I’m a web app developer and I love doing what I do. I code in a language that seems highly frowned upon, yet is one of the most powerful and used languages on the Internet. It is so powerful that it makes up about 80% of the backend code on the Internet. I have even made a few hundred dollars creating small apps as a SaaS (software as a service). However, when it comes to being the competition or the alternative, the giants will always win.
By giants, I mean services like Google, Dropbox, Github, and even Medium.com. Nothing I have created hasn’t been done before — and maybe that is my fault, but oftentimes I find myself trying to solve my own pain points, using other applications to do it, only to find that something within those apps is missing — that or the fact that I’m too cheap and would just prefer to create an alternative version of the product so I can use it for free — and then charge others a cheaper price — becoming the alternative and the competition.
Every time I release a new app, however, it often receives several different types of responses. They go something like this:
If the crickets aren’t out, than I usually get a few people signing up and trying the service. I have had a few successful launches in the past, including MyPost, Call Me Private, and Text Privately which have acquired a few individual users and some businesses. It has been great to have a few consistent signups paying me every month, but it has not been enough to quit my day job, so I have continued my projects anyway, creating new useful tools.
Recently, I created a WordPress Managed Hosting solution called WP Bubble. This is a hosting solution ahead of its time and is unique in the fact that it does what no other host does: it has a list of features which were born out of the complaints and suggestions of so many web developers who were hosting their websites on other WordPress Managed hosts. It automates the entire process of being a web developer and webmaster, meaning you can setup your clients on WP Bubble and never have to worry about updating their websites again, as it does it automatically.
The launch wasn’t as successful as I hoped, but I managed to acquire an investor in the product, who is hosting their website with WP Bubble and they pay me slightly more than what I charge for the product in their own hopes to continue supporting a good product — and a few customers — two who churned within a day or two — trials of the product — and a third who left and returned a month later, and is actually using the product to create a few websites of his own.
The most recent product I released is called BinCDN, which is an image and file hosting solution with a very fast CDN. The most prominent features include an easy comment system, tracking of geometrics on clicks, and the ability to set a password before anyone can view the file. The CDN is also enhanced with Cloudflare to keep my bandwidth costs very low — security high— and the speed of the downloading of the file very fast. The launch wasn’t big at all, as I only released it in one or two areas, and the only response I received was:
What makes this product different from Google Drive or Dropbox?
This question is what prompted me to write this article. I had to ponder: everything my product does, Dropbox and Google Drive already do. So what makes my products different? I could certainly come up with many different technical reasons — and Google and Dropbox will match every single one of them.
What makes me different or what makes my product different? I’m not a million or billion dollar company, but I do pride myself on the privacy and security of my products. I do pride myself on the fact that I personally took the time to research a design for a product, spent hours upon hours writing out a plan for my product, and had complete personal say in how my product looks, what it does, how it functions, and the fact that it is personally supported by me. Best of all, I pride myself on the fact that I actually wrote the code for my product and don’t need to seek approval from anyone else about my product or go through a long review process, only to have my changes or ideas rejected by someone “higher up” telling me that my code isn’t good enough.
Most of my products released are not free. I used to release them for free and keep them free for as long as I could support them — what would end up happening, I’d lose interest, no longer support them, and they would die out. Now that I have monetized them, they have a longer chance for survival and I care enough about them to continue supporting them when I know others will support them too.
What happens when Google decides to discontinue a product that a few people find useful and are using? What if Dropbox decided one day that it was going start charging more for everyone, as Photobucket once did? What if Facebook or Twitter decided to filter and ban people for their freedom of speech, as they often do? They have every right — they are offering it for free — and you really have no say, especially when it comes to your data.
What happens when you are paying for and supporting my small products? My small business? I’m more likely to continue supporting it and supporting you because I really do care about you, as an indivudal. I care about your small business. I care about your large business. I care that you are using my products. I can develop them to the standards of my users and my product is small enough that I care enough about making those changes and catering to the demands that my customers need my products to do for them.
Personally and professionally, I’m not collecting or keeping and selling any data to third-parties about you. The less I have — the better. Despite the fact that both Dropbox and Google give away most of their products for free for a time, they still sell you on the large plans — and then sell your data on top of that. Double whammy, don’t you think?
And no one seems to care what happens with their files or their data, but it became a fact of life — that your information — habits, lifestyle, likes, dislikes, loves, hates, friends data, family data — is literally available and being sold to the highest bidders, all for money and the advertising industry. Sure, your data is sitting in some top notch secured warehouse, but so are my projects as well, as I spin the servers up using Vultr as my primary hosting solution for all projects I start.
I have had a few of my customers ask about the security and protection of their data — before I even began building products, I learned about SHA-256 and Hash encryption methods and a lot about securing data and keeping it protected and private — so that not even I could pry through it. While smaller companies might get hacked, larger companies, such as Google and Facebook, are under constant attack and often fail to report that they were ever hacked — losing millions of customers’ data to hackers every year.
While they claim to care about your data — and they sure do — and even have programs that pay people to report their bugs to them — the fact is: they are too large to really care about you personally. And sure, they do care about you — as long as you don’t try to sue them because they have so many lawyers protecting them, you’ll have years of court to go through just to get anywhere.
With my own business practices and the size of my company and customers: I cannot actually afford NOT TO CARE. Let me repeat that: I CANNOT afford NOT TO CARE about you and your business. I care enough about you to try and answer every email, every live chat that is opened, and respond to you personally to take care of your problem within a timely manner. I may not get it right every time, but I’m personally there to help. I’ve had a product not cancel a subscription and charge a user for an extra month — and I’ve happily refunded my former customer without incident, without question, and without issue. I have not hired other people because I am too small to afford anyone else, so I personally am the web developer, the app developer, the tech support, the salesperson, the marketer, and everything in the company.
There is another thing: I’m not Walmart, I’m not Amazon — great big companies that I buy things from — and I’m not a big business. I even barter with other small businesses to use their products and allow them to use mine, all so we can save ourselves from having to pay cash or credit to each other. I’m still a small business and I support other small businesses. Tell me all about the large businesses that are supporting you — sure, you can get products for cheap and in bulk — and that is a great way to support your business, but as a small business owner, who is buying your products and how can you even compete with the likeness of Amazon or Walmart brands?
— Or any of the other brands out there? Believe it or not: these are pretty much the top companies that own everything you and everyone else will ever buy — to them, you’re not really competition, and you barely exist, and they are truly after putting you out of business and wouldn’t hesitate to do so. The biggest corporations are notorious for buying smaller companies and oblierating their operations so they can remain the only ones without competition.
Don’t hate them too much — it’s the way of the world, and they aren’t going anywhere. They will all be here long after our great grandchildren pass away, and this is mainly just the companies that deal with food.
I don’t make enough from my products to quit my day job. It is my dream and the dream of many Indie Hackers to no longer have to work at their day jobs, but rather focus on their passions, but it is still not — and is a long ways away from my reality. I’m a “local online business” that is trying to make a living from my products. I have yet to resort to selling my body for sex or science. I’m pretty sure science will accept me.
I did slave labor for a very long time in my teenage years and for almost half of my twenties, and for a short time in my thirties. In fact, I’m still doing slave labor, but it is more mental than physical nowadays. I go to work and I code for nearly 8 hours a day. I come home and despite being mentally exhausted, I work on my products, coding for at least another 4 hours. I have bills to pay, rent that is due every month, and food that my body requires. I have taxes to pay. I don’t live a luxurious lifestyle at all, though sometimes I do dream about waking up and being on a wonderful cruise.
If you build it — they won’t come. If you advertise it — they might come. If you keep pushing it — they might use it. If you find it valuable — they might see the value in it. If you charge for it — they might pay for it. If you talk about it or blog about it, eventually, SEO might help you get discovered, and you might get a few interested people who will sign up, and maybe you will get lucky enough to get a few paying customers who like your products and don’t mind paying you their own hard earned money to solve their own pains and problems.
Regardless of being the competition or used as an alternative, I have never given up on my talent, I don’t consider anything a failure — because I built my products for me first and foremost. I use most of my products every single day. As long as they are useful to me, how can they actually be a failure? I then monetize them for others to use. I try to spread the word with my story telling skills or the little funding I have to try and hire others on Fiverr to help me.
So hopefully I’ve answered the question “What makes this different than Google Drive or Dropbox?” I’m just me, a human being, an individual trying to make it in this world. I enjoy programming. I enjoy creating products. I enjoy when others use my products and actually pay the little money I need to keep funding them and my future endeavors. I don’t have to answer to any stockholders or sell your data to companies to become the most profitable company in the world.
Yes, I would love to be the next Google, Facebook, Apple, or even Dropbox, but I already know it’s not going to happen, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have the intelligence of a hundred programmers. I have the intelligence of just one. What I do know is that I continue programming and solving my own pains and sharing my products with the world in hopes that maybe somewhere out there, one of you will have the same exact pain as me — love my product, use my product, and even pay me for my product. So all of the giants may be my competition, but my products are still an alternative.
Image Sources: Google