Listen Up IH - Episode 26
I have no employees, no investors, no funding, no fixed location. Just me and my laptop, building what I love while traveling the world
👆 That's a quote from one of Kyle Gawley's blogs.
Gravity is a SaaS boilerplate and started kit that founders can use to quickly spin up SaaS apps based on Node.js and React.
It helps founders and software companies save three months of development time whenever they're building their web app.
But Gravity was not Kyle's first startup.
His first startup was a venture-backed company in the event ticketing space - "Get Invited"
He stopped working on that company because of the stress and the health concerns it was causing.
Back in July 2021, Kyle appeared on the Indie Hackers podcast to talk about his near-death experience, life as a digital ex-pat, and the success of his SaaS boilerplate product - Gravity.
A Near-Death Experience🙄
Kyle started his first company back in 2013, it was a venture-funded startup, he even hired a team to work with him.
His first realization - when you're venture-backed, as a founder, you stop working on the product and start working with excel sheets.
Your focus changes from trying to do the best for your customers, to find ways to please the investors.
This meant that he was often working unreasonable hours, taking on too much stress, and not even having any fun working on the product.
Add to this, he wasn't in perfect health either.
He had an undiagnosed bacterial infection in his stomach for some time.
The stress of startup life made it worse - he used to throw up almost 3 to 4 times every day at the time. His 4 front teeth disintegrated because of excessive vomiting.
The situation got so bad that one day he started vomiting clotted blood - it was black and scary!
He was taken to the emergency room and the bacteria was diagnosed.
For a while he wasn't sure whether he will live or not.
He did recover, but the experience made him question his life decisions.
The near-death experience was a wake-up call for him.
He resolved to get better -
"I promised myself then if I got better, I’d go and do some travel and I would try and find a better work-life balance."
New Life - Digital Expat💼
He spent a year traveling around Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Japan.
In Thailand, he met an old schoolmate from Belfast, Ireland.
His friend introduced him to the idea of digital nomadism -
Solo founders from all around the world, come and live in places like Bali, Thailand, Vietnam and work on their startups from co-working spaces.
Often from cafes and even from the beach.
While most people doing this are digital nomads, who change locations every few months.
For Kyle, travel was stressful, he preferred being a digital ex-pat and settled down in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Discovering Indie Hackers💪
Kyle figured he didn't want to work at a funded startup anymore, he wanted to build SaaS apps that he can run and profit from independently.
He thought it will take him a few iterations and several apps to fail before he will hit upon the successful one.
So he wrote some boilerplate code that he could use across all his projects. It covered the basics of a SaaS app like authentication, Stripe payments, a basic user interface.
He showed it to a friend at a co-working space, and the friend suggested that this should be his product.
Kyle thought nobody would buy this, software engineers would prefer coding their own solution.
His friend said Indie Hackers would buy it.
Kyle asked him "Who are Indie Hackers?"
Gravity - The Product🌟
Kyle launched Gravity on Indie Hackers in January 2019.
It was a free SaaS boilerplate based on Node.js, with few premium features for $99.
Today the web version of Gravity is priced at $995 dollars.
Gravity provides everything a modern-day SaaS app would need - ReactUI, Authentication, REST API, Subscriptions, social logins, even tests, and a slack community of users.
It tripled in revenue during Covid.
It was around the $8K-$10K MRR point that Kyle stopped sharing revenue numbers publicly in the Indie Hackers product directory.
People were literally ripping off pieces of his landing page and copying the entire product.
As of now, Gravity has made more than $120K in total revenue for Kyle with a 98% profit margin.
And Kyle just launched its 8th version on Product Hunt -
The standard criticism against boilerplate products is that savvy software engineers would build them out themselves anyway.
Nobody would buy them - their ideal customer actually doesn't need them.
But actually, that's not the case, here's how Kyle thinks about it -
"...smart people want to build as little as possible and then they want to buy as much as they can or outsource as much of it as possible..."
" lot of people also underestimate what exactly they need to do to even just build the plumbing code for a SaaS. Gravity has about 15,000 lines of code to just do the most basic stuff like login forms."
Smart Indie Hackers are buying this product.
Kyle made 3 sales within the first month of launching on IH, today Gravity boasts 330 customers!
How did he market the product?
Kyle says his 3 primary channels are -
- Indie Hackers
- Search Engine Optimization
Kyle logs into Indie Hackers every day and makes sure he is active on the platform.
He answers a couple of questions almost every day.
He even did an IH AMA earlier this year about increasing his prices by 800% and making $100K in revenue.
This is how he thinks about the price increase -
"My customers don't want to entrust their entire business on a boilerplate that costs the same price as a sandwich."
That makes sense!
The higher price point has helped him turn his side project into a profitable business.
Kyle's advice to Indie Hackers is to find problems that are painful -
"I think once you find the problem that's painful, the customer has enough money to pay a reasonable fee for it, I don't want to say the rest is easy, but it's the rest tends to fall into place."
Let's look at some Insights, Ideas, and Inspiration from Kyle's story -
- You don't need to sacrifice your well-being to build a profitable business - VC funding is not for everyone
- Boilerplates are to developers what No-Code tools are to non-developers - valuable
- Saving time, or money, or both are the classic value props of all successful businesses.
- Be a painkiller, not a vitamin - build products that help people deal with boring chores and you will always have buyers.
- A curated directory of all bootstrapped businesses by digital nomads living in Bali, Thailand, and Vietnam. Inspire others to be digital nomads.
- Automate your own boring chores - extract them into a product.
- Kyle brought the boilerplate idea to Node.js while plenty of Ruby boilerplates already existed. Which platform can you build boilerplates for?
- Storyteller is a product through which anyone and integrate the Instagram-like "Stories" feature in their mobile app. Their pitch - saves developer time.
- Build satellite products around your main product - Kyle is building Firelab, Sabba from Veed built a teleprompter recently among many other tools.
- You can come back from any situation, even from the emergency room!
- There's no shame in saying goodbye to a lifestyle that doesn't work for you.
- Don't worry about pricing your product too high, look at it as an experiment and calibrate the right price for the product.
Let's look at some related Trends and Opportunities -
Trends & Opportunities
- Growth of the subreddit r/saas
- These are software developers looking to build SaaS apps.
- Take Arvid Kahl's advice, embed yourself in the community, figure out their problems and build solutions for them.
- Growth of the subreddit r/node
- The top posts in this community are memes and jokes about how heavy Node.js is.
- Is someone solving that problem? Is it a problem that CAN be solved?
- How a Near-Death Experience Turned a VC-Backed Founder into a Bootstrapper with Kyle Gawley of Gravity - IH podcast
- Gravity on IH product directory
- The Startup Success Delusion That Put Me In Hospital - Kyel Gawley
- Should you stop Build in Public like Kyle did ? read what Nathan Barry says
- The Hardcore Year approach to $10K MRR💪 | Andrey Azimov
- Digital Nomad To Prolific Indie Hacker | Pieter Levels
Thank you for reading🙏
Have thoughts? Join the conversation, I tweeted about Kyle's journey a couple of days ago -
ICYMI : Last week I wrote about Andrey Azimov of Sheet2Site
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Thanks to Seth King for editing this post
Trend Charts courtesy UnderTheRadar.io