Road to Indie Hacking #1: Finding an idea

Calvin Dong
4 min readMay 29, 2022

As a self-described overthinker, finding ideas I actually want to work on, for whatever reason, is exceedingly difficult. Especially through the lens of indie hacking — by necessity, there are dozens more constraints on the set of viable ideas than there would’ve been otherwise. For example, climate change, while a fascinating and certainly important problem, is not necessarily addressable by a team of one.

These are the two things I did to generate the idea I eventually settled on — while definitely not globally applicable, I hope some of it is useful to you. And I’ll finally share my idea at the end that I’ve already started work on!

Talk to the right founders

Find people who are doing the exact thing you want to do, and see how they landed on their idea. One thing I found extremely helpful was to narrow my focus and only reach out to those who are very similar to me — it helped make sure their problem solving approach was actually relevant. For example, it wouldn’t help me to contact an extroverted content marketer, because while that certainly can be a persona of a successful indie hacker, I face a whole different set of problems than they do when they first got started.

My most productive conversation was with Damon Chen of Testimonial.to. He’s a bootstrapped founder of a company working on simple video testimonials, and one of his strategies was sticking to things you already know well (for him, it was video APIs), as that’s your unique advantage, and while simple, it made me come back to a whole set of ideas that I had discarded.

Ask your friends, networks, and yourself

It goes without saying that you should care about your idea, or at the very least, be in proximity to people who care. The easiest way to do that is by asking your friends, family, ex-coworkers, or anyone else in your immediate radius. Just by doing this, you can find a set of problems that other people have and see if you might relate to them or have solutions.

Secondly, and this was most important to me, was just paying closer attention to problems I encountered in my everyday life. Interestingly enough, it seems that humans have a unique ability to get used to everyday problems and take them for granted. Everyone encountered the problems of nonexistent food delivery, expensive hotels, and poor work communication for years before Doordash, Airbnb and Slack came around to solve them, and there are certainly more problems today that are missing solutions. When I got annoyed at something in my day-to-day, I made a note of it, and eventually came back around to see if there was a potential idea there.

What am I working on?

I started by asking myself what I knew well, which was pretty easy — when I first started getting into software, I thought integrating with external APIs was the most fascinating thing ever (see my first-ever hackathon project where we pulled in 3rd party maps data), and it still remains one of my favorite things to do in software engineering.

Secondly, in the process of thinking about my own problems, I found that one of the most consistent annoyances was having to use Jira, an issue tracker that many large companies use. Constantly, issues would be hard to find, slow to load, or I might misclick on their bloated web UI.

It seemed obvious — why didn’t I make a simplified Jira integration, hosted on its own, that would strip Jira down only to the parts I needed to use?

Just to validate that anyone would care, I did a quick web search for Jira complaints, and wow, I wasn’t expecting the amount of discussion that I found. Most people were grudgingly okay with it (especially because their employer mandated its use), but hated how slow, buggy, and cluttered it was. I even found this Reddit comment that stated they’d pay for exactly what I wanted to do:

While there are definitely still hurdles, this sure seems like a legitimate problem that a significant proportion of the software engineering community has, and I’m starting preliminary work on it (which, of course, involves connecting to Jira via API).

I’ll share more updates as I make progress on actually building it out :) For now, stay tuned!

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