Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hello! First of all, thank you for having me on Indie Hackers :). My name is Michal Ptacek. I am originally from Prague, Czech Republic, but I moved to San Diego six months ago with my girlfriend.
I've been an IT guy since I was a kid. It all started when I received my first Commodore 64 computer and instantly fell in love with playing games on it and programming in BASIC. I started to make my first real websites when I was 13, and two years later I programmed my first point-and-click adventure game, called Dr. Bohus. It had that classic cliche story where your character is a famous doctor who needs to find a cure for some unknown disease and save the world :). It took over a year to develop, and it was probably the most difficult thing I have ever accomplished.
To this day I consider myself a really untalented programmer, but I enjoyed the process of programming so much that I knew right away that making products was something I wanted to do. So during those years I made few other projects, including CzechCrunch.cz — the biggest tech/startup magazine in the Czech Republic (available only in the Czech language).
But three years ago I decided to mainly focus on the global market, especially the U.S., because I felt there were much bigger opportunites there. It was during this time that I made Officelovin'.
Officelovin' is a website that features the best offices from around the world. I collaborate with approximately 150 architects (including companies like Rapt Studio, Design Blitz, Gensler, etc.), who present their best office designs on Officelovin' and provide us with licensed photos and informations about their projects.
So far, Officelovin' has featured offices of companies such as: Zendesk, Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, The Honest Company, and more — many of which share with us exclusively, which I am very happy about.
We have two main user groups, and they're very different:
- people from the tech/startup industry (designers, programmers, geeks)
Most of them come from U.S., but Europe has a very strong presence as well. At the moment, we've featured 1,340 offices on Officelovin' so far.
I'm not currently trying to focus on revenue that much, since I thankfully make enough from other projects to pay for my living standards. Officelovin's revenue is only about $3,500 dollars per month — all from advertising.
What motivated you to get started with Officelovin'?
Even though I have no professional degree in the field, I've always enjoyed nice architecture. As a geek, I naturally began to notice more and more companies (especially from the tech/startup industry) spending increasing amounts of money on their offices — almost to the point where offices became one of their main recruiting tools.
It makes sense if you really think about it. Employees spend a lot of time in the office these days, especially in startups and tech companies, and nobody wants to work from a cave without windows. Most companies know this and try to make their employees and teams feel like they are at home, not at work, so you see all these lounge zones, cafeterias, ping-pong tables etc.
All of this is what gave me the idea to make a website that would somehow feature the best offices. Things started slowly, but after launching a few months later I got featured on ProductHunt, then TheNextWeb, and Officelovin' has really been growing since then. I immediately received a lot of great feedback from people, which is when I really began to realize that users enjoyed using the site and that it had serious potential.
As I said before, I had some other projects at that time, which was definitely helpful as they allowed me to focus on the product side of Officelovin', rather than thinking about numbers and revenue constantly.
What went into building the initial product?
I try to use Laravel for most of my projects these days, but for Officelovin' I decided to go a different route. For a magazine-style project it didn't make sense to reinvent the wheel and start programming everything from scratch, so I used WordPress. I'm familiar with it, and it also runs on PHP, which allowed me to tailor it exactly to my needs.
I made the first version of the site over the weekend, but that was just some premium template that I made some adjustments to. But I recently decided to completely redesign the website from the scratch and launch a completely new version of it two months ago.
Afterwards I submitted it to ProductHunt, which took approximately three weeks of work — WP development and graphic design included.
Working from home and having a stable income have definitely helped a lot towards being able to focus on this project most of the time.
I try to avoid trends with technology stacks. Over the years I've met many excellent programmers who all have one thing in common — they're constantly trying to learn new technologies, frameworks, and trends.
Their problem, though, is they've never shipped a complete project or product. Why? Because they always start programming something, spend several cycles trying to make the code look better and cleaner, and then boom: a cool, new technology comes out that catches their eye. And then suddenly they're transforming or rewriting their entire project to fit this cool new technology or framework. Rinse and repeat — again, and again, and again.
It's a never-ending cycle. Yet the actual product never gets shipped. So I just use PHP, Laravel, jQuery, and Wordpress if neccessary, and that's it. Yes, it is probably not cool, but most users don't care about the technology you use.
How have you attracted users and grown Officelovin'?
I think ProductHunt and TheNextWeb had a huge effect. They brought tens of thousands to the site in a single day. When the new version (Officelovin' 2.0) was featured on ProductHunt two months ago, it received about 590 upvotes, so lots of new people got to see the product.
I personally don't believe in paid marketing or methods like cold emails. I find them a bit agressive. I really like the way Pieter Levels markets his products. I call it "honest marketing", where you just create a good product people like, and then let the word-of-mouth take care of the rest.
I think so many people these days are somehow trying to game the system, constantly thinking about some kind of workaround. But I think if you have a really good product, your users/customers will find you no matter what.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
At this moment all the revenue comes from banner ads. I try to put it into "premium" terms, where I only pick the companies I personally believe in. And sometimes this causes problems.
I'd say I'm a very direct and also a pretty horrible salesperson — I'll simply turn down an advertiser when I feel their service won't be of mutual benefit to them and to the Officelovin' visitors. This definitely ruins website revenue, but on the other side it makes it look more premium and authentic, and I also feel I am building some value there. And since the website is organically growing, I'm able to charge a bit more each month, which is enough for me at the moment.
There are also some new features I'm currently working on (e.g. Officelovin' Jobs) that should help in the revenue department. As I said, office spaces are an important hiring tool in today's recruiting environment, so there are many opportunities to make a business model from this.
My biggest tip to others in terms of revenue is don't be too agressive, and always try to use win-win situations when negotiating. This will definitely prove beneficial to you in the long run.
What are your goals for the future?
My goal is to make Officelovin' the go-to site for architects and designers to present their work. I also want to make it a website where these professionals go to inspire and motivate themselves.
I'm currently playing with the idea of turning it into more of a community website with profiles and a forum, so people can discuss new trends, upvote/downvote products, tag furniture, etc. That said, I want to keep it clean and simple, as I believe we're in an age of overcomplicated websites and services, and people are a bit tired of it.
I also recently started interviewing interesting architects and designers on Officelovin' so that I can provide more interesting content.
My traffic goal is to get to 10,000 readers/day in the next four months. As I mentioned before, revenue isn't that important to me at this point, since I believe that the key to making more money is to increase your traffic and the quality of your product.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
This would definitely be communication. And that doesn't only apply to Officelovin' but my other projects as well.
I work remotely, and I've been using Slack for most of my projects/teams. What I've realised is that when you work remotely, you really need to over-communicate — even the simplest or stupidest things. Otherwise, things will get lost in translation, which will affect the whole product. There's a great post about this from Tobias van Schneider where he says:
This is by far the most important aspect of working in a remote team. You have to over communicate, almost to an extent where it feels like you're talking to yourself out loud.
The beauty and challenge with working remotely is that you don't really know what other people on your team are doing. You can't just check in with them on their desk, walk over real quick or exchange a few words over lunch. To sync up remotely would mean you have to schedule a call or bother them via chat, which basically defeats the purpose because you can't just have meetings all day to make sure you're catched up with everyone. My biggest pain when working with people remotely is when these people just not communicate. People who don't ask any questions, who don't tell what they're doing or what they have accomplished. It's easy to completely disappear and fly under the radar when working from home or any other remote place, you have to actively fight against it.
I agree with this 100%. Or probably more like 200%.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
It's funny — I've stopped reading most business and startup books, as I feel they're mostly all the same and give you some basic tips written into 400-page books in order for their authors to get rich. What's funny is that some of these authors have never actually shipped a product. Instead they only got successful by publishing a book about how to be successful. I find this a bit sad, and I don't want to support it.
So I prefer going to Hacker News, Product Hunt, Indie Hackers, Reddit, and Quora, and talking with the real people behind businesses and projects to get inspired and learn new things.
I've been diagnosed with ADHD, which has been my biggest advantage and disadvantage. I have serious problems focusing on things I don't really care about. In school this always caused me lots of problems, so naturally my parents wanted to do something about it, and they sent me to a doctor who prescribed me ADHD pills.
These almost instantly made me more focused and organized, but after a while I realized I wasn't feeling like myself, but instead like an emotionless zombie. So after a few weeks I flushed them down a toilet and haven't ever touched them since. Afterwards, the more I educated myself about the general problem of ADHD, the more I realized that there were some things I could do to lessen its effects, like eating better food and exercising regularly.
The flipside is that ADHD gives me one huge advantage — a mental state known as "hyperfocus". When there's something I really enjoy doing I get a major case of tunnel vision, and I intensely focus on that one thing, getting completely lost in time and working pretty rapidly :). Luckily for me, computers in general bring me into this kind of state, so I have no problem working on my projects.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
Don't worry about the technology you use — just ship the product as soon as possible.
Once it is live, gather feedback and try to make it better every day.
Where can we go to learn more?
I'm kind of an introvert, so I was very silent until like two months ago when I started to become active on Twitter.
This had a big impact on me, as it's helped me discuss tech-related problems with other like-minded people, and it's also helped me to receive a lot of great feedback. My Twitter handle is @ptacekmi.
I also recently started writing a Medium blog, which you can find here.
There are far smarter people with better track records than me out there, so I'm not sure I'm the right person to go to for advice. But if anyone has any questions, I'm of course very happy to answer them. :)