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Lessons from starting a design-as-a-service startup (indiehackers.com)
208 points by vinrob92 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

I see the comments here already tearing apart the article. I'm creating part of my SaaS offering that includes an optional service for new signups (importing and formatting company documents into our system). I thought the article was thoughtful, well-laid out, detailed key steps, and above all...offered much-needed value to me. The Facebook group offer at the bottom was a nice touch, as I want to learn more and share what I have going on. OP if you're reading this, well done.


If you're including my comment in that please be aware I put in "Not rejecting the concept, honestly curious" sincerely.

At the time of comment I'd read the title and "Two months ago" in the article's first sentence. If anything my comment was technically off topic.

Really nice to see this.

I have been doing piece work for the last few years rather than hourly work. I typically get paid by the page or by the word. I am more comfortable with that than with charging by the hour. For one thing, it gives me a clear means to improve my hourly rate without wondering if I am a con artist bilking people: just get better and faster. Their price remains the same. My de facto hourly wage goes up.

I have been asked to submit a bid to a local organization that needs help with their websites. I am thinking of charging a monthly retainer for being the admin and a per page fee for creating new content as needed.

I wasn't sure if that made sense. I haven't seen it done that way before. But that is very in line with what you are describing.

Now, I just need more customers willing to pay me X amount for a page of content for their site. And to define the scope of what constitutes a page of content.

That makes sense to me and it's in line with the web devs who advertise basic sites like "3 pages for $xxx."

I'm one of those who prefers fixed price bids to hourly/daily. I like to be able to say "I will do X and it will cost you $Y." I lose my shirt occasionally but that gives me more incentive to improve my quoting skills :-)

Does 2 months actually count as $x/month? Not rejecting the concept, honestly curious. I'd imagine that figure would not be used if you were to sell the business or look for investment for example

OP here.

100% agree with you, it is a new concept. The $15k figure is what we made so far in February. It still has to be fully proven. Right now our best clients are startups that require a lot of graphic design work mostly for their Instagram and Facebook pages (banners, infographics) but I am expecting a higher churn for clients that only need some landing pages or some logos. We are happy to work for everyone right now though!

Serious institutions, like banks or VCs usually want your financial history for at least a year back, so no, two months won't cut it.

You typically sell at a multiple of the last 2-3 years average revenue.

You could write a book filled the caveats you should have on such a generalized statement as this, and 2-3x revenue is certainly the exception rather than the rule. Plenty of business sell for a year's gross revenue or less.

Typical for what? SaaS websites?

Websites monetizing with ads generally sell for only around 12 months revenue, and apps generally sell for around 6 months, because of the volatility in users/downloads and uncertainty in the markets.

Regardless, the poster you replied to was making the point (I think) that it's a little early to say you're making 'X-monthly' revenue when you're basing it on 1 or 2 months (which even the OP agreed with).

Not sure about the quality I can expect here. Most of these services use cheap laour. I’ve enjoyed using a more high-end service thats focussing on [1] User Interface and UX design with senior level designers.

[1] http://fairpixels.pro

I'm genuinely curious on how people find new customers or get people on your website? Is it based on referrals, advertising? I've struggled with outreach and getting first 100-1,000 on simply on the website, let alone signing up. Are there any good resources on this?

We are just making what people want and mostly it goes from word of mouth. We are also limiting our services. We know that people love the type of illustrations we do (for blog posts/landing pages), love the type of landing pages we do, and also love the logos. We do not try to do 1000 things well, but rather 15-20 things really well and know our customers really well.

I only reach our customers via a few channels and mostly do content marketing but most of it is word of mouth.

We have not yet any referral or affiliate system in place but we are building one for our v3 which should come end of this month.

thanks that's helpful. How many users/customers did you before you did any content marketing? How much do you currently spend on advertising?

We do not spend any money on advertising. We only do direct sales and content marketing.

We had our first 10 subscribers with direct sales.

It likely doesn't take much. I listened to a podcast with a similar company and started to research them as I was in need of work.

I guess the hard part would be to get on podcasts with a sizeable audience.

I've found that in my startup, even though it's small, it can be easy to get free marketing. I think many people assume that journalists have a backlog of articles and they ignore their emails with suggestions. And perhaps that's true for big ones. We got free press simply by searching the archives or a few local papers, finding a journalist that had written a similar article and reaching out through social media. They are paid to create content, therefore if you get in touch with easy to create content (you are happy to help write/edit, make yourself available at a moments notice) getting an article written about you isn't tough.

How can this be so cheap reasonably? If I understand correctly I can have a full time designer for $279/month. Maybe a lot of subscribers use only a small part of what they could be using but it seems to me this can easily be abused.

Nothing on the site indicates that you get a full-time designer and the fact you believe so is part of the marketing behind it, I believe.

You get unlimited requests. But if they're busy, they're busy. It might be 5 days before they get your request completed, and that's iteration one. And nothing's saying they'll work on multiple requests simultaneously, although they might.

Services like this farm out 99% of the work to virtual assistants in the Philippines, Vietnam, etc.

I guess it's the usual problem with "unlimited". When you push it to its limits it falls apart. If they have a lot of demanding customers they either have to slow down response time or reduce quality of the work. This could be a problem for a customer who relies on certain turnaround times.

If a customer needs same-day turnarounds day in and day out they're getting a hell of a lot more than $280/mo in value out of the service, I would imagine. Maybe not enough for a full-time designer but certainly more than $280/mo.

OP here. I am in Asia and work with the best designers here (a lot of designers have worked previously with top UI teams at leading startups in Asia and even two unicorns). They handle 3 to 4 clients per month and we make only a small margin. We do not intend Manypixels to be a huge business, but rather something small and if possible allowing us to have a good lifestyle while making designers and clients happy.

Your labor costs are very low. Are your clients local, or are you bringing in a lot of business due to a price differential between where you are and more expensive places? If it's the later then it won't work for readers in the more expensive places.

Most of our clients are located in the US, Europe, and Australia. Our team is based in a few different cities in Asia (and I am too, actually I am replying to all people on the chat of our website in a taxi in Yogyakarta, Indonesia). We pay our designers actually very high rates compared to what they earn as freelance designers and have set up great processes in place to ensure quality consistency and speedy ETA.

Cool. I didn't want to criticize you but just wanted to figure out how such a thing can work and learn from it. Thanks!

No problem! We should actually articulate better on our homepage our process and why we are able to still deliver high quality work at relatively affordable prices.

There's a /r/startups subreddit (reddit.com) you may want to submit this to for more coverage, though a link requires mod approval there.

The website (ManyPixels) seems pretty incomplete: I can't seem to enlarge the portfolio, there are repeated strings in a bunch of places, and the FAQs refer to other parts of the site without actually linking there. Currently resorting to finding your work on Dribbble.

Oh man I was looking for something like this. I have a personal project I wanted to make actually look professional but as a freelancer it's tough to justify big bucks for something like that. But this might work!

Feel free to try, we have a 10 days, 100% money back guarantee anyway!

This is amazing. I mean the service. Count me as your customer

Thanks for the love! We love you too so here is a 20% forever discount code on all subscriptions (only 10 available): 915Z6X1

@vinrob92 - This is great of you to put this discount code here. I am strongly tempted, but it is unclear on the website what the value proposition of the "premium" service is. Looking side by side, it just appears to add "logo, branding, and illustrations" to the basic plan. But wouldn't that fall under "graphic design" in the basic plan? Can you explain here what "premium" means in your service offering?


Thank you. This was just what I was looking for.

This is helpful as I just started bootstrapping services in that exact area..very helpful guide into scaling it that way..thanks for posting it

Thank you for this article Robin!

> It does not matter. Just keep launching as fast as you can and see what works. Just think of it as throwing spaghettis on the wall and see what sticks.

I get that you can't do what you love and expect to make money. But this feels like it's gone too far. It seems like true greatness and satisfaction requires just a little bit of intent above just making easy money. I guess if easy money is your only goal this would be satisfying.

This comment breaks the HN guideline which asks:

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize."

We have this rule because when people don't do this, it leads to shallower, more predictable discussion. It does take a bit of conscious readjustment to run one's posts through at least one pass of this process, but if you do you'll soon notice how much better they become, and/or possibly also fewer. Either way, signal/noise goes up.


Money is freedom. You can do a lot more projects that tickle your "true greatness and satisfaction" when you're not worrying where your next check is coming in.

How upset would you be if “Money is freedom” isn’t true?

I think your setting yourself up for some disappointment with that one.

When a person has a large quantity of money, they have the luxury to disregard money as a factor in their decision making.

That’s how I think OP is interpreting it, not as money is a panacea for a fulling life. But money enables you pursue many things that a person with little money can.

I know people with a large quantity of money who sit at home letting their teeth rot. I know people with limited means that are out every day living life to its fullest. We all have to "disregard money as a factor in our decision making" when it comes to happiness.

The point is that a person without money doesn’t have the luxury of sitting at home letting their teeth rot out while the person with money can, if they choose to, go out and live life to the fullest.

Money doesn’t help you make the best life choices but it expands the spectrum of possible life choices.

> When a person has a large quantity of money, they have the luxury to disregard money as a factor in their decision making.

That quantity is large enough that getting there changes you. Choose wisely.

Very few people, even among the rich have "enough" money that they disregard money as a factor in their decision making. To a certain extent they actually consider it more because they are trying to figure out how to preserve what they have.

In my experience, that isn't completely true. Sure, as you get more financial committments, you start needing the money more.

However, having extra money makes so many things less stressful. When I was younger and poorer, car trouble was a huge stress. Did I have enough money to fix it? What was I going to cut out? Would I wreck the car, costing me more money, if I keep driving it?

Now, I just take the car to the shop and don't even think about it. Hungry and see a good restaurant? Just go. Get in a minor accident, or get a parking ticket? No big deal, doesn't ruin the day.

I mean, money certainly is still a factor in decisions, but there are a LOT of decisions that cost a small enough amount of money that you don't worry about it. Everyone has a level where, if things are cheaper than that, they don't worry about it; as you get more money, more and more things fall into that category.

Well sure, I think there's some figure about how increasing income up to $70k makes you happier and then it doesn't anymore, that seems about right in that it's mainly about being securely 'not poor'. Moving beyond that and in to the extreme wealth zone many are concerned about making their good fortune last, watching the markets everyday, that sort of thing.

It’s all relative. No amount of wealth can buy time or immortality, but having very little money means less choice in where you live, how you get from place to place, how you eat, how you dress, the medicines and treatments you receive when you are sick (if at all), and so on.

Moderate wealth certainly means more freedom than little to no wealth.

Edit: I just recalled a quora question a while back when somebody asked about the drawbacks of being a billionaire compared to a millionaire. One perspective was that while a millionaire could go for a Sunday drive in a nice car with the spouse and kids at the drop of a hat, a billionaire may have to schedule their transportation around security parameters and travel with bodyguards because their wealth can make them a target. So in some ways, too much money can make life less free.

Why would I be upset that "you're" opinion differs?

I'm referring to a lifetime of what I've seen, perhaps your life experience is different.

If you believe this to generally be true, then I warrant that you don't know enough people with "money".

I think you are confusing people who want to be free from working from someone they don't like with people who have an unhealthy relationship with money and/or life in general.

Freedom from financial worry and working for people you would avoid except for money is the sort of freedom most people don't have.

And while you might argue I don't know enough people with "money", I can assure you that isn't true. Its unfortunate some people with serious financial resources have an unhealthy relationship with money/life but that is far from everyone.

there's a massive difference between freedom money and burdensome money. Mindset around the value of money also plays a huge role.

Not really. The author is advocating to not be too attached from an ego perspective to an idea and trying different things to see what actually works. That's different from saying you can't do what you love and expect to make money.

Running a business is a skill. How do you learn skills? By failing over and over until you get it right.

> I get that you can't do what you love and expect to make money.

While not everyone gets to work on what they love, you can also take the mindset of finding something that you can love to work on.

I don't get this.

Why does everything need to be "True greatness and satisfaction?" Why can't it simply about just paying the bills?

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