Is the indie maker movement a counter-culture to startup bullsh*t?

Published on Feb 13, 2019

This question formed slowly over a dinner conversation with a friend. I was asked what are indie makers are. And at first I said things like, "Oh it's like indie bands, but for making products." The idea is there but not quite there yet. Then after using a lot of words to explain what indie makers are, I said something about it being counter movement to startups. That stuck. 


Perhaps the sexy narrative of the startup as the disruptive, curve-jumping, innovative superhero of the business world is getting kind of tired and suspicious. "Move fast and break things"? Look to Facebook and see where that's gotten us. I can almost hear an indie maker speaking and this dialogue play out:


Work in stealth mode till I release my world-changing startup into the wild? I prefer to livestream my work transparently in public, and show progress and engage my audience.


Raise venture capital to scale fast towards a billion dollar valuation (but still don't turn profit)? Fun, but I'd rather raise capital from my customers and be profitable from day one. 


Growth at all costs and hire like crazy? Nah, I'd rather start a company of one (or a small team). I love making more than managing.


A massive, Disneyland of an office with never-ending food and sleep pods to make you work longer and longer hours? Nope, I love working remotely from cafes, in Bali. The coffee tastes better, the surf is near, I'm location-independent and I want to enjoy my life outside work.


Give the product for free and figure out how to sell my users' data later? No thanks, I'll just provide real value that customers are willing to pay for, and be transparent to my customers how their data is used. 


Of course, not all startups are bad and not all indie makers conform to the above. I can imagine in certain specific context or markets, it makes sense to raise venture capital, growth fast etc etc. 


I just wonder how much of this trend is inspired by what people saw as unwholesome in the startup scene and hence responded in contrary to it.  If that's true, that's not a bad thing isn't it?