Hi Basile! Welcome to the Maker Spotlight. Tell us a little about you and your experience.*
Hello there! My name is Basile Samel, but my friends call me Bazbaz, or baz for short. I’m a Frenchman who just celebrated his 25th birthday. I’m currently working as a full-time nomad maker, I make indie tech products remotely while traveling the world.
What are you working on, Basile?
My most important project at the moment is 200 Words a Day, an open online writing community. I’m also in the middle of releasing three additional products: Testimonials Wall (a testimonial management tool), a secret project that’s soon to be released, and Ecovillage List (a catalog of ecovillages around the world). I like to consider myself a writer as well. I write every day on my own platform and on Twitter. I self-published a book called Alter-Nomad a few months ago.
Let’s talk about your journey. How did you get started indie making?
I used to be the CTO of a French legaltech startup called Justinien but I was quite dissatisfied with my lifestyle. I wanted to dedicate my life to making products while traveling the world as a digital nomad. I somehow stumbled upon Pieter Levels’ blog and it was a revelation. I started my own solo business on the side, then two months later my cofounders and I decided to break up and dissolve the company. I became a full-time indie maker and never looked back.
You’re sporting a very large Makerlog streak, mostly due to your breathtaking discipline and content creation hustle. How do you keep up? What’s your workflow like?
Makerlog is a crucial part of my making habit. If I don’t log once a day, it’s a visual proof I wasted precious time. I believe creating sustainably is about consistency before quantity: you are what you do every day. I make sure I sit down every morning to push at least one piece of software to my code base, then I reward myself by logging what I shipped on Makerlog. This way I create a reward loop that builds momentum to take me higher every day.
What are some productivity hacks you recommend other makers try?
In my opinion, public accountability is the single best productivity hack you have to work on right now. Whatever you do is an opportunity to share. As Jason Fried puts it, “everything is marketing”. If productivity is about delivering value consistently - implying, growing without burning yourself out - there are very simple ways to increase your delivery rate: tweet about, write a blog post, keep a diary, make a video or a podcast… the opportunities are everywhere. Just say what you’ve done out loud, it will eventually impact others and thus yourself.
What are your thoughts on a consistent content creation hustle?
I don’t believe in hustling, I think it’s the very best way to be inconsistent. Hustling is kind of a violent act where you try to squeeze out the juice out of every second. I like to imagine I’m a gardener. My content is a garden. I have to nurture it every day. It doesn’t mean I should use pesticides or try to make it grow faster by manipulating my crops’ DNA without expecting unexpected consequences. I have to let it grow on its own, to just put in enough work every day to ensure my flowers will bloom. And I’m sure they will because that’s how Nature works. Consistent content creation is first and foremost organic. You can’t hustle it. You might be able to get a flower or two out of your work, but your garden is fucked.
How can other makers achieve your outstanding discipline?
Just take a little step every day for long enough. Don’t pressure yourself into constantly doing more, just do one little thing and stop when you’re tired. Eventually, your work will compound, your body will get used to it. That’s when you can progressively take on new loads of work. It’s a matter of months, if not years, so don’t desperate and keep walking.
Let’s talk a bit about your main project, 200 Words A Day. How did the idea for 200WaD come about?
Even as a kid, I always loved writing. During my engineering studies, I barely had time to write. After creating my first startup, I almost completely stopped. I clearly saw it was a huge mistake. Writing is how you connect with others on the Internet, and it doesn’t require you to buy anything. It was another problem to solve, another opportunity. Building a startup, I didn’t have enough time to write long-form content every day, and I knew full well I wouldn’t be able to just write once a week or once a month. I would eventually get bored and give up. I decided to shift the dynamic by setting a small daily threshold I could easily reach - 200 words. Just enough to write something meaningful I could share. And I did. One week. Two weeks. It became my life’s work to help people to write more, to help them share what makes them unique. It’s been close to 10 months since I started writing every day.
How was the creative journey, taking it from idea → prototype → launch?
After a few days of sharing my writings, it became easier and people started wanting to do the same. At the same moment, my previous startup collapsed and I wanted to cheer up by building something new, so I decided to made a community product out of this 200 words challenge during the Product Hunt Makers Festival in 2018. We earned the 1st position in the category “Others” (the most crowded one). After a month of tweaking I started monetizing the website and launched on Product Hunt. Almost 2,000 registered users in two months.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced while shipping 200WaD?
200WaD is a habit-forming product, which implies big responsibilities from its creator. There is but an extremely thin layer between an addiction and a habit. Depending on the features you release, you feed one or the other. I don’t want to create addicts, so I have to make sure what I’m doing really benefits my users first, and not my personal gains. The streak feature is an example of controversial features I had to talk about with my users. This balance to strike was - and still is - the biggest obstacle I ever had while shipping 200WaD. I have to ensure the environment I create is healthy for everyone.
Let’s talk about the success of 200WaD! 200WaD is one of the fastest growing communities out there, and you’re regarded as a very successful maker. What are the main factors that led to this?
I’m not so sure, honestly.
As a founder, I make it a point to consistently eat my own dog food. I write everyday and sport a 10-month streak. I don’t trust product creators who don’t align their thoughts, their words, and their acts. I try to be the living incarnation of my product: I’m solving a problem I personally have, my product grows with me, and I stay loyal to my values.
As a user, I really do my best to empower the writers. I try to onboard each new member myself or leave encouragements and suggestions whenever it feels relevant. I make sure my users feel like they are an integral part of the community by giving them decisional power and by making myself accountable - for example, we have a public roadmap where I display all the bug/feature requests so that everyone can track the progress being made. There is also an open page to visualize the website’s health (MRR, registered users, daily post count, etc.).
Leading by example, consistency and openness are, in my opinion, the biggest factors contributing to the growth of 200WaD.
What marketing strategies do you employ regularly?
My marketing strategy is not to consider marketing as something to distinguish from making. Everything you do is an opportunity to market your product. The more indirect it is, the better. Just share what it is you’re doing, the problems you are solving, how you do things… it all eventually adds up. Marketing is not a strategy or a task, it’s a mindset you have to integrate into daily life.
For example, with 200WaD I’m trying really hard to become a better writer, and I eventually learned a ton of things by either reading, writing, or talking about it. All I have to do is share it. I don’t even need to plug in my product, because my product is an integral part of my process/identity.
What have you learned from 200WaD’s success?
The more I learn from making 200WaD, the less I know. That’s the only thing I’m sure of. The rest is tacit knowledge - hard to put into words but easy to demonstrate.
Let’s talk about competition for 200WaD… There’s a fair share of competition in the writing community space. What has been your approach?
I don’t care about competition anymore. I used to, it was frustrating to see people launch similar products to mine (streak-based writing communities with a word limit). But I grew past it once I understood competition is part of the creation process. Humans evolve by mimicking others. I am not that original either. Daily writing is not a unique idea, 750words.com did it before. I’m pretty confident with what I offer, however. I’m convinced of the uniqueness of 200WaD. For example, we are the only writing community where openness really translates into something concrete: anyone can access it without paying anything, the posts are public by default, and the writings are the first things you see on the landing page. It’s a unique approach where the writing community comes first. My advice: see what your competition is doing, then forget it and do the opposite. Listen to your inner voice, first and foremost. Competition is irrelevant.
Let’s talk about Ecovillage list! We’ve heard that you’re starting up a new project. What’s it about?
I’ve been participating in the Climate Fixathon with three teammates (Alina Sava, Miguel Piedrafita, and Patricia Pires) and we agreed to build a catalog of ecovillages from all around the world. We call it Ecovillage List, and it’s going to become the best way for you to find an ecovillage.
What inspiration led to Ecovillage list?
Climate change is not going to solve itself. Each act counts, and we all benefit from them. Ecovillage List is an attempt at inspiring people by showcasing concrete examples of communities paving the way to global sustainability. I love browsing Youtube to learn more about permaculture and sustainable living in general. Ecovillages are concrete examples. I’m also a digital nomad and I always felt like it would be an extraordinary opportunity to live in ecovillages instead of just browsing NomadList to live in another polluted city full of tourists. Ecovillage List was thus a way for me to balance my personal interests with more serious problems. I’m just happy my teammates shared the same vision and agreed to work on it with me.
As always, the traditional closing question: what advice would you give to new indie makers out there?
Don’t just focus on building something. Of course, you need to develop a shipping habit as early as possible, but you must find out what’s unique about you. We all are different, there is no other DNA like yours. Your uniqueness should always be a core part of your product. I’m not saying you should be original, but just make something that feels like you. Start small, put in a bit of work every day, and it will eventually compound into something awesome. Whether people like it or not, it doesn’t matter: make for yourself, the rest is not for you to decide. Thank’s for having me!