This post was originally featured in Indie Hackers interview series
Hi! My name is Sam Dickie. I live in London and I'm a Product Manager by day at ucreate and indie hacker by night. I'm the founder and maker of NoCode.tech.
NoCode is a free curated directory of tools and resources aimed at non-technical makers and entrepreneurs. It provides all the free tools and resources you need to create an online business.
I launched NoCode about 14 months ago and currently have over 3,000 members and make approximately £400/month net income through a mix of affiliate links on the site and newsletter sponsorship.
My initial inspiration for NoCode came from a fantastic site I found on Product Hunt called Startup Stash, created by Bram Kanstein. The concept was so simple: tiled categories on a landing page providing all the tools and resources you needed to run your startup. This got me thinking.
While building various online side projects over the years, I had accumulated hundreds of various tools and resources held in spreadsheets, notebooks, Evernote and bookmarks. So I decided to curate this list and make it available online for other non-technical founders like me.
True to my non-technical background and lack of technical knowledge at the time of creating NoCode, I decided to build the site using Weebly, a popular drag and drop website builder. This allowed me to put a site together in a matter of weeks by picking an off the shelf theme (origami) and making some minor tweaks to it. I then implemented a variety of third-party tools using the basic embed tool, including:
So far, this setup has worked really well, and I've yet to consider the need to build a custom site.
The site typically requires about 2-3 hours a week responding to emails, creating the newsletter and sourcing/adding new tools and resources.
"You don't need a formal education in engineering to understand the basics of building a product."
My only cost running the site is the £7/month Weebly Pro package subscription. I used to pay for my MailChimp list (as anything above 2,000 subscribers costs); however, after removing 25% of my inactive email subscribers, I'm back down to the free tier for the time being.
Honestly, I'm super tight (I suppose you call that bootstrapped) and have relied on finding free methods to acquire users.
Initially, as I was creating NoCode I built a quick landing page with an email capture form and a mocked up screenshot of the homepage using Canva.
I then managed to get featured on BetaList where I got about 35 signups. I later used those interested early adopters to test my initial prototypes of the site and get feedback on some of my ideas. This approach proved incredibly valuable information and helped validate some of my early assumptions.
This was my butt ugly landing page in 2016:
A few weeks after publicly launching the site, I was fortunate enough to get featured on Product Hunt. This provided a huge boost of traffic to the site, providing me with a couple hundred email subscribers and loads of constructive feedback to consider.
How I drive traffic today
Content: I created a Medium account and started writing How-to's aimed at my non-technical audience. I also reposted this content on Indie Hackers, Reddit (r/startup) and via the NoCode newsletter and community forum.
I have also done some guest blogging on other prominent sites which works really well, increasing the number of high-quality backlinks to the site and in turn slowly improving my SEO ranking. It's not something you see instant results with. However, it's certainly worth the effort.
Social Media: I use Twitter, although I could be using it much more. I have also done a few speaking engagements in London and mentioned NoCode which has also helped with word-of-mouth referrals.
SEO: To improve my SEO I hired a freelance SEO expert via Fiverr to optimize the site as I didn't have a clue how to structure my site map or meta tags. After a few months I noticed a substantial improvement in traffic coming via Google. A lot of my traffic now comes from the my mockup generator directory which ranks number 2 on Google when you search for the term 'online mockup generator'.
Another method I use to drive traffic, which has proved invaluable, is the NoCode members area. This consists of exclusive discount codes for some of the tools and resources featured on the site, community forum, newsletter, access to BetaTesta for free (my other side project), as well as the promotion directory list. Since launching the members' area 6 months ago, I have seen the number of subscribers double as well as the retention rate improve. Now, visitors to the site have a reason to convert into a member and provide their email address.
I have only started to monetize the site in the last 10 months, as initially I was extremely wary about monetizing too early with little traffic and value being offered at the time of launch. However, as I began to receive more traffic to the site and add more features, I started to consider ways of monetizing the site.
I slowly began to introduce affiliate links to some of the tools and resources I featured on the site. However, I have a word of warning! Affiliate models are a bit of a taboo subject and you need to be careful to not fall victim of being led astray by affiliate schemes, as you can start to get greedy and deliberately start pushing products for the sake of getting more income. This would almost definitely affect the integrity of the site, and I want to ensure all the tools and resources I have selected are because they will provide value and have been chosen because they are the best at what they do, not just because they have a good affiliate scheme.
'You can learn a lot on your own. There are so many great resources out there for free now.'
It took awhile until I received my first payout but, when it came, the feeling was incredible! It was a real confidence boost and validated the fact I could make some money on the side running this site. However, out of the 200+ tools and resources featured on the site, only about 15% contain affiliate links, so there is only so much income that can be generated using this model on the site.
I also started to receive a few emails a week from people asking if they could feature their own tools or resources on my newsletter. So, I began charging to appear in the featured section of the newsletter. I manage to find a sponsor most months, but there is a lot of work involved and I would like to improve this process.
It's been a very inconsistent and rocky income generated each month, so going forward I'm considering various ways to stabilize the MRR and perhaps start charging a one-time membership fee to new users.
My future roadmap consists of building out a larger ecosystem of products around NoCode. This is something I have been actively working on for the past few months. I really enjoy creating new side projects that in some way, shape, or form complement NoCode and linking them into the members area.
I recently created BetaTesta, a simple platform geared at helping makers of side projects find users to test their websites or apps.
I like the idea of creating a few small online passive income sources with each new side project complementing the next. However, I must admit I seem to enjoy creating the side project more than the actual running of it, something I perhaps need to get better at.
My other future goals include improving some of the sites' metrics, including the bounce rate, traffic, subscribers and MRR. I really enjoy creating new experiments, be that UI tweaks, growth hacks, or changes to the newsletter format, and then analyzing the analytics to see what changes have occurred.
My initial lack of technical skills and experience proved to be a challenge at first and extremely daunting at times. However, perseverance was key and eventually I always found an alternative solution to any issue that would arise.
Perhaps my biggest challenge (and I'm sure this is experienced by many others) is the lack of time. Like many, I work a full-time job while running multiple side projects. At times I struggle to find the time to manage my work life, side projects and my social life. However, this constraint has also forced me to optimize my time and ensure it's spent in the most efficient way possible. Blocking out time each night and creating To-do lists ensures I keep momentum up and continually move forward.
Over the last few months I have been working on finding ways to reduce the amount of time required to maintain the site. First, I have optimized the newsletter template reducing the amount of time I spend each month creating the newsletter. I have also created email automations for new subscribers using MailChimp's (now free) automation triggering tool. I have also set up an automatic social drip campaign using Missinglettr's free Medium integration and drip campaign tool.
Honestly, if I had to start over I don't think I would do much differently. However, I would have tried to enjoy the experience a little more and not hold myself to such tough personal deadlines throughout the process. It's one thing to push yourself and develop the habit of structure and routine. However, if you put too much pressure on yourself you will start to resent the project and it then becomes just another item on your to-do list each week and you might start to resent doing it.
Enjoy the process, fall in love with the problem you are trying to solve and make sure you are having fun.
The sheer amount of online tools and resources out there for non-techs is staggering. The rise of the non-technical entrepreneur is becoming more prevalent every year. You don't need to have technical skills to create a website, list a product/service and start making money!
I'm not sure I would be writing this 5 years ago given my lack of technical skills. However, these days I have yet to hit a barrier where I require outside help. There are so many how-to guides, Medium posts and YouTube videos documenting everything.
Just get making. You can spend all your time researching and planning, but very few people actually start building and even fewer actually manage to ship their projects. It's daunting at first and opens you up to a lot of potential criticism, but on the flip side it also opens you up to a lot of support. Just check out some of the side projects that are featured on Indie Hackers, it's incredibly inspiring.
Once you have built something, launched it, and gotten some users on board, it's an incredibly satisfying feeling and becomes somewhat addictive. It's like a recipe, and once you know the ingredients required to develop it, you keep iterating and getting better each time.
"Just get making. You can spend all your time researching and planning, but very few people actually start building."
You don't need a formal education in engineering to understand the basics of building a product. You can learn a lot on your own. There are so many great resources out there for free now. Just spend time absorbing as much as you can and it will eventually start to make sense. However, reading and watching how-to's will only take you so far. You need to start creating and making mistakes!
You can check out my blog where I have tried to document most of the journey so far building NoCode. I create a monthly newsletter where I also try to keep my subscribers up to date on my progress, ideas and other side projects. I'm also active on Twitter @thisdickie so feel free to get in touch!