What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hi! I’m Sergio Mattei, a full-time student and entrepreneur. I’m the founder of Makerlog, an awesome community of over 5,000 makers and solopreneurs shipping products together. I basically ship Makerlog full-time alongside other ventures (the upcoming inkstand.io for one), and really enjoy it! :)
My journey into the world of making began at an early age. When I was in elementary school, I somehow stumbled upon the site Webs.com, where I began making small mini-sites and forums. At the time, my (ridiculous!) goal was to create a “Facebook killer” called MyAllSocial and I remember getting excited when every new user joined… I got like 10 users in total. All in all, pretty weird times, but it was the humble start of something awesome.
Eventually, I felt like I needed to go further. Webs.com wasn’t enough, and I noticed most successful sites used real hosting with PHP and MySQL and all that jazz. I began learning the PHP + MySQL stack, and there began my proper coding experience. For a while, I continued to make social apps that didn’t really pan out or get any users, but were huge milestones in my experience building things - I kept getting better.
My first big “thing” was probably Taleship.me, a collaborative writing app. It managed to get into Microsoft’s Imagine Cup World Finals, which is pretty awesome. Got a trip to Redmond out of it, and tons of experience.
Then came Makerlog, and we’re now at the current timeline.
What motivated you to get started with your startup?
My motivations for Makerlog were simple. Around 2 years ago, I was coming off Taleship’s failure and found myself quite bored. I didn’t have many maker friends, and I really wasn’t inside any maker community. One day, I was casually browsing Product Hunt, when I stumbled upon a website that did Makerlog’s core concept. I was excited - a community of people that do what I did! Finally!
Then I looked at the price tag, and I realized it was prohibitively expensive. I’m a student, I’m broke. So I decided to build my own alternative for private use… Or so I thought.
What went into building the initial product?
The initial MVP was built using a mix of familiar and unfamiliar technologies for me. I began with a familiar backend, Django, which I’ve utilized countless times in the past and serves as a very reliable stack.
In terms of the frontend, I used Makerlog as a way to learn ReactJS, and wow - it paid off! It’s incredibly versatile and after learning the whole paradigm, I can’t go back to the good ol’ days of jQuery.
Now, user acquisition: it all started very organically! I began hanging out on Slack communities for makers and casually shared my work. I wasn’t really trying to market it - recall that the initial goals were for it to be private. However, people seemed to like it, so I began opening up tester spots. The alpha filled up quickly after that!
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
One of Makerlog’s core goals since the beginning was inclusivity, so a freemium business model aligned very well with that. It’s free, although if you want to support the community you can buy a premium subscription (called Makerlog Gold).
I’m currently experimenting to find other revenue models that align with the site’s goals!
What are your goals for the future?
Makerlog’s goals this year are very simple: finding sustainability and profitability. I want to continue growing the platform, but I need it to make more money. It’s a significant time investment for me to run it, and although it’s a project, I’m very passionate about, I can’t continue if growth and revenue stall. This year I’m optimizing for both of these metrics, and I strongly believe we’re going to be fine - numbers are doing good and projections are looking better and better.
Makerlog’s not going away anytime soon. If things don’t work, I’ll pivot.
It isn’t just a community: it’s a software company that makes productivity focused products for entrepreneurs. Viewing it from that angle greatly expands your horizon of possibilities.
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
This is a difficult question. On one hand, even though I strongly believe in inclusivity, I’d consider charging for Makerlog from the get-go - it reduces spam and would make the business sustainable. I am now aware of the challenges that come with building and monetizing a free community, so I’d take all that experience in consideration.
On another hand, you could argue that Makerlog wouldn’t be Makerlog without the freemium model. We have a very vibrant community - I think charging would hurt that.
It’s a complicated choice. I’m not sure which option I’d pick if I could start over again. I like Makerlog how it is, but I recognize the challenges it faces. The first path is easy, the second one is harder.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Organizing myself has been incredibly beneficial. Setting up a daily routine, adopting software like Asana and Airtable, documenting everything in Notion. It helps establish repeatable processes that can be followed when the team inevitably grows.
And of course, Makerlog itself. I use it daily to keep me accountable.
What's your advice for solo founders who are just starting out?
Build things that solve problems for you. I know it’s a sample size of one, but I’ve found much more success when I build things I’m passionate about. If you have a problem that you can go off for hours on end ranting about, it’s one worth solving.
I’m passionate about the maker community and being productive, I give a shit. That makes working on Makerlog infinitely easier.
Also - people pick up on your passion, so it’s worth displaying. Be passionate, vulnerable, and solve problems. The rest is up to the universe.
To end off, where can we find you?
I’m on Twitter as @matteing, on Makerlog as @sergio. I post useful things and actionable advice, so make sure to follow me. I’m also quite fun and passionate about many things related to science and technology.
Thanks for reading the interview. Mattei out!