After quitting his job two years ago, Ayush has replaced his salary by freelancing, building 25 products in 25 weeks and advising then joining an AI startup.
I chatted with Ayush to understand how he got there. 👇
Key quotes from the interview:
Passive income is thrown around a lot. I prefer leveraged income.
If you don’t sell physical products, you can sell only two things: code or content. The entire plumbing of the internet is code, and the water flowing through it is content.
If you need cash flow, you offer services. If you need leverage, you build products.
An ebook or a course will give you a one-time spike, and it’ll die down. But software is the other way. It takes a while to get to product market fit. But once it gets there, you can experience a hockey stick growth.
Bored of the corporate treadmill
Kenny: You saw yourself as an employee, and you thought you were going to retire as an employee. How did you arrive at the idea of quitting your job?
Ayush: There are a couple of realizations that brought me there:
The first, after 7-8 years of my job, I started to get a feeling of climbing a ladder without an end. I was promoted and doing well. But I asked myself, “Is this all life has to offer?” By that time, I started to hate the politics, trying to outcompete people, and impress others. The classic corporate game. It felt fake to go after those external metrics just to play the game. I thought, “There must be a better game to play in life.” I realized that even if I win this corporate game, I’ll call myself a loser because it’s not the game I want to play.
The second thing I realized is even though I don’t mind working on someone else’s thing, I have no leverage here. If I stop working, I stop making money. Passive income is thrown around a lot. I prefer leveraged income. We should all be building assets and acquiring assets that work for us when we are sleeping for the sake of it. I realized that I was not doing any of that. I didn’t own any piece of business. I had some stocks and mutual funds, but that didn’t have that much of an impact.
With these two things combined and on top of being a frugal person, I didn’t need this much money from my salary. If you give me 20 hours of work and half the salary, I’ll very happily do it. Although, I want the other 20 hours to do my own shit and invest in my hobby, spend time with my family, and build a small business that could give me leverage and equity. Obviously, no employer wants that. So it became a very obvious decision to quit corporate and do my own thing.
The whole mindset shift took 2-3 years in total.
Getting your feet wet alongside the job
Kenny: So, how did you start after coming to this conclusion? Did you build stuff alongside your full-time job?
Ayush: I did very typical stuff:
I started a newsletter and wrote weekly. Although, I wasn’t able to monetize it.
I started a DTC t-shirt brand.
I did drop shipping.
I tried affiliate marketing.
Basically, when you google “How to make money online,” the same 15-20 things come up. I tried everything: website building, website designing and more. The only thing I didn’t do was MLM.
Most of it didn’t take off. The T-shirt business was my biggest bet while still on a job. I lost most of my money there, a few thousand dollars. And I realized, okay, this is not my cup of tea. I didn’t like dealing with a physical business, like shipping stuff, keeping stock or doing physical deliveries.
The next question was, can I do a digital business? What can I sell online? Only two things: code or content. The entire plumbing of the internet is code, and the water flowing through it is content.
I started writing content while still on the job because that seemed like the most obvious thing to do because I could do it. I started getting active on Twitter. That’s when it became clearer to me that there is a path somewhere in here that I can probably follow.
Deciding to quit
Kenny: How did you prepare for it?
Ayush: I live with my wife, my son and my parents. All of us live together in the same house. A couple of years ago, we moved into our own home. We have a mortgage but no rent. Rent was a big expense, taking a lot of my salary for a long time. Once that got cut out, it suddenly freed up a lot of money.
I started saving up a bunch of money because I realized that I needed at least a two-year runway to figure this out. I needed a two-year period of calm, not panic, because if I wanted to work from an abundance mindset. If you come from a scarcity mindset like “I need to make money within the next three months”, you’re going to make all the wrong decisions. A business gets built over a 10-year period. So, I saved a lot during those 2-3 years before quitting my job.
My wife has a job, so that’s reassuring. We can always fall back on that. Thankfully, I did not have to go down that route. My runway has been useful.
Kenny: What did your family think about the decision to quit?
Ayush: Convincing my parents was a bit tough because they hadn’t seen anyone else do this. We are a very middle-class, conservative family in India. So the idea is mostly to finish your education and get a job at a “safe” company. Do it for 40 years. Retire with a chunk of money and use that as a pension for retirement. That’s the life plan we get handed out when we’re kids. They didn’t know anyone who’s gone into entrepreneurship. It took me a while to explain to them what I was doing and why it made sense. But they came around, and they could see the point at the time. I always told them if things go bad, I’ll go back to a job.
Kenny: At what point did you make the jump then?
Ayush: I was active on Twitter and connecting with people. I had no background in consulting, but I reached out to a bunch of startups in the early stages of hiring. My pitch was always, “Hey, you’re an early-stage startup. You don’t have a lot of money for a full-time employee. Hire me part-time as a product manager. I live in India on the other side of the world, I’ll cost you less than half of a full-time employee. And I do all the work that you need to get done in 20 hours.” Basically, make them a good deal.
I did a lot of outreach then, and eventually, one startup agreed. I’m still thankful to them they hired me.
That gave me the confidence to quit my job. I have these savings covering two years of expenses, and now I have this contract. This is going to get some cash into my bank account every month. Then, I have all the time in the world to figure out what else I want to do.
So that’s when I finally told my boss that I was quitting.
Bored of the freelancing treadmill
Kenny: Did you have any prior product management experience?
Ayush: I was a software engineer, then an engineering manager. I was managing a team of engineers, and I was working with designers. I could do product management because I understood what went into it.
Kenny: What comes next for you?
Ayush: I had all this time on the side. That’s where I started a ghostwriting agency. I met a few people through Twitter who wanted to hire me as a ghostwriter. So I started out as a freelance ghostwriter and eventually turned it into a ghostwriting agency. The consulting gig also ended because they had an exit.
It made sense to do more ghostwriting at some point because it was very lucrative. Twitter was big, and it was easier to grow accounts back then. I ran the ghostwriting agency for 5-6 months. Then I realized it was not what I wanted to do.
Kenny: Oh wow! Interesting decision. And that was your first successful business, right?
Ayush: That was my first proper business.
I had written a couple of e-books and info products and sold them on Twitter and Gumroad. They have done alright, I made a few thousand dollars here and there. But that wasn’t enough because with info products it takes a very large audience to actually make it work. If you need cash flow, you offer services. If you need leverage, you build products. At the time it felt like, ghostwriting was easy cash flow. I thought, “I should probably just lean into that. Whatever I learn from here, I turn it into products.”
From ghostwriting, online writing, digital writing, and audience building, I put all of it into a course. An ebook about writing.
Soon enough, I realized this was quickly turning into a job again. Because I’m still selling my time for money. I have no leverage again. I felt I was so naive and that I kept making these mistakes. The same trap that I just quit one year ago. And now I’m putting myself into that trap again. That’s why I shut it down.
I decided, “I’m going all in on products”.
Kenny: Although, you must have learned a ton!
Ayush: Yeah, at every step, you learn a lot. You learn so much about selling, customer service, customer delivery, etc. But I realized that, hey, I could do this on my own as well. Without having to service clients and I could learn all of this by launching my own products. I can learn sales and marketing by that route too.
So, I’m one year in and my 2-year runway is still there. Why am I not using it? At one point with freelancing, I was making more money than my salary. And I was like, why am I doing this? That question kept coming back. That’s when last year in June 2022, I went all in on products. I’m going to build 25 products in 25 weeks.
The burnout: 25 products in 25 weeks
Kenny: What’s the concept?
Ayush: I’m done with selling my time. I’m going to build leverage. Although, it would take quite some time to build products with code or no code. So, the goal of the project was to learn marketing and sales. I can build products. That is not an issue.
There were six months left in the year (around 25 work weeks). Every week, I decided I was going to launch one thing, basically pre-launch, not build it. Just announce it on Twitter. Write the landing page. Do the promotions. Try and pre-sell it at a discount and see if people buy. And if people pay enough money, then build it.
If a project makes $100 or if it gets 50-100 free people into my email list, then I’ll actually build it.
If it doesn’t make money, then I’ll kill the idea.
Kenny: What was the first product you launched?
Ayush: A mastermind program and a community for people like us. People who are trying stuff out and doing interesting things and want to be independent. I like to call it the tiny community for your big dreams. It’s really small, it’s like a nice, cozy coffee shop vibe that we have. Everyone there is like trying to hustle and trying to build a solo online business.
To launch it, I created a Gumroad page, set a price, and announced it on Twitter. I marketed it for a week. Every day trying to promote it on Twitter and my newsletter. I made around $450 within that first week. That was validation enough for me to say, “Okay, this is something that people need. Out of these 25, this one surely has legs. I’m going to keep running this one at least.” So I did. I kept launching it, refining it and relaunching it every month or so. In between, I launched a bunch of e-books and courses.
Kenny: For the other ideas, you were only spinning up a landing page and pouncing on it if there was interest?
Ayush: Yes, my entire goal was to build a landing page, try and sell it, refine it and resell it and make as much money as I could in seven days and then move on to the next thing.
When you set a time constraint like 7 days, it frees you up of many blockers in your mind. I didn’t need to make this perfect. I gave myself permission to fail. I’ll do 25 things, it’s okay if I fail. With 20 things, even if only a few work out, I’ll be set. I was setting up myself for failure and learning from failure.
Kenny: I’m guessing in those very harsh constraints, you have to go to the core of whatever you want to sell.
Ayush: Writing the landing pages was the core aspect of it because I had to focus on the real value that I could provide to someone with the concept. It was just a concept in my head. But then bringing that down into a landing page and trying to make sales from it. Not just telling the world that I’m building this, telling the world that you need to pay to get access to this. This landing page better be really good. And my promotion strategy better be really good too. That got me to the core of the product and I could basically internalize that. Why do people buy and what forces them to take action? What really matters to them?
Kenny: Did you do 25 or did you stop before?
Ayush: I did around 20. I took breaks. I had to. I was running out. I skipped a few weeks in between. I launched the mastermind program and relaunched it four or five times. So technically, I built around 15 or 16 info products and one community that I promoted multiple times. Then I discarded most of them. I think there are 7-8 still on my website that are still selling. I bundled them up all into a suite of info products and a newsletter called superframeworks.com.
Kenny: Wow. Yeah, that’s a lot of reps! And how did you get your ideas? From your experience?
Ayush: I was trying to get first-party information about the customer based on whatever my audience needed. I did not go and look at trends or look at other stuff going on online and came up with an idea from that. Probably I should have. Now, if there’s a new idea, I do a check on it to see if this something people really need.
But at the time it was more like I feel the product should exist in the world. Let me see if other people feel it so much that they’re willing to pay money for it, then I’ll build it. If not, if they don’t, if nobody pays, that means that idea doesn’t need to exist. That was first-party information. I know from my own experience that this is not required.
From full blast to focusing
Ayush: Throughout the 25-products-in-25-week challenge, I was also advising a friend on his SaaS. It was an AI startup that he started in June last year. https://elephas.app/
Eventually, I ended up joining him full-time in January earlier this year as a co-founder. That is doing quite well. We just reached profitability last month. We were making good MRR there. And in fact, hiring our first full-time engineer now. That SaaS is my primary focus currently.
In 2023, I’m focusing on only three things, nothing else.
Kenny: It sounds like at that time it was full blast and just try as many things as possible. But how did you go from that to where you are right now with your new checklist?
Ayush: Last year it was all about exploration, right? I learned whatever I had to learn from that. It was only about learning. It was not actually about building a longstanding business.
All of these are my small bets, but to actually build a business, you need to focus and you need to give it more time. You cannot expect something to go viral, just like that, and then work on it. You need to give it more time, more energy, and more focus. Now I want to build a serious business.
In December, I took a three-week break and did a lot of reflection and thinking. I realized that I can only take so many shots and hope to go viral. Or I can look at the idea that has a good chance of succeeding based on the signals I’ve already received and what I’ve already seen to be working. I can double down on those signals, apply my learnings and build a solid business going forward.
At the time, I was advising my friend on his AI startup, and that was picking up. AI was back in December 2022, he was already four or five months into it. I was an external consultant, we are the only two people who are growing it. It became obvious that AI was going to be big. So it made sense to double down on AI and build a product with Open AI.
My other focus was the mastermind/community. I had signals that the community is powerful for people. In the long term, it can be good revenue generation for me. Because as my audience grows, my community can also grow with it. It made sense to double down on that.
Ayush: I’m studying more of these businesses, and I realized that these successful long-standing businesses built by solo or independent people have some characteristics. These are the common characteristics that emerge from it. That’s where I made that checklist for myself. To make money for the owner, it has to have evergreen demand.
My goal now is to consolidate and build something that lasts longer.
Code has more leverage than content, building a software product is way more valuable than writing an ebook or a course. An ebook or a course will give you a one-time spike and it’ll die down. But software is the other way, it takes a while to get to product market fit. But once it gets there, you can experience a hockey stick growth.