It’s an exciting week for me. I’m launching my new business.
Over a 20 year career, I’ve cycled continuously between self-employment and having a job. Thing is, I really prefer the self-employment. I like doing things my own way, and subordinating myself to the systems and policies of someone else’s company really stifles my everyday sense of creative joy.
Still, my origins are economically humble. Building a business out into a sustainable, lucrative engine takes time and capital I haven’t always had. Out of necessity, I’ve had to leave the self-determination of my own work in order to keep the bills paid.
I’m hoping to break that cycle today.
I know so much about how software works. I understand not just how it’s built, but how it’s used. I want to apply decades of this understanding to an emerging field: developer experience.
I’m calling it Antigravity. You can read the pitch if you want, but I’m not here to pitch you. I want to share the remarkable opportunities in 2023 for the solopreneur to punch above their weight.
Over two decades, I’ve had some success building systems that made me money on the internet. Again, never quite enough, but also never nothing. I’ve never had a better time doing it than I have in the last few months.
Vast creative markets
Consider my logo.
I’m not primarily a designer, but I’ve done plenty of design over my career. Part of how I get away with it is knowing my own limitations. For example, I cannot draw or illustrate for shit.
In the past, this has limited my ability to get as deep as I want to go with logo and identity. Mostly I stuck with tasteful but bland logotypes. But not anymore.
I didn’t have the budget for a design firm, but I do have a membership to The Noun Project, which hosts a vast array of vector art covering every conceivable subject, across a multitude of creative styles.
I had a vague concept in mind for my logo, refined over many iterations. Then I found it: the flying saucer of my dreams. It was exactly what I was looking for. The right level of detail, the stylistic crispness that made it feel almost like a blueprint.
I had my logo.
Meanwhile, this model has permeated other creative work. For my launch video, I knew I’d need good music. But I was worried: historically, royalty-free music sounds like shit. It turns out, though, that we live in a new age. On Artlist, I found yet another vast library, offering music and sound effects that sounded great.
My thanks to Ian Post, whose track New World proved just the vibe my intro video needed.
Like Noun Project, Artlist is all you can eat. Subscribe for a year, get whatever you want, use it as needed. They even provide documentation of your perpetual sync license, for your legal records, right in your download page.
I really hope creatives are getting a good overall deal from these platforms, because for me, they’ve proven transformative to how I represent myself online.
I used to pirate the shit out of Adobe, as a kid. I learned Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, and others, just for the fun of the creativity.
You know what? Adobe got a great deal out of this loss-leader. Today I pay them monthly for access to Creative Cloud.
I hate to say this—I really don’t love Adobe—but the CC subscription is a phenomenal deal. For a flat fee you get access to their entire catalog of creative tools, plus some bonuses (a lite version of Cinema4D lurks within After Effects, for example).
But even better, you get access to Adobe’s font library, and it too is vast. You can use the typography locally, in all of your native apps, and you can set up web fonts to use on your site. This addition is savvy: it creates the case to maintain your subscription even if your usage is light. Now, past a certain point, it probably makes sense to just buy licenses for the type you want.
Still, being able to audition so much typography out in a production environment is powerful. Moreover, Adobe handles all the tedium of making these things load fast around the world via their CDN infrastructure.
The result is a distinctive web presence that can go toe-to-toe typographically with anyone else on the web. Having used Google’s free font service for years, I find there’s really no comparison. Adobe’s library is the premium stuff and it shows.
Wild advances in creative hardware
Ten years ago, I learned by accident just how powerful it is to have a video artifact representing me online. The opportunity showed up just at the right moment, as I was freelancing unexpectedly. It helped a lot.
Fun fact: I have a film degree.
It’s nothing fancy, sold out of a Florida diploma mill. But I spent more than a year getting my hands dirty across the full spectrum of film production tools. I learned the basics of film lighting, camera optics, audio strategies, editing and other post-production tasks.
It left me a talented amateur, with a solid map of what I need to know about making things look right in front of a camera. I can create my own video artifacts.
So when I tell you we live in an age of videography miracles, please believe me. A mirrorless camera and a decent lens can get you incredible, 4K footage, for about $1,000. Now, you don’t need all that data. But what you get with 4K is the ability to punch into a shot and still have it look crystal clear. It’s like having an extra camera position for every shot, for free.
Capturing footage requires only a cheap SD card, with a nice specimen from SanDisk storing two hours for just $24.
Even better, the lighting kits have gotten so small and affordable! For $250, you can get a couple of lights with a full spectrum of color temperatures, an even broader array of RGB colors, and incredible brightness without heat. No worrying about gels, no endless inventory of scrims to limit brightness. Just a couple of dials to get exactly the lighting you need.
Here’s the thing: I remember lighting, I remember some terminology. I knew enough to know what to look for. The internet did the rest, with more video tutorials on how to solve these problems than I could possibly watch.
And my M2 MacBook Air handled all of it beautifully. Editing was fast, rendering footage was fast. I can’t believe working with 4K footage can be so easy with everyday hardware.
Videography is an amateur’s paradise. I can’t imagine how the rest of the industry has evolved since I first learned this stuff.
And more magic besides
I’ve already talked about how much I enjoy using Svelte, and of course Antigravity uses a similar strategy for its site. The incredible power of open source to amplify your ambitions is a big part of why I’m launching a DX consultancy! I want more of this.
Using the GPT-4 LLM-based pattern synthesizer to explore marketing topics, debug problems with code, and otherwise work out a path forward, has been super helpful as well. A completely novel tool I didn’t expect.
Speaking of AI, Adobe also has a weird “AI”-based audio processing tool. It sounds pretty cool, at first, but eventually becomes uncanny. I tried it out for my Antigravity intro video but didn’t end up using it.
It’s an exciting time to try to build something new. While the internet and its various paradigms have largely matured, the resulting fertile platforms have left me more creatively effective than I’ve ever been.
So, wish me luck. And if you know any seed-stage through Series A startups, send them my way!