GoDesignerGo

Andrew Elliott, who runs a design shop making $1,500/mo, discusses his unusual business model and the transition from wantrepreneur to entrepreneur.

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

Hey! My name is Andrew Elliott, and I'm the founder of GoDesignerGo — a service that provides unlimited graphic design help to businesses for a flat monthly fee.

Before going full-time on GoDesignerGo I worked as a graphic designer and automotive journalist. During that time, I had the opportunity to drive some amazing cars and work on some amazing projects for brands both big and small. Both were extremely rewarding and fun jobs, but building a business of my own has always been my passion and my end goal.

GoDesignerGo provides businesses with an affordable graphic design service that doesn't require any DIY knowledge, is more reliable than marketplace sites, and is just plain easy to use.

It was built for businesses who either need to supplement their current graphic design team or, for smaller companies, need on-demand graphic design help but don't need or want an on-staff designer/agency. So our current customer base consists of companies from all over the world, from large 7-figure companies to small mom-and-pop stores.

Our revenues are growing a little over 30% month-over-month, and we achieved an MRR (monthly recurring revenue) of $1,500 within the first two months of opening our doors.

GoDesignerGo

What motivated you to get started with GoDesignerGo?

GoDesignerGo was really created out of a need that I saw during my work in the industry. Over and over again I heard companies mention offhand that they would love a service that could take care of their design tasks without the hassle, expense, or resources of traditional options.

It wasn't a sure bet that if I created an "unlisted graphic design" service, people would use it. To find out for sure I ran the simplest test possible: I threw up a quick HTML5 Bootstrap landing page — if I remember correctly, it was a modified version of a $5 theme from WrapBootstrap — and cold-emailed small businesses. Happily, many of the businesses responded.

The only problem? None of them bought the service. There were a lot of, "Yeah, I'd totally use that!" responses, which is great for self-esteem, but not great if you're looking for concrete evidence that your idea has legs.

Regardless, I pushed on. I think one of the early issues we had, especially being an unknown design service with a new, unproven business model, was lack of "social proof."

Fortunately, we got super lucky by winning a contest to get GoDesignerGo featured in its very own Vooza video. That video, The Font Whisperer, helped give us that initial level of legitimacy that I think made some on-the-fence companies feel much better about their purchase decision.

Let me emphasize that nothing changed about the service from before the video to get our first customers in the door. Not the landing page or our offering itself, but only this new perception of our offering.

Getting those first customers was enough motivation to continue with the business — enough motivation, in fact, to convince me to go full-time. I had enough of a savings (along with a very understanding girlfriend) that I could go full-time much earlier than I otherwise would've been able to.

I was a bit of a fanatical saver at the time. I think I still had some birthday money from my 8th birthday party in my savings account. Which is great if you want to start a business straight out of college (and not so great if you want to, you know, have fun).

What went into building the initial product?

The initial product for GoDesignerGo was barebones and, frankly, a little embarrassing compared to what it looks like now. (And when I say "product", we don't have a traditional software product — we're a service for the most part.) Our backend processes for employee management were non-existent back then, for example. Even the first version of our website was, well, shit.

Just two years elapsed between the time I first had the idea for the company to the time when the first version of the website went live. "Two years, and you aren't even starting a software company?!" Well, yes. I spent about a year and half being a wantrepreneur, to be totally honest. I was afraid of launching something. What if I failed? What if nobody bought it?

All those mistakes you're going to make when you start? Founders of greater companies have made all of them.

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On a Wednesday night after work I remember sitting down and physically writing down the pros and cons of starting this company. As it turns out, most of my fears were unfounded and, shockingly, the world would not end if my company failed. That simple, dumb exercise gave me the motivation to get started.

I did some quick back-of-the-napkin math on what it would cost to launch something like this, including my time, hosting, resources and even my first employee. Since the company was entirely bootstrapped, I wanted to create my MVP using as little money as possible. That way, if it failed, it wouldn't be a huge financial hit, and more importantly I'd be able to get back up, dust myself off, and go for another at-bat at another business.

I built the original version of GoDesignerGo in what I was familiar and comfortable with — HTML5, Bootstrap, and a little PHP (to handle contact forms etc.). In order to get the MVP out as fast and efficiently as possible I turned to a lot of outside providers to handle important things like payment processing, recurring payments, live chat etc.

One thing I always remind friends looking to start companies of is that the customer doesn't care whether you built the most kick ass payment system for your company or if you use Stripe. As long as it works, it doesn't matter. Same goes for recurring payments. We use Chargebee, and they handle it all wonderfully. Our live chat is handled by Tawk.to.

How have you attracted users and grown GoDesignerGo?

Our launch was, well, unimpressive. It sucks to write that, but it's the truth. We aren't venture- or even angel-funded so buying ads was out of the question. A big PR launch was never going to happen. So what did we do instead? We simply hit "Publish" on our website. I know: super exciting and inspiring. In reality, this is how many companies launch — in obscurity.

We didn't expect a huge launch and, in fact, didn't think we needed one. We are a B2B service business. We knew from the get-go that we didn't need insane hockey stick user growth like a social app. Our focus was to have steady, sustained growth that would allow us to identify problems and modify our service, processes, and offerings as we went along.

I remember sitting down and physically writing down the pros and cons of starting this company.

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This philosophy of quick modification and adaptation was the product of our funding — i.e. none. Since we didn't have the luxury of any funding, our decisions had to be extremely well-thought-out and we had to be ready to adapt quickly. If we didn't, the company wouldn't make it.

After launching, we implemented a marketing plan designed to bring us a slow flow of users. We wanted to accomplish three things with each user: show them the service, explain it to them, and hopefully convert them into paying customers. The overall plan was as follows:

Step One: Free Trial

The first part of the plan was to offer one free trial graphic design to any company that filled out our qualifying form. We got people to fill this out via Facebook and reddit ads.

Step Two: Blog

The second part of the plan was to start a blog and begin to position ourselves as a useful resource for entrepreneurs and business owners — specifically those who may not be knowledgeable about graphic design. We promoted our posts on reddit, Inbound.org and GrowthHackers (relevant posts only).

GoDesignerGo Blog

Step Three: Freebies

The third way was to offer freebies to the community. By freebies we are referring to things like high-quality PSD templates for commonly-used items like social media posts, infographics, and so forth.

We offer these in exchange for an email address. Each person then gets a personal email from me seeing if we can help in any way.

Step Four: Videos

The fourth step, and one that we are just beginning, was to start posting helpful videos that act as a companion to our blog posts.

These videos would be aimed at smaller business owners and would help them better understand how to utilize graphic design in their business. For example: "Canva is awesome, but here is how you can make your Instagram posts even better."

So far, these efforts have worked well to bring us a steady trickle of interested customers.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Our business model is simple — we charge customers monthly for our graphic design service. This is how it works for our unlimited plan:

  • Sign up and request your graphic design task(s)
  • Your task(s) is added to your queue and we begin working through your queue one-by-one
  • Your files are delivered as we complete them

Turnaround times are generally one business day for small projects, with larger projects taking more time. We provide an estimated time of completion at the beginning of each task.

The model itself was designed to be as easy and customer-friendly as possible. While it's not "cool," we designed our service to be used via email as much as possible. (We currently use HelpScout on the backend to handle the incoming requests.)

Why email? Because for the majority of marketing departments in small businesses (or owners of small businesses), it is extremely easy to shoot an email to us and get a design completed. It is a big part of our business model and one that the majority of our customers love.

We started charging from day one, and we've been with Stripe from day one. We were fortunate enough to be one of the beta customers for Stripe's Atlas program, which made getting everything set up extremely easy, so we're big fans. All of our recurring payments are handled through Chargebee and then fed into Stripe.

We're making about $1,500 MRR on average with the current iteration of the service. Could we be making more? Probably. Do we want to be at this moment? Nope.

Wait, I thought the whole reason of business was to make as much money as possible! What gives?

We made the decision to grow slowly until we feel internally that we have the processes and product in place to sustain a higher level of growth. We want the service to maintain a solid level of quality as we grow. Growing too fast by trying to convert as many customers as possible could have a detrimental effect on the quality of service we are able to provide.

Right now, it is just myself and a full-time designer, whom we hired partially to help us get a handle on our employee processes as we start to ramp up customer acquisition.

GoDesignerGo Pricing

What are your goals for the future?

Since before I even started GoDesignerGo I wanted to create the go-to graphic design service for businesses. I feel like the current iteration of the company is solving that problem and will continue to do so for many years to come. Companies are going to continue to need graphic design services for the foreseeable future.

The goal for the company is to have 100 happy, sustainable customers within the next 12 months. We hope to achieve this by continuing with the marketing efforts that I mentioned earlier.. The biggest issue for us is going to be churn and HR.

Our margins are respectable (and likely will get slightly better if our projections are accurate), but due to the nature of our company our number of employees will increase substantially as we grow. Not a terrible problem to have, but one that definitely needs to be planned for as we attempt to onboard more customers.

Keeping the balance of employees to customers as we grow is going to be an interesting challenge that we're excited to get started on.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

Some of our biggest challenges have been customer acquisition and designing the internal processes required for scaling effectively. Customer acquisition is hard for any startup. The fact is that most companies have such bad luck at this that they go out of business.

We've been lucky so far in that we have a pretty solid lead acquisition funnel, but that doesn't mean it will last forever. The thing about generating leads and customers is that what worked last month may not work this month. The overall themes (content marketing, Facebook ads etc.) may be sound, but the actual design of your acquisition process is constantly evolving. Figuring out the next steps to continually improve and grow is tough.

The single biggest challenge in starting GoDesignerGo was the fact that I did so as a single founder. Nobody really talks about all those days where you're working 14 hours alone or don't have another person to run an idea by. If you do something wrong? That's all you. Customer mad? That's you too.

Don't get me wrong — I love what I'm doing. But being a single founder is a challenge all to its own.

The benefit of being a single founder, however, was that I quickly had to learn how to be a jack of all trades. Facebook ads? Yup, had to learn that. Handling accounting? Business school helped, but yup, had to learn that again. And so on and so on.

Building a business takes time. But I'm an impatient person — I like to optimize things and get them done as efficiently as possible. That's where having a long-term vision and plan come in. I have a Google Doc listing all the goals for the company, how I think it's best to get there, and what I need to do in order to make that happen.

Remember, as you are starting your side hustle… be prepared for things to take time.

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This keeps me motivated and continually coming to terms with the idea that businesses aren't built in a weekend.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I am an avid reader of business books and blogs. Some have helped, some haven't. The very first "startup" book I ever read that helped shape my ideas of business was Getting Real by 37Signals (now Basecamp). I wasn't a programmer but I recommend the book to anyone who wants to begin the process of understanding how businesses work. It's not a technical "do this, do that" book, but rather a book that inspires thinking in new and different ways.

Podcasts from Mixergy were my daily commute listening for over a year before GoDesignerGo was even an idea in my head. I still listen to them when I feel a guest is particularly relevant.

One of the most helpful things I've done to keep me motivated and on-track is to create a daily to-do list in Google Sheets. I plan this out every Friday for the upcoming week. It helps keep me focused on the tasks at hand, and it provides a mental reward for checking off an item. As a single founder, it's important to stay motivated and focused, and simple to-do lists really help.

The second most helpful daily task I do is force myself to take time to do something I enjoy. It would be all too easy to work crazy hours and jump into bed mentally and physically exhausted. I tried that for a few months — it sucked.

Since then I've forced myself to get up from the computer, put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode, and go for a run, play a video game, or play some tennis. It has worked wonders for my mental health, and I suggest a similar strategy to any founder struggling with burnout or stress.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

I alluded to this earlier, but one piece of advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs out there is to make sure you understand what the main hinge point of your business is before attempting to scale. Some people smarter than me call this product-market fit.

For us, our hinge point is maintaining a standard level of quality and service. If we don't maintain that as we grow our customers will go elsewhere. There are plenty of other options.

Growing as fast as possible is awesome. But growing at the expense of your core product — the real reason people signed up in the first place — is not the way to do things.

The biggest piece of advice I wish someone had given me when I started out was that all those fears, insecurities, and mistakes you're going to make when you start a company? Founders of greater companies have made all of them. So don't sweat the small stuff, and celebrate the big stuff.

I spent about a year and half being a wantrepreneur, to be totally honest. I was afraid of launching something.

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Remember, as you are starting your side hustle, company, weekend project or whatever you decide to call it, be prepared for things to take time. I guarantee I'm more impatient than you are, and if I can manage to come to terms with the idea that businesses take time, I think you can too.

Keep pushing and keep hacking. As long as you're happy doing whatever it is that you're doing, good things will come.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you want to try out the GoDesignerGo service, you can do so by clicking right here. I always like to make myself available to anyone who reads a blog post, interview, or other piece of content of mine — so if you have any questions please don't hesitate to email me: [andrew@godesignergo.com](mailto:andrew@godesignergo.com].

You can also follow me or reach out to my personal Twitter account: @AndrewEOfficial

I will be lurking in the comments here to answer any questions as well. Go ahead, I won't bite!

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