Moving halfway across the globe to Bali, Indonesia, bootstrapping a successful startup and selling it for a sizable sum. A dream for many, a dream come true for 27 year-old indie hacker and Headlime founder Danny Postma. What’s it like to take the plunge? Danny discusses going fully remote and leaving the rat race in pursuit of the freedom to do whatever you want.
At age 22, just out of college, Danny took up a freelance consulting gig, specializing in conversion optimization. Inspired by the indie hacking culture in Bali while backpacking a year later, he finally left the city of Groningen behind at age 25, taught himself to code, and came up with an A.I. copywriting tool. Things took off big time and he recently sold his company to Conversion.ai, a successful, former Y Combinator startup, based in Austin, Texas .
Was it difficult to take the plunge and move to another country?
“Not really. The decision to go on a 10 month backpacking trip through Asia 4 years ago was way scarier. I booked that flight while drunk and the next day I was like, oh shit, so I’m really doing this! And when I went to Bali, I found this co-working space on Nomad List and decided to check it out, get some work done while traveling. The people there were great and really welcoming and I loved the indie hacking culture. Just the whole idea of bootstrapping your own startup and working towards financial independence, was really inspirational. No team, no investments, just you, making cool things that you sell directly to your customers as a SaaS product.”
“When I got back to Groningen, I just felt that itch to go back, especially in the wintertime. And I did go back a couple of times for a month or so. So moving there didn’t feel like a huge life decision. I already knew people there and it felt more like coming home, rather than leaving it. And of course I could always move back to the Netherlands if things didn’t pan out.”
From the aha moment of creating an A.I. tool to sealing the deal, what was the journey like?
“I thought it would be cool to learn how to code and the copywriting tool was actually the fourth project I did. Originally, I created a tool that came up with headline suggestions for sales pages and blogs. It sold really well and people loved the product. Around that same time, OpenAI launched their highly anticipated GPT-3 A.I. and I thought it would be really cool to use that to develop a tool that could write things like blogs and marketing and sales copy. Funny story, I just sent an email to their CTO and I was actually one of the first people to get access to it.”
“I launched it in November 2020 and things really just exploded. Headlime was mentioned in a TechCrunch article and month-over-month growth was something like 100%, which was absolutely insane. Then one day, I got an email from a really big US tech company. I can’t say who, because of the NDA, but they offered to buy Headlime. But it’s a big company, so things move slowly, so email responses were slow too. Then I got another offer from Conversion.ai. They’re just three dudes from Austin. We chatted and negotiated through Slack and it was a super smooth and fast process. The whole acquisition process from the first email to signing took just two weeks.”
Was it a tough decision to sell? You could’ve also decided to grow an already successful business.
“True, but I would’ve had to raise funding and hire people, things like that. And I didn’t want to do that, because I don’t feel like I’m at that point in my life where I'm comfortable with managing a team and running a big company. And if I tried growing the business on my own, the competition would sail right past me. So selling it felt like the right thing to do.”
What does the average workweek look like for an indie hacker in Bali?
“Haha, difficult to say, because there are no average weeks. Some weeks you’re working 80 hours, long past midnight. Other weeks it’s maybe 20 tops and you go surfing after lunch. It just depends on what needs to get done, so it’s more like day to day living in that sense. But I love having that kind of freedom. In fact, I’ve never had to set my alarm in the morning since I moved to Bali. I just wake up, check what I need to do and go and do that.”
What’s the work culture like over there?
“I guess it’s pretty much the same type of people I worked with back in Groningen, at the Launch Cafe co-working space. Just cool people doing cool things, and everyone is really open and informal. The only difference in Bali is that most entrepreneurs usually work alone, or as teams of two, without funding. People come and go, some become very successful, others are still working on building a customer base. But the cost of living is of course cheaper here, so that’s why bootstrapping is also more common here too.”
“But what I really love about the indie hacking culture is the openness of sharing everything you do. How much you made, how you did it, what was successful and what wasn’t. It’s something I started doing too when I moved here, where I’m just totally open about my company on Twitter.”
You don't think that level of openness helps your competition more than you?
“For me, it did exactly the opposite. I mean sure, people could steal some of the ideas you’re working on if you tweet about it, but it really helped me build the right type of followers and reach a lot of people through them. I got the offers for Headlime because of it, because they followed me and knew what I was working on. Or heard about me through a retweet. And it also helped me sell my products. I never had to spend a single dime on online marketing, ever. That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say as an entrepreneur.”
Do you think A.I. tools like yours will replace content and copywriters or help them?
“A little bit of both, I think. If you mainly write standard or generic content that’s low on research, then yeah, these tools will probably replace you. But I think for other writers, it’s a great tool to help you with writer’s block for example. Or it can do the more arduous, time consuming work for you, so you can focus on the things you love about writing, while saving time in the process.”
So what’s next? Enjoying a life of retirement at 27?
“Haha, no. I’m working on fleshing out some new projects and I still do some of the same consulting work I did years ago, the only difference is that I do it remotely. I’ll still be working closely with the Conversion.ai team as they migrate the two tools together, but all my time will be devoted to helping them roll out some big new features together with the OpenAI team. And sure, I got a pretty sizable sum, but I have to make that money work for me in some way. So I’m also looking for ways to invest, like maybe local real estate, things like that.”
“What I absolutely love about it is that, ever since Headlime was acquired, I feel more relaxed than I’ve felt in years. I can’t tell you just how great it feels to wake up, knowing I have the freedom to do whatever I want that day. I don’t have to worry about my finances right now, I can do the things I love and do them because I want to, not because I have to.”