INSPIRATION

From zero to hero: 8 stories of Indie Hackers going all-in on their side projects

We've gathered some inspiring designers and developers, who bootstrapped their side projects to life and succeed.
April 2022 · 6 mins read

by Jamshed Kasimov

Hi everyone!

Today's compilation is dedicated to people who, working in the fields of design, development or management, have decided to make positive changes in their lives through effort, discipline, analysis and creative thinking.
In this post, we tell 8 inspiring stories about how a sauce of design/programming and smart marketing, with pounds of hard work and a pinch of creativity, became the basis of the cool bootstrapped projects that changed their lives. The stories of these personalities differ only in the background, but what they all have in common is the desire, discipline and fortitude in achieving goals.

The list was compiled based on the number of followers on Twitter. So the most popular fellas are at the end. So, here are the stories that can inspire you to extraordinary accomplishments!

8. Denis Shepovalov

Denis Shepovalov is a product designer, entrepreneur and founder of the Craftwork.design.

His interest in design started from a young age, when he attended various courses, where he learned all the basics of design within several months.

In 2009 he started his freelance career and worked on graphic and web design projects for 3 years.

Then, for 6 years, Denis has been mastering and honing skills such as: UI/UX design, wireframing, prototyping, idea development, promotion, etc., thereby rising from an ordinary designer to a creative director of a design studio.

In parallel with his work, he was actively working on his own products – UI kits. Creating and selling digital assets seemed to be a very interesting and profitable business, thanks to which Denis realised that it was time to start his own business and work for himself.

This is how the process of creating Craftwork started - Denis' largest project in life so far. This is a great website with a huge number of digital products, including web and mobile UI kits, 3D illustrations, graphics, icons and more. An excellent resource for designers and startups who value the quality and speed of their work. Right now, Craftwork's team includes 9 people, where UI/UX designers, illustrators, developers, and other specialists are assembled.

Based on Craftwork's success, Denis decided to start a new project – Storytale. This is an illustration marketplace that was launched in 2021 with a catalog of almost 3,500 illustrations. But Denis doesn't want to stop there either:
“My dream is to develop a website builder that could become a leader in its segment. I have a clear vision and strategy for achieving this goal, but as with any high-quality product, it will take some time. Anyways, we'll definitely make it happen."
— Denis Shepovalov, @hellodeny
Despite his successes, Denis remains a rather self-critical person. Considering himself a good designer, he nevertheless admits that in terms of company management he still has room to grow and improve.

7. Dennis Mueller

Dennis Muller is the founder of Amie, an interactive productivity app. This young man stands out on our list for focusing all his attention, time and energy on one product.

Dennis is a prime example that teenagers can and should start working and earning money at a young age. At the age of 15, he started creating and developing various Facebook pages, growing the number of subscribers to 700,000 unique users, after which he monetized these pages and later sold them.

After 3 years, 18-year-old Dennis starts a freelance career as a Product Manager, working with agencies, corporations and startups. Along the way, learning programming and UI/UX design, he worked in two more companies, applying all the skills and knowledge that he had learned over 8 years of his career.

The turning point in his life was the idea and subsequent implementation of the productivity app called Amie. At the end of 2019, Dennis leaves his job and begins to devote himself entirely to a new project. Building a new startup always takes a lot of time and effort. As development progressed, the 23-year-old young man participated in meetings with potential investors pitching his idea. As a result, the startup was supported by a European early-stage VC firm called Creandum.

It should be noted that productivity is a highly competitive niche right now, but Dennis has always believed that his product can stand out from the crowd of other applications because, at its core, Amie is an improved version of many productivity applications. Plus, he applied some tricks from apps like WhatsApp, Spotify, and Tinder to make using the app as simple and fun as possible. Here are the strongest features of an app compared to others:

  • Focus on colleagues is stronger;
  • Advanced link sharing;
  • To-do with drag+drop function;
  • Personal CRM with notes, reminders and birthdays;
  • Spotify integration.
On March 19, 2022, Amie was finally launched. It became a Product of the Week on Product Hunt and seems to have a great potential.

At the moment, Dennis is recruiting people to further improve Amie. Already now he is called the next Daniel Ek (founder of Spotify) – well, let's just say that Dennis indeed set the stage for this.

6. Jan Losert

Jan Losert is a product designer from the Czech Republic who now lives and works in London. He has built a very good brand for himself by working full-time and having side projects (mainly focused on Webflow websites and UI kits).

Having started his career in 2012 as an Application & Web Designer in his native Prague, it took Jan only 11 months to move to another company for the position of Digital Art Director.

In 2013, Jan moved to London, accepting an offer for the position of Product Designer from the well-known company Badoo – the social network for meeting new people locally.

Having already fully settled in London, Jan again changes his place of work, which, as it turned out, will become a permanent one for him until now. Tapdaq company is an in-app advertising platform, where Jan works full-time creating cool stuff as a Lead Product Designer.

But our blog post is about entrepreneurship, right? Well, Jan proved that he has this entrepreneurial spirit when he released his Dashboard UI kit in 2017. The product became an absolute bestseller with more than 3700 purchases. Later on, Jan released a Dashboard design kit for React.

Also, an important moment in Jan's life was the collaboration with Webflow. The designer not only began using this platform to create websites, but also started to actively promote it. As a result, the specialist quickly became one of the most successful Webflow partners, entering the company's top three affiliates.

Jan has a whole course on building a website with Webflow. All his other products can be found here.

He attaches great importance to design in people's lives:
“I believe designers need to keep things simple and create beautiful and easy to use things which can be used by literally any human being, including your grandmother."
— Jan Losert, @janlosert
Jan is a good example of exception who don't have to quit their jobs to be successful in digital entrepreneurship. He has a good Youtube channel with more than 3,000+ subscribers, stunning Dribbble and Behance accounts, and he even manages to write articles from time to time.

5. Jim Raptis

Jim Raptis is a successful UI designer and software engineer from Greece.

When he was 14 years old, he started experimenting with Photoshop. Five years later, the hobby turned into a passion and Jim decided to start his career in graphic design as a freelancer.

After a while, Jim started devoting more time to UI/UX design and programming. During his 4 years career as a freelancer, this designer has consolidated his strengths, which as he claims are ReactJS development and UI design.

An important milestone in his life was the work on one of the largest projects in his life – the startup VisualEyes, which he co-founded with 3 friends in 2016.

The main goal of creating this startup is to provide visual information through AI for individuals or companies who want to optimize their presence on the Internet. In other words, VisualEyes is a predictive design tool that helps designers predict the distribution of attention within websites or applications. Among the famous companies that have used the tool are companies such as Airbnb, Microsoft, IBM, Mailchimp, Spotify, etc. Thanks to his work on VisualEyes, Jim gained a lot of experience, learned a lot about startups and the corporate world.

In addition to big startups, Jim creates interesting products from time to time, where among the latest: Brandbird – image editor that turns screenshots into cool graphics, MagicPattern – graphics generator for social media posts, The Launch Checklist – tips and hacks for launching a product on PH, Phigma – Figma templates for the preparation of Product Hunt launch, and more others.
“My ultimate goal is to create a multi-million SaaS company from the comfort of my living room."
— Jim Raptis, @d__raptis
Jim currently has nearly 12,000+ Twitter followers and is actively working on his SaaS products and UI design projects. Since 2019, he has been running his own blog, where he shares his knowledge and experience in such areas as design, product development, marketing, work-life balance lifestyle, and others.

4. Mackenzie Child

Mackenzie Child is an awesome designer, illustrator and creator of templates (mostly for Webflow). He has built his freelance business through creating various design assets, online courses, and side projects.

Mackenzie was always a design and side-projects enthusiast. Honing his web design skills during the 2013-2016 period while working in Precision Nutrition company, he then decided to move on by taking the role of a designer & illustrator in Podia. Podia is the platform where creative people and entrepreneurs can sell their digital stuff like templates, eBooks, worksheets, as well as webinars and online courses.

This was an amazing experience for him, as he worked really hard on different side projects, such as LOL Colors (a color palette for inspiration) for example.

Also, in 2017 Mackenzie released his UI/UX kit called Blocks Wireframing Kit for Sketch. Later on, he also launched the Wireframe & Userflow UI Kit.

It wasn't long before he started working with Webflow. Working with them has become very iconic because most of his products are now directly associated with this company. Mackenzie started releasing templates for Webflow, starting with a free product called Mac, and then releasing the Flowmingo course, where he gives lots of advices and explains in great detail all the nuances of creating projects on Webflow. Later, he released two commercial Webflow templates – Links and Telly. But the designer decided not to stop there either – he developed a utility framework for Webflow called Hatch, that has 2,000 ready-to-use classes so that building the pages is a much faster process.

Throughout this period, Mackenzie did not leave social networks, building up an audience and sharing his illustrations and work process with people. Some products appeared precisely after interaction with subscribers. For example, 2019 was a pretty active year for him as he launched several products, such as Happy Hues and Colorables.

Burnout? We guess Mackenzie doesn't know such a word! :) He created two tutorial courses on Youtube – No Code Membership Site and Adobe Illustrator Essentials. He also launched another side cool project in 2021 – Super Mega Pack, which is a powerful collection of everything you need to develop a Webflow site: color palettes, Google fonts, inspirational resources, courses from Webflow educational team, as well as different tutorials from the community.

What is especially captivating about Mackenzie is that despite his workload, he always does everything with a smile on his face, infecting other people with his enthusiasm. That is why on Youtube he has more than 68,000+ people, and on Instagram - almost 5,000+ followers. This young man deservedly occupies the 4th place on our list.

3. Tony Dinh

The three finalists is opened by a developer from Vietnam – Tony Dinh. He is 28, works full-time as an indie maker and has managed to create several awesome products. He is from that breed of humble but daring young developers who are not afraid to go free-floating, while achieving impressive results.

Starting his career in 2015 as a regular software developer in Vietnam, Tony has grown into a high-profile specialist in 4 years, gaining a position as a Senior Software Engineer at the Zendesk giant, which has 1,600 employees and 12 global offices and a $2.1 billion market cap.

Sounds like a dream job for a career, right? Well, Tony had a different mindset. Always having a dream of becoming an indie hacker, he worked at Zendesk for two years, after which he decided to make a bold move in his career and life in 2021.

Decision of quitting a job is always a stressful process. You have to be smart and strategic. That's why Tony shares some good advice on that:
“Before quitting my job, I made sure that I had enough money in my bank account for more than two years if I had no income for that period, a list of product ideas that I needed to implement, plan B if none if this works , and my family's and girlfriend's support."
— Tony Dinh, @tdinh_me
So far, Tony released 7 products, including Simple API Sheet, DriveStats.io, EmojiAI, DevUtils, but an absolute game changer for him was Black Magic and its subtools: Real Time Twitter Banner and Magic Sidebar. Black Magic is the Twitter Analytics product that shows you how your tweets perform, why you gain or lose followers, etc. In other words, Black Magic became a Twitter CRM and is an absolute leader in the developer's collection of products.

Right now, Tony is doing all right and he dreams of a small sustainable software business that could provide him and his family a good living.

2. Dan Rowden

Second place goes to Dan Rowden, famous designer and theme developer for the Ghost blogging platform. He has built an excellent career working on a contract basis, as well as developing SaaS products, some of which are Ghost themes, Gloat hosting service and many others. But first things first.

Dan has trained in product design, Java through online courses, and Media Engineering.

He started his career back in 2001 as a designer for a small clothing company. Later, he worked as a web developer in several companies, and as a result, Dan gained powerful experience by combining two positions. Having worked for almost 10 years in various companies like KAUST, Akvo and Articheck, Dan also managed to work for himself, developing interesting websites and products like Subsail, MagPile, etc.

Since 2020, he began to actively release products for the Ghost platform:

  • SuperThemes – Dan's personal marketplace where he sells Ghost themes;
  • Cove – a commenting and community platform built on top of Ghost's Memberships feature;
  • Aspire Themes – CMS themes for Ghost.

Also, Dan's recent interesting projects include products such as Tolta and Ilo. Tolta is the platform for analyzing and sharing social and sales data, like counters for Twitter followers, or Gumroad sales. It was acquired in 2021.

Releasing Ilo, Dan focused specifically on Twitter, providing the world with a tool for better understanding your Twitter account, which has all-round analytics regarding different Twitter data like tweets, followers, etc.

Dan is the author of the No More Mondays podcast, which focuses on building an indie business.

And before finishing his story here, some wisdom from Dan Rowden:
“Sell your time for money: you will work on someone else's project with instant, reliable cash. Work on your own project: a lot of time investing without knowing what the end result would be, but having the potential for future freedom. Do both."
— Dan Rowden, @dr
At the moment, Dan is moving towards the goal of having $10k of MRR.

1. Gal Shir

The leader of our today's list is Gal Shir – an artist from Tel Aviv, Israel. He specializes in illustrations, product design, motion design, as well as providing art direction and design consultation services for various brands and startups.

Having started his design journey at the age of 13 as a self-taught young man, he could not tear himself away from Photoshop and constantly developed small projects for his friends, their families, and later began collaborating with small businesses. Later on, when Gal found out that there are actual people who are willing to pay for his services, he decided to start a career in design.

Over time, the designer became very in demand, as a result of which, in 2016, he was hired by the insurance company Lemonade as a product designer. Gal's creativity eventually brought him to the position of the Art Director of the company.

Also, in 2016, he founded one of his most iconic projects, the Color Hunt website. What started out as a simple web page featuring a few basic color combinations has grown into one of the world's largest color scheme resources, with over 800,000 designers and artists inspired monthly.

After 3 years at Lemonade, Gal decided to go his own way and become a freelancer. As a result, his product list now includes two apps: Float (Layers animation) and Pose (Character guidelines), fantastic Toolkit (textures, patterns, line brushes and color palettes), and lots of other great stuff.

Also, in 2021 Gal started a new business in the NFT industry, releasing awesome collections. His stuff can be found here.

Recipe for success from Gal:
“It seems to me that there are no unattainable skills, it is just important to persevere on the path to improvement. If you practice every day, doing at least small tasks, you can make huge progress."
— Gal Shir, @thegalshir
As of now, Gal Shir continues to rise in popularity and is one of the most inspiring digital artists for many people around the world. He has created a great foundation of products that bring him a steady income, and considers the community that he has managed to grow thanks to his Instagram (704,000+ followers) and YouTube channel (660,000+ subscribers) one of the biggest achievements in his life.
We hope that you liked this article and stoked with a positive charge of emotions. We sincerely believe that anyone can launch his/her own startup or work on side projects. Our task is to contribute and help people with this.

If you want to stay up-to-date or receive interesting content, subscribe to our mailing list below. We have a Youtube channel, as well as Dribbble, Behance, Medium, Reddit, so feel free to give us a visit.

Also, don't forget to check out our homepage at Setproduct, where you can get Figma templates for your next project. And consider using our design systems and UI kits - they will save you tons of time and effort when working in Figma.

Keep creating cool stuff! We'll see you soon.
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