Robin Vander Heyden

How to Get Great Design Work Without Hiring Designers

Howdy Robin! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hey! I'm Robin Vander Heyden, the founder of ManyPixels.

My first stint as an entrepreneur came when I was studying law in the Netherlands. I ran an online letting agency for international students, which was extremely successful until legislation passed which hampered our business model. So, after my graduation, I traveled a bit and stumbled upon my next project: a website where I would help connect designers with freelance work. That’s the essence of how ManyPixels got started.

ManyPixels is a premium unlimited design-as-a-service company for startups, and we're currently making $50,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

What motivated you to start ManyPixels?

I was traveling in Asia and didn’t have any full-time work, so I decided on a whim to book time at a coworking space. When I arrived at the space, I saw a board at the entrance with notes such as “looking for a freelance designer” and “looking for a UX designer.” At the same time, I overheard members complaining about how hard it was to hire graphic designers. There was my business idea: I decided to make a website where I could connect quality designers to businesses with a need.

‍What went into getting your first paying customer?‍

It was much simpler than I could have imagined. First of all, I had a pre-existing list of designers in my arsenal. I asked these individuals to send me their best portfolio pieces on Skype, bought an HTML template, and set up a payment system. In about five hours we were up and running. I posted the site on a few Facebook groups for entrepreneurs, and I made my first sales, about $1,500 in one day.

One funny learning I experienced when launching ManyPixels: people were buying, but some people were also thinking, "this can't be true, this is too cheap." I raised the prices and got more sales. It seems stupid, but it worked.

‍What went into getting your first 10 unaffiliated customers?‍

I got my initial users by joining a bunch of Facebook groups related to entrepreneurship and startups and by posting messages within the groups asking for feedback on the value proposition of ManyPixels.  My message basically was, "Hey guys, here is what we do, would you be interested in this? Yes/No/Why not?” I also experimented by promising that each person giving us feedback would receive a promo code. This worked really well for us — lots of people commented, and this ended up being a small hack that got us a lot of buzz.

I think what we did correctly here was that we put the right product with the right message in front of the right users. I was honest: I told them I was a digital nomad in Bangkok experimenting with a new idea and trying to validate demand. People reacted well to that and were supportive of my posts, even though it was advertising in a sense. I honestly wasn't sure if it would be flagged as spam, but I decided to take the risk nevertheless.

My efforts included:

-posting case studies on Reddit

-being active on Indie Hackers and Hacker News

-actively contacting companies on Facebook and AngelList

The biggest boosts to our revenue growth can mostly be attributed to our Product Hunt and Hacker News launches. We got featured on the third spot of Product Hunt, and I posted an article on how I started ManyPixels which reached the first page of Hacker News and stayed there most of the day. These got us tens of new customers per day.

Today, how do you attract customers?‍

As I mentioned earlier, it hasn't been about the tactics we've used so much as putting the right message with right product in front of the right audience. We have a 25% conversion rate on AngelList outbound emails, which is ridiculously high. We've actually gained customers from every sales channel we've tried so far.

We are thinking about developing affiliates and referrals next, and then working on more content, PR, and ads later. We are also considering partnerships and even white labeling.

What makes your demo or free trial a great experience for customers? ‍

Actually, we don’t currently have a demo or free trial experience. We are a subscription-based design service where people pay us a fixed monthly fee and can enjoy unlimited premium design services. Right now, we have two pricing plans: Basic ($259 per month) and Premium ($349 per month). Originally, we started charging customers directly but had an introductory pricing of $99 for the basic plan and $179 for the premium plan.


Who do you learn from?‍

My absolute favorite blog is Farnam Street by Shane Parrish. When I first started reading it, I thought it was boring, but as I’ve grown personally and have grown my business I’ve realized that his blog is actually an incredible resource.

I also really like Hacker News for information. I do think that it can take on too much of a negative tone sometimes, but the comments and discussions make it worthwhile.  

‍What’s your advice for founders who are just starting out?‍

My advice is for those starting: just focus and launch something ASAP.

Within your business model, charge as early as you can. Remember that if you do not make money, you do not have a business. Build with your users, get quick feedback loops, and iterate after. We are so biased and imperfect as humans that it's impossible to get it right from the start. Also, you might get it right, but you might miss other bigger opportunities. Focus, start quickly, and put your product in front of users and let the free market destroy it or love it.

Where can I go to learn more?‍

You can reach me on Twitter at @vinrob or on my personal blog, vinrob.co.

Adapted from article on IndieHackers.com.

Last Updated 
January 8, 2019

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