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  • Ankit Uttam

Zero to $45,000/month in 2 Years - Tony's Solopreneurship Journey

On September 20, 2021, Tony Dinh bid farewell to his job and dove into the world of solopreneurship.


It marked the beginning of a new chapter for him.


And it's been a game-changer.


Being his own boss has given him a sense of freedom he never knew existed.


So, here's a quick rundown of what Tony has been up to in the past couple of years:


  1. He's cooked up four nifty little products, all of which have found their own slice of success. We'll dish out the details on those later.

  2. Tony's also been hustling on Twitter, amassing a cool 97K followers. That's some serious social media mojo right there.

  3. Oh, and he's got this newsletter too, boasting a solid 6,000+ subscribers. Not too shabby, right?

  4. And let's not forget the AI craze. Tony hopped on that bandwagon and rode it straight to success, whipping up a product that's been turning heads.


But it hasn't all been smooth sailing.


Tony faced some serious drama that nearly sank his ship.


Luckily, he weathered the storm and kept his business afloat.


As it stands, Tony's raking in around $45K a month in revenue across all his ventures, with a sweet 90% of that landing straight in his pocket.


Now, I want to share Tony's journey with you.


Consider it a little guidebook for anyone dreaming of taking the plunge into self-employment someday.


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Tony Dinh

Tony's background


Tony's journey didn't start from scratch.


Before he took the leap into self-employment, he had a solid background as a software engineer, clocking in seven years of experience by 2021.


Building software was Tony's jam from way back. He even whipped up his first software product back in high school using Visual Basic 6. And throughout his career, he always had side projects simmering alongside his full-time gig.


With his experience in the industry, Tony had a toolkit packed with skills—frontend, backend, DevOps, mobile apps, game dev, and even a sprinkle of UX/UI design. These skills turned out to be his secret weapon later down the road.


Then, enter COVID. Like many of us, Tony found himself working remotely from home, stuck in a foreign country, feeling the itch of boredom creeping in.


That's when he stumbled upon IndieHackers.com. The stories of indie hackers making it big—folks like Pieter Levels, Kyle Gawley, and Jon Yongfook—lit a fire under Tony.




With COVID keeping him cooped up and a surplus of spare time sans commute, Tony decided to reignite his passion for building software products.


His first crack at it was a macOS log viewer app. Tony, being the perfectionist he is, wanted it all—gorgeous UI, tons of features, bulletproof architecture, and a test suite that'd make any QA engineer proud.


But six months down the line, the project felt like a never-ending slog. Tony got bored and chucked it in the bin.


It was a spectacular failure, but hey, not all was lost. Tony came out of it with a boatload of Swift experience under his belt, ready to tackle macOS and iOS apps like a pro.


But failure didn't deter him. About a month later, Tony dusted himself off and gave it another shot—this time with a lot less emphasis on test cases.


Enter DevUtils. Tony whipped up the first version in just two weeks. It was a handy little tool bundling all the developer tools you could shake a stick at into one slick interface, perfect for offline use on macOS.


Tony shared it with friends, family, and co-workers, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. People loved the app.


That was all the encouragement Tony needed. He slapped a $9 price tag on it for a lifetime subscription, then tossed it onto Hacker News.


Tony's Solopreneurship Journey

And wouldn't you know it? Lady Luck smiled upon him. Positive comments flooded in, and before he knew it, DevUtils was reigning supreme at the top of Hacker News.


And just like that, Tony scored his first ever dollar from the internet.


You can bet he did a victory dance in his bedroom in Singapore, all while still holding down a full-time job.


Tony's Solopreneurship Journey


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Tony discovered Twitter

As the initial buzz from Hacker News and Product Hunt died down, Tony realized he needed a more sustainable way to keep the traffic flowing to DevUtils. Posting on various platforms was like playing the lottery—he couldn't rely on luck forever.


That's when Twitter caught his eye, especially the #buildinpublic community. Tony saw it as a potential goldmine for building his brand and funneling traffic to DevUtils without constant hustling.


So, he dusted off his old Twitter account and got to work. At first, he bombarded his followers with DevUtils updates, but soon realized that wasn't cutting it. People wanted more than just product pitches—they wanted personality.


Tony switched gears, showcasing his coding skills in fun and creative ways. One experiment, in particular, went viral with over 100 likes—a first for him.


His Twitter strategy boiled down to four key ingredients: build cool stuff, engage with others, write threads, and sprinkle in plenty of memes and jokes. Essentially, he aimed to be an interesting and friendly presence in the Twittersphere.


And it paid off. In just six months, Tony's follower count ballooned from 100 to 700. Not too shabby for a side hustle.




But then came Tony's big break—the birth of Black Magic, his first "real" business with a subscription model. It all started as a celebration when he neared 1,000 followers on Twitter.


Tony discovered he could update his profile picture via the Twitter API, so he whipped up a script that added a progress bar around his pic, inching closer to completion as his follower count climbed.


The idea was a hit, so Tony turned it into a web app, offering a "Pro" version with customizable progress bar colors for $4 a month.


Tony's Solopreneurship Journey

And just like that, he scored his first taste of recurring revenue.


Tony's Solopreneurship Journey

Despite still holding down a full-time job, Tony worked on Black Magic with all the free time he had, adding more features to keep users engaged.


With every new feature and tweet, his follower count and monthly recurring revenue soared.


It was the beginning of something big for Tony


By building and tweeting at the same time, both his MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and followers were increasing fast.


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Tony Quit His Job for Solopreneurship

By August 2021, Tony was riding high on the momentum of his endeavors.


Black Magic was pulling in around $300 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR), while DevUtils was chipping in an extra $200 a month.


His Twitter following had ballooned to 8,000, and DevUtils boasted 1,500 active users—mostly free users, but hey, it's a start.


With such promising numbers, Tony took the plunge. He bid farewell to his job, marking September 20, 2021, as the day he officially became a full-time indie hacker.


And he savored that newfound freedom like a breath of fresh air, strolling through the park near his Singapore home with a sense of liberation he'd never felt before.


Around the same time, Tony dipped his toes into newsletter writing. With two years' worth of savings stashed away, he had a safety net in case things went south. But Tony was a risk-taker, seeing this as the perfect opportunity to go all-in on his dreams.


With no family to tie him down, Tony rolled the dice. His goal? Hit $1K in monthly recurring revenue within a year—enough to live comfortably back home in Vietnam forever.



And boy, did he hustle. Tony poured all his energy into Black Magic and DevUtils, tweeting up a storm to keep building his audience. And it paid off big time.


The turning point came with the introduction of the Magic Sidebar—a Chrome extension for Twitter that revolutionized Black Magic from a fun engagement tool to a must-have solution for big Twitter accounts. Tony pivoted the entire product around this game-changing feature, and the results were staggering.


Within months, Tony's monthly revenue skyrocketed to $4K.


Tony's Solopreneurship Journey

It was a whirlwind period of growth and innovation, but Tony kept his followers in the loop with monthly newsletter updates, chronicling his journey like clockwork.


And so, Tony's gamble paid off. Ramen profitability in year one—just like he'd envisioned.


But this was only the beginning of Tony's indie hacker adventure. Who knows what other tricks he has up his sleeve? One thing's for sure: the journey's far from over.


By February 2022, Tony has reached $4K MRR and 28K followers on Twitter, far beyond his goal.


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Travel, Work, and Play


After quitting his job, Tony dove headfirst into his indie hacker journey, putting in long hours—sometimes up to 16 hours a day, if you count Twitter as "work." But when he hit $4K in monthly recurring revenue (MRR), Tony realized it was time to dial back the intensity.


Sure, he still wanted to grow his revenue, but he knew chasing arbitrary numbers would never satisfy him. So, Tony decided to find a balance between work and play.


He packed his bags and embarked on a journey around Vietnam, soaking in the sights and sounds of his homeland while still putting in about four hours of work each day—mostly tweeting, of course.


Then, in September 2022, something straight out of a dream happened: Tony got invited to the Indie Hacker podcast—the same podcast that had inspired him when he first started out.


It was a surreal moment, marking almost exactly one year since he'd bid farewell to his nine-to-five grind.


As the podcast aired in late September, Tony's revenue from Black Magic steadily climbed to an impressive $13K in MRR by October 2022.


Tony's Solopreneurship MRR

But Tony wasn't one to rest on his laurels. In between tending to his existing products, he kept experimenting, trying his hand at new ideas.


Some flopped (RIP EmojiAI and AskCommand), but one—Xnapper, a screenshot app—struck gold with his audience, raking in $6K a month.


Xnapper

Juggling multiple products not only kept Tony on his toes but also gave him a welcome reprieve when he felt burnt out on one project.


Plus, it provided fresh content for his Twitter followers, as he embraced the ethos of "building in public," sharing every step of his journey with his ever-growing audience.




Elon Musk, Twitter, and Tony's Business


In February 2023, just after Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, came a bombshell announcement: the Twitter API, upon which Black Magic relied, would no longer be free.


Twitter Drama

Tony wasn't too worried at first. After all, Black Magic was pulling in a tidy sum, and he figured he could afford to pay a reasonable fee for API access.


But when the price tag was unveiled—$42K a month, with a laughably limited $100/month option—Tony's jaw hit the floor. With Black Magic sitting at $14K in monthly recurring revenue, there was no way he could foot the bill.

He faced a tough choice: shut down or sell.


In the end, Tony opted to sell Black Magic for $128K. It wasn't the exit he'd envisioned, but it was the only option on the table.


Despite parting ways with his brainchild, Tony still had a soft spot for Black Magic, using it daily even after the sale.


And wouldn't you know it, a few months down the line, Twitter did a complete 180 on their pricing, introducing a new plan at a much more palatable $5,000 a month. Tony could've kicked himself for not waiting, but hindsight's 20/20.


Undeterred by the rollercoaster ride with Black Magic, Tony shifted his focus to a new venture: Typing Mind.


Typing Mind: Tony's 4th product

March 1, 2023, marked a significant milestone in Tony's journey as an indie hacker: OpenAI unleashed the ChatGPT API upon the world. Having dabbled with ChatGPT via the web interface, Tony knew its limitations all too well—no search function, sluggish text output, and the downright infuriating daily logouts.


But OpenAI's API release was a game-changer. Tony saw an opportunity to create a better user experience for ChatGPT, and he wasted no time. The very next day, he snagged the domain typingmind.com and got to work on a prototype.


Despite being sidetracked by Twitter drama for the rest of the week, Tony managed to cobble together the first version of Typing Mind over the weekend. On March 6, 2023, he unleashed it upon the world, announcing its arrival on Twitter.


AI product

The response was overwhelming. Users flocked to Typing Mind, and Tony quickly capitalized on the demand, rolling out a paid plan starting at $9. As he added more features, he bumped up the price, settling at $39.


The revenue poured in like a monsoon. Within a week, Typing Mind had raked in a whopping $22K—a testament to the hunger for a better ChatGPT experience.


Since April, Tony has poured his energy into Typing Mind, fine-tuning its features and even developing a B2B version for companies. And the hustle paid off.


Typing Mind is currently making ~$30K/month revenue on average.


And that is where Tony's indie hacker journey stands today




Key Takeaways


If you're eyeing a similar path to Tony, here are some nuggets of wisdom from his journey:


  • First off, remember that what worked for him might not be the golden ticket for everyone. His journey is just that—his. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest. There's no one-size-fits-all formula for success in the indie hacker world.

  • If you're flying solo like Tony, aim to be a jack of all trades—a generalist. Dabble in a bit of everything. Sure, specialize in your field, but don't shy away from branching out. As a developer, don't box yourself into one niche—explore frontend, backend, mobile apps, design, marketing, you name it. Use the 80/20 rule: focus 20% of your effort on tasks that yield 80% of the results.

  • Cultivate your unfair advantages. For Tony, it was his coding chops—a skill honed over years of practice. If you don't have any unfair advantages yet, start building them today.

  • Build an audience if you can. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but if you've got the knack for it, give it a shot. Cultivate your own community on Twitter, Reddit, or internet forums. Trust me, having an engaged audience makes everything else a whole lot easier. Case in point: Tony's 97K-strong Twitter following has become one of his secret weapons.

  • Ship early, ship small, ship often. Don't get bogged down by perfectionism or cling to a sinking ship. Flex that "muscle memory" by churning out products more frequently.

  • When crafting your product, laser-focus on the value it brings to your customers. Put yourself in their shoes to avoid over-engineering. And don't forget to loop in your customers—they're your greatest asset in the building process.

  • Patience is key, my friend. Success in this game takes time, and a healthy dose of luck doesn't hurt either.


So, if you're ready to roll up your sleeves and dive into the wild world of indie hacking, remember these lessons from Tony's journey.


Who knows? Maybe you'll carve out your own path to success, one step at a time.


PS: All Images from Tony Dinh's Substack Channel





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About

My name is Ankit Uttam

I'm an Author (20+ books- A few of them have been on bestsellers charts too), and I'm a solopreneur who is trying to learn each day about how to navigate this growing space and also help a few people along the way.

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