The Bootstrapped Founder

My guest today, Pieter Levels, claims that "Indie Hacking is dead." Yet, Pieter runs several indie AI startups (and a few traditional ones), totaling  $250,000 in revenue every month. So, how can he be a successful indie hacker while dismissing the foundations of his work?

It turns out that Indie Hacking is very much alive. But it has changed significantly. And Pieter has been there from the early days.

Today, Pieter and I talk about what it means to be an Indie Hacker in the age of AI tools, platforms, and businesses. From dependency risk to preparing software businesses for a potential exit, we tackle a wide variety of topics that every Indie Hacker has to deal with. We also dive deep into Pieter's personal journey: from digital nomadism through thoughts of teaming up with fellow makers. You'll get the full picture of an entrepreneur who tells it the way he sees it — which, as you will find, has made the world of social media a very interesting place for him to work in.

With insights into the meme of bad coding, the Lindy Effect, the importance of social proof, and the generational divide regarding AI, this conversation with Pieter Levels is a must-listen for anyone interested in AI startups, indie hacking, and the future of digital entrepreneurship.

Pieter on Twitter:
Pieter's projects:

00:00:00 - Indie Hacking and AI Startups Evolution
00:07:17 - Dependency on Suppliers and Finding Alternatives
00:16:37 - Prioritizing Speed in Entrepreneurship Execution
00:27:11 - Future of AI With Positive Outlooks
00:40:11 - AI Business Challenges and Potential
00:44:52 - Future Work and Travel With AI
00:52:56 - Twitter Changes and the Need to Adapt
00:57:50 - Attention Economy and Communication Impact
01:01:39 - Navigating Controversy and Authenticity on Twitter

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  • (00:00) - - Indie Hacking and AI Startups Evolution
  • (07:17) - - Dependency on Suppliers and Finding Alternatives
  • (16:37) - - Prioritizing Speed in Entrepreneurship Execution
  • (27:11) - - Future of AI With Positive Outlooks
  • (40:11) - - AI Business Challenges and Potential
  • (44:52) - - Future Work and Travel With AI
  • (52:56) - - Twitter Changes and the Need to Adapt
  • (57:50) - - Attention Economy and Communication Impact
  • (01:01:39) - - Navigating Controversy and Authenticity on Twitter

Creators & Guests

Arvid Kahl
Empowering founders with kindness. Building in Public. Sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda for life-changing $ in 2019, now sharing my journey & what I learned.
Pieter Levels
👦 php+jquery4life📸 $79K MRR🖼 $52K MRR🛰 $47K/m🌍 $32K/m🏡 $14K/m💬 $4K/m

What is The Bootstrapped Founder?

Arvid Kahl talks about starting and bootstrapping businesses, how to build an audience, and how to build in public.

Arvid Kahl 0:00
Indie hacking is dead. At least that's something that my guest today, Pieter Levels once tweeted about. Of course, it's not dead but it is different now. And just how different and why it's different, that we will figure out today on The Bootstrapped Founder. Pieter and I chat about AI startups, dealing with platform risks, and why indie hacking isn't even hacking anymore, and how to build audiences on Twitter in 2023. A big shout out to the sponsor of today's episode: More on that later. Now, here's Pieter.

Pieter, thanks so much for being on the show. I only have one question here. Why is indie hacking dead? Can you tell me more about that?

Pieter Levels 0:38
Man, so I tweeted that indie hacking was dead. But my point was more like I think, because it's like a long tweet and the first message is like indie hacking is dead. And then I tried to explain, but nobody reads the second line. Like TikTok, you know, people only watch 10 seconds. So what I meant was, like indie hacking started I think, like 2016 because the kind of big, maybe 2014 with Product Hunt. Because before a lot of people would do the VC route of doing startups, right? Everybody knows this story. So I feel like this year kind of like became very popular and a lot of people are indie hacking. And I think also now, what you see, what I see on my Twitter is that big companies, big tech companies, they follow me and they follow other indie makers, to see what indie makers are doing. Like it's become finally on the radar of tech, you know, a lot of people in San Francisco. I saw a tweet by Louis, he's making AI startup in San Francisco and he lives in some parts of sleeping path. And he said, I'm in the sleeping path, like a hostel in San Francisco for $600 per month, full of indie hackers trying to ship AI startups. And I'm like, why? Is this because it's San Francisco? It's usually the place where you raise VC and these indie hackers. So it feels like it's a mainstream term now. And that's what it means. So it means it has become more competitive, more saturated and more difficult because you're competing not just with a lot of indie hackers. Now a lot of people are doing, it's becoming like the standard route. You're also competing with big tech companies now. And I see this with AI startups I do. I'm competing with companies that raised $500 million, you know, like these big AI startups and they follow me on Twitter, you know and they see what I'm doing. So if I launch a feature, they ask their developers to make the same feature. And maybe vice versa, of course, but that's what it means. So it's dead in a way that like, if remote work was called remote hacking, you know and then COVID happens and remote work became normal. It would also be dead because it's not hacking anymore, just normal now. So it's more like

Arvid Kahl 2:37
Yeah, that is exactly the difference. Right? Like it used to be hacking. It used to be hacking. It used to be kind of a subculture thing.

Pieter Levels 2:43

Arvid Kahl 2:43
And now it's just the way people approach entrepreneurship.

Pieter Levels 2:46

Arvid Kahl 2:46
Indie hacking is just indie business or entrepreneurship, right?

Pieter Levels 2:48
I think so. And people reply to me like, oh, you're in a bubble because you're like in the indie hacker bubble, it's not mainstream at all. But I do think startups, it's very present on the radar for a lot of people. And a lot of people prefer like, man, I have a lot of VC funded founder friends. And they say their next startup is preferably indie. And they will do it because they can have a lot of people are burned out from the VCs, you know?

Arvid Kahl 3:11
Yeah. Well, good. I think that's a good thing because there's a lot of speculation happening there that maybe coupled with an economic recession is not the best idea.

Pieter Levels 3:21
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Arvid Kahl 3:22
For people to put their whole life energy into something very

Pieter Levels 3:24
That's a very good point. Like the economic recession is a very good point because you want to do more lean. Lean startup indie hacking becomes a necessity because there is no money. It's hard to get funding. It's hard to get seriously be funding, you know, maybe

Arvid Kahl 3:36
Yeah, that's right. That series A or even seed funding, just money has dried up in many ways and people are much more selective in what they fund. It's funny that you mentioned like AI startups because there's a lot of them going on. And you recently tweeted something about your own recently, just a couple hours ago

Pieter Levels 3:54

Arvid Kahl 3:54
You did about like how you found something that you haven't felt before with other startups now that you are doing AI startups. It's kind of the lack of a moat.

Pieter Levels 4:02
It's a big problem. Yeah, I said the F word. But this is a big problem. Everybody talks about it even like other AI founders, VC funded AI founders. We DM and everybody does separate retention, which is the churn is very high. And defensibility, like you make something and immediately you have a lot of clones because everybody's working with the same stuff. Everybody's using GPT-4 for tech stuff almost or the Facebook LM but or people use stable efficient for image stuff. Everybody uses the same so it's not proprietary tech, like the stuff you do around is proprietary, like the way you combine all the models and everything in your website. But everybody can figure this out. I would say if you're smart within three months, if you're less smart, maybe six months to a year. So it's very difficult to make a startup AI startup now Right?

Arvid Kahl 4:50
Yeah. Yeah, that's an issue. I guess it's both a benefit and a curse, right?

Pieter Levels 4:56

Arvid Kahl 4:56
The curse is everybody can do it. The benefit is everybody can do it. There is a lot of variety and you can build a lot of things.

Pieter Levels 4:57
It's really good for customers, right? If you have a lot of people making these apps and you get a big pressure on the price to go down but difficult for business owners because if the price goes down like this pure economics the profit margin goes to zero. And man, my profit margins for these AI start ups is not high like this week I've been charting it and it's like, you know, with the cost of GPU the profit margin gets really really low very quickly. So

Arvid Kahl 5:28
Yeah, I was wondering about this like I was looking into your your startups, the whole list of them and you have several, right? Some are going on, Nomad List is still around, Remote OK is still there. And then you have these two AI startups that have pretty significant MRR. They have a lot of costs compared to the others, right?

Pieter Levels 5:44
Yeah, that's the problem. That's the big problem. And man, honestly, GPU costs go down. It's a difficult business and we were thinking GPU costs would go down. But then Nvidia said, like, there's a kind of bottleneck, they cannot produce enough chips, it's so popular now AI. They cannot produce enough chips. And the stock of Nvidia, of course, went through the roof because of this. So people are fighting over GPUs, it's insane. It's like you need a GPU for it's like a processor for people who don't know, it's like a CPU, like a computer processor, but it's for graphics. And somehow it's it's very, let's not go too deep. But it's very useful, very fast for AI stuff, you need a GPU for AI pretty much. Otherwise, it's very slow. So there's not enough GPUs being built like Nvidia makes almost all of them. So that makes the cost of these servers very high.

Arvid Kahl 6:36
It's crazy to think about just how much platform dependencies back there, right? You have the processor that needs to be done. And you need those for machine learning systems that also are run by somebody else. And then there's an API that is run by a company and you build on top of that.

Pieter Levels 6:51

Arvid Kahl 6:52
So you depend on all these layers.

Pieter Levels 6:54

Arvid Kahl 6:54
How do you deal with this? Because I don't think Nomad List is that much dependent.

Pieter Levels 6:58
No, not at all. No, it's like, Nomad List use API to collect data for about cities, right. So I use a lot of different sources. But it's like 100 robots that collect that scrape kind of information. And some is paid API's, but it's not dependent at all. But with GPUs, man, this is a great story. Like I cannot name too many names. But for example, when so like, last year, I started with avatars AI avatar AI because I was making in theory AI because I started doing AI stuff. And I was typing stuff like everybody in these prompts like to generate images. And I found out that I could build like, houses very beautiful design houses. So I made a site called, I think and it generates random houses random design, like house born kind of beautiful. And then I saw it also made very beautiful interior. So I started making interior AI, where you can generate interiors. And then afterwards, you can upload your own home interior with image to image technology. And it's kind of modified and it worked. And I made in theory AI and then I tried to see if I could fine tune and fine tuning is where you take the AI model and you make it more focused towards a specific goal. So for example, you want to make interiors because they believe fusion, this image model can make any image, right? You can make houses but also plans, people, anything. So if you want to focus in interior and get better results. So I trained with interior photos and it gets better results. And then I tried training with my own photos because see what happens and it works. And you get like these photos of yourself in every style. And I was like, wow, this is very cool. So I tweeted it. And it went viral. Then the next day, I was like I need to really quickly make a start up for this. So I made avatar AI. And it was I think the first big AI avatar startup. And then these big companies were following me. So they quickly within a month, they did the same and they got way bigger, say VC funded and they made I think $40 million. I think I made like, maybe half a million dollars or $400,000, lots within a month or so I'm getting two months is insane. But the funny part, what I want to say is that the service I used to do this fine tuning. The cost of funding was $3. And then when they saw my tweets, where I was sharing my revenue, that it was making so much money with this. They said sorry, we need to increase the price to $20 for training. And I was selling them for like $25 or $3. So for like a month, they got all the money. And I couldn't switch and they said as difficult. Maybe they were telling the truth. They had problems with like getting GPUs also. But they increased the price and I felt kind of like scammed, you know. And so this is a good example. You're dependent on a supplier who can when they see you're successful, they increase the price. This happens to people who have co workers phase too. There's a co working space famous who was very successful, very cheap brands and then when they were successful after the one year lease and say oh, now it's like five times the rent and 10 times the rent is what landlords do. So these dependencies are not nice. So I switched out to a new provider. They're much like, They're very nice. They're super helpful. They don't change price, they don't increase price, they only decrease prices. It's amazing. So how do you deal with this? Man, it's a real problem.

Arvid Kahl 10:15
Well, if there's one thing that you can learn from this experience is just to think about alternatives from the start, right? If you have a service that you're building on, like, you have to find a way to abstract it enough so you can have another service to plug into your system.

Pieter Levels 10:28
Exactly. So you have to go one level higher. So you have to get your own feet virtual private server with GPUs, you know, but then you need to learn to code Python and do all this stuff. And man, this Python is too much for me. These GPUs it's too difficult. So I hired an AI developer for this to help me with these models because it's just too difficult for me. I cannot like Danny Postma is my friend and he makes And he did it himself first. I think now he hired more people, but he's smarter than me. And he can do like Python stuff. And yeah, I tried so much, but it's like my heads, you know.

Arvid Kahl 11:07
Well, it's kind of one of these things that is so specific that you know, as a solopreneur, kinda dev who just wants to build stuff. Like you don't want to dive into something that takes you three years of university to understand, right?

Pieter Levels 11:18
Man, I think it would take me six months of understanding this package manager does not be five, just too much. I can't get it working. It's so difficult. But it shows my limits. This year, I see my limits. I'm not so good at this stuff, you know.

Arvid Kahl 11:32
Did you have a hard time hiring for that? Because that's my experience when I founded my business and I kind of ran it, ran it, ran it. I thought I could do it all, right? Like, you know, the solo tech kind of person. Is that the same for you?

Pieter Levels 11:45
Yeah, cuz I thought I could do everything until this year. I thought I could. Man, I was like, complacent. And I was arrogant. And I thought because Nomad List and all these start ups just work, almost everything myself, except customer support and like jet moderators and stuff. And I have a server guy. If the server was on, but that's the opposite. And I thought I can do everything myself. I can do front end, backends, everything and I could. And the sides always look a little clunky because I do everything myself. But that's like something you take for granted. It's just where you accept and not so bad. But this year, I was like, man, there's so many things I cannot do like marketing. I always rely on organic marketing, organic SEO stuff. And you get I think, Danny Postma made me very fresh because man, he's insane SEO guy. He's like insane. He makes startups just based on the keywords like he discovered his LinkedIn hashtags worked so well. That was most of the searches. So he makes this service, specifically this niche. Because he was also making like, advertisers, very smart. So I learned about SEO more. Now I'm learning about TikTok marketing. So I hired a guy to help me with man, because TikTok is insane. I talked to one influencer, he posted about, my AI photo startup and MRR went from 12k to like 40 or 50k. Insane, right? And it stayed that way. And of course, it was sharing. And so I also worked in but this shows you have a really big effect of these influence. And it's way bigger effect than press. Like I also got a lot of press for these AI startups. And this press does almost nothing, you can put the logos on your site, but nobody links and clicks on these links. It's insane.

Arvid Kahl 11:45
I had Danny on the show a couple episodes ago. And it was really interesting. Like his focus on SEO, that's just something that I personally have never done. Like it's just something, I had word of mouth marketing and my things and that was fine. But he just diving into the data and like pulling out the things and building businesses on top of that. That's like domaining, right? Like finding a domain, building a domain on top of or business on top of that domain name. That's just such a smart data driven approach, really like that. And Danny too, is building a team. He's building a studio, right?

Pieter Levels 13:55
Yeah, yeah

Arvid Kahl 13:56
Building something out there. So I guess you're kind of in parallel with that, trying to expand your capacity beyond just yourself.

Pieter Levels 14:02
100%. And like we always do like tech swap because he sees my photos that suddenly look much better on Twitter, my AI photos and he asked me man, what are you doing now? And we give each other hands. So they say like, man, maybe look at this feature and try this, you know, but we're not competing because he's doing head shots and I don't want to do headshots. It says like niche. I'm doing more general photo studio kind of thing.

Arvid Kahl 14:26
Have you ever considered actually working together like building a business together?

Pieter Levels 14:30
Yeah, Ithink we both would because I think I respect him a lot. He respects me a lot. I think it's good in the future. The man found his technology because my code, he doesn't trust my code because they'll PHP. And he writes I think proper, like JavaScript, you know, but in general, like, man, most of the code is Python in the background anyway. Like that's where the real stuff happens. It's just front end. So I think could happen in the future. I think it will be fun. For example, to if I ever sell to try sell, like together or something would be good because it's something like that. But I have a lot of respect. And I think it's very cool what he's doing. And he shake me up a lot because he showed me that because first I was making more money with avatars. And then I think at some point, he was making more money with his profile pictures and then headshots. I was like, damn! And I was like, what's going on? Like, I don't like this, you know, because you want to win, you know? And then it was very good for me. It was like, okay, you need to do a lot of stuff like SEO, like marketing, like, look at what keywords people searching, makes up pages, all this stuff I wasn't doing and yeah, it's very cool. Yeah.

Arvid Kahl 15:39
Sounds like you have a little mastermind group going on there with Danny. Nice.

Pieter Levels 15:43
Yeah. Well, man not every day. But like, once every few weeks we message. Yeah

Arvid Kahl 15:49
That's awesome. Yeah. I love that you just talked about your code because to me, like your PHP code and all the stuff around it and your use of jQuery instead of like fancy frameworks and all that, that has become almost a meme in the community. And I mean, it's in the best sense, right? Like people think it's really funny that somebody is still coding, like, it's the 90s. But also, people think, oh, wow, crazy, you can still do this and still be successful. I love that about how you approach technology. Because if I think about your tech stack, it's just PHP and a little bit of JavaScript. That's it.

Pieter Levels 16:21

Arvid Kahl 16:21
Right? Do you do you ever consider like actually changing that up? Because you just said that, like, if you work with somebody else, they don't trust your code.

Pieter Levels 16:21

Arvid Kahl 16:21
Like, if you ever sell your business, have you ever thought about that? Like, how complicated that might actually make selling the business?

Pieter Levels 16:36
Yeah. Look, the thing with this meme is I exaggerated the meme for viral effects. So I'd make it look like my code is really bad. But it's much better, like people really think it's really bad. And I'm not saying it's great. But it's, I mean, it's pretty good. It's, it's like very clear. Now, it's highly commented. It's very, like I write in multiple files now, you know, this index of PHP was in the beginning, you know. I use GitHub. There's a very structural pattern that I made myself, like folder structure and files. And like, as workers, this, like scheduled work is as robust as new stuff. There's app. There's a data file with a database and stuff. And it all uses like SQLite. So it's very structured. So I think PHP developer can get into and they have, like, I had developers for small things come on. It's pretty, they can find what they want to find. So it does work, but at least more about a meme. It's more it's not about PHP jQuery, it's more about the point that it doesn't matter that you have these developers who work in enterprise in agencies. And there's this agency, MLM I feel like where you have a company who doesn't know anything about tech. They come to the web agency and they want like a website or app and stuff. And these web agencies need to sell like the best stuff. So they say we use the newest technology, like we use some big framework and they need to, they use as a sales thing. And then these developers need to update the skills to use this technology. And this is like a cycle. And it's a whole economy because you have this ecosystem of like frameworks now gets funded. And they have evangelists and like, become like versal. I like versal but they are very, that's a big example. They have evangelist who make developers promote the stuff all the time and the work for them. That's the whole thing. And they're VC funde, and they need growth and all good. But this makes new developers think that they need all this technology to make stuff. And this technology is nice, but in many ways, a lot of the new technology makes things more complicated often. And there's a thing called I think Taleb, Nassim Taleb always talks about Lindy effect, where all technology is proven because it just works because it's old, right? Like PHP is very old just works. New technology, you need to be a little bit distrustful of because it's often breaks like, man, I have this when you buy like smart home stuff. Like I go into Airbnb and there's some smart TV or something, you know and it's so difficult to watch TV now. This kind of Lindy effect, like old TV just works. It shows it to me and it's tested, you know?

Arvid Kahl 19:09

Pieter Levels 19:09
So I think that's my whole point of this, like, doesn't matter what you use. There's no need for this cultism with developers. If you are entrepreneur, you know, it's all about like if you're developer, easy share. But if you're an entrepreneur and the problem is a lot of these developers that work as freelancers they want to be an entrepreneur. So they bring this whole bogash, this baggage of having to use this stack and over engineering. And while this code is so elegant and stuff, to something where the priority should be getting customers and getting people to pay money because then you survive. You know, you pay your rent.

Arvid Kahl 19:46
Yeah, developers and I think we both kind of are developers, right? We're so tool focused, we so we look at the things and we want it to be optimal. We want it to be the best thing for that solution. I'm kind of glad that you're showing that you can just stick to one tool and just make it happen, right? There probably is some framework out there that is like 2.7% faster in some regard. But it doesn't matter, right? If you're fast enough to bring a thing to market, that's when you monetize, not when you use the best tool possible. And I think you talked about this in the beginning, too, it's like or that's kind of the tweet that I was referring to when you were talking about having to deal with the lack of moat. And just as an AI startup, right? When you kind of have to imagine that the competitors, just a couple of months around the corner, like your execution speed is so much more important than the request speed of the web framework that you use, right?

Pieter Levels 20:37
Yeah, 100%. And man, most developers pretty slow to be honest. Like, man, I'm not good developer. But I'm really fast. One skill I have because I don't make things too complicated. Man, I repeat myself all the time. And then I repeat myself 10 times like, you know, don't repeat yourself as the mentor then I write a function, but I don't. Like people try immediately write a function for something you repeat twice. It's like, man, you know, like this kind of stuff. And I think especially in beginning when you make a startup or when you make something new, it's very important to not obsess over this because you're trying to validate something, you have an idea, right? Like, when I was on this avatar AI. And this was man, it wasn't even code. It was just a index of HTML, like it was just a page. We have examples of the avatars you could generate and the input photos and then a link to type form, Stripe checkout, Stripe payment link, that was it, went to get your avatars Stripe payment link and there was nothing else. And then I would go to Stripe and check the email. And on Stripe checkout, I had the link after payments is a type form. So I went to a type form where it collected all the photos with file uploads and then I would manually so I immediately had like, 100 orders. So manually I did the thing is 100 or 200 orders myself. So I would download the photos and then I would go to this platform to do this fine tuning. I would upload their photos. And then I would download the resulting photos. Man, it was horrible work, manual work. I'd spent like all night doing this. And then I started automated the second day. And after a week, it was a lot of work. After a week, it finally was automatic.

Arvid Kahl 22:11

Pieter Levels 22:12
So that's an example where there wasn't even code, it was just a landing page and a tweet.

Arvid Kahl 22:18
That's so cool

Pieter Levels 22:18
And a payment link. And thenwhen it work, you can make the codes, you know.

Arvid Kahl 22:22
Right. Yeah, you have a process that you can actually implement. Right? You have steps that you can then automate.

Pieter Levels 22:27
Yeah, because you prove that it works, that there's a business maybe and then you can invest the time to code something. But coding takes a lot of time. There's this, you know, the cartoon, the XSCD or something.

Arvid Kahl 22:39
XKCD. Yeah

Pieter Levels 22:40
Yeah. Yeah, you know they have this cartoon like, how much does a chart like how much time it takes to automate something and how much time the thing itself takes? And often the time it takes to automate something is hired and the time everything takes. So if that's true, just do it yourself manually until, you know, obviously, if you spent all night uploading downloading photos, it takes too much time. You can automate it faster, right?

Arvid Kahl 23:02
Yeah, for sure. I mean, if that was one night's work and how much did you charge per photo at that point?

Pieter Levels 23:08

Arvid Kahl 23:09
You know, that's like that's $3,000 for a night's work. That's not too bad, right?

Pieter Levels 23:13
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's great!

Arvid Kahl 23:16
I mean, some people would do that for life if they could just, you know, it's so pretty cool to do this. I really, really enjoy that this particular way of doing this. Particularly with AI, right? A tool that is probably hard to automate when there is a lot of manual figuring things out, right? As well with the whole fine tuning kind of stuff. So it's really cool that you did this for a day or a week, until you had it all figured out. I think that's an indie hacking approach to kind of what Paul Graham calls the concierge approach, right? The idea of doing stuff with the white glove treatment. I do this for you instead of having everything automated. A lot of people want to build software from day one. They want to build a tool, they want login, they want to stripe integration, they want all kinds of things. And then they want to make money. But you made money by just doing the thing, which is really

Pieter Levels 24:04
Yeah, I think it's also because I did it so much wrong. I did it I spent man, it took so much about I spent like a year on some YouTube Analytics startup in like 2014 or something. 14, I think and nobody paid for it. Nobody wanted to be customer. And it was just everything was amazing, interface was amazing. But nobody, you know, so I'm so traumatized by this. It's just, I'm not going to build anything until there's customers, you know, generally.

Arvid Kahl 24:32
Whenever I go to Product Hunt and I see all these tools there, you know, you have the top five that are really interesting. And I have a couple more that have been on, you know, a few upvotes. And then you have the 400 things that are launched that day that have no upvotes between all these 400. Behind every single one of them is a developer who spent six months building the perfect product.

Pieter Levels 24:51
Man, exactly!

Arvid Kahl 24:51
That's what I always think about. It's so sad.

Pieter Levels 24:53
Like it's so sad. And like they all look really good like the landing page is, like beautiful design is like a red flag for me, you know. This beautiful gradients and these borders that move.

Arvid Kahl 25:06
It's fancy.

Pieter Levels 25:07
It's so fancy. If it's too fancy, means you spent too much time on design or it's some VC startup that spent too much money on designers. If it's the beginning, if it's not validated yet, you know and I prefer a very ugly webpage in the beginning, that just. Man, look at Google, look at the beginning it was very ugly. Look at Facebook first page was very ugly. You need to have a very ugly, basic beginning page, I think to validate something first.

Arvid Kahl 25:33
Yeah. That's kind of also what the whole discussion about indie hacking being dead or different. I think different is just a better phrase, right? It's not dead. It's still there. But it's not the same as what it used to be like seven years ago, right? Seven years ago, it was a movement. Today, it's just how things are done. It has arrived, right? It's kind of what it is. But I think that's what indie hacking is also doing. And I think Danny posted about this, like indie hacking is the new drop shipping. That's what he kind of called it or there were people that in the replies to your tweet saying, well, yeah, people have just higher expectations of products now. So indie hacking now looks different and all that. And I think that's important too, right? Like for us hackers, we can deal with a, you know, with a really shitty page that has barely any CSS in there. No automation, you know, exactly that there is a manual component, doesn't matter, you still want to use it because you're an early adopter. But with indie hacking going into mainstream, I think you crossed the chasm as well. And you now have all these normal people, let's just call them that. That one products that are kind of proven that have that need social proof already. And you did this pretty well because you are your own social proof, like your history of products and you're building in public, like whatever you launch, you have social proof already. Right? Like, that's something that stands out in particular, in your case, now that you're reaching like 340,000 followers on Twitter, you bring this with you, but how would you? If somebody were to start any hacking today, what would you tell them to get to this point? What would you tell them to have the social proof that they need to launch products?

Pieter Levels 27:04
Man, honestly, this is like very controversial. I think you should always do the opposite everybody else is doing. So now if enacting is mentioned, you should probably like do something completely different. You know, I mean, like, you should go where nobody's going because when I started, man, it was almost nobody. It was only patio11 Patrick McKenzie was bootstrapping startups. And everybody else was raising VC, it was not normal to bootstrap start ups. It was very, very, very not normal. And now it's normal. So I don't know I always feel you need to run away from the herd you know, the sheep. You need to go somewhere else where no, like, look for part of the grass where nobody is and go there. If you believe in this, you know and then spend a lot of time spend years on this. But about social proof, I don't know. I think maybe it's not important. Maybe it's just it's important you make something that's like a problem that's out there like you know, look at all the sub Reddits. There's a lot of problems there like every sub Reddit has like a goal and you can go see this app or startup you can make around that. Like somebody does this mean but Craigslist, right? Every category has become a startup. You can do same with subreddits. Again now maybe the reddit of the day is TikTok, right? Go to TikTok, see what's going on on TikTok and see what people want and make startups around there. Maybe this answer start doing TikTok. I tell everybody this for a year. I don't even do it myself a lot myself but it should. But do go to TikTok and see what's going on there and document your journey not on Twitter, maybe but on TikTok and so hey, I'm Pieter. I just starting out, I want to serve, want to make some money and pay my rent. And everyday I'm going to make a video about this and what I'm doing and this new feature. That would be how I would approach it in 2023. I wouldn't probably be on Twitter X at all.

Arvid Kahl 28:53
Interesting. Yeah, that definitely a building in public where those people that you want to serve actually are, right? That is something that I really wanted to ask you because we talked a lot about AI startups and that kind of stuff. And it feels to me that the demographic for them is a younger crowd, right? And then like people who they have no problem with AI. I don't know if you've seen the same but in our community, a lot of people are very afraid of AI. Right? So there seems to be a generational divide there and saying TikTok is the new place to do this in front of people who are willing to accept that this is the way to go. Probably a good idea. What do you think about this whole like AI is the end of humanity kind of conversation? What's your stand?

Pieter Levels 29:34
First of all, this generation thing is right like Gen Z doesn't care. They just use it like man, I work now with I know the guy from Jenni AI David Park, I think and he uses TikTok and all these students use this app Jenni AI and I think it writes papers for you or it helps you with writing papers and everybody uses this like 150k MRR, it's insane. Man, you're right. Nobody says like, is this good or bad? Man is this good or bad thing comes I think from millennials, like we're millennials, right?

Arvid Kahl 30:07

Pieter Levels 30:08
And journalists are also millennials. And people that want to, you know, maybe it's our culture to like challenge everything, which kind of good and make a problem out of everything. And there is, of course, fundamental philosophical things you can talk about. But I don't think it's very useful to constantly complain in every reply, you know, about the problems with AI and how it's going to destroy humanity. I don't know, I think look at the good sides. And look how it can benefit everybody. Of course, our great leader, Elon Musk, you know, is also complaining about AI. Right? He's like, it's gotta be the end of humanity. So what am I saying, you know?

Arvid Kahl 30:49
But he's also like, from a much older generation, right?

Pieter Levels 30:52
Yeah, you're right. You're right. You're right. No, but of course, there's risk. But man, I get kind of tired of his whole like, negative scene on Twitter that started like 2016. And I feel died off like when Elon Musk bought Twitter and it's a very politically engaged scene and they're very, like, angry. And I don't see them a lot anymore. I think they moved to Macedon. But this is New Zealand, Twitter. I don't know you've saw the E/ACC. Like it's like, about acceleration. Like people are kind of philosophical. And they also want to they are positive about the future of humanity and technology, how we can use technology to make the future of humanity better. And it's E/ACC and people have this in their nickname and I follow up few people like Beth Jezos, like Jeff Bezos, he's like the leader or something. It's a very distinct group of people, very positive. And I feel that's man, I think positive in general works better, you know. I mean, I say this after complaining about Sony headphones for three days straight. But no, but I still believe in the future of Sony headphones if they fix some stuff, but I think positivity works better than complaining. I feel okay, let's be honest. I think there's some powerlessness if you cannot code and you see this AI stuff happening and you're not making money with it. And your income is not increasing because incomes are stagnant now and the government is not providing basic income, which is like free money for people because technology replacing a lot of stuff. I understand completely that you feel bad about this and you're gonna complain, like people complain about foreigners in Portugal, you know or people complain about AI. You know, in journalism, we are the writer strike in America, right? It's a big thing. Like the people who write the TV shows and the movies, they're on strike all the time because they think GPT-4 replaced them. Man, maybe will so I understand the problem. As always, I think the government should provide basic income to most people. And I think, I don't know if there will be a lot of new jobs created actually. I generally people believe in that. I don't really believe in that.

Arvid Kahl 32:58
It's a whole philosophical or societal conversation about like, should we even want everybody to have to work to feel that they're participating in society. Right? That's a thing. Like the whole, like, full employment of a country, is that even something we need as humans? Or could we just?

Pieter Levels 33:16
I don't think so.

Arvid Kahl 33:17
Yeah, I agree with you there. And I think I'm a big Star Trek fan. I've always been a very optimistic sci fi future kind of person. But it's just recently I watched the Terminator movies because for some reason, I needed to go back to the 80s and 90s and watch some really, really interesting movies. And I honestly, I do understand that the fear in the 80s and 90s of what technology is going to do, which is what Terminator is all about, right? What if AI computers take over? That fear is very present in those movies. And I think if you're socialized with this, if this is how you approach a technology, then everything you look at is potentially something that destroys everything around you, right? So the fear that it just destroys society, that destroys your habitat and all that and we do see some of this, right? What you just said is extremely, wonderfully phrased like the people who are not able to code, who are not able to control the machine, they are afraid of the machine. That is very, very

Pieter Levels 34:11
And we are on like podcasts, we have AI started with like, wow, it's so good. Let's make money with it, you know.

Arvid Kahl 34:17
That's right

Pieter Levels 34:17
Of course, I'm positive about it. No, I 100% agree. But I feel like, as always, I feel like people shouldn't blame the scapegoat, like, every technology has the same amount of bad and good it brings, you know an AI too, internet too, right? It's brought a lot of scams and man people died, you know, because of internet and people were born because of internet. So it's both. AI is the same thing. And but I think governments should somehow and governments are not so efficient, you know, in general, but they should. They should. I think again, they should provide basic income. And I think people can do voluntary work, for example. There's a lot of social stuff that has to be done like kids need to be raised in more like communities, I feel like there's a lot of stuff that can be voluntary work and

Arvid Kahl 35:09
In all paid work too, right? Like just having a basic income doesn't mean that people don't make money from work. It just means that they don't have to work to survive. That's the only difference, right?

Pieter Levels 35:19
Yeah, exactly. So I think it should be protected, people should be protected so that technology doesn't destroy their income, the basic, you know, level of like, having a nice house, being able to just buy nice, good food and live. I think live a good life should be the goal for everybody in humanity. And but I'm Dutch, you know, I'm a little bit socialist.

Arvid Kahl 35:41
I'm also a little bit socialist because I'm from East Germany, man. I'm like socialist by birth.

Pieter Levels 35:46
Marxian communists.

Arvid Kahl 35:47
That's exactly what it is. But yeah, I do see a need for this. I see a need for people feeling safe from this kind of technology because they have no agency over making it work for them. It works at them, it doesn't work for them. It kind of it's attacking them, aggressing them in the way. And in a funny way, this kind of fear of not knowing what's going to happen with the technology it also exists for us as founders, right? As entrepreneurs, this is what you said this tweet of yours from earlier. I'm just gonna get back to it and back to it. Like there is no way for us to protect our technology because it's not our technology to protect, like we only built on top of these things. So is building an AI startup, something you would suggest to somebody who just starting out as an indie hacker?

Pieter Levels 36:34
Man, it's so difficult question. Right? I think so. I think you should always try stuff with technology because you can combine technology in new ways, unique ways that work for you. I think you should always like try like you could always say that you're always too late with everything, right? You're always too late. Like people said in 2013-14, I'm too late to do startups now because already Dropbox, Airbnb became big and it's too late now. Of course, not too late. It's never too late. You just start and you never know what's next. Like now it's AI. There'll be always something next and jump away. But man, but this is the reason last year when this AI stuff started booming, like around like I think ChatGPT launched and then Stable Diffusion launched or vice versa. It's a month and it's suddenly people like oh shit, this really works now. And then I started like scrambling. I'm like, man, now's the time to build a lot of stuff and see what sticks because if I wait six months, I'm not going to, you know, it's not going to stick. Like everybody already did everything. So I spent insane time making a lot of stuff to just catch this wave. Now we're like, what? One years in, one half years in or something. I mean, now it's quite late in that sense. It's never too late, right? But I think you have some kind of first mover advantage doesn't always work but you have some kind of advantage if you catch a wave you know. A new technology logical wave because people want to use technology and the technology is always very brutal like it's very hard to use for people's if you add a front end to a new technology, you can start using it. I mean nomadism was the same, people were already nomadic but it was very hard to find out where to go, what the internet was, what these basic things. It was all separated on different blogs, blog posts, like oh, you should come to Thailand. No, you should come to Mexico. It was like travel bloggers. So collecting all that together made it, you know, user friendly to become a nomad, same thing. You catch a wave, make technology easier to use and make money.

Arvid Kahl 38:41
Do you still invest a lot of time in your old businesses, you know, the ones that are pre AI?

Pieter Levels 38:47
Yeah, Nomad List is still a lot like I'm improving it like every week and I think soon once the other AI startup kind of all the stuff I wanted to do still on the my to do list with AI stuff is finished, I will probably go back to Nomad list and improve it. Like I've been working on 3d globe like Nomad List for the last two months like because this globe was a map before and I was like this 3d globe with like lines of like, I went to Thailand and to Qatar and Holland and Brazil, for example. And that kind of stuff. So that's my most favorite project I think in terms of like, I feel it's really like my baby and it's you can work on this project forever. Like I said, just so you can work on this until you're 80 because there's always a different way to figure out what's the best place to live like for you personally, it's such a difficult problem. So you know.

Arvid Kahl 39:42
It's funny how this reminds me of what you said earlier with the Lindy effect, right? Things that have been around for a long time they will be around for an equally long time. It's kind of what that means to me. Nomad List is something like this too. You've been doing this for a while and it's still around and you're still improving it and it's still finding customers. That's very interesting. And particularly

Pieter Levels 40:00
It's very stable

Arvid Kahl 40:01
Contrasted against your AI startup set, like up and down and super expensive and complicated platform risk, an interesting lesson to be drawn from that, I think, right? The long term kind of

Pieter Levels 40:13
Yeah, I'd never expect to stay so long. It's like nine years now. And I always expect this because I had a YouTube channel before, electronic music mixes and they went up really fast, like 8k per month and then it went down also very fast. So I thought every business like probably hype, so I was always traumatized, like, okay, this is just for one or two years, need to make a lot of money. But it keeps going. And it makes man, it's average, usually, like 40 or 50 or 60k per month, a lot of money. So, just Nomad List, so not a lot of costs. So it's very nice business.

Arvid Kahl 40:45
Yeah, definitely. It definitely sounds calmer, right? Like less crazy than the AI stuff.

Pieter Levels 40:52
Man! Yeah, I tweet about today, like this AI stuff is so stressful because you always need to stay ahead of the game and of competitors. And when a new technology comes out, like now, it's a little bit slower. But last year, every week, it was some new thing, new breakthrough and you need to implement this very fast. And it's stressful for sure. Like, it fucks with your sleep, you know, like

Arvid Kahl 41:16
Would you sell them? Would you sell your AI businesses?

Pieter Levels 41:19
Yeah, I think I'll get it to a certain level, like maybe 100k MRR for photo AI and interior and then like, I got them valued recently. And the multiples for start ups are very good. Like they are very quite high. Like, normally for like any start ups, you get, like 2-3x or something, right? For AI, it can be like five or six or even eight because it's kind of hype now. So I think, again, the problem is profit, like the multiples are based on profits. So you need to cut these costs rapidly. And then you need to go to broker and then you need to sell for like, good amount of money. But man, I don't know, it's hard to sell. It's always like a nice challenge this AI stuff and but it is stressful, you know, probably gives you a heart disease.

Arvid Kahl 42:04
Yeah, I mean, if not like mental health issues, right? With anxiety and dealing with like all these unforeseen changes in the platforms, that dependency on open AI and all their platforms, right? If they decided to do the Elon Musk for $2,000 a month kind of move. I mean, you could probably handle it maybe but you know, like, it would be such a bastard move really.

Pieter Levels 42:29
Yeah, yeah. Well, the good thing with AI is it's very open. So when one company will raise the prices very fast, you can probably easily back then not really, but now you can easily switch to another provider. There's so many providers now. So there's no less platform dependency now than a year ago, you know, because there's a lot of API providers now. But yeah, but it is stressful, you know. But I go gym, I go deadlift, and you know, overhead press and squats and then it's good for my mind. I don't have anxiety a lot. And but still, it's stressful.

Arvid Kahl 43:01
Yeah, I bet. Yeah, that's the thing with these kinds of hype startups, right? You really have to push. And then you have to make as much as you can and then go to the next thing. And that feels, it doesn't feel like very sustainable.

Pieter Levels 43:12
Not my vibe, you know, I like building long term businesses. And that's what I had with avatars. It felt so skitchy to me, so gimmicky. Like, it's not really my vibe, like, it's kinda like too short term, you know and this photo AI feels more like a photo studio for long term. Like it can have potentially long but who knows, because AI. You don't know how long but the intention is to have a long term product that can stay even if you sell it can stay for like 5 years or 10 years, you know, because the philosophy is that you can have photography without needing a camera, you know. Like, you can just train yourself and you can make unlimited AI photos anywhere in the world from your computer, you know, you're on the beach or you're in the office, you're anywhere.

Arvid Kahl 43:12
Such an interesting way of thinking about photography. Like it completely removes the act of photography

Pieter Levels 43:29
Like the act is gone, right? You don't need to go anywhere anymore.

Arvid Kahl 44:07
Yeah, it's such a cool idea. And I kind of love that. It's like you and I kinda also hate it from a sense of somebody who likes to take photos, right? It's weird. I'm torn on both sides and I love the fact that it makes money. I hate the fact that it's so easy to build so everybody built it.

Pieter Levels 44:26
It's like Photoshop. Photoshop at the same, when I was a kid Photoshop came out and the newspapers are full of Photoshop, like this is gonna destroy photography, everything is fake now and it didn't. Like all it did was the people use it for touching up or for art and stuff. So it's become a tool and I feel with all this stuff it becomes a tool for like I mentioned, you have a wedding photographer. He makes a lot of photos and then there's not a single good one. Okay, maybe you can use AI to train this person and you can make some renders and then stitch them back into the photo, you know.

Arvid Kahl 44:58
That is really cool. That makes sense.

Pieter Levels 45:00
That can be a mix of reality and AI, you know, like, that's probably the future. So

Arvid Kahl 45:06
I was gonna ask you what do you think of AI being the future, but I kind of hear the sentiment of AI as tools that make actual things easier. That is always going to be the future, right? It's not that the AI is going to do everything for us, you know, AI's gonna help us do the things better. That's how I see it, at least.

Pieter Levels 45:22
Yeah. But I do think that it replaces people like I do think it can replace photographers. So it's like, it is a tool, but you will probably need one photographer instead of 10 photographers, you know. You need one person who can control the AIs. So yeah, it's interesting. It's interesting. But also for interior designers like, it tries to, a lot of interior designers use it for ideation. So you have a client who wants to get an idea for like because clients don't know what they want. You take a photo of the interior. And then you give them a lot of different styles. And do you want this and you can kind of move through ideation together to find the style that the customer wants and show them how it looks and but this also removes a lot of jobs again because you you need less like. Like I was looking at real estate agencies, a lot of them use already people who make these renders, especially new construction. They use beautiful interior renders, so fake and this easily you can do with AI in man, it takes 10 seconds to render a whole beautiful render. Normally, it takes what like two days for people to make this. So that's a real thing. But these people can use these tools also.

Arvid Kahl 46:30
It's going to shortcut a lot of processes that are established already and have like people working on them. But that's like you said Photoshop is that too, right? There used to be other tools to manipulate images before and it used to be like a more physical, it's like editing, editing video, right? People used to actually cut like, physically cut the stuff

Pieter Levels 46:50
My dad did that

Arvid Kahl 46:51
It got digitized. All of a sudden, you do in a second what took hours to get done. Right?

Pieter Levels 46:57
Exactly. Now you can edit with your iPhone, you know, like, my dad is a big, his favorite thing is film editing. And he did this with, he has classic film tapes and he caught and glues everything before. And then he had this video, instead of professional video, like betacom and stuff. And now it's like Final Cut Pro. But then I'm like, look at my iPhone. Like I make videos on my iPhone now. In TikTok you can edit even faster and it is high quality. So you know, it's all changing fast. And yeah, we'll keep changing. AI is part of that, so.

Arvid Kahl 47:29
Yeah, I find it so interesting that you get to see both sides, you get the boring project. I'm not gonna call Nomad List as boring, but it kinda is like in terms of the, you know, the hype around it. It's just used by the people that need it. And that's it.

Pieter Levels 47:42

Arvid Kahl 47:43
And you get the hype ish projects that get the headlines that get like, coverage in the press and that kind of stuff.

Pieter Levels 47:49
Yeah, but this was Nomad List before of course. Nine years ago no, Nomad List got a lot of like, it was in New York Times, it was in all articles. I was like, oh my God, Nomad's gonna go everywhere. So it was hype and then hype ends, it becomes normal. It becomes mainstream.

Arvid Kahl 48:02
Do you think like, being a nomad is still something like, obviously I see you traveling around the world. My question, but it's not like it's still around, obviously. Nomadism isn't dead, right? But is it still something that you personally do? Or do you want to do this forever? Same like with your business, do you want to keep being an indie hacker forever? Do you still want to travel?

Pieter Levels 48:23
Man, like this problem, this idea of the unknown. It's like most of them are slow mads and they start out very fast. They go like, you know, sometimes week to week, two different place that kind of like backpacking, then it becomes month to month and then it becomes like three months usually or six months in one place. And I feel and I also slowed down a lot like with COVID I just stopped. Everybody stopped traveling, right? This year was kind of crazy with travel. But before I was, you know, I tried to like keep it to like two countries. And I think for mental health also like, I think you do go crazy if you keep traveling so much. I personally do. I did, you know? Because you don't know where you are anymore. Like there was literally things with nomads, you wake up and there's a thing like they don't know, like where am I? You look outside. Oh, okay. I'm in Croatia or you know this stuff?

Arvid Kahl 49:12

Pieter Levels 49:13
Man, it's probably not so good. But it's very interesting lifestyle. But I think long term like man, if you have a relationship and if you have kids later all this stuff. I still think you can move. But you probably want to limit to a few places, you know and I think we just become the same as what people like retirees do. They are like in America, right? What are they called? Like birds like winter birds or something like

Arvid Kahl 49:35
Snow birds

Pieter Levels 49:36
Snowbirds, in the winter, they go to Florida and in the summer, they go to New York or something. This is the setup. So it's just it's gonna go to the same thing. And I do it already like Europe in the South. It gets cold in the winter. I try to go to Asia, Southeast Asia where it's warm. I try and mix like the big city Asia with small village, Southern Europe on the beach. I think this works for me. Of course personal works here. But yeah, nomadism is still very active and lively and there's real like spots like Bali is still a very big spot and Thailand also and Mexico. With the Americas now coming in because they can work remotely a lot of them are by default nomads and they live in Mexico. But yeah, nomads a lot, probably less. You know, but a lot of people are living in not their original countries now because of remote work. And it's kind of called digital nomading, right?

Arvid Kahl 50:30
I guess. Yeah. And in a way anybody working from a computer is a digital nomad, right?

Pieter Levels 50:36
In another country, like in another country, in their home country and that's become very normal. So I think it's still like, I think it's still very cool lifestyle. Like, if I was 20, I would not go probably to university anymore. I would just go travel with my laptop and try little startups and stuff. And travel is such a, especially solo travel, you have to survive, you have to meet people like so, everybody has social anxiety these days. So you have to go out there and talk to people and you learn how to talk to strangers. And you know, I was very probably shy before now I'm not because I learned how to talk. I learned to go out of my room and you know and survive. And I think this stuff you learn from traveling. Every city you go, you can be a new personality, you can test your personalities, you know, sounds a little psychopathic. But you know, your AB test, yeah. You know in your hometown, you're this certain Arvid. But then you go out of your country, you become international Arvid. You're like, very different. And you try this, you know, you try to be very extrovert and you can, a lot of people test this and I think that's very cool benefit of nomading.

Arvid Kahl 51:42
That sounds awesome. And it also sounds like kind of sounds like Twitter to me, where you can also be the person that you want to be, right? Like you project like the best parts, hopefully, or the worst parts of your personality on to social media. How do you deal with that? Like you have a pretty sizable following now. And with all the changes that have been recently made to Twitter or X, as we call it, right? There's a lot of difference in how we approach engagement and what gets views, what gets like retweeted, what gets actually pushed by the algorithm. How do you deal with this? Because you have a lot of reach.

Pieter Levels 52:15
Man. So I think the algorithm has changed with Elon changing it and the team because before everything would kind of get views and likes, right? It would take with everything would get like you know, get exposure. A lot of people would see your tweets anyway, whatever you wrote and some would go viral a little bit. I think they changed it more to like, where if something goes viral in the beginning, it becomes pumped maximum. So it goes like before I would get like 100 retweets. Now if something viral it gets 1000 retweets, goes very far. But on the other side, often many tweets get like two likes.

Arvid Kahl 52:53

Pieter Levels 52:53
You know and I have 300,000 followers

Arvid Kahl 52:55
So bizarre. It's weird, right?

Pieter Levels 52:56
So I think they test in the beginning. Once you tweet a test, does this feed work or not? Do people care about it? And I think how they test it, they check how many seconds you watch the tweets, the people who watch your tweets, you scroll through and they they count now the numbers, the seconds and Elon Musk said this, you know. And when this tweet doesn't perform well, they just don't show it anymore a lot. So it become more extreme. And this of course, creates even more extreme Twitter because you get tweets that have to go really far, really extreme to get, you know, like. And then they get a lot of retweets or nothing.

Arvid Kahl 52:58
Yeah, it's really bad. It's kind of disappointing, right? Because if you just tweet something honest, that is just you know, something that comes from a place that is not extreme, but it's still important. And it gets just like washed away and buried beneath all the outrage things, kind of makes Twitter a less enjoyable platform, at least for me.

Pieter Levels 53:57
Yeah, I think so like product updates. They don't really like I used to always, I always do product updates, like I made this new feature. And they used to get like, you know, like, a lot of views. They get less, much less now because it's not that interesting. It's kind of like yeah, it's kind of nice, you know, so the long term kind of vibe of Twitter changed a little bit. But I do have faith in our great leader, Elon Musk, you know. He can improve it. I think it's a survival thing. Like they need to get more monthly active users. They need to become more like TikTok. TikTok is maximus algorithm. Like they check every video they see if it works or not. And then they pump it also. I think he's on TikTok a lot and checking this and he wants to make Twitter very similar. And all of the vidoes, of texts, but then with the TikTok algorithm. So you know, you have OKRs like the metric target, which is like more users and now I think Twitter has a record use like 500 million active users, monthly active users, so it does work but it changes the vibe a little bit. But I ignored I just still tried tweet whatever I think and man, if nobody cares anymore, I'll keep tweeting because I was tweeting and nobody cared 10 years ago. I'll just keep tweeting, you know.

Arvid Kahl 55:07
That's exactly right

Pieter Levels 55:08
It's about your own, you know, your own. You should enjoy. You shouldn't do it for the audience maybe

Arvid Kahl 55:12
Yeah. And the people who enjoy what you do, they will find you, right? Like if you're just consistent enough

Pieter Levels 55:18
They'll go to your profile and they read your stuff, right? They will maybe not seen in the time now, they will go to there so I think man, like don't be tread boy, you know, like don't do like the five things you need the five AI tools you needed to verse 24.

Arvid Kahl 55:32
Number three will surprise you, right?

Pieter Levels 55:33
Number 3 will shock you. Yeah, it's bullshit. Man, what I loved one thing interesting. He also increased these long posts like now you can write blog posts.

Arvid Kahl 55:43

Pieter Levels 55:44
These blog posts by definition get a lot of view time because of seconds. Right? These do work really well. So it's almost like a blog platform. So man, a lot of times I've just started writing blog posts now on Twitter.

Arvid Kahl 55:57
Yeah, I've seen this too. And video too, right? Like any kind of medium to long form video really does well, like if people just keep watching it a couple seconds because it's so interesting. But that's the interesting thing about Twitter. Now you need to take YouTube ideas, the idea of YouTube intro

Pieter Levels 56:12
For a seconds, right? You won't believe what's next, go!

Arvid Kahl 56:17
Mr. Beast style and you need thumbnails and all that stuff now on Twitter as well if you want to professionalize. It just feels it's different. And maybe that's the exact same sentiment as we had earlier, indie hacking dead, nomadism dead, Twitter dead. We all that kind of the old ones, at least. It's all new. Right? It's all just different at this point.

Pieter Levels 56:37
Yeah, it feels like it's but you have these time schisms?

Arvid Kahl 56:40

Pieter Levels 56:40
You know, where a lot of things change suddenly, for this is definitely COVID, of course. This COVID years and maybe effects was more 2021, big schism, like we're in a new cycle. Now look at the recession, also and man honestly, the cycles are usually seven years. That's why I always say seven year cycle, you can search on Wikipedia, economic cycles usually seven years

Arvid Kahl 57:01
Contracting economic cycles?

Pieter Levels 57:05
I don't know. Is that the same?

Arvid Kahl 57:07
I think it has name

Pieter Levels 57:08
Yeah. But also like economic cycles are social cultural cycles, too.

Arvid Kahl 57:12

Pieter Levels 57:12
Like when there was a recession in 2008, you would see these hipster coffee shops pop up in Amsterdam, I remember this vividly. It changed the culture to kind of scrappy and hipster and it changes fashion. You know, it changes everything. So there's definitely big cycles and we're in a new cycle now. AI is part of this new cycle, right? So in seven years, it's all gonna go full again and something new come. So but I think yeah, again, don't be angry about the changes, just embrace and reinvent yourself for this new time. And you always need to reinvent yourself, right?

Arvid Kahl 57:47
Yeah, I think you're right. It is an attention economy. Right? Now, everybody has very limited attention because everybody's pulling at it from all sides. I talked to Aprilynne Alter about this YouTube thing too, right? Because she knows how to do a good YouTube video. It was funny, I had her on the show. And the day after that, she published a video that went viral, it's now had like 200,000 views or something. She knows what she's doing. It was really cool. And, like, I watched her video on how to do an intro to YouTube video. And the whole idea is to make it absolutely clear what the promise is of the video, what you're going to do and then surprise people and give a bit more than they expected. It's really just trying to get people to feel confident in giving you their attention for a longer time.

Pieter Levels 58:29
But that's like a tweet, right? The problem I have, so I thought about it and I did this and then I solved the problem. Here's how to do it yourself. You know, it is a formula.

Arvid Kahl 58:42
Yeah. And it's required because you need to be able to stand out amongst other people who are also interested in getting attention. It's just a new way to communicate. We used to, we had a time where we wrote letters all the time. And then email came along. And then social media came along. And now we have this. And this is I guess, just what we have to deal with.

Pieter Levels 59:02
But the attention economy has always become it's always become less attention. Like you used to have long movies and then it became TV shows. And it became YouTube videos. Now TikToks. Next will be like, just one second video or something, you know, like, I don't know. But it's always been by this. But now I feels both because you have long podcasts like Joe Rogan has three hour podcasts and I listen to the whole things. And it might take me days because I listen a little bit here. And next I listen to it here. And then you also have the clips, you have TikTok clips of podcasts. So it works both. You have this outlier, you know, like, what do you call the economy of both sides. So

Arvid Kahl 59:38
Yeah, that makes that makes a lot of sense. Like it's kind of the you should be zigging when everybody else is zagging, right? That kind of thing. Now you can do long form content for the people who really care about it. And everybody else needs to short term stuff and even for the short form content, you can still do the clips so you get your long form but in short

Pieter Levels 59:54

Arvid Kahl 59:56
Yeah, it's the more I do like of podcasts and YouTube and writing and newsletter, whatever I do. I do a lot of things, but they're all on based on the same material. I just use different ways of distributing the same material. And maybe that is the lesson here, right? That's depending on the media, depending on the medium, like the social media platform or YouTube or whatever, you just have to shape it the right way for people to consume it.

Pieter Levels 1:00:18
Yeah, I think you can learn a lot from these big, big famous influencers even if you don't like them. Man, they will say like, outrageous stuff. Like, I don't like this guy, Andew Tate, for example. They, he says, really radical stuff that's very controversial and too much, you know and then the long form parts is quite balanced. Like he kind of softens down. He's like, what actually what I think. Man, I don't think he's very honest but there's something to be learned there where if you say things that are quite packable into shorts, like answers, that person that can package their answer in the first sentence probably well and then go for long form, this will get clipped and this person will get more views than a person who cannot make a proper sentence first to summarize, you know. So becoming good at writing tweets and even talking now in a short sentence is becoming like an integral. Man, it can make you rich or not, right? Because if your video goes viral, you become famous and you sell products. So, man, that's like a skill, you know? I don't know if I'm good at it because I ramble.

Arvid Kahl 1:01:28
Well, me too, but we're both trying our best, right? At least we're trying, we're in the arena and not on the sidelines. Right?

Pieter Levels 1:01:35
Yeah, exactly.

Arvid Kahl 1:01:38
A lot of the things you say, a lot of people have opinions about like, just, you know, you can get a lot of trolls and you get a lot of people to turn your stuff into memes. How do you feel about that, like in particular?

Pieter Levels 1:01:51
Man, it's great. It's like, it's amazing. Like, these memes are amazing. And, man, what do you expect? Like you tweet like, you know, controversial stuff

Arvid Kahl 1:02:00

Pieter Levels 1:02:01
To a lot of people and of course, people going to, people get like, even like, you know, friends of friends, they message and chat like, man, what you tweeted now it's too much, unacceptable. I'm unfollowing you. I can't do it. You can't say this about this framework, you know, because I use it. People get really triggered. Man, I don't know. I think it's really funny. It's like, but you need to see it as kind of like a game. You know, man, it sounds psychopathic sociopathic, but it's you cannot take seriously like it. It's impossible to see it as a normal conversation because we have a normal conversation. But if you have now you add 300,000 people on the other side is just shouting. It's like lynch mob. So and this changes you I think and you have to watch out doesn't change your personality in real life, you know, because you become but it does a little bit of course. But I think the benefits generally outweigh the negatives. You made a lot of cool people like you. Like most of my friends, I met via Twitter, you know and we met on Twitter. A lot of famous people also like people that do really cool stuff. They DM me and we talk and stuff and it's like wow, super cool. Like, man, like I talk with DJ Fresh because when I used to make music, drum and bass music, DJ Fresh was very important figure in music. Now he makes AI startup tool called, plug it. And we DM and we talk about a lot of stuff. And I'm like talking to my drum, bass idol. You know, it's the same. It's like, every time I'm still shocked. So and I think the more you can even if you read controversial stuff because it's your real being, you get a lot of attention and via this, people understand it's Twitter, we don't understand. It's like a stage. You know, it's a show kinda

Arvid Kahl 1:02:01
Yeah, for sure.

Pieter Levels 1:02:39
But people who are smart, they understand, okay, this guy is on a platform and he's doing a show thing. And you have to take everything with a grain of salt, you know and but at true, I try to say things honestly. I don't say things just to bullshit, you know.

Arvid Kahl 1:04:14
Yeah, I guess, if you have controversial opinions, the authentic representation is just to talk to people about those things, right? To share these opinions. Like you don't hide them. You just you don't become like the person that is happy with every single thing or is like really, really appreciative of every opinion. You just say what you say.

Pieter Levels 1:04:32
And you try to be honest and apparently that's like controversial, but of course it becomes controversial because there's so many people. They don't have to be will disagree with you. So then it becomes by definition controversial, but it's not really controversial, you know and the problem is if you get scared and most people get scared of these and then they start tweeting like basic normal stuff and it's not interesting anymore. And I think the reason a lot of people follow me is because they know I'm honest and I'm not perfect. And I write whatever I think and it's usually crazy. But I also I like this yeah, but I like to say opinions and then like about frameworks or something and I say something and then I like to hear what people like when people reply. I learned from that and I changed my opinions. Like I have strong opinions weekly held. I do change my opinions all the time. And but it's a stage it's like a podium, it's a show kind of. It's inevitable that it becomes a show. It's very difficult not to make it and you have people like Lex Fridman, for example. He's very cool. And he gets a lot of hate also. And he chooses to talk more about like, love, like, we're all connected one world and everybody loves each other. And I liked that too. But it's not really my personal style. My first thought was just saying what I think. I want to keep being true to myself. I don't want to become fake, you know. And that seems fake. But he chooses love. I choose more like, what's on my heart, it's on my tongue. Like it's a German Dutch expression, I think. And I put that on Twitter, I tried to keep it in all in sync, you know. I don't like to be different offline, you know?

Arvid Kahl 1:05:59
Yeah, that's perfectly fine. And that's why I appreciate your tweets. I know that when you tweet something, even if it's controversial, it comes from an honest, truthful place. And that is the way you think about it. And that is the way you will talk about it. And I know what I get, right? That's the thing. It's very, authentically you. And I think that is a really, really smart way to building an audience or whatever you might want to call it, or just have a Twitter presence or social media presence, is just to not hide who you are. And kind of stand behind the things you say.

Pieter Levels 1:06:32
That's so difficult because people are getting really angry and they hate you for your opinions. And people, yeah, you see these breakdowns on Twitter, right? People just have a meltdown because they get so much hate. I get this every day.

Arvid Kahl 1:06:45
Me too. Yeah, I think we both follow many, many people through lists and followers. And I think over the last three days, I saw like four people saying, I'm gonna need a break from Twitter. This is enough, right? And it's unfortunate that when it comes to that because people and I'm the same way, like I post something 30 people say, this is really cool. One person says, this sucks. And all I focus on is this one person and not the 30 other people that really enjoyed what I said, right?

Pieter Levels 1:07:13
That's typical. Yeah

Arvid Kahl 1:07:14
Yeah, it's really bad. But hey, let's end this on a high note. I think your Twitter account is awesome. I think you're sharing just your honesty, sharing things that you encounter in your daily coder entrepreneurial life. And I think that is absolutely worth sometimes getting into controversial fights with other people who have no skin in the game whatsoever, but a lot of opinions. So where would you like people to go to follow you if they don't already? But where would you like people to go to look at what you do, how you do it, and the projects that you're building?

Pieter Levels 1:07:44
I think Twitter, X now you know, Yeah. Thank you for having me. And I'm big fan of your Twitter account, too.

Arvid Kahl 1:07:58
I'm a big fan of you, man. It's so nice. It's taken a couple of years for us to have a chat finally. But I'm super happy to be got to talk about all of this today. I'm really, really looking forward to seeing like where you're indie hacker journey, if that is still what you consider yourself to be takes you in the future. And thanks for building all of these things in public. You're a role model to a lot of us. So thanks so much.

Pieter Levels 1:07:58
Thank you, man! It's an honor to hear, man! Very nice!

Arvid Kahl 1:08:12
It's been a pleasure. Thanks for being on the show.

Pieter Levels 1:08:26
Thank you for having me.

Arvid Kahl 1:08:28
And that's it for today. Pieter mentioned that he'd be open to sell his AI businesses eventually. And I know just the right place for him to list those businesses. I will now briefly thank my sponsor for today: Imagine this and it's not gonna be hard because Pieter just talked about this the whole time. You're a founder who's built a really solid SaaS product, you acquired massive amounts of customers, you're getting consistent monthly recurring revenue. That's the SaaS dream, as explained and evidenced by Pieter's AI tools. The problem is you're not growing for whatever reason, maybe lack of focus, lack of skill, lack of interest, and you just feel stuck in your business and with your business. In Pieter's case, it's really unawareness of where things are gonna go, right? Is the stuff still going to be around in a couple months? Can I still run this business by myself? Or should somebody take over? Well, the story here at this point, in many cases, is that people would love to hear that you buckled down, reignited the fire. You worked on the business, not just in the business, you build an audience and you marked a new sales and outreach growing team and whatever. Six months down the road, people would love to hear that you made all that money, right? You've tripled your revenue, you've built this hyper successful business, but reality is unfortunately not as simple as this. And the situation that you might find yourself in might be very different. And every founder is facing this crossroad in a different way. But too many times, the story that follows is the same. It ends up being one of inaction and stagnation until your business itself becomes less and less valuable over time or worse, completely worthless. So if you find yourself here already or you think that your personal story is likely headed down a similar road, I would consider a third option. And that's selling your business on Because capitalizing on the value of your time today is a pretty smart move. It's the only time you have. is free to list. They've helped hundreds of founders already. So go to and see for yourself if this is the right option for you and your business right now.

Thank you so much for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder today. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You find my books and my twitter course there too. And if you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, that would be really appreciated. Just get and rate the podcast in your podcast player of choice and leave a rating and a review by going to ( It really makes a massive difference for me. Because if you show up there, can rate and review, then the podcast will show up in other people's feeds. And that just means more people get to learn from people like Pieter today. Any of this will help the show. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful day and bye bye.