Listen Up, IH! — Episode 12
“Luck favors those who are in motion”
That’s James Traf’s insight from being an “overnight success”
Traf is a bonafide overnight success.
He made more than $100K in 6 days from an icon pack that took 2 hours to design.
He rode a viral trend, got randomly boosted by a celebrity, and made a ton of money just sitting in his home looking at his notifications.
But he is an overnight success that was 7 years in the making.
Back in November 2020, just a month after his viral product launch, he spoke to Courtland Allen on the Indie Hackers podcast.
They discussed his 7 years of persistence. The lucky break, and how Indie Hackers can make their own luck.
Some Lessons -
Catching a Trend
In September 2019, Apple released the iOS 14 update for the iPhone.
And with the launch, it gave the ability for people to customize their home screen using widgets.
This meant that for the first time ever, Apple users could have custom icons for their Apps.
This was nothing new for Android users, but for the iPhone community – this was a revolution.
Before iOS 14, people had to “jailbreak” (side load illegal software just to use some custom icons) their phones to make any kind of theme changes.
Once Apple made it official, designers could build and sell beautiful themes and icons for the iPhone, and users could buy and install them legally.
Soon enough, users started sharing their home-screen screenshots on social media.
This Twitter search from September 2019 captures the trend perfectly.
Traf also joined the trend.
He put together a bunch of icons, installed them on his phone, and posted screenshots on Twitter.
As of now, that tweet has 23,000 likes and more than 7500 Retweets.
Everyone loved Traf’s home screen. It was described as “clean”, “slick” and a “dream aesthetic”.
People wanted to buy the icons and use them immediately.
This Tweet captures the sentiment –
“Lemme know where to send money! I need this in my life.”
Tech Youtuber Marques Brownlee (aka MKBHD) caught on to the trend as well.
He released a video about customizing the iPhone home screen.
In the video, Marques talked about how different kinds of users could customize their phones. For power users, he mentioned there were a bunch of different icon packs that designers were making.
For his own iPhone, Marques was using beautiful icons designed by James Traf. They were featured in the video and also linked in the description.
That video has been viewed 9 million times so far.
The day after the video release was Traf’s biggest sales day – he made $30K in 24 hours.
But it wasn’t about just one day.
Over the next 6 days, he made $116,147 from 4188 customers.
He documented his lessons in a cheeky blog post titled – six figures in 6 days.
But his path to success began years before.
7 Years to Overnight Success
Traf had been making iOS icons and themes since 2013.
Back then, people had to jailbreak their iPhones and install an illegal app store called Cydia.
He also has a rich profile on the digital art platform Deviant Art. His artwork from 2013 is still there.
The first icon set he sold was for $0.99 and he made a total of $17 from it.
It wasn’t a lot of money, but the feeling of making money off his talent was magical.
Since then, he has dabbled in many projects and startups.
People could send random gifts anonymously to their friends.
As a sender, you wouldn’t have to worry about picking a gift. As a receiver, you wouldn’t know who sent you the gift.
Just a package would show up on your doorstep – sounds cool, right?
But the model didn’t work. Traf and his co-founder ran out of money, and also the motivation to continue in the domain.
He learned that delivering physical goods is much harder and costlier than delivering digital goods.
In May 2020, he turned to delivering software.
It’s a No-Code website builder.
For $12 a month anyone can run a site using Super with Notion as the content management system.
There are templates and CSS tricks to make a Super based site look beautiful.
Traf set up the site for his iOS icons using Super, and it took him just a couple of hours to do it.
His viral success is a big endorsement for the No Code industry.
He used 3 No Code tools to set up a website within 2 hours –
- Gumroad – to handle payments.
- Notion – to manage the content.
- Super – to tie it all together in a beautiful website.
As per its Indie Hackers product page, Super is making $28K MRR as of now.
Traf has big plans for Super, he wants to go beyond Notion and make it the simplest website publishing experience ever.
That’s what he is working on these days.
Traf used these No Code tools to capitalize a trend he was already riding.
Yes, he got a great opportunity, but through timely affirmative action, he made his own luck as well.
Making Your Own Luck
Courtland pointed out there are 3 specific elements to making your own luck and achieving success.
Preparation + Opportunity + Action = Success.
- Preparation – Traf had been designing icons for over 7 years by this point. He knew how to set up a website quickly.He was as “prepared” for this opportunity as anyone ever could be.
- Opportunity – This is the actual “lucky” part. This is out of everyone’s control. He couldn’t have gone to Apple and asked them to make changes to their operating system.But he suggests these steps anyone can take to “manufacture” opportunities for themselves.Two steps to create opportunity –
- Share a lot. Put yourself out there. Tell the world you are an expert at this.Continually.It will increase the chances of getting lucky breaks. Traf had been Tweeting actively for a long time, sharing his home screen on Twitter came naturally to him.He doesn’t even mind oversharing sometimes.This quote captures the idea –“Luck favors those who are in motion” – In the internet age, motion just means putting your work out there, not being afraid to share it, not being afraid of oversharing in a sense” – James Traf
- Read a lot. Follow the news and trends in your niche. Be up to date with what’s going on in the industry. This way you will know when new trends are rising in your domain.And when the opportunity appears, take action on it.
- Action – Even if you are prepared and an opportunity shows up, it means nothing if you don’t take action.You can maximize your “luck” by taking speedy positive action. When he realized he was going viral, Traf took extra steps to double down on the virality –
- He created more content on the site – Showcase page, tutorial pages.
- Made more mockups and designs – kept increasing the number of icons, even asked the community on Twitter what they wanted.
- Wrote a blog post describing his experience of those 6 days
- When MKBHD Tweeted out the blog post, he even made an MKBHD themed icon set.
Apart from this, in his blog post, Traf also shared 6 key insights that contributed to his success. Here’s a gist –
- Publish often – Create proof of work on the internet.
- Act Immediately – Be quick to ride a trend
- Be transparent – Share what works, and what doesn’t, transparency adds to visibility.
- Clear schedule – He wasn’t busy in meetings when the chance came. He had an empty calendar to take action.
- Charge more – These were 1st iOS customizers, there was no notion of how much his icons should cost. He charged $28 which he could have reduced if it didn’t work.
- Do it for the Art – Love the art and do it for it. Not just to make money.
Advice for Indie Hackers
Final words of advice for Indie Hackers – take initiative.
“..the biggest thing is that you need less than you think to get started. You know you don’t need a business plan. You don’t need a degree in software engineering. You don’t need to quit your job. You need two things. I would say. One, a computer with an internet connection and some initiative. And with those, I think sky’s the limit. I think what each of us has stored in our brains is probably under leveraged to some extent. And so you don’t need anyone’s permission to capitalize on it but your own.” – James Traf
Now go out there, take some initiative and get “lucky”!
- Making $280k in Four Weeks with Traf | IH podcast
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Thanks to Seth King for editing this post
Big thanks to Traf for the featured image.