Why Now Is the Best Time to Start a Side Project Ever
Jul 4, 2023 by Florian
I think we are entering a golden time for indie hacking right now.
In case you don't know, "indie hackers" are developers who build startups without external funding. "Indie" stands for "independent". They are developers like you and me who build apps and websites with the goal of turning them into profitable businesses, either alone or in a very small team.
Indie hacking has always been very appealing to me because as developers, we have the necessary skills to build any app or website we want. There are many people who coded their own profitable businesses, some of them making millions. You can check out the #buildinpublic hashtag on Twitter to see indie hackers share their stories.
The reason why I think we are entering a golden era of indie hacking is because of the recent developments in AI (artificial intelligence), which (1) create a whole universe of new app ideas and (2) make developers more productive than ever before. Let me elaborate.
AI lets you put a new twist on existing ideas
Because of how new and powerful these AI tools are, you can just take an existing app idea and use tools like ChatGPT to put a completely new spin on it. For example, until recently, there was no room in the market for another PDF reader. But now, indie hackers have created PDF readers that use ChatGPT to let you chat with your PDF and this way extract information as if you were talking to a human. The are tons of cool new ideas like this coming out now.
And these AI integrations are actually easy to build. OpenAI has an API for ChatGPT as well as their image generation tools that you can easily use in your own apps. The GPT API used to be very expensive but the new chat models are very cheap now, costing about 1 cent to generate thousands of AI-generated words.
I assume that you have already tried out ChatGPT and know how impressive it is. If not, go to chat.openai.com, create a free account, and prepare to have your mind blown.
I challenge you to sit down and brainstorm some existing app ideas that could be improved by adding some simple API calls to ChatGPT. And then why not try and build one?
AI tools let you write code much faster
Not only is it easy to build your own AI-powered apps now, but existing AI tools also help you write code faster than ever before.
If you're using VS Code, I highly recommend that you get GitHub Copilot. If you're a student, you can get it for free. If not, it costs 10 bucks a month (with a free trial month available). But the productivity boost you gain from it is more than worth that price.
Copilot can't build a whole app for you, but it's really good at generating annoying boilerplate code and logic. This can save you a lot of time when building your own apps.
Tip: You can give Copilot exact instructions on what code to generate by using comments as I show in this video.
Frameworks like Next.js let you build full-stack websites in a weekend
I'm a huge fan of Next.js and I use it for all my side projects because it allows me to build blazingly fast, SEO-optimized full-stack websites in a very short time.
Next.js 13 introduced server components and server actions, which allow you to write your backend code right in your React components. For larger projects, a separate backend like Express might still be a better idea, but for small projects that only do some database operations, they can replace your whole backend.
I recently had an idea for an AI-powered website that needed different API calls, a backend database, and good SEO scores. I built and deployed the first version of the website in one afternoon and even though the website is doing database operations and runs on a free M0 Mongo database, the page speed scores are literally perfect:
This is the magic of Next.js.
If you want to learn how to build websites like this, I just released a brand new tutorial on YouTube where we build an e-commerce website in Next.js that uses both server components and server actions extensively.
Vercel, the creators of Next.js, recently released a new AI SDK that makes adding more advanced AI capabilities to your app even easier. I'm planning to make a tutorial on that soon so keep an eye on my YouTube channel!
Side projects are the best learning method
I often emphasize that building a side project that you're excited about is the best way to learn new programming technologies. But instead of building some social media clone for your GitHub profile, why not build an actual startup? The work is the same but you also have the chance to build a side income.
In times when AI will get rid of some jobs, building another income stream is always a good idea. I don't want to pretend that building a profitable startup is easy, but as a developer, the shots you take are virtually free. You only have to invest time and energy, and you learn a ton in the process. Most tools you will use are either very cheap or have free tiers available that are enough until your project gained some traction.
I hope this post inspired you to build a new side project. Don't forget to follow Coding in Flow on Twitter for more byte-sized coding tips and to stay in touch with me personally.
Happy coding and take care!
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