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Creating Free Products Is the #1 Growth Hack For Your Solo Creator Career

From 0 to 5 figures in two years


I made $20K in 2022, and it all started with a free product… that wasn’t supposed to be free at all.

Here’s the story.

It was late 2020. My full-time job was going nowhere, and I dove into mysterious the world of “making money online”. It’s a crap ton of content about that out there. Emphasis on the word crap.

Here and there, you find some golden nuggets, though.


The creators’ spark

I stumbled upon a video by one of my now-favorite YouTubers, Oliur. In his video, he explained how he made 5 figures in a few weeks with a product he had created in a few hours and sold on Gumroad.

I was perplexed. It was the first time I heard about Gumroad and the product niche itself.

The niche was iOS icons. New back then. You couldn’t change your iOS app icons on any iOS device before. Now you could (if very limited and cumbersome).

Oliur had created a minimal black icon pack for iPhone. He marketed it to his YouTube audience, sold it for $49 (if I remember correctly, now it’s $19), and had hundreds of downloads in a short period of time.

Baffling.

My first thought was why would anyone pay $49 for a pack of custom iOS icons? — Can I do that too, was my next.

So, it began.


It’s only failure when you quit

With my limited knowledge of icon design (or any design work outside of web design, really), I gave it a try and build my own set of custom iOS icons.

I used the free tools that were available to me at that time, Apple Keynote and some online icon libraries.

A few hours later, I had created two icon sets with 70+ minimal black & white iOS icons each.

Quite pleased with the results, I jumped onto Gumroad, created an account, set up my store, and published the sets for sale at only $10 apiece.

I thought, “hey I’m new, I have no audience. A low entry price is my calling card.

Then, crickets…

Nothing happened. For hours, days, and weeks.

No sales, no views, nothing. Complete failure. So I thought.

Then I did the best thing I could have done. Without knowing it.

I set the price to zero.


Down, down, down, and loads

Suddenly, my first download came in. Then two, three, four.

Within my first month, I hit 300 downloads. Not just that. Some people paid for this free product. Made possible by Gumroad’s “pay what you want” feature.

It was eye-opening to me for two reasons:

  1. I earned money for a free product (for the first time ever)
  2. I grew an email list (without really knowing what that was good for)

The second reason is crucial. I had never given an email or customer list much thought before. That was about to change dramatically.

I created a new product, another icon set. This time a paid one. And I send it to my customer list.

Boom! Sales.


The gateway

Creating free products is the gateway to email marketing. Email marketing is the gateway to sales.

From the moment I released the free products, my customer base has been steadily increasing, from zero to over 3300 customers in 2 years.

Screenshot by author

Those 3000+ customers drove 5000+ sales and 28K views to my Gumroad store since its opening in December 2020. And it all started with a set of free products I released 2+ years ago after apparent failure.

Screenshot by author

The bottom line

Creating free products is a powerful growth hack for solo creators, as evidenced by my own story of making $20K in 2022. By creating a free product and building an email list, I was able to drive 5000+ sales and 28K views to my Gumroad store in two years.

The majority of the income didn’t come from Gumroad, though. Most of the 20K I made on Medium.

How?

By writing about the process of creating digital products on Gumroad, failing, giving them away for free, and then steadily growing my customer base and reach.

It’s all connected.

Since my first Gumroad product, I’ve grown my store to 20+ products, my Medium account to 12K+ followers & 650 subscribers, my Twitter base to 2200+ followers, a Substack newsletter to 700+ subscribers, a Medium newsletter to 300+ subscribers, and my part-time solo creator income to 20K+.

It all began with a failed attempt to sell… and a successful free product.

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