.

Arvid Kahl 1:03:12

And that’s it for today. Remember when Tony almost sold his business in the beginning? Well, this is where our sponsor comes in. Tony even mentioned by name. That’s how established they already are in the in the hacker world. And the scenario where Tony almost sold his business is all too common. Imagine this, your founder who’s built this solid SaaS product. You’ve acquired customers, you making money consistent, monthly recurring revenue. The problem is that you’re just not growing for whatever reason, maybe it’s lack of focus, lack of skill or just plain lack of interest and you feel stuck. What should you do? Well, the story that I would like to hear is that you buckled down and somehow reignited your fire. You got past yourself into cliches, and you started working on your business. Rather than just in the business. You started building this audience and you move out of your comfort zone and do sales and marketing and in six months, you’ve tripled your revenue. While reality is not that simple situations are different for every founder who’s facing this particular crossroad. And too many times the story ends up being one of inaction and stagnation until the business becomes less valuable or worse, worthless. And if you find yourself here, where you think your story is likely headed down a similar road, I can offer you a third option. Consider selling your business on At any stage, capitalizing on the value of your time is a smart move. is free to list and they’ve helped hundreds of founders already go to and see for yourself if this is the right option for you.

Thank you for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder today. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You’ll find my books and my Twitter course there as well. If you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your player of choice and leave a rating and a review by going to ( Any of this, will really really help the show. Thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day. Bye bye.

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