ConferenceBadge.com

Philippe Lehoux explains how he was able to bootstrap a $70,000/mo business by solving his own problem and enlisting help from others.

How'd you get started with ConferenceBadge.com?

Between 2009 to 2012 I organized a gaming festival called the Bivouac. Each year for 3 days during the summer, we erected a temporary village in downtown Quebec city and invited more than 300 developers and designers to develop video games. It was a big game jam held outside — it was pretty cool!

At the Bivouac we needed name badges. Printing them was one of the most painful things to do the day before the event, especially since we had so many more important things to deal with.

At that time, I was getting pretty serious with coding and wanted to start a new business around my new skills, so ConferenceBadge.com was born. I started developing the JS editor and back-end code to generate the PDF badges and worked alone for about 4 months.

How'd you meet your co-founders?

In 2012, just after the last edition of the Bivouac, I co-founded a coworking space in Quebec City. The space has never been profitable, but... that's where I met my awesome co-founders.

They were bootstrapping a consulting company named Heliom. They were pretty good at making things beautiful, and I was not. I offered them shares in ConferenceBadge.com, and we worked on it for another month or two before launching it.

What did your tech stack look like?

On the front-end, we used CoffeeScript and Raphael.js. On the back-end, we used Rails and Sidekiq for background jobs.

How'd you find the time and funding to continue development?

I worked full-time on the project from day one. I sustained myself with monthly Google Adsense payments I was getting from a French Flash game portal I created way back in 1999 when I was a teenager called jeuxgratuits.net.

Meanwhile, the 3 guys from Heliom were doing part-time work on ConferenceBadge.com while also doing consulting gigs through their own company.

We did our first sale two weeks after launch. (That first customer, after two years, is still using us for all her company name badges.) After one year of running ConferenceBadge.com, we were generating enough money to cover our four salaries: ~$1.5k/month each. My 3 co-founders started working with me on the project full-time. I wrote about this here.

How have you grown your user base and revenue?

ConferenceBadge.com was built on the shoulders of the Eventbrite API. From day one, Eventbrite loved what we were doing and pushed our solution to their users. We are now directly embedded in their event dashboard.

Eventbrite counts for around half of our users. The remaining comes from SEO and word of mouth. The product is simple, and our users love it.

What are your goals for the future?

We love starting new things, so after a few months of being full-time on ConferenceBadge.com, we started working on a new project named Missive, a team collaboration app that merges email, team chat, and tasks.

Missive is a big, ambitious and complex project involving many different technologies in a crowded space where competition is backed with hundred of millions of dollars from angels and VCs. The risk of failure is high.

So why we do it? Why not?! It's all about incremental steps. I wouldn't have tried to start Missive in 2013 when I was a solo autodidact developer. But we now have a pretty healthy business in ConferenceBadge.com that we continue to nurture through stellar customer service. ConferenceBadge.com lets us focus on building Missive. With the help of my awesome teammates, I feel like anything is possible!

What convinced you to move on from ConferenceBadge.com?

We became obsessed with the Missive idea, and we wanted such an app to manage our multiple projects. Having a multi-account, multi-organizations email client that lets us chat and coordinate is one reason we can manage all of this with such a small team. (I haven't talked much about them, but we also run these other projects: Leanticket.com and Medali.st.)

What's your advice for hackers trying to make money on their own?

  1. Keep your expenses low.
  2. Don't aim to be the best, just do your best. The difference is tremendous. With the first mindset, you will never try anything risky for fear of being bad. You will never try to code that game, because other people's games are so amazing. You will never write that blog post, because other people's blog posts are so amazing.
  3. Learn to code with fun projects, not business projects. I learned to code more seriously by doing small JavaScript game prototypes (e.g. http://a-strange-take-on-flowers.ilex.ca). The fun is what kept me going.

Where can we learn more about you and your businesses?

To learn more, you can follow me on Twitter (@confbadge), or follow our project accounts: @leanticket and @missiveapp.

You can also leave a comment below, and I'll try to get back to you!

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