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I bootstrapped IMGLY to $2M ARR. AMA!

It’s been a while since we bootstrapped our first product, PhotoEditor SDK and shared our story on IndieHackers
Since then, IMG.LY has grown from just a few people to a team of over 40, empowering over 1000+ customers with our SDKs!

We gained unique insights into creative tools and workflows across industries and use cases and realised they all have much in common. We realised that we want to provide the building blocks to bring creativity to all corners of the internet :).

So we went back to the drawing board and started building an entirely new engine from the ground up. Today, we released the product build on this engine: Meet CreativeEditor SDK (CE.SDK)

CE.SDK combines the best of layout, photo editing, and typography and can easily add it to any app within minutes. It's look&feel is fully customizable and is build to integrate in any workflow.

I appreciate any feedback on our new SDK (check out the demo on our website).

Ask me anything and if you like the product please upvote us on ProductHunt today! Help is highly appreciated!

Ask me anything related to bootstrapping, product building and our story.

  1. 5

    Hi, Daniel! Congrats on the new SDK. Looks great!

    AFAIK you are no longer open source? You must be one of the few open-source first companies that managed to find a path to profitability and scale. Could you share some lessons you've learned along the way that would help other open source first products?

    Do I understand correctly that your pricing is value-based? Could you elaborate on how you decided on that and what's your long term pricing strategy?

    What unseen/ignored opportunities are there in the SDK market?

    Could you share some of your most surprising lessons on scaling an SDK first company?

    Do you think they apply to API-first companies?

    1. 6

      Hey @psto, I'll try to answer your questions one by one.

      Open source: We are no longer open source, true. Unfortunately, we made bad experiences with copy cats that stole the source and published it as their own.

      The positive side of open source was that GitHub was our first and best channel for our first customers. We were just found by other developers and then we were asked if we would provide a commercial license to them. Later the initial traction channel changed a lot when we started building a landing page and thus SEO became our main traction channel.

      Value-based pricing: It's pretty simple. I kind of like the idea of following a "you grow, we grow" principle. However, the creative world is really broad and it is hard to predefine a fair price in advance. So, we kind of establish a relationship with customers and try to find out what pricing makes sense for them and us. As an example, it could just be a small percentage of the per product revenue of the customer. Another example could be a product that doesn't generate revenue itself, so we might discuss a fixed pricing.

      Unseen/ignored opportunities: Well hard to tell, I personally think that developers are a rare resource and pretty expensive too. Also products tend to become more complex these days. So, I think we will need an ecosystem with building blocks, aka SDKS and APIs. In some sense Stripe, Trello etc. are also SDKs. However, running in the cloud and not on the client. So, I think it's just a matter of time until more developers opt in to buying/licensing frameworks, libraries and SDKs. E.g. look at tailwind, they make money with advanced CSS components.
      Also, I am always having an eye on the gaming industry. It is common to use engines like unreal or unity to build your game (app) and buy components out of their stores. is it really so different?

      Surprising lessons: For once SDKs are a beast as you always have to keep up with the newest development, in our case even on all the different platforms. Also the needed knowledge of all developers has to be really deep.
      For me as a tech person, it became apparent that the coding part is only a part of all. Support, Sales, Developer Documentation, and Marketing is really important. Eventually, if no one finds your products you can have the best thing in the world but nobody knows it :-p

      My feeling is the documentation is a crucial part, and we still work on improving that. Also user testing is manifold, you have typical user interface testing but also you have to really look close and test the developer experience.

      Do they apply to api-first companies: Partially yes, something witch is particular special to SDKs is that it's particular hard to fix bugs that happen in the customers environments because you have no access to it and getting the correct information is hard and cumbersome. Also, as an SDK you have little control over the environment and even the hardware the SDK will run on is manifold.

      I hope that helped. If something is unclear don't hesitate to ask.

      1. 3

        I appreciate the comprehensive answers, Daniel!

        Unfortunately, we made bad experiences with copy cats that stole the source and published it as their own.

        The open-source curse :(

        The positive side of open source was that GitHub was our first and best channel for our first customers.

        Still an undervalued channel. Developers on GitHub are more in a software development mindset and miss the customer development potential and traction.

        I kind of like the idea of following a "you grow, we grow" principle. However, the creative world is really broad and it is hard to predefine a fair price in advance.

        I'm a fan of outcome-based pricing. I hope you'll share some insights as you implement it at scale :)

        I personally think that developers are a rare resource and pretty expensive too. Also products tend to become more complex these days. So, I think we will need an ecosystem with building blocks, aka SDKS and APIs.

        While developers are expensive and products become more complex, code is becoming less of a moat than it used to. This is aligned with your thesis for the need for "building blocks" to move faster and focusing (as you said) on "Support, Sales, Developer Documentation, and Marketing".

        SDKs are a beast as you always have to keep up with the newest development, in our case even on all the different platforms.

        Managing all those integrations must be harder than it seems. Not to mention all the tests and the developer experience.

        as an SDK you have little control over the environment and even the hardware the SDK will run on is manifold.

        While hard, that may also work to your advantage, because it increases the barrier to entry.

        1. 4

          To be fair entry is easy if you are "naive", and as always with building new products, you should be "naive" as you will grow with the product. So be "naive" and just start.

          Once you are an expert in a certain field you know so much so that you can be a bit more "bold" and do a long term project and build all integrations etc. upfront.

          This is a thesis though, as we just launched our new SDK where we, against all advice, built it for two years under the radar without any customers. I'll let you know how it went :-)

          In the end, I am a huge believer that one should focus on developer tools and building blocks. I see even larger markets opening up for developer tools, libraries, sdks, apis and a like. There are many niches out there.

          We are design enthusiast and developers, so photo-, video- and creative-tooling came natural to us. Also our designers are eager to develop their own design tool and my fellow developers are eager to develop SDKs and dig deep into the tech. In the end, I think it helped that me and my co-founder are a developer and designer combo.

          1. 3

            This is a thesis though, as we just launched our new SDK where we, against all advice, built it for two years under the radar without any customers. I'll let you know how it went :-)

            Please do! That's a bet not many will take (going back to my point of a higher barrier of entry).

            I think it helped that me and my co-founder are a developer and designer combo.

            You also created something you would want to use after validating on GitHub (so it wasn't a "build it and they'll come" approach :))

            I don't have a use for your SDK yet, but it'll be my go-to recommendation. Keep us updated and good luck!

  2. 1

    Hi Daniel may I know when are you releasing the web version of the video editor sdk? Thanks

    1. 1

      I can only say that video support will come to ours CreativeEditor SDK for Web next year.

  3. 1

    Thanks for this, the product looks great. I've actually came across your editors before however the price was much too high for a small startup even with your small business plan.

    I've got a few questions about the new CE editor (which looks great BTW).

    1. I run a social media scheduling platform (Pallyy) and currently allow my users to create designs with Canva's (free) editor. How does yours compare or differ to Canva?

    2. What is the price of it? Looks like you have to contact sales to find out?

    3. The editor seems very in-depth and feature rich, how do you think an average user would find using it, that's not a designer or has never used any editors before?

    Cheers Daniel.

    1. 1

      Thanks for reaching out Tim.

      You are right the editor is a bit feature rich. However, our UI is very configurable and you can remove lot's of the complexity and unnecessary options for non designers. Our next release will also allow to switch between different UI Types. We basically aim to have 3+1 types of UI.

        1. A really professional grade UI (See figma, indesign...)
        1. A Keynote / Powerpoint / Canva Like experience
        1. A A minimal UI with only the bare things needed
          +1) You can build your own UI from ours or scratch.

      How does it compare to Canva? Well, for once we aim to be versatile an adaptive to many different use cases and link into the workflows of our customers app directly without leaving their app. Secondly, we put a lot of thought in the process of template creation vs template usage.

      When it comes to pricing please see my other comments above, I tried to explain the process of price finding.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the response!

        Looking forward to the Canva experience, and hopefully you add a price point that's affordable for small startups in the future :).

        Good luck with it all.

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