How I Turned Design Castoffs into a Profitable Community Marketplace

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

My name is Razvan Ciocanel and I'm a developer. I’ve always worked as a freelancer and maintained some kind of agency that did web development. We made EpicPxls, one of our side projects at EpicCoders, to offer designers and developers a simple community to promote their work.

Right now, EpicPxls generates around $400 a month. We offer both a subscription service and an a la carte menu of sorts where people can just purchase an item they want with a one-time payment. We measure our progress by the number of sales we make and users we gain, which has not fallen below 50 a day since launch.

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What motivated you to get started with EpicPxls?

We initially made EpicPxls as a way to share all of the design assets we had made for clients that didn’t end up wanting to use them. We figured that since they were already made, we would put them out there for free in case someone else wanted them. We saw a steady influx of users despite the fact that we hadn’t done any sort of marketing or promoting, so we decided to publish some premium items that we were selling on other platforms.

To sweeten the deal, we packaged premium items in bundled deals, which resulted in decent sales and brand recognition that ultimately fed more traffic to the site. Because we were already doing this sort of work with paying clients, it didn’t stretch our workload too much and we were able to support ourselves with the income we were generating from client work.

What went into building the initial product?

It took us around one month to make the first version of the product. We used Ruby on Rails to start, which was quite easy. Our initial design was pretty basic and we used Bootstrap 3 to help speed us to a faster release, as well as PostgreSQL, jQuery, Braintree for payments, and MailerLite for sending newsletters. We worked on it between jobs while waiting for new tasks or new clients, which was pretty manageable.

Try making something simple first. I know everyone says it, but they say it because it’s true.

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Once we had the product outlined, we had to make a decision on what kind of subscription model to adopt. We decided to go with something that we felt was fair to both the subscribers and the creators, based on how many downloads a subscriber acquires from a given creator.

How have you attracted users and grown EpicPxls?

For us, the best way to attract users was by promoting our website and products on Product Hunt. We launched on March 6, 2016, and ended up at #2 with 650 upvotes and 5,799 new users, but our traffic went down to normal shortly thereafter.

Because of our initial success on Product Hunt, we continued to post and promote new UI kits that we’d made in house and saw good returns. We make a special page for each promotion and use our Epicpxls payment system to sell each product.

Something that did not work particularly well for us was sponsored blog posts, so I recommend against going that route. We also tried Facebook ads, which were equally unsuccessful.

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

Our products were initially free and we didn’t start asking for money until we added the premium section to our website. Before we started charging, we didn’t even bother to get the email of users downloading products from the site. That did not help us grow at all, but we did get some huge spikes because of it.

One thing that actually improved our sales was adding recurring emails to bring people back and put their eyes on recently added products. We send emails at 3, 7, 14, and 30 days to promote items that we’ve added. The newsletter also impacts traffic. We didn’t send it out for about two weeks and saw a substantial drop in visits.

Currently, we only collect revenue for products sold on our website that we have actually made. Some products up for offer on our site are made by other authors and we don’t take a share of those sales or charge for posting them. We are planning on changing this in the near future but haven’t yet decided on what that will look like.

Month Revenue
Sep ‘18 506
Oct ‘18 561
Nov ‘18 687
Dec ‘18 383

Braintree is our main payment processor. We would have used Stripe but they are not available in Romania. Braintree is pretty comparable and it offers a PayPal integration out of the box, which is a plus. Our expenses for servers, services, and subscriptions like MailerLite and Buffer run us about $150 per month and are totally covered at this point.

What are your goals for the future?

Our aim is to create a more systemized method for launching new products on the site that will enable us to promote recent additions and hype things coming down the pipeline—especially the coded versions of our UI kits, which are some of our most lucrative products. Right now, we’re not doing any promoting, and it’s had a noticeable impact on our traffic and sales.

Because of the success we’ve seen with coding our UI kits, we ask other designers that promote items on our market to code the design into a theme. It seems to bring a lot of happy customers to the site, so we’re hoping to continue this practice.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I definitely wish we would have asked for emails from all the users that downloaded freebies before we started charging and tracking customers more intentionally. We had over 100k downloads with essentially nothing to show for it since we have no emails and no way to reach out to those individuals. Poor decision.

We’re also realizing that we made some aspects of our subscription system a little too complicated. We’re trying to figure out the best way to simplify things, but it requires making changes to some core processes that just aren’t possible at the moment.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One thing that was very helpful was hiring people to handle the product creation for us. That left us with a lot more time for marketing and promotion, and also improved the experience of our employees. We’ve also never stopped taking client work, which has helped alleviate some of the financial pressure.

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

Try making something simple first. I know everyone says it, but they say it because it’s true. And, unlike us, always ask for an email from people downloading your stuff so that you can build your audience and reach them later.

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Where can we go to learn more?

EpicPxls , Founder of EpicPxls

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