Indie Impostor Syndrome

It’s probably irrational to start an indie1 software company. The hours are long, the customers are fleeting, the competition is clever and better-funded, the pay is meager and may always be so. It’s only out of sheer joy and excitement for our work that we do it anyway.

With time, doubts grow. A friend of mine once told me that he wondered if something was wrong with him, wondered if he had some undetected fatal flaw that would prevent him from turning his vision into reality.

I said I could see no such flaw, but I knew his doubts well.

When I first started my company, I doubted whether anyone would care. When my first customers arrived and gave harsh feedback, I doubted whether I could make a product anyone truly wanted. When I first broke my service, I doubted my own skill-set and training. When I first turned a profit, I doubted whether I could make it meaningfully grow. When I first realized my competitors knew me and were gunning for me, I doubted whether I could hold my own.

Many of those doubts are gone now; settled. Now I have a daughter on the way. Now I doubt whether I can keep my family sheltered, and happy, and fed.

I’m lucky, though. I started my company with two stalwart comrades. On the days I doubt, they don’t. Somehow we keep the gears turning.

My friend, however? He’s a solo indie developer. It’s hard for him to spread his doubt around.

Sam Altman recently mentioned that all of Y Combinator’s outsize successes started with more than one founder. I’m sure there are many factors at play, and of course Altman is concerned with fast-growing venture-backed startups. But can there be any doubt that, for the solo startups, as for the indies, doubt itself is a great and crushing enemy?

[1] I’m not too worried about how we define “indie”. To crib from The Matrix, being indie is just like being in love: no one needs to tell you you’re in love. You just know it, through and through.