The Dawn of The Indie Maker

Armed with a laptop, an internet connection, open source tech, and a handful of digital tools, today’s solo makers are making a global impact.

Indie makers (left) and the traditional model of employment (right). Paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky.

The likes of Pieter Levels (Nomad List), Dong Nguyen (Flappy Bird), Allen Courtland (Indie Hackers) are launching products that traditionally took dozens of people and vast sums of investment money.

More and more people are becoming indie makers. Indie Hackers lists people earning from $150 to $125,000 per month, in industries varying from tech, jewellery, weddings, you name it. The indie maker movement has sparked. But, will it ignite the whole world?

A hippie dream for a few lucky millennials ☮️

Naysayers might say that the indie maker movement is just a fad, that this is not for everyone and only a few lucky ones can make it, that individuals can’t compete against companies, that humans are innately social beings and need colleagues to feel motivated, that all this is just utopian thinking.

Here I’ll propose some counterpoints and give some predictions of the future.

Just a fad

An excessive use of emojis 👀 by this generation of indie makers is probably just a fad. Perhaps the buzzword “indie makers” feels like a false claim to have invented some completely new way of working. I’m sure people with the indie maker mindset existed for centuries. Da Vinci could probably be described as an indie maker.

Buzzwords are valuable. They create a hashtag for people to gather around. Da Vinci — being the original hipster indie maker that he is — would have benefitted from Twitter and a buzzword to connect with similar makers.

Best left to a lucky few

Talent is nonsense. Time is a serious limitation.

The poster-child of millennial indie maker demigods.

Not everyone can easily become an indie maker due to their financial situation. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, getting into a survivorship-biased Elon Musk “never giving up” mind-frame isn’t gonna help.

Jeff Bezos starting Amazon in 1999. A typical #successporn motivator you’ll see on the internet. Not pictured: The millions of dollars he already had in the bank at the time of this photo.

A lot of indie makers don’t have children or mortgages, and this makes things much easier. No doubt people need realistic dreams and good plans. Most of the hyper-successful indie maker millennials can seem like demigods.

Luck —as with anything else in life — is an unfair requirement for those trying to make it as indie makers. People working 9–5 for “the man” need to be shown compassion. They are likely the last generation that has to spend Monday to Friday in colourful hamster cages moving charts up and to the right for someone else.

Having said that, if one can wiggle out some free time, learn to be self-disciplined and with realistic goals in mind, one can place themselves in a position where a stream of good fortune can blow in just the right direction.

Individuals can’t compete against companies

Taking mega-corps, like Google, Amazon and Facebook, out of the equation, individuals certainly can compete with entire companies.

In the book MAKE, Pieter Levels talks about outcompeting entire VC funded startups with over 30 people including marketers, designers, and developers. He cites efficiency as his biggest competitive advantage.

“By the time they organise a meeting, I’ve already fixed all bugs that have been reported that morning. I’m coding them out of the race.” — Pieter Levels

Undoubtedly cool but beside the point.

When video games Fez and Minecraft launched, they won various awards for games of that year, rubbing shoulders with conglomerates like Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft.

As you might guess individuals competing with large companies is the exception, not the norm. It may become less unusual in the future, but this isn’t that important. It misses the point entirely.

Indie makers aren’t driven to destroy other companies. They’re driven to become financially independent doing meaningful work. The end game is living life, loving, reading, playing, learning, interacting, socialising, meditating.

The point isn’t kicking old-world establishment butt — although I’ll admit, that would be hugely entertaining.

People need to work in a group to feel driven

Yes and no.

Unless you happen to enjoy a hermit’s life you’ll quickly become depressed if you close yourself off from the world — something you can totally do, or slip into, if you’re an indie maker. The problem is that we’ve been conditioned out of being self-driven. Starting from the agricultural revolution 14,000 years ago to today, we’ve had nothing but “you, be here at this time, do these tasks with these people, and at this time go home.” From birth to death we are institutionalised. But institution brought social interaction and routine.

The little freedom that miraculously appeared was savoured by filling up our batteries and indulging in comfort. Those disciplined enough usually have no idea how to structure their new life. Like a caged bird released into nature clumsily flapping its wings, we also need to learn how to be free.

Spending less time working in a group will make most people better at working with others. In fact, the larger the company you’re in, the more specialised people’s roles become, alienating them from their work.

Marx argued that over-specialisation would lead to alienation. As a successful indie maker the opposite is true. You get to see the full fruits of your labour.

Collaboration > Work

Indie makers aren’t condemned to a life of solitude. In fact, they can enjoy a more authentic kind of work with others.

Work becomes collaboration, the latter being more authentic and fulfilling. And as we’ve seen from the open source movement, large contributions to society can be made without the premise of “submit to labour or starve”. Think Linux and Wikipedia.

A utopian dream

The 8-hour work week was a utopian dream for peasants ploughing the fields day and night for the prosperity of their feudal lords.

Making enough money to pay bills and leave some for rainy days with your own internet product is something most people can achieve these days. But it’s not easy. As mentioned, the biggest problem is enough spare time.


Now, let’s take a look what we might see in the next few years.

Image credits

Working less will propel indie makers into mainstream

Pilot studies of universal basic income in Finland and experiments with 6-hour work days in Sweden are starting a small snowball movement allowing people to works less.

It has been over 100 years since workers won the right to “only” work 40 hours per week. It’ll take another social movement to enable a 20–30 hour work week, or universal basic income. If it happens, expect the maker movement to explode.

Aspiring indie makers will cut their full-time working hours

Many that are in a position to cut working hours now — even if that means a salary cut — will do so in order to spend time spinning off projects of their own. We’re likely a long way away from 6 hour work weeks and UBI, but that won’t deter people from starting now.

A polarised world

As automation increases, the world will likely polarise into two extremes: mega corps and solo makers. The only other sizeable population being a class of serfs slaving away for their feudal Uber and Airbnb lords under the banner of “be your own boss” (no insurance and you have to do your own taxes).

“Open source fallback” wills

As indie makers deliver more business-critical products, they’ll be under pressure to provide a fallback strategy for their single source of failure — their life. A maker can get around this concern by incorporating a fallback strategy as part of their offering.

“If I get hit by a bus, my work shall be open sourced, and all your data will be handed to you via an automated email.” Whole industries may be formed around making this safe and easy.

Creative and open-source collaboration

With life costs paid for by a successful suite of side projects, indie makers now have freedom to tackle things that there was simply no time for in the past. Meditation retreats, sailing voyages, art classes become a regular possibility.

Similarly, Wikipedia, Github, Stackoverflow, Quora, Goodreads and others would see an army of new contributors. Libraries and community hubs would see a renaissance unthought of just years earlier.

Painting by Leonid Afremov

The indie maker movement is under way. It’s unknown how big an impact it will make to society. Improved tools, automation and a few small turn of political events could ignite a new worker’s movement that we haven’t seen since the beginning of the 8-hour work day.

Dreamer-upper of digital products.