A serial maker talks about her experience building solo

Published on
April 29th, 2022
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Alyssa X has over 6,000 upvotes across her 8 launches, and Animockup 2.0 got her a Maker Grant back in November of last year.
If you’re a regular on Product Hunt, chances are you might’ve seen this serial maker around.
Animockup 2.0 is a web-based tool that helps you create animated mockups for your product teasers. You can add gradient backgrounds, browse through 20+ mockups, customize the export settings, and much more.
I sat down with Alyssa to talk about product inspiration, building solo, and finding motivation while bootstrapping.
How did you get into development and building your own products?
As a kid I was very fascinated with the idea of inventing something, just coming up with an idea and bringing it to life. I’ve always been a pretty creative person, thinking about all sorts of games, software, movies, art, animation, and even music I could make. Instead of just letting it wander in my head, I would actually try to learn and research how I could make it real.
I quickly realized code was a pretty powerful tool, which allowed me to build pretty much anything I wanted. I started learning to develop by watching videos, reading all sorts of articles, and mostly just figuring things out as I went. At first, I mostly used it for fun, as a bit of a hobby, but eventually, I got more interested in creating things to solve problems and actually make an impact.
The first real product I built that I can recall was a task management app. Back in high school, I hated homework, so I was always trying to optimize ways to make sure I could get it done as efficiently as possible to spend time on my own things. So I developed a web app that would plan things out for me, keep track of what I had done, and even get a better view of my workload with a Gantt chart. Some people asked to use it as well since they found it useful, and that inspired me to create products not just for me but for others.
What inspired you to build Animockup? What about your other launches?
Whenever I launch a new product, one of the most tedious things I have to do is create a video to showcase it. There are a few ways to do it. Personally, I tend to record the screen and use a mix of Figma and After Effects to make it look fancy with a mockup.
That said, I felt the process could be more simple, so I decided to build a tool that would automatically place a screen recording within a device, and export that as a video. That eventually became Animockup, and I kept adding new features to support text, images, gradients, and even creating all sorts of transitions to make the videos more custom and complex.
For my other products, my inspiration comes in a variety of ways. Usually, it’s just because of a problem I want to solve, or a process I want to optimize, but sometimes I just get creative and try completely different things.
For example, one approach I’ve used is to try mixing two random concepts or products together, like with Mapus by combining Figma and Google Maps. Another one is just simply improving on existing products, or making them more widely available, which is what I did with Screenity after I saw most other screen recording tools were either paid or quite limited.
Other times, it’s purely for my own enjoyment. I happen to be a lover of horror movies for instance, but I absolutely hate jumpscares, so I decided to create Jumpskip to mute or skip them for me automatically, so I could watch them without the constant anxiety.
How much time do you usually spend building something before deciding to launch?
When I first started building products, I was very much a perfectionist. I think once I spent over a year working on a product, only for it to flop right on launch, which really disappointed me. I realized it is better to get things out quickly than to spend ages taking care of all the small details. You can always add things later anyway, based on feedback.
This is why these days I try to develop things for around 1-3 months at most before releasing them and on some rare occasions even just a week or two. I make sure to have a solid plan beforehand in Notion with a list of tasks, only the ones necessary for building an MVP, and then set deadlines for myself. Sometimes the products are successful, other times they’re not, so it’s better not to spend too long and try to get the products in front of users as soon as possible.
Still, sometimes I get frustrated when I look at other products, with vast amounts of complexity, features, and a lot of attention to detail. I try to remind myself I’m just a solo indie maker, working only in my free time since I have a full-time job. Companies have plenty of resources, funding, and entire teams, so it only makes sense they could afford to spend longer crafting the perfect product.
What’s the biggest challenge about building everything on your own?
I think the main challenge for me is that you sort of need to know and be good at everything, basically wear many hats. In order to build products you need a large skillset, not just knowing how to design and develop, but also be knowledgeable in things like marketing, product planning, user and market research, knowing how to handle support for user problems and requests, or even things like accounting for handling tax and other money-related matters.
Over the years I’ve tried to invest more time in learning about all those things, but the reality is that it’s almost impossible to know it all. I find that it’s best to focus on my strengths and just look up or ask for help with the parts that I find more challenging.
What about the biggest reward?
One of the greatest feelings when building products is when I finally release them and get them in front of people.
Launch day is always an exciting one, with lots of activity and people who give very supportive and encouraging comments, so it’s something I always look forward to, probably my favorite part of the whole process.
As a solo maker, it’s really rewarding to see the impact my products have on people, by simply being useful and solving a specific problem, or even inspiring others to build their own creations. It is hard work, but I think ultimately it is really worth it.
You’ve seen a ton of success with your launches, including getting #1 Product of the Day and #3 Product of the Week. What do you think contributed to that?
It’s not easy. I’d like to say that it’s just a combination of good planning and dedication, but the truth is, with launches, there are a lot of factors in play, many of which are out of your control. I personally have a big Twitter audience that I’ve been growing over the years, as well as a newsletter that I started a few months back, sharing my whole process, so it’s really helped me get more visibility for my products in that regard. That’s a big advantage, and a privilege most other makers don’t have, but it’s largely what I think contributed to my success.
That said, it’s not the whole picture. Being active in communities, networking, planning everything well in advance, scheduling it all (I’ve had terrible experiences trying to do things last minute on the same day), letting people know when you’re launching, and generally just making sure your product looks appealing to people goes a long way. Sometimes I spend days trying to come up with the right wording to use, the right imagery, videos, and how to market the products correctly. It’s a lot, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I’d rather spend the extra time preparing for the launch than not bother at all and have wasted months developing a product that nobody is going to see.
Why bootstrapping? Have you ever considered going the venture-raise route?
It’s a good question. I have been asked on numerous occasions by VCs and founders to raise money for certain products of mine, such as Sonuum (which is currently on standby), or Screenity, which has over 90K users and keeps on growing. The problem I have with it is that I don’t particularly enjoy working on the same product all the time. I love coming up with new ideas, and experimenting with different concepts, that’s the fun part of making products for me.
Ultimately if I found a way to keep doing what I love but be backed by it I would probably go for it. Bootstrapping is very freeing and fun, but it is not financially sustainable for me and it is currently something I can only do on weekends or during my free time. As a matter of fact, I’ve had to stop working on fully free and open source projects for a while since I’ve been trying to build full-time, but it takes time to be profitable, and doing it on your own doesn’t really give you a lot of stability.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring makers?
From what I’ve seen, one of the biggest hurdles makers tend to have is actually managing to ship something. Far too many people get stuck in the process or are daunted because they don’t know how to get started, or don’t know if they’re using the right tools at all. My advice would be to just build, experiment, and get things out there for the world to see, that’s the only way to grow and get better.
Comments (9)
Devan Velji
Igor Kim
Founder & CEO at Ptolemay
The road is made by walking. Thanks for Screenity! If you ever had a great idea and no time to execute it - me and my remote product team would be glad to help ;)
Naya Moss
Creative Technologist
I've been a long time fan! 😊 @alyssaxuu would you be open to sharing your list of tasks before/while building?
Charu Veluthoor
Content & Outreach @Aviyel
@alyssaxuu @nayamoss YES PLEASE!
Izuorah Dubem
I love building awesome things
Wow, great post, Thanks for sharing @alyssaxuu
Moshe Howell
I am humble and polite
I've always been inspired by stories of people who have overcome challenges to achieve their dreams. My parents taught me that anything is possible if you're willing to work hard enough for it. That's why when I saw Alyssa X's story about how she built her company solo while living on her own after graduating college, it resonated with me so much. I would suggest individuals like me to find here some more essays on inspirations. It made me realize that people like us can do whatever we set our minds to if we put our heads down and get things done!