This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Diego Diaz, a 23-year-old web designer and the founder of Ammo Studio based in Los Angeles, California. It has been edited for length and clarity.
This story is part of "How the Pandemic Changed My Career," an Insider series documenting the moves and moments that shaped people's careers over the last two years.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was working graveyard shifts as a security guard. It was difficult, especially when I worked outside an emergency room and had to witness the effects of COVID-19 firsthand.
I was also worried about being let go due to virus cases spiking. It was far from my dream job, but it came with a paycheck, so I stuck with it.
I've always had aspirations of working in tech, but I never knew quite how to get there without a formal coding or software engineering background. I'd been trying to teach myself how to code for years using YouTube, Codecademy, and Visual Studio Code without success. I never stopped trying, though, and would bring my computer with me for my shifts to help pass the time.
In February 2021, I launched Ammo Studio, an expert website development agency using Webflow, a site that teaches people to create websites from scratch without needing to code.
This was my first introduction to the "no-code" community, and it instantly caught my attention. I began to research Webflow and searched for the company on Twitter. I came across the broader no-code community there and knew in my gut that this was my opportunity.
Over the next few months, I continued to research Webflow and build connections within the no-code community, but I didn't have the time to dig into it further.
Having to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and work 10-hour days lifting packages between 50 and 300 pounds was exhausting, so I continued to look for my way out.
I cold-emailed a company in the no-code space and somehow managed to get a social-media job there with no startup experience.
I emailed the founder, set up a call, then had to write a blog post before they made a decision. At first, I was extremely excited and grateful, but the pay was very low, and I had to stay at my Amazon job to get by. The long hours and constant stress took a toll, and I realized I wouldn't be able to keep this up forever.
Wondering what to do next, I posted on Twitter about leaving the startup and was flooded with different startups wanting to recruit me for social-media positions. I almost signed with one but realized that I didn't actually like doing social media. It was draining, and the experience at the last job left me not wanting to do it anymore.
I took a step back and thought about what I liked to do, and realized it was building and designing.
The first six months were insanely difficult with only two clients — one being hourly. Not only did that lower my confidence, but my family was telling me to get a "real" job again, which made it that much more difficult.
By July 2021, I wasn't bringing on any new clients or leads, and the only way I was able to pay my bills was by being extra frugal and paying for expenses with money saved from my first client. During that time, I was 95% close to quitting — just a month before my business blew up.
After months of no success and wanting to quit, I finally started landing clients after launching my website and reaching out to more people on Twitter. I've been doing well since.
A well-known person on Twitter asked about Webflow freelancers and I responded to it, not knowing the company she worked for was On Deck, a talent platform.
When the site I built launched, I posted it on Twitter, and leads flooded in after people saw my work.
My first five-figure project, for $10,000, came in August 2021. The most money I'd ever seen at one time prior to that was $1,000 in my biweekly client checks.
I have a few contractors helping me out. We currently have $50,000 in new projects, two $20,000 projects, a couple of smaller ones, and some recurring retainer projects. I don't think I've made that in my entire working career before Ammo, and I've been working on and off since I was 16.
Some of the worst jobs I had involved physical labor, but the ones with graveyard shifts and customer-service roles helped shape a lot of how I run my business now. Working hard, being disciplined, managing time, and learning to interact well with real customers have turned out to be strengths for me (even though I hated them at the time).
Another challenge has been time management. Since I don't have set hours anymore, I've really needed to learn accountability for myself, my clients, and my team on a larger scale. It was a process — I just had to figure it out and prioritize the business over things like hanging out with friends and sleeping.
Something I've never shared publicly was having to deal with serious and health issues that really affected me. After barely graduating from high school, I went into a deep depression. Growing up, I saw most of my family members struggling with depression, so I didn't really see a way out. I knew I didn't want to repeat the cycle, but with no money, connections, or resources, I didn't know how to break it.
The pandemic helped me realize there are real opportunities out there, and these opportunities are especially available on the internet, even for people like me who didn't have money or a network growing up. There's a lot of money to be made if you dedicate time to learning in-demand skills, solving valuable business problems, and putting yourself out there.