I’m an indie maker building computer software with my fiancée, Oxana Ivanchenko. Last year, I graduated from Ecole Centrale de Lille, an engineering school in France. During my studies I had the chance to work in different tech companies around the world (France, Germany and the United States of America). Oxana graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in Lille as well. In 2018, she started learning programming on her own with the help of online courses and myself.
Right after graduation, I decided to build my own software so I could be free. Going to work always felt like contributing to someone else’s dream. In the end, in the internships I have been in, I never really felt the joy I had building when my own products. I realized programming itself is not fun. What I really like about programming is the fact that you are free to build anything.
Oxana never worked in a corporate environment because it does not let her have the lifestyle she wants. We want to be able to wake up without setting an alarm, to completely control when we want to do our holidays, to work full-time on saturdays when we have the desire and be lazy on Mondays. We also desire to live wherever we want.
Being an indie developer means being financially independent doing meaningful work. We want to spend our lives building good software or even physical products. It also means being able to travel and work remotely. We view all our projects like babies: we put a lot of love and efforts in them and slowly watch them grow.
We decided to start a company together in October. The company is legally registered as Appsent in France. You can see it as a company that makes companies. Financially, we are working part-time with other businesses to fund our living costs.
In the past, we worked on a free iPhone app available in Spain and France that lets you compare the prices in each gas station. We quickly noticed how hard user acquisition is. One of the only ways to earn a recurring revenue is to add ads in the app. The ARPU (Average Revenue per User) we have for this app is around $0.02.
App store ads in our industry cost around $0.20 per user acquisition, which means for each new user we would be losing $0.18. We added premium features, but quickly noticed it does not bring a stable long-term income.
We decided to give SaaS a try because we think that for independent developers, it is easier to generate a revenue with a subscription model. It also minimizes the risk of sudden revenue decrease which is an important point when you decide to start working on a side project full-time. Once you find market fit and users willing to pay to use your product, it removes the pressure and helps make ends meet.
Launching an open-source SaaS project
With upload.express, we wanted to let our customers share and sell files on their own website. It is a completely white-label solution that each client can fully customize (background image, logo, colors and even the source code as we are open-source).
The target audience is any company or individual that shares many files to many users, for example consulting and design companies as well as photographers and architects. As the download page is fully customizable, an event photographer can easily change the background image with its best shots and add a link to his website and social accounts. When sharing all the photos of an event with the guests, everyone will immediately see who he is. We also want to add simple analytics, so the owner sees how many people downloaded the file.
In the next version, we will introduce payments, so anyone can sell digital goods and directly receive the money on their own Stripe or Paypal account. This would broaden the target audience to makers selling software, teachers selling online courses. The goal here is to have your own space on your own domain name outside of the various platforms available. We believe creators, influencers, educators and editors should own the content they create and not depend on a commercial company.
Each time we have an idea for a new project, we add it to a Google Doc. Once we completely finish a project, we go back to it and pick the idea we think has the most potential. Then, we conduct market research. It is an important part that we often neglected in the past. We always believed that having a project without any competitors would guarantee success. Actually, it can mean that no one needs the product. After we are done with market research, we think of features that will make us stand out from the various competitors and add them to a Trello board. Then, we build a visual representation of the project, and think of the overall technical architecture.
Finally, we build a minimum viable product that highlights the complexities we might encounter, and we share it on our social accounts.
While we think launching on Product Hunt is fine for the first version, as the goal is to acquire feedbacks and improve our product, we want to launch a Kickstarter funding campaign for the second version. Having a first working version of your product is important before posting it on crowdfunding platforms. It will show your future customers what you are capable of before they invest.
Our app is open-source. Anyone can install it on its own server and use it for free. As installing the software requires technical skills, the idea is to sell a fully-hosted and managed version of the product. Companies that want to install the software on their local servers are also able to subscribe to premium support and consulting sessions.
In it for the long haul
Don’t expect a large income immediately and stay motivated. Our first app Gaspal brings us 60€ a month and our second project nothing. It’s very easy to be discouraged when you don’t see a financial reward for your work. But we’ve been learning on our mistakes and every project makes us better.
We will launch more and more products every year and try to become fully independent. Upload.express still has a long way before being complete. Most part of 2019 will be dedicated to this project, and we hope you will enjoy following its development. On a personal note, we would love to become nomads and travel the world!