After an 8 week break to focus on my mental health (I think we should all take some more mental health breaks) I’m back with one of my favourite episodes to date.
I had an hour long chat with Ben Stokes, who started tinyprojects.dev. He’s also created an ice cream business and a cookie dough business amongst other things and his most recent project, Mailoji, made $10k in a week. In our Indie Bites episode I just published, we talk about what it’s like to be a founder running a physical business, how to sell your project, the joy in starting small things and how to go viral on Hacker News.
Why I interviewed Ben
I discovered Tiny Projects through Ben’s write up of selling one of his projects for over $5,000, despite it making less than $2 in revenue. The idea of Tiny Projects immediately resonated with me, so I wanted to speak to Ben about how we can inspire others to do the same. Here’s how he summarises Tiny Projects:
“My main goal is to test out ideas that I note down in my phone. Sometimes they work and I make a bit of money, but usually they don’t. Either way, it’s a fun hobby.”
What I didn’t expect when I interviewed Ben was that he’s also started two physical desert businesses, both doing exceptionally well. First of all a Thai rolled ice cream business which scaled to over £100k in revenue, then a cookie dough business that is currently doing £13k a month.
Why this is important for indie hackers
All too often we get wrapped up in how successful we’re going to make our projects, chasing the dream of going full-time or hitting a meaty monthly revenue number. All this instead of enjoying the experience, learning a new skill and having fun. Ben sums it up nicely:
“There's so much advice out there about validating your products, getting to product market fit and building traditional, sensible products.
And I really get a kick out of building these projects that potentially throw all that out the window. I’d still make a little bit of money, but it's still really fun to create. So definitely fun is the guiding light of tiny projects.
Ben shows how it’s possible to make small projects successfully and have a blast while doing it.
One key takeaway
Ship things as quick as you can, and have fun while doing it. Share your progress at every stage, whether that be on Twitter or a blog.
Don’t spend months looking for idea validation, making your product perfect or building fancy features.
The great thing about the Tiny Projects mentality is that you build your project and get to market super quickly, so you’ll have an idea if it’s going to work or not relatively early.
The episode in 5 points
- As an indie hacker starting a physical business, you have an advantage. Inject some of your tech knowledge into something traditional and you can potentially be disruptive. Take inspiration from people like Nick Huber of The Sweaty Startup – A Resource for Entrepreneurs and listen to this episode of the Indie Hackers podcast, about scaling a cookie business to $200k a month.
- Ben spent £700 on an ice cream machine after a few pints in the pub, then turned it into a $100k+ business. He spotted something while travelling in Thailand, couldn’t find it in the UK so brought it here himself! Then with a little elbow-grease, made the business work by going to festivals in the South West of England.
- Take your learnings from your previous endeavours and apply them to your next one. Exactly as he did with the Thai rolled ice cream, Ben brought edible cookie dough to the UK (when it was trending in the US) and used the same formula to turn that into a success. Now the business runs completely independently from a commercial kitchen in Bristol making £10k+ a month.
- Hacker News can be harsh, but also rewarding if you put the work in. One of Ben’s Tiny Projects, Mailoji, made $10k over a weekend thanks to a viral Hacker News post. But he’d put the work in beforehand, spending thousands on emoji domains from Kazakstan, making a viral TikTok video and hiring a Japanese voice actor (among other things).
- You can sell your project even if it’s only made £1.64 in revenue. The first of two projects that Ben has sold through Tiny Projects, One Item Store was a super simple idea that solved a clear problem. The code was written and the idea had potential. All it took was someone to see that potential and send Ben some money for it. But none of this would have happened if he hadn’t been sharing his progress on tinyprojects.dev.
At the end of each episode I ask the guest for 3 recommendations. A book, a podcast and an indie hacker to follow. Here are Ben’s:
The podcast episode
This was a summary article from my conversation with Ben Stokes on my Indie Bites podcast; short chats with founders in 15 minutes. I also released the full 40 minute conversation with Ben on my Indie Feast membership, which you can sign up to for £4 a month (for now).
Listen to the episode here: