Leaving a Low-Autonomy Design Career to Build a Product Business

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

Hi indie hackers! My name is Michael, and my journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur began with an epiphany I had while doing a bit of tedious grunt work.

There was no hierarchy at the branding agency where I worked, yet somehow I was always the one stuck doing the pixel-pushing busywork. In this case, I was stooped at my desk, creating a logo package. Exporting logos for clients can be a truly mind-numbing task, and in many ways it perfectly encapsulated everything that was lacking in my job. I realized I was better than making logo packages. I was under-appreciated, and I wasn't growing.

research

I had my epiphany, and I was done with agency work in a few short months. I left my job and set off to work for myself, choose my own destiny, walk my own path. I quickly acquired two major design contracts and doubled my measly agency salary. My clients showed their appreciation every day, and I began to feel like a pro again. My imposter syndrome was cured!

Don’t be greedy; be of service to your customers.

Tweet
Share

Everything was going wonderfully, but I had no clue that I was really in the eye of the storm. I had put all my eggs in one basket, and when one of my contracts started having major financial problems, I had to find something new, and quickly.

What motivated you to get started with Logo Package Express?

I had started reading a book called Designing Products People Love, by Scott Hurff. The first few chapters are all about doing your research. The author was advocating a system of modern market research called Sales Safari, which is the brainchild of Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman of 30x500 fame. The concept can be distilled like this: why make something and then hope people buy it when you could research what people need and then make that.

home

Well, I was inspired, to say the least, so I set off on a sales safari of my own, digital machete in hand, ready to tame the unknown. Despite my best efforts, I found myself in very familiar territory — right back where I had started while contemplating my worth at my agency job. Logo Packages.

While scouring over graphic design forums, blogs, and Facebook groups, I uncovered a familiar and persistent theme. Designers hate making logo packages for their clients.

For the uninitiated, a logo package is all of the final files designers send clients at the end of every logo design project. Because there are so many contexts a logo must exist in, designers end up exporting dozens or even hundreds of logo files manually, one at a time. It can suck hours of a designer's time away from more meaningful creative work. Designers will gladly put this task off for as long as they possibly can.

My goal was clear. My focus was razor-sharp. I had to improve the speed and efficiency of the logo packaging process by a factor of ten. I had to save designers from the same miserable production task that had haunted my past and caused me to question my very worth as a designer. Lastly, I had to make $1,000 in sales to feel like it had all been worth it.

What went into building the initial product?

285 hours of my time went into my crusade — the entire summer of 2018. By the end of it, I had a clunky product that could create, export, and sort 80+ logo files in five minutes. I’d also built up an infantile email list of 36 people, which included my best friend, my girlfriend... and my mom.

It turns out that making a product is actually the easiest part of a product business. It’s building an audience of potential customers, who are foaming at the mouth to throw their money at you, which is the insanely challenging part. Especially if you’re a first-timer like I was. Blogs, Slack channels, emails, freebies, and landing pages, oh my!

Creating the alpha version of my logo packaging tool (then donning the silky smooth moniker, "Logo Package Automator Bundle") had been some of the most rewarding and purposeful work of my career.

On October 1, 2018, I was ready to take the design community by storm. I eagerly pressed the proverbial launch button and… it was a complete and utter failure. Take a look at my sales for the first three months:

early sales

Count ’em up, folks. Four. That’s four sales in three months. I had spent six months living on half the income I was used to, and what did I have to show for it? $172.50, a far cry from my $1,000 goal.

Cue the crippling self-doubt. What had I done wrong? Was the price too high? Was I wrong to think anyone was struggling with logo packages? Certainly not; my foolproof research assured me that designers needed my product. What about my landing page? Was my copy not converting? Was my button the wrong color? Was the world simply not ready for the awesomeness I had unleashed?

How have you attracted users and grown Logo Package Express?

As a last-ditch effort to get users, I had a holiday sale. I blasted my email sequence out to a now burgeoning list of 50 subscribers, and something astonishing happened. A Christmas miracle if you will. Somebody told somebody who told someone else, and suddenly I had a whale knocking on my door.

Ian Paget, the creator of a highly active logo designer community called Logo Geek, was asking me to be an affiliate. He had an audience of close to 100k logo designers and a very high-ranking blog on logo design. It was divine intervention, and I had no idea about how an affiliate program worked, but naturally, I told him that I could, of course, make him an affiliate, no problem!

Within a month of partnering with Logo Geek, I had surpassed my $1,000 goal. I was ecstatic. My girlfriend even bought me congratulatory snacks. I now had $1k in sales AND snacks. I was ready to take a real stab at making my logo packaging product (now with a more palatable name, Logo Package Express) a viable source of income and a real business.

What’s your tech stack?

My rough-and-tumble product was just a bundle of scripts, actions, and templates for Adobe Illustrator. Some might call it a minimum viable product. I knew that I’d have to elevate the product’s status in the mind of designers if I was going to have a real shot of success. In the design world, that meant making a bonafide extension for Illustrator. I had to go from this to this:

comparison

The only way this metamorphosis was going to occur was if I hired an extension developer, so I got one of the most trusted devs in the business, Trevor, from Creative Scripts. The collaboration was terrific, and he helped me redefine my vision for the extension daily.

I’m no developer, but the technology stack involved with creating an Adobe extension is something like this:

  • HTML and CSS
  • Illustrator’s built-in Chromium browser
  • Vue.js
  • JSX

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

While the extension brewed in the labs, I began acquiring a few more affiliates with large design audiences. I put up a new page on my site for the extension version of Logo Package Express. I didn’t have much to show people, so I decided to use Figma to make a high-fidelity prototype of my vision for the extension and then record myself (using Loom) doing a walkthrough using the Figma prototype. My affiliates agreed to share my video, and it blew up!

I offered preorders at a discounted price during the month before launch to create some urgency, and I received 170 preorders. The extension had already performed better than the old bundle version of Logo Package Express, and I hadn’t even released it yet.

I knew I had something good, and so did the community. All the way up through launch, new affiliates began to approach me via the affiliate form on my site (just a simple Typeform). Design influencers on Instagram, designers with YouTube channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. I was totally ready to have the best launch day ever… and then, disaster struck.

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

Hands down, my launch day.

May 6 was the big day, and the problems began almost immediately. The extension wasn’t ready to be released. We needed just a few more hours to encrypt and sign. Gumroad, the platform I sell Logo Package Express on, would not let me alter the release time I had initially set.

I had to release a glorified IOU. My 170 preorder customers (who I imagined to be waiting at their computers in pajamas like it was Christmas morning) all had to unwrap a digital lump of coal: a .txt file notifying them that the extension would be coming later in the day.

Affiliates were sharing links all over the internet, people were flocking to the site, and there was no product! We finally got the extension ready for release, but then we realized it wasn’t working on PC for some reason. I had to release something -— it was launch day! I quickly modified all of my landing page content to say Mac only, even though I’d been promising Mac and PC for months. I could feel rage from across the globe violently hurtling across time zones to punch me right in the gut.

Emails from angry PC people began flooding in, “This doesn’t work on my PC,” “You send us a .txt file saying it’s coming and now all of a sudden there’s no PC version! What kind of show are you running?”

My face was melting, but I still held out hope that we’d figure out the PC problem before the day was done. At 5pm, we identified the bug and squashed it, but the worst damage was already done.

Go into your search with no real agenda in mind.

Tweet
Share

Amid all the late release shenanigans, I found out (via one strongly worded email after another) that 53 of my preorder customers had been double, triple, or quadruple charged! Gumroad support was nowhere to be found for hours while I frantically sent emails to each and every angry customer assuring them I would get to the bottom of it. When Gumroad support finally got back to me with a solution, I promptly took screenshots of the entire conversation and blasted it out to all 53 customers who had been overcharged. Apparently, it had the effect of humanizing me because several of the angry customers ended up becoming affiliates.

Despite the catastrophic launch, I managed to get everything sorted out by the end of the day. The extension was available for Mac and PC, and refunds were on their way to those who were overcharged.

I would have preferred that none of this drama occurred, but looking back, I don’t know what I could have actually changed.

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

I’m now nine months away from that frenetic launch day, and here’s where things stand:

  • Nearly 1,500 users have downloaded Logo Package Express.
  • I’ve surpassed my $1,000 goal 100 times over ($100,000).
  • 100+ wonderful humans have partnered with me as affiliates and more join up every week.
  • I’ve been featured on blogs, podcasts, tweetstorms, and Facebook groups.
  • I’ve left my remaining contract work to focus on Logo Package Express full time, and I couldn’t be more excited for the future.

Thanks to affiliates, a fantastic developer, and scores of excellent customers, I no longer spend hours making logo packages or questioning my worth. Instead, logo packages are showing my worth.

pricing

What are your goals for the future?

The problem with logo packages is only half solved, in my opinion. Logo Package Express is a stellar solution for designers who loathe manual logo packaging, but the other enormous problem my research uncovered was that clients often don’t know what to do with the plethora of files the receive. While my file naming convention and folder structure certainly help, there is much more that can be done about guiding clients to the appropriate files, and I am in a unique position to address it.

My first priority, however, is to make Logo Package Express the best product it can be, and to that end, I’m currently hard at work on version two, which will include five major new features that were highly requested by my users.

Putting up numbers as goals sort of seems arbitrary to me now, but I suppose achieving $500,000 in sales would be the next major milestone. Addressing the client side of this issue will also set me up nicely for a recurring income model, which is pretty desirable.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I find two business practices to be the most beneficial aspects of my business so far.

  1. Don’t be greedy; be of service to your customers.

I have given away so many copies of Logo Package Express at a discounted rate or for free. Either because my sales platform doesn’t sell to a particular country or someone has used up all their license uses. If I had been greedy, I would never have made my first affiliate connection. The person who connected me to Ian did not have the money to buy my product, but he desperately wanted it and was willing to connect me to people with large design audiences. So don’t be greedy.

Also, be of service. I regularly have customers send me their logo files so that I can make corrections to them. I make custom videos every week to solve a specific problem for a particular user. Every time I do something for a customer like this, I use it as an opportunity to kindly ask for a review, “If you’re enjoying using Logo Package Express, please feel free to leave a review on my site.”

reviews

My reviews are regularly very positive, my reputation precedes me, and people feel much at ease after doing business with me.

  1. Affiliate partnerships are where it’s at.

There is no way that I could put out the amount of content necessary to build an audience of substantial size around making logo packages, nor would I want to.

Forging true partnerships with affiliates who have huge audiences that would want your product is invaluable. The Logo Package list is only 2,500 people, but I can reach millions through my affiliates.

And when I say forge true partnerships, I mean get to know these people. I talk with several of my affiliates regularly. Figure out how you can make connections between your affiliates. Help them help each other earn money, and your personal growth can exceed your wildest expectations.

Give your affiliates generous commissions, 20–40%, at least. Give them a good incentive, and your rewards will be abundant.

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

This might seem pretty obvious to some, but I think that when most of us hear “Necessity is the mother of invention,” we believe that if we look inward and find a solution to one of our personal struggles, we can find a million-dollar idea. That philosophy nearly always leads you astray and has you “pivoting” for your entire entrepreneurial career.

Instead, do some real research. Go into your search with no real agenda in mind. Look for the things people are complaining about in the realms you understand and contribute to. Be a fly on the wall, because people can never come up with a list of their problems on the spot but they love to rant on the internet. Use that to your advantage.

Don’t think you have to do everything on your own, and don’t be too protective of your idea. Chances are that even if someone thinks you are onto something amazing, they don’t have the time or energy to steal your idea. Instead, put in the work on your idea to get ahead and pursue partnerships with people who can help you realize your ideas along the way.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can check out Logo Package Express and see how it works on our website.

I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @TheLogoPackage.

If you are particularly interested in logo design and sending logo files to your clients, you can check out my blog.

Lastly, I’m on Facebook.

Michael Bruny-Groth , Founder of Logo Package Express

Want to build your own business like Logo Package Express?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

We're a few thousand founders helping each other build profitable businesses and side projects. Come share what you're working on and get feedback from your peers.

Not ready to get started on your product yet? No problem. The community is a great place to meet people, learn, and get your feet wet. Feel free to just browse!

Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

  1. 3

    Great story, Michael! This particularly stuck out to me:

    "Instead, do some real research. Go into your search with no real agenda in mind. Look for the things people are complaining about in the realms you understand and contribute to. Be a fly on the wall, because people can never come up with a list of their problems on the spot but they love to rant on the internet. Use that to your advantage."

    Staying aware of confirmation bias is a constant struggle of mine. The old chestnut of being a good listener comes to mind.

    Best of luck going forward. :)

    1. 1

      Thank you! I think that if you're going to spend lots of time and energy on something, you would want to know that people out there actually want it.

      Now, I did have an idea that exporting logos was a problem, and that informed how I did my research, but the solution to the problem definitely came out of the research.

      I considered writing a book or making a course. I also considered offering logo packaging as a service instead of a product.

      Ultimately, my research showed me that the solution had to be immediate and that my audience was willing to pay for plugins and extensions.

      If I had made a course, it might have helped people on their future products, but not right now. Same for a book. If I offered logo packaging as a service then I also would be coming up against the urgency of the task. People wouldn't want to wait around for some other person to do the work that they could do themselves.

      So the best solution was a turnkey product that made the logos AND put them into a great folder structure.

      So there was a little bias on what the problem was, but much less so on what the solution should be.

  2. 2

    Wonderful story, Michael. I especially love how you discovered the need through forums :) I would love to connect with you to figure out if there's a way for us to collaborate since both of our products help designers, and we could cross-promote each other.

    1. 1

      Hi Roland! Am I correct that your design product is a collaborative email building tool?

      1. 1

        Yes, it is.

  3. 2

    The lesson for me is clear: hard-work pays off. Without the hard-work and sweating the small stuff the affiliate support from Logo Geek wouldn't have happened.

    This reminds me of stuff I've been learning from Jon Morrow (Smart Blogger) and Ramit Sethi (Growth Lab) who constantly advise to go into the head of the prospect and know her more than she knows herself. This is where "the fly on the wall" metaphor comes in.

    Congratulations Michael.

    1. 1

      Thank you Paul! The alpha version and then the eventual extension took about $500 hours of work. That doesn't include the time my developer spent coding the extension!

      It was a lot of work, and in addition to getting into people's heads for product ideas, it has also really paid off to treat my affiliates like friends and make connections for and between them. Catching up with them about life has made the whole experience richer, and they are more than willing to help me promote things at a moment's notice :D

  4. 2

    Hi, great story! Thanks for sharing.

    Just a heads up: the link at "You can check out Logo Package Express and see how it works on our website." is broken (missing the "https://").

    1. 1

      Oh no! Thanks for letting me know. I'll have the IH admin update it. Thanks!

      Here's the link:
      https://thelogopackage.com

  5. 2

    thank you for sharing this! ;) so much to learn

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading! I wasn't sure if this community would be interested in a designer's story or not :D

  6. 2

    This is a super inspiring story @mbrunygroth! I'd heard some of the highlights of your story, but the low points are great lessons as well. Narrowing-in on your audience and creating a pill for their pain is the best way to build a business. Keep at it!

    1. 1

      Thanks Tela! I hope to continue growing without the need to hire a team of people. The pain is real though and the customers are happy. Great new things are coming for my customers this year :D

  7. 1

    Thanks for the Safari link. That's pretty insightful. I've once again built a solution looking for a problem. I've read many books. I've followed lots of advice. Still here.

    1. 1

      I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. I've really enjoyed researching ideas from the Sales Safari perspective.