Ep. #126, SaaS App Starter Kits with Jonathan Wilke of Supastarter
about the episode
about the guests
Brian Douglas: Welcome to another installment of Jamstack Radio. On the line we've got Jonathan Wilke. Thanks for reaching out. Happy to have you on the show. Do you want to introduce the audience to who you are? Who's Jonathan?
Jonathan Wilke: Yeah. First of all, thanks for inviting me. I'm Jonathan and I'm a full stack developer from Germany and I'm also the founder of Supastarter, which is probably one of the topics we're going to talk about today. I'm really excited to be here.
Brian: Yeah. So you're a full stack developer. Did you go to school or did you work as an engineer prior? How did you pick up the trade?
Jonathan: Both, actually. I studied something related to computer science, it's basically a combination of computer science and graphic design. That's a very good base actually for web development because you get both sides. Then I have been working for now four years as a full stack developer. Currently, I'm a software architect as a full time job and doing Supastarter as my side project. I'm trying to grow a little indie hacker project there.
Brian: Excellent. I guess let's talk about Supastarter. I had seen it on Twitter, you had reached out after I already was aware of it so I was super pleased that you reached out to invite yourself on the podcast. Which, folks, if you want to invite yourself on the podcast, hit us up at @JamstackRadio on Twitter. But yeah, please, tell us what's Supastarter? What's the elevator pitch?
Jonathan: There are basically two answers to that question, because one is what it currently is and one is what we're currently working on pivoting it into. The first thing is what it is right now, it is basically a starter kit, a starter template or boilerplate for SaaS applications. It saves you time when you start a SaaS application because it's a codebase that has all that basic functionality already included, like authentication, internationalization, mail templates, billing and subscriptions and so on. So you can save that time building that or reinventing the wheel, because that's basically everything is there and you just have to pass in your credentials.
The second part is what we're currently building it into, because it's not going to be only that starter template, but rather an ecosystem of products around getting you to start your SaaS faster and easier. We're expanding the boilerplate that it currently is to more ecosystems like the Vue ecosystem with Knox and also later on a mobile starter template, and also all the tools you need around starting in SaaS like templates for a landing page, ready to use components, and all that stuff. Just to make it much easier for you to build and code your SaaS.
Brian: Yeah. I want to move into the ecosystem, but before we jump into that, I want to talk about why. Why did you build this?
Jonathan: Actually, it was out of my own need because I run a small indie hacker company or basically I'm a freelancer. When we do client projects, I start it from the beginning all the time when I build a new application and I did all these things again and again and again, and wasted days on doing that. I thought, okay, it has to be easier because I'm just doing the same thing over and over again. So I tried to build something that is generic enough so that I could reuse it on other projects, but saves me a lot of time, and we did that for our own projects.
Then I realized, okay, maybe that is something that is interesting for other people because they probably have the same problem, and then I just put it online and actually it was just an experiment. In the beginning I didn't really think about making much money, so personally I said when this thing makes me $1,000, this is a really big success. Then suddenly, people started buying it and started especially giving feedback on it, and then from thereon it just took off and right now we have like over 60 or nearly 70 companies using Supastarter for their business, or to start their business. We're really excited where we can take this.
Brian: Yeah, the current ecosystem, I see that Supastarter is made up of Next.JS and Superbase. What other options are there? I guess we could talk about today and then we could talk about what's coming too as well.
Jonathan: Yeah. Currently it's all around a very serverless focused stack with Superbase as the backend as a service. It's used for authentication and the database, and also storage if you want to do that. Then of course Next.JS as the frontend and backend framework, or the framework for the application. Then we have some tools pulled in there like Stripe for billing and some libraries for forums, internationalization and stuff like that. Then it's hosted or it's made to be hosted on Vercel because that works perfectly with Next.JS.
Everything works serverless, you can scale the application to millions of users without having to do anything and without having to manage any servers. This is where I think the real power of this and all this Jamstack and serverless stuff comes into play, because now you're actually able to build an application for thousands or millions of users as one individual.
In the early days, you had to be able to manage your own servers, know what engine access and that stuff. You never were really secure, because you had to do DevOps and database management and all that stuff. Nowadays you can just use your graphical UI for setting up your database, connect your Next.JS front into it and put that on Vercel, and everything is there and working great.
Brian: Yeah. I've been doing this for quite some time and I've seen the... I started around the Ruby On Rails days is actually when I professionally became an engineer, so we saw a very similar structure where you had these templates and you could generate based on server side rendered applications that were running on Ruby and Django with Python. There was also obviously some Node stuff back in the day as well.
Then we saw the separation of concerns, which is why we have this show called Jamstack. What's exciting about this is that you're able to get people to hit the ground running as fast as possible, but your focus on serverless infrastructure and technologies is also pretty valuable because then you don't actually have to pay... Especially if it's a SaaS that's just getting started, so you had mentioned 60 or 70 folks.
Even your project is getting started, so you're not paying for tons of infrastructure cost for less than 100 users. Now you can get product market fit, and when you hit that product market fit you can actually maybe take in way more revenue to be prepared for when you do have to reach for a server. Or not even a server, I think with folks like Clerk and actually even Superbase, they have a very expressive free tier. So until you hit 1,000 or 5,000 on Clerk, Superbase I think it's eight terabytes or eight gigabytes. I don't remember what the actual limit is before you have to call them and get an enterprise plan, but it's up there.
Jonathan: Yeah. I actually wrote an article on how to start your SaaS with this stack for free. When you have all the free tiers, you can completely run that and get product market fit before you actually have to pay anything, so that's the really cool thing about these services.
Brian: Yeah. It's a common movement too as well, I don't know if you do... You mentioned indie hackers, are you part of the indie hacker movement?
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.
Brian: Okay. And this is in particular... I know there's a place where you can showcase your work, can you explain the indie hacker community? What that is?
Jonathan: Yeah, sure.
I think everyone has their own definition of what an indie hacker is, but for me it's basically someone who tries to grow a business from zero. Many call that bootstrapping too. And not try to get funding immediately, but rather try to see what they can do as an individual and how they can scale this thing up slowly. Most of them do this with one very nice goal, which is to essentially get freedom to maybe leave their job and do this as a full time thing.
An additional thing, or a very interesting thing about it is this whole build in public movement. Many of them, including myself, share their journey on platforms like Twitter or even the indie hacker community, and that includes things like the learnings from the daily things that actually come up. For me, it's the first time that I actually have a business on my own and do all that marketing stuff and communicate with customers and that stuff.
All the learnings of that I share on Twitter so that maybe other people can learn from that too. It also includes things like sharing your revenue, how things are going, maybe that actually revenue is decreasing or something, or what you do when it's decreasing to get back up and so on. I think that's a very interesting thing because the people there are so supportive, it's incredible. They give you feedback. I just posted the other day, "Here's the new landing page draft for Supastarter. What do you think about this?"
And they go, "Oh yeah, maybe put that little bit differently. I think that's not so clear." You basically get feedback for free from potential customers or often real experts in their area, and that's a very powerful thing, and enables you essentially as an individual to start a business and some of them make even very good money with that and were able to leave their jobs because of that.
Brian: Yeah. I mean, having a community part of the onboarding process as developers, the onboarding process as a founder, that's pretty valuable. So the platform of indie hackers as it exists, I don't spend a lot of time there because I don't consider myself an indie hacker but there's a lot of folks that I've seen grow careers and gain influence just based on the knowledge that they share. That's pretty powerful, to share your revenue publicly in a spreadsheet on Twitter. I know it's Levels.io.
Jonathan: Yeah, he's one of the big guys.
Brian: Yeah, he's one of the OGs that I remember. I don't know if he started the movement, but he started the build a new project every month for a year, and one of the most popular ones was the NomadList which actually I never used it to go to a country, but I would use the list just to see what it's like out there. But, yeah, just having an idea and seeing if it works, so if you have a SaaS idea or if you're working for customers or clients, that seems pretty paramount to have a structure to hit the ground running and deploy projects so that way you can have multiple clients and customers.
But then you also have a framework to go debug applications and understand where the industry is moving as far as technology goes. So having your boilerplate, I see on your site you offer... There's a price associated to it, so what are folks getting when you pay for it? And is it only a paid template?
Jonathan: Yes, it is. It's only a paid template. What they get is basically they get access to the repository so they can use the code for as many projects as they want. They will get updates, typical things like package updates, maintenance, bug fixes and also new features. That's what we're currently heavily working on to bring new features, new modules to this boilerplate. They're also getting support out of it. We have a private Discord channel where we are, all the developers in there who use Supastarter for their SaaS. They are very active in there, they exchange about problems, about ideas. If there are bugs or if someone needs support, of course I as the main maintainer am there to help them.
Brian: Very cool. So I imagine that the repo itself is closed source. How do you handle the licensing? I'm curious about the licensing for starter kits in software, are you using packages?
Jonathan: Yeah, that's a very, very interesting thing because I've been asked by others who want to do the same thing. They have said, "Okay, I have a starter template here that I want to sell, but I don't know how to do it. I'm afraid that if I just put it inside a private repo then someone is going to share that code."And of course that is a fear that I can understand and a danger that is actually there. But so far, I have made very good experience with that because people, they know what they pay for because for them it's a very valuable thing and they don't just give it to anyone else because they would be stupid to just give that away for free. But yeah, there isn't a guarantee that your code is not shared by anyone.
Brian: Yeah, this is true. What you're offering is a secret sauce for folks to get started quickly, and have maybe if you're also an indie dev, you don't have a full team for folks to maintain dependencies and keep things up to date. So if you secure yourself by purchasing the template and having that maintenance included as part of the process, then you're able to go and start multiple projects without the fear of, "Man, I have to maintain 20 different clients." If the template itself or the libraries get a bug, you have to go and ship the same update and license in 20 different places. I guess I see where the value is coming from.
Jonathan: For most of them, it's investment. Currently the price is 300 euros, and when you think about the usual hourly rate for a web developer, that's not even two hours. And so for most of them, that's more worth it.
Brian: Yeah. Have you used Remix in the past?
Jonathan: No. I'm really sad I haven't, but I actually want to do it and when I get some more time after the big refactoring currently, I was also going to look into Remix and maybe offer a version for that too. I think some or most of the parts could actually be reused like all the components because Remix is also built on React. You could reuse most of the components there.
Brian: Yeah, I bring up Remix because Remix had a similar model where it was a paid license to use Remix, the actual framework itself. I share that because I worked at GitHub when Remix launched, and Remix was one of the folks that the GitHub Packages team reached out to because instead of worrying about your code basically floating around in private repos everywhere, if you attach it to a GitHub package then you get access to the GitHub package and share licenses that way.
It was a thing that the team explored, the Remix team got onboard, and then a year later they open sourced it. Yeah, I think at that point they took funding so they open sourced their project instead. But it'd be interesting if there was... Probably another podcast in the future or another spread for you, but there's probably a way to distribute licenses in software and a way to provide templates because I know the Tailwind team, the UI template library as well. That was a paid license software as well. I think they were doing it very similar to what you're doing, so they never had the sophisticated management of licenses and access. But yeah, what are your thoughts on that?
Jonathan: For now I'm actually fine, but you're right, that might be a good thing to look into in the future, to have that little bit more secured. But what we're also thinking about is to bring those... not everything into one codebase, but actually more into modules and so we sell individual modules and so you just get access to the modules that you want and have the codebase in there. But what I'm curious about is how do they then license this code which you basically have on your disk? How do they secure that?
Brian: I don't actually remember the license they use, Remix in particular because I think they've moved to something, whatever express, they got acquired by Shopify so they're in a whole other journey. But yeah, there's some clever things that I don't think a lot of people realize when it comes to GitHub and GitHub Enterprise.
If you're enterprise, you have access in tracking to see what happens on your software for every machine that's been cloned, which is why you would choose GitHub Enterprise. But then we have the self hosted stuff, a lot of that's built into the software. I don't want to call out specific companies that are customers of GitHub, but the idea is... I don't know the context of licensing software and distributing through packages.
I think it's a problem folks like NPM are solving, but as an engineering manager or founder you would choose GitHub Enterprise because then you could track or remote wipe software or updates. So GitHub Enterprise, you pay for the next update and that's how software was 15, 20 years ago. So in order to keep your code bug free, they had to come back and update and pull from the latest version.
Jonathan: That's actually the case for Supastarter too, because if you give the code away to someone who doesn't have access to the repository, he will get that state of the code. But of course we push updates every few days or maybe bug fixes and so on, and those are of course not given to the users who just copy that codebase. So at least in that point, we got a little bit of security.
Brian: Yeah. There is probably something here in this conversation, so I'm coming out of the world of... I'm running a VC backed startup and it's like Supastarter is a very good idea for the indie hackers, but the keeping the product up to date is actually probably a whole other startup and a whole other pipeline and solution. But I feel like that could be a whole other podcast. I do want to go back to Supastarter if there's anything else about what you wanted to mention about what's you have on the roadmap, what's coming in down the pipeline that we haven't touched yet.
Jonathan: Yeah. The latest things we're working on and very close to shipping are two completely new versions of the boilerplate or starters template. One for Next.JS, that's a complete rewrite with the new app router and also more modular so that you're not that dependent on Superbase anymore. Many of our customers really love Superbase and they want to have it included and so you can, of course, use it if you want.
But it will be that modular that you can easily switch out the database and use, I don't know, Planetscale or a self hosted database or whatever because we use Prisma as our ORM. The same boilerplate will be available for Naxt so we expand to the View ecosystem. Also, I'm preparing some templates like single, individual landing page templates that you can purchase independently off Supastarter. That's where this whole ecosystem starts to grow slowly. I hope to launch them within the next week, so really excited to push something new there.
Brian: Cool, sounds good. Well, thanks so much for coming on, Jonathan, and talking about Supastarter. I do want to transition us to picks. These will be jam picks, anything that we've been jamming on, gets us up in the morning. Could be music, food, technology related. Everything is on the table. If you don't mind, I'll go first.
Brian: I've got two picks. First pick is a book I've been reading. I've got folks on the team who are engineering and I've moved away from full time engineering to now being product lead, sales lead, customer success. It's been funny because I get to now learn more about product and understand stuff that I've seen but never really paid attention to like OKRs.
There's a book called Radical Focus and it's all about what's the purpose of OKRs, where they came from, what are bad OKRs, how do you setup OKRs for success and how do you keep the team on track and radically focused. I highly recommend it to somebody who's starting something or if you work on a team and you're an engineer, it's probably great if you're big enough to think about how the work you do impacts the OKRs.
Jonathan: Putting it on my reading list here.
Brian: Excellent. Yeah, honestly, at your point with your product, it would be super helpful, very valuable.
Jonathan: This is especially important for indie hackers, right? Because if you don't have a team, it's even more important to focus on certain things and having the OKRs to actually see what is the most important thing you have to focus on right now is really valuable.
Brian: Exactly. The other thing I was going to mention is we have a Chrome extension for Open Sauce which is my daytime job. It's been a fun little side project to build a Chrome extension. Yeah, search Open Sauce in the Chrome Store. We're adding some extra features on GitHub, sort of like Refine GitHub is another project that's a Chrome extension. It's been fun, I've never actually built a Chrome extension. Jonathan, have you built a Chrome extension before?
Brian: Yeah. It's extremely rewarding because it's kind of how the web was 10 years ago, you just bundle it and then you've got that index.html and then got a manifest file to keep all your title and avatars and stuff like that. Yeah, pretty straightforward. Currently working with two interns for the summer at Open Sauce and we've already built the extension, now we're just adding fun stuff like AI to it so we're going to do some pretty cool stuff with our data and putting it on the page.
Jonathan: AI is everywhere.
Brian: You have to try it.
Jonathan: By the way, also interesting to note is we also have an AI integration in work by a friend of mine, that's coming to Supastarter too.
Brian: Excellent. Yeah, AI has become the fun, weekend project. I question how many of these AI startups will be around in a couple years, but for enhancing the experience for your customers and developers, definitely worth trying out. It'll be around, it might be super expensive though in the next year.
Jonathan: Probably, yeah.
Brian: Cool. You have any picks for us?
Jonathan: Yeah. I have one nice pick which is related to the topic we have been talking about a lot, which is indie hacking. It's a book, one of my favorite books on that topic by one of the most popular guys in the business, which is Arvid Kahl. His podcast is called The Bootstrapped Founder but the book is called Zero To Sold. Yeah, very good book, and I've learned a lot from that so I can only recommend that to everyone who wants to start their own journey.
Brian: Excellent. Well, appreciate it, appreciate you sharing your journey with us. Folks who want to start the journey, check out the podcast, check out Supastarter too as well. I definitely was trying a lot of these templates and these other tools a couple years ago when I was building a bunch of side projects during the pandemic.
Yeah, for someone who wasn't day to day coding for my previous day job, I was doing developer relations, I always wanted to keep up to date and up to speed and would try something pretty quickly like Remix and stuff like that back in the day. So I will keep this on my list of things to try and hope folks who're listening will do the same. Keep spreading the Jam.
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