Dash is a self-taught developer and an exciting entrepreneur. She learned to code by making a successful wish list business, Wish Tender. The site is doing $14k/m profit after only a year. In this interview Dash talks about the benefits of learning to code with projects. Building something that will be used by real customers means you will learn a lot more than just following tutorials.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Why did you learn to code?
Broadly speaking, I always loved creating- fashion, films, costumes, plays. But with code, you could build so much more. With code you can create so many types of tools people use. Coding seemed like a builder’s super power.
While I was living in a van with my spouse traveling the US, I committed to the #365DaysOfCode challenge; learning to code and writing a blog post about what I learned every day.
Since college, I’ve been obsessed with lucid dreaming. When I began my code journey, I specifically had in mind building tech tools related to lucid dreaming. But I was also interested in tech entrepreneurship more generally.
How did you learn coding?
I did the #100DaysOfCode challenge which turned into the #365daysofcode. I was strict about coding every day no matter what.
I learned so much more when I started committing to a larger production project. Getting small projects up and running is easy. There are so many tutorials that focus on easy local dev environment projects from start to finish.
When you start building a large project which you plan to put out into the world, you encounter many questions that are harder to answer. Less people write about full-stack production projects. Less people know the answers.
Building harder projects was frustrating. I would run into a wall and think when will I ever solve this? A week? Two weeks? A month? Since I was documenting my journey in a blog, I could see that I would get over the walls faster and faster over time.
That documentation reduced my frustration because it gave me historical proof that I was capable of solving tough problems. I now was optimistic I could eventually solve anything. It’s important to keep that perspective when learning to code. You will figure it out.
Didn't you also write a program that lets you send morse code with your eyes?
I started that project before I really knew how to code. I was learning to lucid dream in college and wanted to communicate from a dream. I learned a sleeping person could control their eye movement when dreaming. So I wanted to create a device that interprets eye movements into messages.
When I started the lucid dream device, I was copypasta-ing bits of code together and didn’t understand most of it. Same with the hardware side, I didn’t know what I was doing but tried to copy similar projects, cluelessly placing components on a breadboard.
I would return to the project every few years not knowing what I was doing. It wasn’t until I really learned coding and hardware during my coding challenge that I could really understand the project and continue it. Fortunately, more biosensor kits were available then, which helped as well.
How has your life changed since creating WishTender?
It’s nice to get recognition for the hard work I did. I built the app in public from the start. But the indie startup world didn’t think much of WishTender until WishTender started to get high gross volume. WishTender isn’t marketed to indie hackers, our market is a very niche part of the adult content creator world. So it wasn’t on their radar how much it had grown.
In June 2022 (last month) WishTender did $320k in GMV and about $14k+ in profit. It took us a while to have substantial profit. The day I’m writing this, July 4th 2022, is WishTender’s 1st birthday. The growth over the year was exponential.
In the beginning, progress was slow. I almost quit several times thinking WishTender was a bad idea. But it really just needed more time. So I’m glad I found the patience to give WishTender a chance. This is the most money I’ve ever made. It’s so bizarre to go from being a wantrepreneur to an entrepreneur because part of me never thought I could do it.
Having a successful indie project gives me more credibility than when I was learning to code. So networking is easier. People are more open to chat. Additionally, I’m more comfortable asking people to chat. I used to be reticent about asking people to chat because I felt I would waste their time. Building WishTender built my confidence. Now I know I have valuable experience to share.
Outside of profit and credibility, I get a kick when users tell me they love WishTender. If I’m having a rough day and someone messages me that they love the app or I see someone appreciate us on social media, it fuels me.
Can you talk about the process of coding WishTender?
I used a MERN stack. It took me 1 year which is long. But that’s expected because I was a very new programmer.
It’s challenging to build a production application. Few tutorials cover real world full stack scenarios like currency conversions or big picture concepts like app architecture. Plus you need to understand concepts outside of typical developer duties like scaling an app and security.
Do you have tips for people who want to learn to code without doing a degree?
Build projects and build a network of more experienced coder friends whom you can ask questions to. Also help others. Helping others helps you learn, but it also gives you the courage to ask questions. When you give to others, you subconsciously feel others should give to you.
This leads to you asking for more help. To grow your network, build and learn in public like sharing your progress on Twitter and offering to help people with coding on Twitter.
What are your goals for WishTender?
WishTender is just my first project, so I’m ok with whatever happens. I was always ok if WishTender failed, because I saw WishTender as a practice run. Fortunately, it didn’t fail yet. That’s been cool! In the future, I plan to build a business around my passion, lucid dreaming.