Life update 2023 — Taking Reform indie, working a part time job, and life in general
Taking Reform indie
Okay, so the heading above might be a bit confusing to most people following along at home. “Wasn’t Reform already indie?” In a sense, yes, but also not really. Reform has been at a revenue plateau since last fall that we haven’t been able to break through. Plateaus suck — especially the ones that happen way before a business is profitable or sustainable. Those plateaus are basically default-dead plateaus. Most importantly, in terms of not being truly indie, the business was worth less than the liquidity preferences of our investors. So even though I was the main shareholder, I knew that if I sold the business, I wouldn’t make any money.
Summing this up: The business wasn’t making much money, it wasn’t growing, and I didn’t stand to make any money from it even if we sold.
When we started Reform in 2021, it wasn’t from a clean slate — it was essentially a full pivot from another business, Branch (and WP Pusher). Back in 2019, I joined the TinySeed accelerator with Branch and WP Pusher (I was the first person to get accepted into TinySeed). In 2020, after having acquisition talks with several big hosting companies, I was super optimistic about Branch and raised some more money from a couple of angel investors, including an angel-sized check from one of the most famous VC firms in the world. But by the end of that year, it was clear to me that Branch wouldn’t work. We had some great ideas and a solid product, but we had gotten the market wrong (WordPress). I called all the investors and asked if anyone wanted their money back or if they wanted to stay along for the ride of me coming up with something new — everyone wanted to stay invested. I came up with the idea for Reform and asked Bjørn, the developer that was working with me on Branch, if he wanted to be my cofounder — he did. Reform had a great start, but we didn’t hit product-market fit, and last summer, I think we ran out of Twitter followers and podcast listeners to grow further, which brings us back to the plateau I mentioned earlier.
I stopped working full time on Reform last summer and stopped taking a salary so Bjørn could continue to get a modest salary. However, by winter, there wasn’t really money left for him to work full time on it either — it also wasn’t very exciting as we weren’t growing and basically just felt stuck trying all sorts of different things. The future of Reform started to feel pretty uncertain… I couldn’t see my way out of it.
If I'm being 100% honest, part of this was also because I "invested" WP Pusher into the business originally, which we later sold for six digits, and I had a hard time accepting that this asset (all I owned at the time) was lost.
In February, I sent a long email to my investors — I needed to completely reset the expectations around Reform. I felt like I was pretending to be the CEO of a fake startup. This led to some back and forth conversations where everyone was super understanding about where I was coming from — obviously, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Fast forward again, after two months of conversations, emails, and legal stuff, I had made arrangements to buy back equity from some of the investors with our limited capital and renegotiated some of the remaining liquidity preferences. This was huge. Suddenly, Reform started to feel like it was mine again. I really appreciate the understanding I felt from my investors — especially the ones that generously offered to let me buy them out at a loss or were willing to negotiate their preferences. More than anyone else, I appreciate Matt Wensing who is both friend and investor and patiently helped me a ton with navigating this.
While going through all the investor stuff, I kept having conversations with Bjørn about how he was feeling about Reform. I feel like this is his story to tell, but ultimately he decided to move on from Reform. Him and I are still friends and I wouldn’t be surprised if we started another company together in the future! I completely understand the decision to move on. Working with Bjørn for the past three years has been awesome. He wrote most of the code for Reform and I’ll admit that the feeling of going forward alone was a bit intimidating at first. Thankfully, I’ve always done code reviews and made sure I knew my way around the codebase. Last week I shipped my first feature in eight months or something like that, and it felt reassuring.
Even though there are some bittersweet feelings, in the end I’m really happy and proud about navigating through all this in the past few months — I feel like I’ve gotten Reform back, including the motivation required to keep working on it. It’s been weird not being able to talk about it, besides with friends in private. Coming out of this, Reform is in a really good spot to be a solo project for me — and personally, I’m in a good spot to have a project like Reform, but I’ll get to that in the next section.
Joining Tailwind Labs
Back in July last year, my friend Adam Wathan reached out to me about an idea he had for the Tailwind CSS ecosystem — Tailwind Jobs, a job board for companies to find frontend talent. Would I want to help build and run it? Adam and the team put together an amazing offer where I’d get a fixed salary and work on Tailwind Jobs part time, so I still had time left for Reform. I was thrilled. Tailwind Jobs was a super fun project and I no longer needed a salary from Reform which meant Bjørn could stay on full time.
We built and launched a super cool job board in something like three weeks — I think we were all surprised about how smoothly it all went. Sadly, we also quickly ran into some pretty huge roadblocks. We had a positioning problem where no one are actually looking to hire “tailwind developers”. We always saw the job board as “frontend and UX engineers”, not just Tailwind. But no matter what, with the name Tailwind Jobs, people weren’t really able to see past it. The only solution we could think of was to spin up a new brand, but the whole thesis for this business was that we could build something on top of the Tailwind brand. It was our unfair advantage. We decided pretty quickly to move on, which begged the question… What was I going to do at Tailwind Labs then?
I definitely didn’t want Adam to make up a fake job for me just because Tailwind Jobs didn’t work out, but originally we had agreed to do a three-month trial, and Adam thought we might as well try some other things now that we had committed to it. For a couple of weeks, I felt like all I did was talk to Adam about what to do… We were pretty bummed about Tailwind Jobs and trying to come up with pivots that would make sense. Ultimately, we decided that the most productive use of my time was to help build some templates for Tailwind UI. The main result of this was the Protocol template we shipped around Christmas, and I’m super proud of our work on that. It was some hard months because it ended up being impossible not to work full time if we wanted to push these projects over the finish line.
Around the time of New Year, we had wrapped up most of the projects, and there wasn’t really anything obvious for me to do at the company with what was planned for early 2023. For a month or two I had planned to switch my focus back to Reform for 2023, which was pretty scary given the number I was seeing in our bank account. But then on New Year's Eve, Adam messaged me and told me he had wanted to hire someone to run “Ops” for a while but had just assumed I wasn’t interested. But he thought he would ask just in case. Ops mostly meant doing account and licensing-related support, plus handling a lot of piracy, trademark, and copyright-related issues we deal with all the time. Again, the expectation was that this would be a part time role since it was already being done part-time by someone else at the company.
I honestly couldn’t think of a better role. The problem with working on Tailwind UI was that it required all of my creative energy plus a lot of hours. The Ops role is something I’m already super used to from my own companies and doesn’t really require that much creative energy, meaning that there is plenty left for Reform or whatever I’m working on.
So I started working “for real” at Tailwind Labs in January and everything about it has been great so far. Having my base salary covered and still having time to work on other projects, such as Reform, has made my life so much calmer. There’s no longer a runway.
Unfortunately, I’m going to miss our upcoming team retreat in June, and I’ll get to why in the next section. However, I did go to our latest one in Florida in October, which was so much fun. We went to Universal Studios for three days of theme parks, swimming pools, and amazing steaks.
Growing the family
Our 2-year-old boy will be a big brother in a few months, and I can’t wait. Everything I described above feels like I’m at a good place in order to go all-in on family life this summer.
14 months ago, we moved to a new town, Sorø. Located 45 minutes by train from Copenhagen in the middle of the forest, surrounded by lakes, I couldn’t imagine a better place to live in Denmark. I’m so thankful we found this place, and it feels like we’ve finally been settling down after we had to move to Denmark in the middle of the pandemic while my wife was super pregnant and everything was crazy. In September, I organized an impromptu meetup here where something like 20 SaaS founders showed up with barely any notice. We meet at my coworking space, which is based at the old train station building here in town (on the busiest train line in Denmark). We started out with breakfast, did some masterminding, and then headed out into the forest on a 15km hike. It was an amazing day that I hope to repeat one day soon! This town is awesome, with a bunch of little cafes, museums, historical sights, parks, etc. Come visit!
The podcast — Out of Beta
Back in November, Matt and I started talking about putting the brakes on our podcast Out of Beta after about 150 episodes. It felt unreal even talking about it, and in the end, we couldn’t really end it. Instead, we came up with the idea that we would keep recording but not release. That way, we could be as transparent as we wanted because we could just edit it later in case we decided to release it.
A ton of stuff has happened with both of our companies since then, so I’d be surprised if we don’t end up releasing this as a season at some point!
Anyways, this is basically the worst blog post I’ve ever written (at least since I had a Danish blog about how to make money online 17 years ago when I was in high school), but I just wanted to get something out there and hopefully get back into writing a bit more.