Tony Dinh on what he’s learned as an indie developer

Published on
October 15th, 2021
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"I believe every product – no matter how complicated – can be simplified into an MVP we can build within a week."
Tony Dinh is one of the newest recipients of our monthly Maker Grants! We connected digitally so I could learn more about his journey and approach to building projects like Twitter Real-time Banner, which earned him one of our $5K grants. 👏
Hi Tony! Can you tell me a little bit about your background? You quit your job to become an indie maker. Tell me more about what went into that decision?
Hello everyone, I'm Tony, and I am a typical, average software engineer. I have worked in the industry for 7+ years in various areas: frontend, backend, mobile apps, etc.
I have always wanted to become an indie hacker. During my 7 years of employment, I always had some side projects to work on. It's a great avenue for me to tinker with new technologies and create new products I want to use.
I started to feel strongly about committing to going full-time indie hacking around when COVID started. With a lot more free time by not having to commute to work, I created a few products in my old list of project ideas. One of them (DevUtils) started to make some revenue and finally gave me hope to become a full-time indie hacker.
To prepare for the decision to quit my job, I ensured that I have had enough savings for 2+ years without any income, a list full of potential ideas to work on, some backup plans in case none of it works, and the support from my girlfriend and family.
It's a stressful, lengthy process, but I'm glad I have finally made the decision. It has been going great so far!
You've launched many products on Product Hunt! 🙌 What have you learned from your first launch to this most recent one?
I have launched 5 products on Product Hunt so far. Last year, I launched DevUtils. I was totally unprepared.
Back then, I was using Product Hunt as "just another website to spam your app". It was a mistake and a huge waste of opportunity!
My post was poorly formatted, I didn't have any audience, the images were ugly, and I literally wrote and posted the whole thing in like 5 minutes.
The launch got to 3rd Product of the Day by pure luck. I think maybe the app was good, but I certainly could have done much better with the launch if I was well prepared.
In my next 3 launches with 3 products, I have slowly learned to improve my launch from time to time:
  • Build an audience
  • Make the Product Hunt launch a special day
  • Prepare good copy and design materials for the launch
  • Warm up the launch by letting your beta users, audience, friends, and family know about it
  • On the launch day, announce it on your website, newsletter, messages, social media, etc.
  • Answer every comment and feedback on the launch post
  • etc.
I'm sure there are many more ways you can improve your Product Hunt launch, but those are the things I've learned the most from my own experience.
My latest launch Twitter Real-time Banner finally reached 1st Product of the Day with 1,246 votes and #4 Product of the Week.
How long have you been building in public now? How has that affected you as a maker and your projects?
I started building in public at the same time when I got on Twitter, around April 2021.
I think building in public is a great way to share your progress, grow your audience, and help other makers who are looking to learn from it.
Many people are building in public these days (Yongfook building BannerBear, Paul building Copy AI, etc.). I learned and was inspired a lot from them. That's why I decided to do the same.
However, building in public has its pros and cons. Sharing revenue publicly means other people see it as a proven product. It attracts copycats though. It can be very annoying but most of them can be ignored (although I did have to contact and report a case of word-for-word, blatant infringement once).
Do you have an approach for what and how you share?
I share as much as I can, mostly via tweets, interviews, podcasts.
Recently, I started a newsletter where I share my updates monthly while building in public.
This is still not the "final form" of building in public. I follow Daniel Vassallo and was inspired by his way of sharing: he shares all of his profit and loss every month. I plan to do the same thing too! 😄
If I were to take a guess, I say would Twitter Real-Time Banner and Black Magic probably evolved out of needing a tool yourself! 😊 Is that accurate?
That's 100% right!
The first thing I built for Black Magic was the Profile Progress Bar. I built it to track and celebrate my 1,000 followers milestone. It's to keep me accountable and also fun to watch. Many people like the idea, so I made it into a SaaS.
The Real-time Banner is another experiment. I wanted something fun and interactive to play with my followers. So I used Twitter API to show the last 3 followers' profile picture on my banner. It went viral and I gained 4,000+ followers in less than 48 hours. It was fun!
Tony's current Twitter profile
Tony's current Twitter profile
Let's "talk" a little bit about accountability. Was that something you struggled with more when you became a full-time indie-hacker?
It's easy to get demotivated when working on your own projects/ideas, especially when it's an unproven one. I struggled with it too.
The way I do it now is to have an MVP and recruit beta users as early as possible, ideally within a week or so. I believe every product – no matter how complicated – can be simplified into an MVP we can build within a week.
Having early users and feedback is very important, and it's my primary source of motivation when I build a new product.
You don't need thousands of followers to find early users. They could be your friends, family, coworkers, or someone you know who has the problem your product solves (my first customer was from Hacker News!). Yourself counts too!
What does your ideation process look like — how do you decide which projects to put your time into?
I find and buy domains.
Just kidding. If I do that every time I have a project idea, I would have gone bankrupt 😂.
My ideas are all around my own problems and pain points. Whenever I feel like something could be solved with a product and does not yet exist, I put them in my list.
Over time, if I experience the problem again, and it reminds me of the product I have in my list, I will move it up to the list, to increase its priority. (ok, I don't actually move, but I keep track of it implicitly in my mind 😂).
Then at some point, I feel like I really need it, and no matter if anyone else needs it or not, I still need it, and I want to build it.
That's my main way of selecting ideas. It has pros and cons, but it has served me well. I'm always working on 2-3 projects simultaneously and have a list of 5-10 other "to-do" projects in my list.
What do you want to share about what you are working on right now?
I have a long list of things to add to the Real-time banner, mostly contributed by my users. Things like: MRR chart, current playing Spotify songs, last read books on Goodreads, tweet impression charts, NFTs, etc. I will get to them one by one.
The next big thing I want to add to Black Magic is another Twitter tool that I cannot find out there. It's a completely brand new idea and new tool, and it's related to the analytics and audience building area.
If you are an influencer or want to grow an audience on Twitter, it will help you a lot. I can't share all the details here yet, if you want to be notified, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter. I will make an announcement there 😄.
Comments (5)
Glenn McWhinney
I'm a new customer of Black Magic and with it, Tony has really shown how a micro-SaaS product, when made well, can create not only an income but a viable business that has real growth potential. As Tony mentioned above, just look at Bannerbear and as 2 other awesome examples of what's possible - we should all be inspired by them and set about creating our next product!
Bruno Raljić
Tony is making awesome progress and it's a joy to watch him deliver cool things that got some traction in the tech Twitter
Andrew I. Kim
This dude is killing it, never knew he had 7+ years of engineering experience, makes a lot of sense