December 30th, 2018
2018 was easily the best year of my life. So many good things happened. So many unexpected things happened.

But 2018 was also a very different kind of year for me.

I spent a lot of time and focus on my career and my startups - and less on things like going out and watching Netflix shows.

I think I sort of got my life on track - financially, career, focus and most importantly, my happiness.

This year, I think I finally found something I truly love - creating products.

It was also a great year because of all of the traction I had. I built a successful indie business, I quit my job, and I became a digital nomad.

I also launched the biggest project of my life (24 hour startup) and inspired thousands of people.

I wanted to write something nice (and complete) to close out the year - a true recap of my first year doing indie startups!

This post is inspired by an old Pieter Levels blog post, where he looks back on his year through his old tweets. I think it’s a really nice way to put together a blog post. That blog post is also very special to me because it’s how I discovered his story and became inspired to follow a similar path.

Fresh off of a startup disaster

Going back to late 2017, I had just experienced a complete startup failure. Two friends and I started a company, got a YC interview, and ultimately failed HARD.

I was so excited and determined to make that startup work, and when it fell apart, it kind of fucked me up.

Along with other things, I needed a change in life and I decided to leave San Francisco and move to New York City.

I can start a business by myself?

Although I was enjoying being in a new city with a new job, I was still longing to start my own business - but this time I had no co-founders or friends that were interested in something like that.

I started reading more Indie Hackers interviews and I discovered Pieter Levels - I realized there were people out there starting successful “indie” businesses by themselves.

I started playing around with ideas and ultimately created!

To kick off the website, I wrote my first blog post about why I was starting it:

In that blog post, I wrote about my main personal goal: to one day be able to work for myself comfortably anywhere in the world.

I also wrote:

I'm not sure when that will be (I have a full-time job right now), but the only way I can make that happen is by trying ideas, starting new things, and keeping an eye out for the right opportunity.

Looking back, I think I just wanted to create something - just get something simple off the ground and make some sort of progress.

At the time, I had nothing in terms of my own assets... All the work I had done in my career was for other companies, other bosses - trading money for my time.

I was also in a decent amount of credit card and student loan debt.

I made my first dollar!

A couple months into starting the blog I made $3 off Amazon affiliate program! I remember being so excited about this.

I didn’t care that it was $3. It was more about the fact I had made my first dollar that wasn’t from a salary.

That little bit of money gave me more motivation, and I started working harder on the project.

I worked on it every day after work and on many weekends. I was learning so much and I was loving it.

My first big break
I woke up one morning to find my interview on the front page of Reddit!

After two months, I finally had legitimate traffic on my site! This was my first break - I had finally found an effective platform to share my interviews going forward.

I hit 200, and then quickly 300 email subscribers!

My first Product Hunt launch

About a month later I finally launched on Product Hunt.

I spent an insane amount of time prepping for that launch. It was the culmination of 3-4 months of work - and I did a lot to prepare. I was very nervous about it being successful.

I followed every “guide” out there. I took the day off of work so I could focus on the launch.

Then I got featured on the front page! And then Ryan Hoover left a comment!

I was on cloud nine! I started dancing around the room with Travis Scott blasting. This is easily one of the greatest moments of my life. I didn’t even reach #1 for the day - I think I was like #5 or #6 - but I was so happy about that.

I even had people emailing me nice things.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I had created something valuable and people were thanking me for it.

That is one of the greatest feelings in the world and it’s better than any kind of money.

My first haters

I even started getting “haters” on Reddit.

Back then, this really affected me! I was so self-conscious… I used to reply to every negative comment and construct long, thought out arguments with trolls on Reddit. That was such a waste of time!

But through that, I learned that if you have haters it means you’re probably doing something right because people are noticing you!

Hitting the front page of Hacker News

Then I got another massive break.

Similar to my first time hitting the front page of Reddit, this also happened unexpectedly.

It was 9 AM and I was about to go to work. I had a new article and I thought “Fuck it. Let’s try posting this to Hacker News…”

Five minutes later I was hitting the front page, and I was hitting it hard. My article held the #1 spot for an entire day and drove 40k people to my website.

I had to go to work while it was happening and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was also so worried that my coworkers would find out about my side project (they browse HN)

This was an absolute game changer for me.

Starter Story was being exposed to so many people in the tech world. I had CEOs emailing me and one of them even wanted to acquire my website.

This also got me to 1,000 subscribers:

And it also drove $5,000 in sales for the company that was featured in the article:

Finding a community

Around that time, I found WIP - a community that really changed everything for me.

I got to join a chat and work alongside people that were just like me - focused on shipping and building indie businesses.

In WIP, I was in a constant behind the scenes watching indie hackers have success. It felt like every day someone was hitting #1 on Product Hunt or hitting the front page of Hacker News. I got so much support from that community - it was like a startup cheat code!

I also started making “internet friends” from WIP - and was able to build up an amazing network of people I know from around the world.

I really owe a lot to WIP - I wouldn’t be anywhere without it.

Struggling for focus and productivity

A few months after the launch, I started to struggle.

I remember feeling a bit stuck during these days. I think I was experiencing the trough of sorrow.

I was pretty unmotivated. I didn’t have any good personal systems in place for productivity. It became a struggle to put out any interviews and I often did the absolute bare minimum.

It was also a really tough time in my family. My dad had an unexpected heart attack and nearly died. I flew home for a few weeks to handle that.

This really affected me - especially because the heart attack was due to genetically high cholesterol - something that will affect me for the rest of my life.

I decided to quit smoking for the rest of my life (was addicted to JUUL) and started exercising every day (which I will talk about a bit later in the post).

Discovering the power of open startups

I did my first open startup report on Twitter, and I started realizing more of the power of being transparent and honest. It really attracts people.

I was also aggressively saving money, trying to get out of credit card debt.

I started working more and more on my business, and less on stuff like drinking, going out, and watching sports/Netflix. And I was really enjoying it too - I loved working on my side projects!

I continued to use Reddit to propel Starter Story. There have been many ups and downs, but it always seems to come back and work itself out...

I even got my own Reddit flair!!

The more I followed Pieter Levels, the more I began to realize that we are similar in a lot of ways. A discussion we had about being a solo founder:

I feel that YC and many other “startup” authorities talk about how you need co-founders. But often that’s really hard to find!

Maybe I don’t have a co-founder because of my style of working... I don’t know - but it’s really refreshing to see other people have massive success as a solo founder.

Revenue is going up

Meanwhile, my monthly revenue is very slowly going up. Every month, it was a couple hundred bucks. I started getting more and more excited to share my reports each month.

I loved showing people that I was making progress, growing my audience, and keeping myself accountable! That’s one thing that’s great about open startups - you are motivated to show up every month with some nice updates!

I started solving focus & productivity

Thanks to WIP, I shipped (did work) for 100 days straight.

My productivity started to improve - I started to become more motivated.

I think I became more motivated because I started working on things that I actually wanted to work on.

I ported over Starter Story to Ruby on Rails (which I know way better) and started shipping tons of features. It was nice to have a balance between content and features. I also started automating a ton of the monotonous stuff that comes with running a blog.

At this time, I started waking up early in the morning before work to work on features that would ultimately save me so much time in the long run. I was waking up at 5:30 AM and putting in 3 hours - it was a very productive time.

For example, I automated all of the social media including generating the images. I absolutely love this kind of stuff.

I don’t know why I love it so much. But it feels so great to automate things and have things be running while you sleep.

I also started using the Pieter Levels method of shipping - a stack of post-it notes:

A few months later, I hit >$500 monthly revenue:

I also started writing more - really enjoying writing blog posts about what I was learning. One of my favorite blog posts (and one that people really appreciated):

My health

One thing that wasn’t super great during 2018 - my health.

After my dad’s heart attack I realized I really needed to make a change.

I committed to running 100 days in a row:

This is the best decision I made in 2018.

Not only did I become more productive, but I grew to absolutely love running in New York City. It is the most unbelievable place to run.

There’s nothing better than running on the West Side on a hot day.

Meeting Casey Neistat

Another benefit of running in New York… meeting Casey Neistat.

I’ve become such a huge fan of Casey over the last years. He has really inspired me and I watch his videos all the time to get pumped.

I can’t think of many other celebrities that I’d rather meet. I was so starstruck.

Getting the biggest check of my life

It was around this time I got an email from Andrew Bialecki, the CEO of Klaviyo:

We got to talking, and a few months later, I asked them if they would sponsor the Starter Story newsletter.

They offered to sponsor the newsletter for an entire year! And paid for it upfront.

I was in absolute shock.

I didn’t actually believe it was real until the money hit my bank account - and when it did I had to leave work and go on a walk. I might have cried a little.

But in all seriousness, getting Klaviyo as a sponsor was a massive milestone - it allowed me to focus on building the site rather than chasing sponsors every month.

And it helped me hit $1,000 monthly revenue!

The craziest idea of my life

I was on a run in New York City and I randomly came up with a crazy idea… I wanted to launch a startup in 24 hours.

I committed to doing it with this tweet:

That tweet started going viral, and the rest was history.

Over 10,000 people tuned in that weekend to watch me build and launch a startup on Twitch.

I finished it in 17 hours and I continued to go viral.

It felt like I became internet famous for a minute. I got over 1.5K new followers on Twitter in one day.

I woke up the next day and my project went #1 on Product Hunt and on Hacker News.

I even got props from one of my idols… Pieter Levels!

Then I quit my job

Two days after my 24-hour startup, I went to my manager and quit my job.

It sounds so corny, but it just felt like that was the moment. I realized I needed to go full time on my own stuff.

I don’t really know where it came from - but I felt like I had to do it.

Getting more haters

I even got some more haters from my 24 hour startup!

(P.S. I wrote a massive post about the 24 hour startup if you want to learn more.)

I started a trend

All of a sudden, everyone started streaming stuff - I was getting tagged on Twitter as the “streaming startup” guy...

I started meeting tons of new people that were streaming, including the one and only Ethan, whom I admire a lot.

Then I decided to launch another 24 hour startup the following weekend. I was doing everything I could to capitalize on my newfound success.

I moved home

After I quit my job, I immediately left New York City and moved home into my mom’s place to prepare to go digital nomad.

I was all of a sudden working on my own stuff - 100% of the time - I had never had this feeling before.

I got to wake up in the morning and work on whatever I wanted. This was (and is) such an awesome feeling.

I finally got out of credit card debt!

It took me an entire year to do this:

Redditors also started a petition against me. At this point, I stopped caring about that stuff!

It was also nice to have so many people comment nice things in the thread - we beat the haters!!

A crazier idea - 24 Hour Startup Challenge

I could only think of one crazier idea than launching a startup in 24 hours - and that would be organizing an event allowing hundreds of people to do it as well.

With my newfound freedom, I birthed the idea of the 24 Hour Startup Challenge - and I teamed up with two internet friends to launch the most ambitious project of my life.

This reception on this was insane - it was the biggest thing I’ve ever done.

It was also a lot of pressure. For those 3-4 weeks - I worked the hardest I ever have in my life.

I even got a crazy shoutout from my indie startup idol, none other than Pieter Levels.

I also got to make connections and interview a ton of my indie startups idols - Courtland, Mubs, Pieter, and so many more people...

The 24 Hour Startup event was a massive success. Hundreds of people signed up, and in the end, 96 startups were launched.

In two weeks, we went from an idea to the biggest indie startup event of all time! We raised and gave out $4,000 in prizes and did all of it on a $0 budget.

Going nomad

And that brings me to today! A few weeks ago, I flew to Thailand to start my digital nomad journey - traveling the world and working on my startups.

2018 was such an amazing year, through many ups and downs, but I’m especially thankful for all of the people that have helped me throughout this journey - even in the smallest ways.

Ready for 2019

I’m realizing that my journey is just beginning.

Although I’ve had some nice success, I want to 10x it. I want 2019 and the next few years to be even bigger. I’m ready to go all in, work hard, build and launch tons of stuff - and most importantly find my way!

I’m so excited. Thank you for reading.

Update: A couple people mentioned they were trying to reach me over text, my American number doesn’t work anymore! Hit me up on Instagram or you can iMessage me at [email protected] :)
December 4th, 2018
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)
My @starter_story #openstartup and life update...
November 2018:
  • 💵 Revenue: $2,736
  • 📈 Uniques: 19,470
  • ✉️ Mailing List: 3,287
So much awesome stuff happened in the last two months 😁👇

First of all, this update is for the last two months.

Because of the craziness of #24hrstartup (which I'll talk about later) - I missed posting my October 2018.

So this may be a bit longer than my usual threads 😅

October 2018:

  • 💵 Revenue: $1,723
  • 📈 Uniques: 33,508

October 2018 was actually my first "down month" in terms of revenue.

It's funny, it's the same month I quit my job... 😜

October was a massive month in terms of traffic, but I also started to get nervous about my business model. Finding new sponsors every month SUCKS!

In early October I quit my job and moved home!

Working 100% on my projects is AMAZING. If I can make it work, I will never have a job again.

It's hard to imagine ever working like that again. But also, I see some great benefits of having a full time job + side project.

When I was full time I was much more determined because of my time constraints.

I would wake up at 6AM and knock out a few hours before starting work. Now, it's much harder to do that.

So mentally, it feels great to be without a job, but I feel less productive overall.

I am now officially nomad!

I'm writing this tweetstorm from @hubbathailand - just got in here yesterday after 30+ hours of flying.

This month I'm going to be touristing Thailand and making my way to Chiang Mai where I will be living there for a few months.

Last update I noted that I wanted to find more long-term sponsors for StarterStory - so I can spend more time on growth and less time on... finding sponsors.

Spent much of October 2018 trying to figure that out... cold emails, meetings with people, etc

And I found the ultimate sponsor...

@klaviyo is now sponsoring the ENTIRE StarterStory website 😁😁

This is everything I wanted.

Klaviyo is such an amazing tool that everyone that uses it LOVES and it actually drives serious revenue for stores.

So I'm super grateful for @abialecki and the whole Klaviyo team for that.

This saves 5+ hours per week dealing with sponsors and worrying about if I can pay the rent. Now I can focus 100% on growing content and adding features.
10/ Added "starters" pages.

Now, we have individual pages for each entrepreneur. Soon, I will add business pages as well.

I want StarterStory to be more than content - a database of businesses, entrepreneurs, and content.

This adds ~200 new pages to our Google Index.
On that note, Google search continues to grow...

Impressions are getting close to 40K per day.
My #1 focus is content.

  • Oct: 30 pieces of content
  • Nov: 23 pieces of content

That's almost one post per day.

My goal next year is to be doing 2-3 posts per day.

Pumping out content as a one-man show is challenging... I'm continuing to build software and automation to help.

I did another (personal) 24hrstartup.

- #2 product of the day
- 270 upvotes on @producthunt
- inspired @levelsio to build
14/ Personally, I LOVE this project.

I'm a massive fan of hip hop and I think something like this has potential. Record labels are desperate to find talent early, and to be able to provide them insights into that I think it's something they would pay for.

I made a ton of updates to

On the topic of content automation, I also added a new "story" dashboard for @starter_story.

  • Enter all meta information (revenue, name, etc)
  • Write into the Google doc right there
  • “Submit" functionality.

This saves me lots of time and allows me to be more hands off.


And now for the elephant in the room...

The 24 Hour Startup...

This was the biggest thing I've ever done in my life and I'm so happy about its success.

I talk more about the numbers here 👇

But want to talk more about how this came about and my thoughts behind it.

I had the idea for a "24 hour startup hackathon" right after I did my first 24 hour startup. But I was sitting on the idea for a while.

I had many doubts about the idea...

Boy I was wrong.

I reached out to @arminulrich since he built @shipstreams and we decided to work together + @_feloidea joined.

We realized the only time we could do it was Nov 17 (bcuz of holidays) so we put our heads down and launched a website in 1 day.

Then the hype train BLEW UP.

We had 100 signups in like 24 hours. At that point we realized we "had something" so we then did everything we could to make the event as big as possible.
21/ It felt amazing to have that traction, but it also destroyed me.

I didn't do ANYTHING but #24hrstartup for about 3 weeks...

There was so much to do, dealing with sponsors, managing the event, setting rules, building the app, managing the community, running the stream...
22/ But, I don't care - it was so much fun.

That was our moment, and we had to capitalize.

I LOVED working with @arminulrich and @_feloidea. Normally I'm cautious of working with other people - can get complicated - but these guys JUST GET SHIT DONE.

We are the perfect team 😁

I believe that streaming + making is the next big thing.

So what's next?

@arminulrich and @_feloidea and I are heads down, working on Shipstreams 2.0 🚢 - this will be a new platform to enable makers to ship AND build their audience.

I'm so excited.

And that's pretty much it...

Sorry for the long thread, live updating, and if it was a bit scatterbrained - I write these "off the cuff" so any questions let me know!

Thanks for reading!!!
October 30th, 2018
Why haven’t you learned how to code? 

That is the question I asked myself for most of my life, but did nothing about it.

I didn’t learn to code until I was 25 years old (about 3 years ago), however, deep down I knew my entire life that I should have been doing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and how coding changed my life, and also why it took me so long to figure it out.

When I mentally made the switch

I want to talk about a moment I had about three years ago. I remember it so vividly.

A little bit of context - I did a coding boot camp around this time - and towards the end of the boot camp you start your “capstone project” which is where you finally get to work on your own project (a full-featured web app built from scratch).

Although the boot camp was amazing, it was creating my own app that absolutely floored me. It was the moment I realized that *I* could build an app by myself, and I was actually doing it right now? Such an amazing feeling.

Sorry if this sounds corny, but I just remember this moment so well. I felt this overall thrill in my body and a lot of adrenaline over the course of a couple weeks.
I actually wrote about this on my old daily Tumblr when I was in the boot camp:

FEBRUARY 25, 2016

I cannot believe it’s only been two days since we kicked off our capstone project. Been such a whirlwind. I have been so focused on this project it’s crazy. I honestly cannot explain how exciting this is and how much fun I find this process.

I’ve had my doubts about that coding is the right move for my career, even through the regular curriculum over the past few weeks. At times it was hard to get motivated to finish the projects/exercises assigned in class… But now that I’m working on my own project, it all makes sense and feels very right.

I don’t think I told many people about that feeling I had at the time - mostly because my peers in the boot camp didn’t see it that way. From what I perceived, it seemed like the project was a drag for many of my other classmates.

For me, it was the best thing in the world. I just remember the rush I felt so well. It was like a drug. Maybe it’s just me, but has anyone else felt this?

Coding == creating

The better question is for this blog post... why haven’t you learned how to create?

For me, learning to code was the catalyst to becoming a creator. Once I felt the power to create, my entire perspective on life changed.

This is again going to sound pretentious/corny but it felt like it gave my life purpose. All of a sudden I stopped wasting time. I stopped caring about Netflix shows and fantasy football. I started working on things I really cared about.

So why did it take me 25 years... My journey to maker.

I want to look back a bit on my life to understand why I put it off for so long and how the journey got me there.

Maybe someone reading out there has a similar childhood or experience growing up and this would help them.

Early high school

When I was younger, I was always into tech. I remember getting my first Mac at 14 years old. I experienced Mac OS X for the first time and I fell in love with Apple.
I became obsessed with tech and the Web 2.0 internet days - I was really into reading Engadget, This Week In Tech, Digg & Kevin Rose, etc.
That summer, I started messing around the internet and found a way to win free iPods and make money. I remember that summer I made like $7k off the internet.
And it was so much fun.
I also learned HTML and CSS and built my own website so I could make more money off the free iPods thing. Back then, w3schools was like the only good resource I could find...
After that, I made another website, this time an online community for other people doing the free iPods thing. All when I was like 14/15.
Sidenote: I see a lot of super young makers out there, which I think is amazing. If you’re reading this keep going!

How life changes
After that summer I went back to school and kind of forgot about the whole thing. I grew up in a small town so there weren’t as many like-minded people and there was no Twitter.
I guess I went back to school and become a normal teenage kid again - normal high school kid stuff. Building a business on the internet back then wasn’t “a thing”. This was before YouTube and the iPhone.
But in school, I was always slacking. I graduated high school with a 2.something GPA and overall hated the experience.

So continuing on to college, why didn’t I learn to code then?
I don’t want to make excuses, but if you do bad in high school, you won’t get into a good college. At that time in your life, getting into college is like the most important thing in the world. Since I didn’t get into a good college, I had low confidence.
I thought I wasn’t smart enough to be a computer science major and that I would drop out. I decided on English as my major because people told me I was good at writing. That seemed doable.
Then I got into a better college (transferred) and switched my major to Economics. I should have switched to Comp Sci, but they made it so hard to do that. Many extra years and prerequisites.
I still hadn’t learned to code yet, but I was getting closer (more math-y degree).

After college
I got a “good” job in Accounting lined up out of college in San Francisco.
When I started, I realized this corporate thing was horrible. Office Space-level horrible. I felt like I was stuck though. Luckily, I got out of it after about 11 months and found a new job - at a startup called Anaplan.
Instead of doing accounting I was then doing financial model implementations with a SQL-like software.
I was BUILDING. It wasn’t “code”, but it was close.
I was building custom financial applications for companies like Tesla and HP. It was like building little apps and I loved it.
And this was finally the moment where it clicked. It was at this point that I knew I needed to learn how to code. 14 years after I really should have started. 14 years wasted (not really but kinda).
I was contemplating going back for a masters in computer science. Then I learned about these things called coding boot camps. It was the most amazing concept I had ever heard of. Three months and you’ll be an engineer…? I didn’t even think twice - I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Looking back, I think the thing that got me here was just a genuine curiosity for something better. Always looking for something better and not settling.
So why didn’t I just do it?
I think the most important reasons were (1) focus and (2) understanding the why.

1. Focus
This is the most important. I did not know how to focus.
I knew that I wanted to learn how to code, and I thought about it often - but the whole sitting down and actually doing it - that was near impossible for me for most of my life.
When I actually tried to sit down and learn it, it was like Codecademy javascript or something. That is NOT the way to learn (for me).
I realized that I need to learn by creating! Making an app, a website, or something that solves a need in your life. Or just falling into it out of luck (that job I got).
I believe learning through projects is the best way, because you feel pride about your own work, and motivation to make it through really hard things to improve your project.

2. Understanding the why
Why should I learn to code...?
Most people would say it’s because it’s a valuable skill, it’s great for job security, etc etc.
I don’t think those are strong enough reasons to spend 12 hours a day banging your head against the wall in agony to get something working in your code.

You need to have a real, deep-rooted reason to do it.
It wasn’t until I was unhappy with my career and thinking about the rest of my life when I realized this was the thing I needed. Believing that it would change the course of my life and make me happy. I couldn’t see that in college because college is a lie :)
Once I got out of college and into a “real” job, I then had a reason. It was the corporate shithole that made me realize I needed to get out of it.
October 8th, 2018
On October 15th, 2017 -  just about a year ago - I published my very first Starter Story blog post.

I had no experience blogging or building websites.

12 months later I’ve published 142 pieces of content and learned a ton about building a website/blog/whatever you want to call it. Starter Story is now monetized at ~$1.7k in monthly revenue. (UPDATE: Apr 2019 now monetized at $4.1k/month)

Here are some more stats:

  • 109 founder interviews
  • 33 non-interview blog posts
  • 350,131 words written
  • 439,856 pageviews
  • 18,036 Reddit karma

UPDATE: I’m now working on a tool to help you publish a similar amount of blog posts! Check out Pigeon :)

Time commitment

I did all almost all of this as a side project (on top of a full-time job). I say almost because I just quit my full-time job two weeks ago to go full time on this and try the whole indie maker thing :)

But I don’t want to make it sound like I only spent a few hours a week on this. I’ve spent a lot of time building Starter Story. Many nights and weekends. If I were to guess, I probably put in an average of 15 hours/week since starting.

Through working all of these hours, I’ve learned a lot about what works, but I’ve probably also wasted a lot of time on what doesn’t. I wanted to write this post to guide others who might be looking to get started. I know others can do the same thing in a lot less time.

My #1 secret

Before we get into this I want to talk about my “secret”.

I don’t write anything, and I don’t pay copywriters.

I leverage the amazing knowledge and writing of others.

This doesn’t mean I just sit back and enjoy the ride though. I spend most of my time editing, formatting, and revising the writing of others (which I’ll talk about later in the post).

Let me walk you through my journey

So I want to take you through my process before I had any interviews and how I got to where I am today.

Starting out

Background: I talk more about why I started Starter Story in this post, but basically, I wanted to work on a side project that wouldn’t interfere with my full-time job. So I came up with the idea for Starter Story, a website that would showcase interviews with founders.

OK, now I had the idea and needed to find people to interview. But.. I didn’t have a website. I reached out to my friend who started an online jewelry business and told him about my idea and asked him if he wanted to be interviewed.

He agreed, so I called him up on the phone and asked him a bunch of questions over the course of an hour. I recorded the conversation and later transcribed the call to text (a seriously long and painful process), and then edited the crap out of it.

I released this interview in mid October 2017. I shared it on my personal Facebook, my LinkedIn and that’s it. I didn’t have any channels at the time, and I had no following online at all.

Let’s take a fun trip back in Google Analytics to that week. Humble beginnings 😆

Yes, that’s 23 visitors on the site in the first week. I’m serious when I say I had no following!

Finding more interviews

I started reaching out to more friends.

I published this interview the next week. He was my old roommate and had started a business selling cat treats.

I kept asking around, I wrote down a list of all the potential entrepreneurs I knew. I asked a bunch of people. Most people denied or didn’t respond to me.

But then I got connected with Taylor Offer from FEAT Socks. This guy is legit! I interviewed him over the phone and got a great interview. This is still one of my most popular interviews.

I was spending my nights after work taking phone calls and spending the rest of my time editing down the audio from the calls and converting this into written interviews.

Each interview seemed to lead to another interview somehow, and I soon had a very rudimentary website to show people. It only had a few interviews but it was something to show. Sure my friends would agree to do interviews without seeing a website - but it would be very tough to convince strangers without one.

What Starter Story looked like at 4 interviews

The difficulty of phone interviews

I couldn’t do interviews over the phone anymore. It would take an ungodly amount of time to revise to a readable written format. Plus, the conversational interviews converted to text never came out that well (you can read them to see what I mean).

What you say in a conversation is a lot different than how you write something - writing is so much more eloquent and, in my opinion, conveys something 5x more succinctly than what audio can.

Another issue is once you edit the audio down and write it out (a process that took several hours), I would send it back to the interviewee and they wouldn’t even like it!

There were 3-4 people that I interviewed that didn’t even email me back once I sent them the first draft…

Written interviews

I decided to try out written interviews.

In hindsight it sounds obvious, but for me it felt weird to ask people to write interviews for your no-name blog.

But I really had no other option. Calling people was not scalable. Here’s my template on how I ask people.

An email pro tip: I always try to end my emails with a simple answer/call to action. I try not to leave anything open-ended.

If I don’t have the upper hand (aka I’m asking for something) I try to make the conversation/process as frictionless as possible.

Cold emails

Now that I had a website with a few interviews, I decided to start reaching out to random people. I found the Shopify Masters podcast and found the emails to as many guests as I could.

I put all these leads in a spreadsheet and used to find emails and I sent them each emails one by one.

I sent cold emails that looked like this:

The response was surprisingly good!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason for this is because I was asking people for an interview that were being interviewed on another podcast. People that get interviewed are more likely to want to be interviewed again. Duh!

I realized cold emailing was an effective tactic and decided to bear down on that strategy.


I didn’t do any automation in the beginning. I hand emailed everyone one by one.

Looking back, I could have sped up the process with email software or whatever, but I didn’t. I think it’s because I had no idea if cold emails were going to work.

My advice for others would be not to automate things right away. Doing things manually teaches you a lot about the ins and outs and minutia.

Find out what works, then automate.

For example, I was able to test out different ways of saying things in emails and used my intuition to tweak language accordingly.

Instead of emailing 50 people with one click (which I later will get to), I got a feel for each lead and was able to understand who they were when I got an email back, or if I didn’t get an email.

Rejection & the numbers game

Rejection sucks, even over email. I still get a bit sad to this day when I send a bunch of cold emails and get rejections.

But I definitely have gotten more used to it. It’s a numbers game.

To this day I’ve gotten over 100 interviews published. But I’ve sent over 1,000 emails. 10% is a good rate!

The template

One thing I learned from Courtland from Indie Hackers is to have a good question template.

Instead of just asking the question “How did you come up with the idea?” in the template, I use has a series of sub-questions to help the reader provide better answers.

Getting quality answers is the #1 most important thing, which I’ll talk more about later. I try to do everything in my ability to optimize for quality.

Email flows, templates, and shortcuts

After sending so many cold emails you start to develop a flow, and your inbox becomes hell.

For me, the typical email flow is something like:

  1. Cold email
  2. They respond
  3. Explain how the interview process works
  4. They agree
  5. Send google doc template
  6. Follow up a few times
  7. Get first draft
  8. Ask them for revisions
  9. Publish the interview

This ends up being a ton of emails, all very similar. Gmail has a really cool feature called Canned Responses where you can save all of your common email templates and use them in your emails with one click.

Oh, and learn Gmail shortcuts - it will save you so much time.

Treat it like a sales pipeline

After I found what works with cold emails, I realized I needed to build a system and keep things organized.

Big thanks to Alex Grossman for pioneering this, but I found Streak, a CRM built on top of Gmail.

Every interview is in a stage, and it looks something like this:

What’s great about this CRM is that it is inside Gmail.

The email threads themselves are leads in your funnel, and it’s easy to get a view of everything, as well as know where any interview stands in the process.

Asking for hard things

One thing that was (and is) much easier said than done was asking for revenue numbers.

Here’s the funny thing - in the very beginning when I had only a couple interviews, I didn’t have revenue numbers for every interview. It was optional.

Before I launched on Product Hunt, I decided I needed to make sure I set a precedent going forward. I kindly went to all my old interviews that didn’t share revenue and asked them nicely. Most of them said yes! Unfortunately, not all of them did, and I had to delete a few interviews off the site :(

Anyways, I’ve had some amazing interview opportunities that I lost because they wouldn’t share revenue. However, I believe that one interview isn’t going to make or break Starter Story.

And I believe sharing revenue is what sets Starter Story apart from other blogs.

Persistent follow-ups

How many people finish my interview template after a couple days? Better question, how many people finish something when they say they will? Very rarely.

This is where I learned about the importance of persistence!

Once someone agrees to the interview I follow up aggressively until they finish it, or they give up.

There is an amazing tool for this called Boomerang. When I have an interview in progress, I have a perpetual Boomerang going on it.

Often, this happens:

That may look like a lot of work, but it isn’t if you use Boomerang, canned responses, and Gmail shortcuts effectively.

Setting deadlines

Here is one thing I wish I did sooner… Set deadlines!

A deadline is like a pretend date that gives who you’re working with some accountability. The date doesn’t really have any importance, but it provides a sense of urgency to get a task done.

I’m still experimenting with how to do this best, but since I’ve implemented using deadlines I’ve noticed better results.

Asking for revisions

If you’ve read my interviews you might have noticed that the quality is good and the answers aren’t your “run of the mill” answers you see on other websites.

Doing the math, on average, each interview is 2,464 words.

But this doesn’t just happen. I put a lot of effort into improving interviews and making them excellent.

This is because I put a ton on of emphasis on quality. I always strive for at least 2,000 words and I’m constantly asking my interviewees to dive deeper and explain more of the “why” on their answers.

And I do this with Google Docs. After I review the first draft, it looks something like this:

Occasionally I get a perfect interview on the first try, but I would say 90% of my Google Docs look something like this after I’ve had an initial read review.

This is a pretty time-consuming process on my end, but I believe it’s 100% worth it. There are a lot of popular interviews on Starter Story that didn’t look so hot on the first draft. And some that went #1 on Hacker News too.

Since my interviewees have already put a good amount of work into the draft, it’s almost never an issue to get them to add more, and I think they appreciate that I do this.

It’s what an editor of any publication should do - strive for great quality.

Systemizing everything I can

Being an engineer, one of my favorite parts of all this is using code to automate a lot of things that can be automated.

Starter Story is built on top of a custom CMS built by me - I’m not using WordPress, it’s built on Ruby on Rails.

Here are some things I’ve built/automated:

Generating new google docs using GDrive API

Every time I create a new lead in my CMS, it auto-generates a gDoc template that I can send to the interviewee.

This saves a ton of time (don’t have to manually copy the doc over and over) and it “ties” the gDoc to the lead in the CMS.

Google Doc -> Markdown conversion.

Since the google doc is tied to the story already, I can just click one button and it converts the doc into markdown and injects it into my CMS.

It’s not perfect, but it’s getting closer to being a “one-click publish”.

This is also what sparked the idea for this website,

Social media. 

All of my social media is automated. I talk about it a bit more in this Twitter post.

I have robots that post all new interviews to my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This saves so much time.

Email people when their post goes live.

Whenever posts go live, I email the interviewee that their post went live. I also automate other stuff like asking them for referrals or having them fill out what tools they use.

There are tons of other things too, like posting to reddit, scheduling posts for the future, and a lot more.

My content calendar for this month

I’m thinking of productizing this

So I’m thinking of building a product that can do a lot of the stuff I mentioned above, like automatic email followups, lead funneling, etc.

It would be useful for people that want to build a similar blog or website, or for someone looking to build a new “interview” content channel for their product.

A great example of doing this successfully is the Shopify Success Stories. They have interviewed over 900 stores.

If you’re interested at all or have some ideas for features email me.

UPDATE: I have decided to build this! If you’re interested in trying it out, you can learn more here.

My approach - the shotgun method

I want to end this blog post to talk about my approach and why I think it’s different than others out there and why I’m seeing success.

Consistent content is my #1 goal.

Consistency is key - always be pushing out content. Take action as quick as possible and always be moving forward. Every blog post is a potential traffic generator, big or small.

Stop caring about “that one big interview”. A small story is better than no story. Momentum is your best friend.

Maybe it’s cold, but I have learned to treat this whole thing like a salesman would. You get leads, you get rejected, but you can always close a small % of the deals.

When I got into my groove a few months in, I had a goal to release 3 pieces of content per week. Now I’m releasing closer to 7 posts per week. I plan to scale up to 10/week and soon after that, 20 pieces of content per week!

Quality is the #2 goal.

Always make sure to have a great interview or blog post.

Here’s my motto on any piece of content:

If it sucks, kill it.

If it’s mediocre, publish it but don’t promote it.

If it’s amazing, share it with the world and give it a lot of attention and love.

Respecting the learning experience

Most importantly, building Starter Story has been an amazing learning experience. And if you plan to build something similar (or build anything), try to treat it like that as well.  

You never know what you might find - product opportunities, business opportunities, friends, a following, who knows!

Building this blog is essentially what sparked my idea for the 24 Hour Startup, and it’s helping build my foundation as a maker and entrepreneur.


Thanks for reading - reach out on Twitter if you have any questions or comments!
October 3rd, 2018
his blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)
Starter Story September Results
  • 💵 Revenue: $1,737.84
  • 📈 Uniques: 20,205 (Sept)
  • ✉️ Email Subscribers: 2,956

For all my new followers (will get to that in a sec) I do a revenue & traffic #openstartup report every month for my main side project

I've been working on this project for nearly a full year.

Biggest thing that happened this month was obviously the 24 hour startup!

I won't talk about it too much in this thread, but after that happened everything just blew up. I'm still trying to catch up on everything and keep my head above water.

All of this craziness sparked a big decision for me.


I know it sounds kind of crazy to quit your job over that, but as I was heading into my 1:1 with my manager it just felt like I had to do it. It felt like the right thing to do.
I had planned to grow SS for 6 more months and then quit, but then the 24 hour startup happened and it felt like it was the right moment to quit.

I'm moving home for a couple months (holidays) and then:


First stop: Chiang Mai (I think). I'm so fricken excited to do this. It's been my dream for many years.

My last day at my full time job is this Friday. Then I'm leaving New York City :(

This is the first time post-college that I haven't had a "real" full time job. I'm excited but also nervous about how I will handle it. Sometimes I feel like a full time job keeps me productive.

Re: revenue. This is my biggest month, and it's really exciting. Here's a chart of my revenue over time cc: @GregorySchier :)

Hope this graph shows people that you can struggle hard in the beginning. It's ok if you can't monetize right away. Don't take shortcuts keep pushing!
Search traffic is finally starting to pay off!

I don't do anything "for SEO". The only thing we are focused on is putting out good content that people want to read.

Lately I've been seeing ~300 sessions/day from organic search.
As you might remember, I made an impulsive tweet that I was launching the Starter Story on 9/25.

That date has come and gone and I've decided to wait and more slowly release community features. I don't think the site is big enough to launch a full fledged community yet.

I did add a login/signup though - and the ability to add comments.

I'm excited to build lots of cool features now that I have more time to dedicate to this project. Some ideas:

  • Hacker News esque link board
  • Job board
  • "Launch" your products
  • Starter and business pages
I also got my jimmies rustled after listening to the @IndieHackers podcast with @bendhalpern on how he grew @ThePracticalDev.

They have a really interesting sponsor model, where they have "logos" on their front page.

I want to move to that with @starter_story
This is a great model because it's less focused on CPM and ads, and more focused on "community".

It's also not fun finding a new sponsor every month for a couple hundred dollars.

Another initiative I'm pushing on - getting "tools" and "services" involved with Starter Story.

The ecommerce and CPG industry is an ecosystem of businesses and services. It's important to involve both sides of the coin and bring them together.

I implemented a "content calendar".

Allows me to queue up content so that I can put content on autopilot while I work on other parts of the business.

It's part of the reason I did the 24hr startup. I had content ready to go for about 2 weeks.

Shoutout @WalterDom_ for idea
Did some cool stuff with affiliate links too. It's always a pain to update my Shopify and Amazon affiliate links for every post.

I wrote a script that automatically adds my affiliate tag to all Shopify and Amazon links. Saves a bunch of time!
I also made an automated Twitter bot for posting quotes from my article.

Every day, it searches all of my articles and finds a quote, then posts it to Twitter. It's a nice way to add a little bit more engagement.
Finally, after a lot of "good" things, I want to talk about motivation issues and mood.

First half of the month was horrible.

I was super down, couldn't find motivation and was very unproductive.

I was trying a lot of things - new wakeup early commitments, tried to get into journaling, nothing really working.

One thing that really kept my going was my running (I'm doing 100 days in a row). That sparked the 24hr startup idea!

After the 24hr startup I got a lot more motivated :)

Oh - and one more thing - Twitter addiction is real! - I can't stop checking it after my timeline blew up. I need to figure this out - any ideas?

THANKS FOR READING! And drop any questions/comments you have :)
September 4th, 2018
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)
Starter Story August Results
  • 💵 Revenue: $1,120.12
  • 📈 Uniques: 15,175 (August)
  • ✉️ Email Subscribers: 2,710

Woah 😲 I hit the $1k mark in monthly revenue.

I can't really believe it - it feels sorta surreal. I remember getting excited about $3 in Amazon affiliate revenue just a few months ago.

In April, I thought about quitting the project.

I was barely making any money and I was bored.

I even started working on another project.

You just have to keep putting a little bit of work in each day, and you hit these small milestones that keep you going - like an email from a fan or a HN post going viral.

One thing that has really kept me going is establishing a morning routine.

Been waking up early over the past few months, but over time I was getting up later and later.

Before I knew it, I was snoozing for like an hour and half.

So in the beginning of the month, I made it a point to wake up every day at 530AM, no excuses. I kept my phone across the room so I couldn't snooze it.

I even started running right in the morning as well.

Never have I been a morning person before…

Another big milestone, I hired someone!

I finally executed on this after meeting up with @FelixThea, the host of The Shopify Masters podcast.

He told me you have to hire someone, and to stop thinking you are the only one that can do certain tasks.

So I went on Upwork - terrible experience.

So, I just asked for help - I posted on Twitter and in my email newsletter that I was looking for help.

Such a good decision.

I got dozens of responses from fans and followers - people that really want to be a part of this!

I ended up hiring @WalterDom_ and he's been working with me for the past few weeks.

He's based out of Mexico City and has been helping me with email and publishing articles.

It's so nice having someone else helping out - thank you Walter.

I've also been running every single day. It's been 45 days.

When I run, I think about stuff, esp @starter_story - it motivates me.

I've also seen @CaseyNeistat 3 times now - yes Casey that was me who awkwardly waved at you this morning.

I also took a ton of time off this month. I traveled through Massachusetts on a road trip with my dad, and just had a long weekend with friends in Austin.

This was prob the first time I've taken time off for @starter_story, it was really hard to not look at email

Traffic for Starter Story was low this month - this is because we didn't have any huge stories on Hacker News or reddit.

It sucks not to get that adrenaline boost, but it will happen eventually :)

One cool thing is organic search traffic is starting to pick up!
This next month, I will be building the @starter_story community.

I'm super excited, but also nervous.

It's going to be a big challenge.

Lastly, I want to thank my sponsors for helping my get to the $1k mark!

@klaviyo @BitBond @GetOkendo thank you for your support!

Thanks for reading and excited for the next month.
July 1st, 2018
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)

June 2018 Open Report for @starter_story

💵 $553.51 Revenue (June)


👨‍💻 71 Interviews (+12 in June)
✉️ 2,210 Email Subscribers (+372 in June)
💻 263,581 Pageviews (+60,878 in June)
👋 30,955 Uniques (June)

Read more 👇

Best month to date in almost all categories! 😁

This month was filled with a lot of shipping and lot of luck.

As far shipping, I've never been more productive in my life 👇

- Automated social media images & posts with @buffer 
- Moved entire website off @Netlify/@reactjs and onto @rails 
- Began strategy of posting in FB groups
- Improved backend tools ➡️ Less manual work
- Moved tools form to rails app and created individual tools pages
- Created twitter tools posts ➡️

- Added social media follower counts & alexa ranking to article pages
- Automated "Published" email
- Google Docs integration ➡️ Auto publish stories from google docs

As far as luck this past month, we hit the front page of Hacker News twice in two weeks:

We've only done this two other times, but it provides an incredible amount of traffic.

The site also didn't go down!

And hitting the front page of HN has other benefits:

👏 I had 4-5 people reach out to inquire about advertising 👏

Before, I was doing cold outreach for this, and it's so nice to get emails like this.

Advice: Put a call to action on your "About" page, people will email you!
All advertising spots are now booked!

1. Front page
2. Newsletter
3. Article/story page
4. Tools page

I had to open up the article/story page spot just to accomadate all of these sponsors.
Most of the revenue will be deferred to next month, so I hope for an even better July

I significantly increased my ability to ship:

☀️ I now work in the mornings.

I wake up every day around 6AM, go to a coffee shop, and work for about 2-3 hours before my full time job starts.

I've never been a morning person, but this is really working for me.
I used to work at night, after getting off work, but working in the morning:

No excuses, I do it every morning and it becomes routine, whereas before I would skip some nights (like Fridays).

I am so much more focused in the mornings.

And it's so much nicer to get off work and be "done" for the day, instead of racking my brain from the hours of 7 to 10pm.

Now I just go to bed 2-3 hours earlier than before.

But, as far as the last month, my "shipping ability" increased by literally 3x. Not exaggerating.

Since this past month was so successful, I have a new excitement for the future of Starter Story.

I have been thinking a lot about how Starter Story can become a "hub" for entrepreneurs in the e-commerce and consumer product space.

I plan to soon expand the website.

There is a serious lack of quality content in this space. There is a lot written about indie hacker type stuff, but I think there is a massive opportunity in the space of "non-coder" entrepreneurs out there.

Think about how many friends you have that can't code but are passionate about entrepreneurship.

Where do they get great content that's actually written by founders?

This is way more big picture stuff, but it's really been in the back of my mind the past month.

I plan to start publishing "non-interview" content and exposing a "real blog" on the home page.

More on that in the next few months.

This past month I spent a ton of time of automation and backend stuff, which has been really fun (for me), and I also think it's something really lacking in the "blogging" industry. Maybe there is some product opportunities here.

And lastly, I've shipped so much more this month from the help I've gotten from @alex_grossmann.

He's published a ton of interviews and has helped me with a ton of shit behind the scenes.

It's also been nice to have someone to show all of my boring automation stuff :)

June 1st, 2018
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)

May 2018 Income Report for @starter_story

  • 💵 $421.75 Revenue (May)


  • 👨‍💻 59 Interviews (+13 in May)
  • ✉️ 1,838 Email Subscribers (+138 in May)
  • 💻 202,703 Pageviews (+22,965 in May)

Revenue first:

This is the biggest month so far, and I doubled last month's ~$200.

This is thanks to locking down a front page sponsor (@MastermindJam) and a newsletter sponsor.

The @Shopify affiliate program is also proving to be a nice source of income.
We published 13 new stories this month, a monthly record. 📈

Earlier in the month, I committed to publishing 3 stories a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday)

Turns out spreading them out was a good idea, in terms of exposure and it felt like "less work"

Email subscriber growth is still slow. My subscribe rate is about 1.8% on average. Any ideas on how to make that better?

I also got help this month.

Shoutout to @alex_grossmann, who reached out on Twitter. He's helped me:

- Get more leads
- Implemented CRM inside Gmail (@streak)
- Editing and posting interviews
- Helping me work on more automation.

It's also nice to bounce ideas off each other.

Lately, I've been super motivated about the project:

I'm starting to work on some cool projects, such as:

- Moving to 'real' database and to Rails.
- Automate social media.
- Automate reddit, HN, Facebook group posts.
- Community
- Verification (preventing false revenue claims)

It's pretty exciting to think about the potential of @starter_story when a lot of the manual stuff is taken out of the way.

I think it can become a well-oiled machine! The tough part, though... revenue. That continues to be a very manual process.