Hello ! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hey! I'm Pete, I'm from Edinburgh and I make No CS Degree. It's a website showing inspiring success stories of people who have learned to code without a computer science degree. I interview people that have either taught themselves through online resources or who have gone to bootcamps.
I also have a job board for developers without CS degrees and a coding bootcamps listings website. I'm also working now on a new website, Remote Companies, for finding remote work.
What motivated you to get started with? How did you come up with the idea of No CS Degree?
I was learning to code and I didn't have many role models who didn't have a CS degree. I started to message people about how they learned to code. Gradually it dawned on me that lots of people were either teaching themselves or going to bootcamps and making successful career changes into becoming developers.
I'm a big fan of the Indie Hackers website so I thought a similar interview-style website would work for developers. I saw as well a tribe emerging of developers on Twitter who were getting their first jobs as software engineers.
Can you tell us the story of your No CS Degree from idea to where you are now?
That's a long story! My first steps were deciding what blogging software to use. I asked my friend and mentor Pieter Levels and he suggested Ghost. I am really glad I asked him as it's been a great experience. I then asked people in a Telegram group I'm in, WIP, if they wanted to take part and do an interview.
I made a mailing list and I immediately starting charging money for sponsors. That helped with revenue in the early days. I also had a Buy Me A Coffee page and a lot of kind people contributed! After a few months I was able to get coding bootcamps to sponsor articles and from there things started to grow.
A few months after I started the blog I made a jobs board for developers without CS degrees and then last year I made Bootcamp Index so people could find where to learn to code.
What has been your biggest failure or struggle?
Hmmm, tough question! My site didn't look good on mobile for a long time so I probably threw away traffic as well as SEO performance because of that. You should definitely ensure your website looks good on all devices - you can't just think that desktop is enough.
How many hours a day do you work on average & can you describe/outline your typical day?
Hmmm, it depends! I have a few morning routines I do like taking a note of three things I'm grateful for, meditating and doing stretches. Then I start working. I'm a big believer in doing the hardest thing first in the day. So I have to decide each day, what is the urgent and important thing that I don't really want to do but need to complete. After that I'll do an hour of coding. At the moment I'm working on making a new version of the No CS Degree in Django. I'm also making a remote work site as well so I'm figuring out how to deploy that on Heroku just now.
I'll usually take a big break during the middle of the day to go for a run or a cycle. I quite like working in the late afternoons and early evenings. Around that time I'll send out my newsletters and update my No CS Degree Twitter account when Americans are online. I'm trying to read a little each evening now and that's a good way to get more sleep, which I'm realising is important for my mood and health.
And what has been your biggest achievement or success?
I made over $3,000 in November which was my biggest month for revenue so far. A lot of that came from blogging about Black Friday deals. It was good to be able to take advantage of that.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
For getting newsletter sponsors, frequently asking people on Twitter works a lot. For getting bootcamp sponsors it involves a lot of cold emails and doing Zoom calls where I pitch them. It's just a case of getting in a good rythm and constantly going out of your comfort zone.
Describe the process of launching No CS Degree.
I had about 10 interviews prepared before I launched. In July 2019 I put No CS Degree on Hacker News and it blew up from there! I got about 30,000 page views in one day and the site was at the top of Hacker News for 24 hrs. So I saw that as good validation! I have a pretty good following on Twitter as well so that helped as well.
Did you use Betalist or PH or other Startup Launching Platform for Launching ? How was that experience ?
Yeah, I have a good following on Product Hunt already so that worked well and I got a good reception there. I think it came about 7th or so by the end of the day. Most of my launch traffic came from Hacker News though. If you top that, you'll easily get at least 10,000 page views and I ended up with 30,000.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
I have a few ways of making money. The main two are developers sponsoring my newsletter and coding bootcamps sponsoring articles on my blog. The more sales calls I make, the more money I make. You just have to put in the work - there is no "trick".
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?
I suppose for challenges it's just been getting out of my comfort zone and doing things like sales calls for the first time. But honestly, I learned pretty fast. I guess another thing is just being disciplined and showing up every day. Startups are more like jobs than a lot of people will admit. Sometimes you don't feel like working but you still have to show up. There's no one else that is going to pick up the slack if not.
I'm not setting any goals for the future. I just want to make products that help me and provide me with a living.
Let’s talk about your marketing strategy -- how do you market No CS Degree and grow the service?
I mostly use social media and in particular, Twitter. I share a lot of inspiring quotes from my articles and tag the developer I interviewed. That can work really well when people have a large audience as I get a lot of new followers. I also do a bit of SEO which is good because it scales well and it's free traffic. I don't pursue any paid channels as I think it's better to have organic, sustainable growth.
Do you have a model to get product feedback? What’s your favorite way to get product feedback? Did product feedback help you get the results you hoped for ?
I ask my newsletter subscribers questions sometimes and I've done a few surveys. I often ask other founders what they think of product ideas. I think though you have to decide yourself and make your own vision and trust your instincts.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I'm no longer a big fan of goals. I think it's much better to make a system. For instance, make 5 sales calls a day. Rather than a goal of $10k a month which doesn't provide you with a plan.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Lots! I use Ghost for blogging, Sheet2Site for my job board and bootcamp listings site, Simple Analytics for my website analytics, Loom for recording videos for my newsletter course, a mix of Email Octopus and Mailchimp for sending emails, Carrd for landing pages and Zapier for a few automations. I'm going to be using Django a lot more in future to combine my websites into one place.
Who’s your most inspirational CEO or founder?
Pieter Levels has to be right up there. I definitely wouldn't have become an entrepreneur if it wasn't for him. Seeing a self-taught developer make over a million dollars in a year is incredible.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I think you can get the most help from just having a good network on Twitter. In terms of podcasts, I'm a big fan of Indie Hackers. I enjoyed the Make book by Pieter Levels. These things are all good but you should spend much more time creating than consuming.
What’s your advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneur who are just starting out?
Work in public so you can be sure you are actually solving a problem. Charge money early to see if people will actually pay money for your thing. Join a community for support.