"Constraints are superpowers"
👆That's the number 1 lesson we can all learn from AJ, the founder of Carrd.
Before Carrd, AJ had seen success with projects such as html5up and pixelarity. But none of them saw the viral growth that Carrd got.
The site builder powers more than 3.3M sites on the internet today, which are built by more than 2.2M users.
And it was started as a vanity project by a solo bootstrapper, he could build a wildly profitable product by setting the right constraints for himself.
There's a lot to learn from AJ's story👇
First, who is AJ?🤔
AJ is a pseudonymous Twitter account and a basic personal site. There are no photos of him, nobody knows who he really is.
The reason for his anonymity?
It's not something that AJ tried consciously -
"To be honest, I'm not really anonymous. It's not even a conscious thing that I'm doing. I grew up in that era where you would have an online handle or username or a nickname or something and that was what you were known by."
He didn't try this deliberately, and now he really doesn't see a need to reveal his identity. He's not really missing out on anything.
He is quite open on Twitter about his journey.
He actively builds in public, shares his progress. He even tweets out product updates regularly -
So his pseudonymity adds to his mystery but has no downside to his business.
For years AJ made good money selling website templates and themes.
This was way back in 2008. At the time themes and templates were a rising tide.
Everyone wanted a website template, and you could make good money by selling them. By 2012, AJ saw the trend dying a slow death.
Responsive design was gaining momentum, and he had no knowledge of it.
That's where the idea for html5up came to be.
Building and sharing html5 templates felt like the best way to gain experience in responsive design.
So he launched html5up.net and started sharing free templates there. These are over 40 templates that have been downloaded more than 14 million times.
To this day, html5up is the number 1 search result for keywords related to "free html5 templates".
AJ gave away these templates for free, under the creative commons license.
The CC license meant that anyone who used the templates had to give him attribution.
Soon people started reaching out to him asking for a way to pay him so they don't have to attribute to him.
This was a clear sign that there was a market for selling these html5 templates.
That's where the idea of Pixelarity came to be.
Pixelrarity is a site where you can buy 91 responsive templates for a lifetime price of $19.
And reuse those templates for your own projects, or for client projects.
At that price point, the templates were a steal for his users, but the project was also massively profitable for AJ himself.
Both of these projects helped AJ build an audience on Twitter that consisted of people interested in responsive design.
Which was perfect for his next project - Carrd.
Carrd is a website builder for fully responsive 1- page sites.
AJ built Carrd because he wanted to challenge himself.
He wanted to leverage his knowledge and experience of building responsive templates for so many years. This is how he describes it -
"I needed something that would take all of that and challenge me in an entire product that took advantage of all of these things."
AJ started working on Carrd in 2015 and launched it on Twitter in 2016, with a single Tweet -
Carrd got its first 100 users and made its first $1000 from Twitter. It was the constraints that made Carrd a successful product right from day 1.
The constraints that worked for Carrd -
- Limited scope. 1- page sites only.
- Sticking to AJ's knowledge domain.
- Starting with AJ's existing audience and a validated problem.
AJ knew he couldn't compete with players such as Wix and Squarespace in the site builder space. He was a solo founder with limited expertise.
He didn't have a design and development team to build the product.
So he massively scoped it down, so much so that one person could easily build it and polish every tiny feature to perfection.
This also meant that support requests would stay limited, something which he could manage on his own.
He also didn't go into an unknown market to serve a new audience and an unvalidated idea.
One of the most popular templates on html5up was the "one page site" template.
So it made sense for AJ to build a single-page website builder. He knew there would be a market for that product.
As they say, the best way to come up with a business idea is to start another business and see what works.
AJ's audience from his previous projects was the perfect userbase for Carrd.
Although the website builder niche was very crowded, AJ realized that he could build a profitable product because almost everyone needed a unique website. And the price people were willing to pay for a website also varied depending on their needs.
So he could carve out a niche within this crowded market.
While Twitter was the source of his initial users, the real impetus came when Carrd got featured on Product Hunt-
Carrd got thousands of new users and sites, and hundreds of pro upgrades. Plus a ton of feedback and feature requests and bug reports.
Carrd has received 5437 upvotes on Product Hunt so far. It was the number 1 product of the day, week and month in March 2016.
In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Carrd saw a fresh growth spurt with more people moving online and starting internet-based businesses.
Carrd has also benefited by being at the heart of the NoCode movement. It's the simplest way for NoCoders to build a website and test out concepts.
In May 2020, Carrd went viral when Kim Kardashian shared a single page site to support the black lives matter movement -
Since then the traffic to the platform has skyrocketed. So much so that thousands of new sites are being built every day on Carrd now.
This is the spike in google searches for the term "Carrd" after that Tweet -
This is a scale that AJ had never imagined and wasn't prepared for when he started the project back in 2015.
This growth eventually lead to AJ raising a small seed round for Carrd. Yes, he's an indie hacker who raised money for a profitable startup.
Getting VC Money💰
AJ is a prototypical indie hacker. Bootstrapping his way to a lifestyle business. He didn't really need venture funding.
Then why did he raise capital?
With rapid growth came tough questions to which he didn't have the answers.
Questions around infrastructure, content moderation, hiring for support and development.
AJ needed advice and support.
He had already got a trusted friend to come onboard as co-founder a while back. But now he needed more help. And random guidance from folks on Twitter would not do.
He needed structured advise from people who had done it before, and who had skin in the game.
That's why it made sense to raise small funding round and leverage the networking, connections, and knowledge that investors could offer.
This was also a way to ensure that the incentives of his advisors were aligned with Carrd's.
Advice to Indie Hackers🤗
AJ's advice to indie hackers starting out is, to just pick something that you enjoy and start building.
"If you're just starting out if you haven't even figured out what you want to do, then the advice I give everybody for that is just pick something that seems like it'd be fun for you. It doesn't have to be a world-changing product or something that's going to sell for billions of dollars."
"Just find something in your life that interests you and then build a small product around it that solves a problem or make something better"
Let's look at the key lessons we can learn from AJ and Carrd👇
Key Lessons from AJ’s journey🧑🏫
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