The New American Micro-SaaS Dream
Raise millions of dollars from Venture Capitalists, rent a fancy office in San Francisco, hire an expensive team of "superheroes," and get valued, on paper, as a "unicorn."
The glamorous VC-funded startup life is usually accompanied by high-stress days with fully-booked calendars, a constant pressure to grow revenue faster than ever, long evenings at the office, little sleep, and not seeing your kids for days.
But the Silicon Valley narrative of startup success is changing.
Some founders don't want millions in funding to chaise the fame. Instead, they want to bootstrap with minimum expenses and keep company to themselves. They want to concentrate on profit from day one. They just want to pay their bills and have the freedom to plan their schedule each week to work on the things they want.
I call them "microfounders" and they're living The New American Micro-SaaS Dream.
Reilly Chase is 28 years old microfounder. His startup is doing $1M in annual recurring revenue, or $83,333 per month. He owns a small house in a small town in Michigan with his fiancee and a few dogs. Reilly bought the house in cash. He has no debt and only a few bills to pay each month.
"We've got 10 acres of land, a few dogs. We're taking care of some puppies and kittens right now until we find homes for them. We like to drive around in the woods on ATVs, have huge bonfires, barbecue, swim in our pool, and work on projects around the house. We're living the New American Dream™."Reilly Chase ☁️☁️☁️
His startup is making money while he sleeps and Reilly never has to wake up to an alarm clock. He spends time reading books, writing code, and researching things that he finds interesting. Not to make even more money, but because it's fun.
Enjoying the process
During the early days of lockdown, Herman Martinus' girlfriend got deep into gardening.
"She would spend hours nurturing her tomato plants, weeding, watering, puttering about. She would spend afternoons reading articles on permaculture, figuring out which plants grew well alongside other plants."Herman Martinus
While yes, you can eat the tomato when it's ready, but obviously, it's not about eating a tomato here. It's about the enjoyment that the creative process brings. You're not playing a music piece on a piano to reach the end as quickly as possible.
"That’s what I want from my products. I want to putter about, feel connected to the process, and have fun doing so. I want to make things that don’t scale. To see people tuck into them and enjoy them as people, not as stats."Herman Martinus
Microfounders like Herman are not looking for The Next Big Valuation or The Grand Exit. Instead, they want to enjoy spending time in their digital garden.
When there's no constant pressure to grow the revenue faster and faster as with VC-backed startups and it's rather about the process and not the end goal, this lets microfounders be deliberately slow.
"I work slowly. I don’t subscribe to the ideas of “rapid iteration” and I don’t think you should “fail fast”. Instead, I try to work at a slow but steady pace. I try to make sure I get closer to my goals every day, without burning out on the way to get there."Jakob Egger
Jakob Egger is working on Postico – a PostgreSQL client for Mac. As his monthly income is not directly dependent on how many hours he puts into the product, he can choose how many hours to work.
PostgreSQL is an absurdly powerful database, but there's no reason why using it should require an advanced degree in relational theory. Postico provides an easy to use interface, making Postgres more accessible for newcomers and specialists alike.
"Currently I work about 20 hours a week. I take my two boys to daycare at eight, and pick them up at noon. This gives me four hours of uninterrupted work time, five days a week."Jakob Egger
But this doesn't necessarily mean that microfounders work less – although they sometimes do – they work smarter. Jakob says that there's a nice side effect of working slowly – you have a lot of time to think about things you're doing and come up with even more elegant solutions.
"When you’re banging out code 10 hours per day, you won’t have time to reconsider any of the dozens of decisions you made that day."Jakob Egger
More time to live
Not spending 12h per day in the office, microfounders have more time to live their life outside of work. While they do enjoy working on their products and cultivating their digital garden, they know that unbalanced life can lead to unfulfilling life and burnout.
As their monthly income doesn't directly depend on the hours they put into their startup, they can live their life more flexibly, having more time for hobbies, working on art or being with their family.
Everyone can be a microfounder
It is possible for a solo developer to build a small and profitable internet startup to pay the bills and live life on their own terms.