Productized Services January 25, 2020

I run an unlimited design service...by myself.

Brett Williams @brettwill1025

Two and a half years ago I launched a design subscription service on Product Hunt. The entire experience was built in a single weekend, so I obviously wasn't expecting a whole heck of a lot.

Jump to today, now over 900 days later, the service is still alive and surprisingly stable, given I haven't spent a dime, or made any sort of effort, to get the word out other than my original Product Hunt post.

DesignJoy (formerly Hue) has serviced now well over 100 companies, primarily SaaS. I assume this is due to the fact that those discovering DesignJoy on Product Hunt still to this day in the "related products" section are a part of some SaaS product themselves. Plus, word has spread around the Y Combinator community.

Some pretty amazing companies have trusted DesignJoy to handle their product design work. Some that have gone off to be acquired by companies like Stripe. Some that have gone off to win product of the year awards. Some that now have hundreds of thousands of users. I would have never expected such a client base.

To date, DesignJoy has completed well over 1,000 requests.

Now here's the catch...we only have 1 designer...and that 1 designer is me.

Somehow, someway, I've managed to keep up with not only the requests coming through DesignJoy on a daily basis, but also with my full time UX job. Luckily I work remote, so I have some flexibility in my work schedule. But still, it's a lot. DesignJoy has a strict delivery schedule which on average is about 48 hours. Perhaps less than 1% of requests fail to meet that.

At any given point, I have about 6-7 clients subscribed, with another 2-3 paused while their product is in development. It results in about $5-$6k MRR ($220k to date). It's not a significant amount by any means, but it's side income.

I've been given multiple opportunities to blow DesignJoy up into a multi-million dollar business nearly overnight by people like The Dave Ramsey Show and others. But I'm in no position to do that. I can't duplicate myself. I can't find designers who can work as quickly as me. Or if they can, they can't produce the level of quality that I demand my service provides.

I guess DesignJoy will forever just be a side project. Not a real company with real employees. But hey, if I can make an extra $6k every month, I suppose I should be fine with that.

Here's a link if you want to check it out. designjoy.co

  1. 5

    If it’s just you, why do you promote it as a team?

    Fantastic site btw!

    1. 4

      My guess would be that:

      • Positioned as a team = a service being provided
      • Positioned as an individual = a freelancer

      and the companies who have demand for this product want to consume a service, not vet an individual freelancer. I get that maybe it's a gray area, but I can completely understand this motivation from a positioning standpoint.

      1. 1

        Yeah, I get it. Shades of grey. I'd like to read @brettwill1025's take on it. This is a great example of what a self-promotional post should be: great execution of service, coupled with high demand almost always = more clients. There is no shame in that at all. It's good business.

  2. 2

    Few sites are this impressive, its incredibly apparent that you are an amazing designer!

    Are there low level tasks that given some guard rails you could outsource? That way the challenge isn't really replicating yourself but instead scaling a part of yourself while maintaining work that is up to your standards.

    Now, that won't take you to a million dollar business but provides a realistic path to 2X-3X what you are doing now

    1. 2

      @caisbalderas Forgot to thank you for your kind comment about the site. I'm probably the most insecure designer in the world and it took me about 15 different site designs to find one I actually was proud of, so this means a lot.

    2. 1

      Great question. My issue there is most of the low level tasks are coming from clients subscribed to our lower tier plan which is only $467/m. There isn't a whole lot of room left after compensation. Perhaps there is some opportunity to leverage this on some of the lower level tasks coming from Pro members, but those are few and far between. :/

  3. 2

    You have clear demand, now is the time to experiment! Find a designer, apply the 50% revenue sales you mentioned in the comments, and see if it works!

    The risk-reward here is in your favor. Worst case, you end up exactly where you are.

    Good luck!

    1. 2

      @kevcon80 That last comment is so true. Guess I never really thought of it that way. Thanks man.

  4. 2

    That's an interesting pricing model for design services. I actually remember Brew on ProducHunt and found the design quite lovely.

    One idea to scale the business would be to partner with a designer/coder that does Webflow websites (Landings at least). I think your turnaround times should be respected, I built my portfolio on a Sunday. The latest podcat of IH is with the founder actually (it's a pretty slick product).

    1. 3

      @OStirbu I've actually had that exact same thought. Hue is built on Webflow, and I've even thought about offering that as a part of the service but I don't have the bandwidth. Never really thought about finding someone else that can do that, so thanks.

  5. 2

    Amazing work!

    "Unlimited, lighting fast design" - should that be lightning?

    1. 4

      Classic case of stare at it a hundred times and never notice the mistake. Thanks!

  6. 2

    I was checking out your site before I even finished reading this article so I didn't expect the plot twist when you said you were the only designer :)

    I think it's a great way to run a freelancing business—systemize the process and give the client what they want which is a predictable budget. Well done.

    So when you say you complete most designs in 48 hours, does that include whole web page designs (from your Pro plan)? So in theory, a client could have a 5-page website designed in around 10 days?

    1. 3

      Thanks! I think you nailed it on the head.

      In the case of a single request consisting of, lets say 5 web pages, we deliver batches every 48 hours on average, not the entire request. A batch could be 2-3 pages. Clients like this though because it's often enough to keep their developers busy vs waiting around for the entire project to be complete.

  7. 1

    Just checked your site. And I can sense high quality and passion for design.

    Kudos man for the results, you deserve it!

  8. 1

    WOw this is inspiring! I always aspired for a one-person productized service that's done remotely. This is great encouragement. And awesome website btw!

  9. 1

    Your site is beautiful! I'm struggling with redesigning my landing page and was curious what your process is like. You use webflow to build the website I gather but what are your go to places for the assets....the font/ graphics / stock images etc?

    1. 1

      Thanks! And great question.

      I have a Shutterstock subscription that I use to gather stock photography and vector graphics (if I don't feel like building from scratch). The assets there are virtually endless and if you know even a little bit of Illustrator or Sketch, you can easily tweak the graphics to fit the style of your site.

      In terms of fonts, I typically try to use Google Fonts (Inter, Muli, etc.). Webflow allows you to easily install any font, but specifically Google fonts right in your dashboard.

      Hopefully that helped!

      1. 1

        Thanks! This is good info...I'm a cheap ass who tries to make it work with free stock photos on pixaby but maybe its worth the investment into premium content haha.

  10. 1

    *Design is everything, and these guys have nailed it." *guy :D

  11. 1

    This is awesome! How did you almost get featured by Dave Ramsey?

    1. 1

      Ramsey Solutions reached out and wanted to make DesignJoy their preferred design partner for their Business Boutique sector which would have resulted in the ability to have a booth at all Ramsey events and daily callouts on Sirus Satellite, not to mention the thousands of business connected to the sector.

  12. 1

    Wow...this is so inspiring. Good for you.

  13. 1

    The design is stellar! Made me want to sign up! I have a question, the pro plan web design, are those designs in Webflow? Or is that just the sketch? @brettwill1025

    1. 2

      Hey @jabds94 the pro plan designs are done in Sketch. Pro + Webflow is currently $999/m.

      1. 1
  14. 1

    Things I'm curious about:

    1. Your side project makes you more money than most people's 9-5 makes them. A LOT more. Curious why you see this as "It's not a significant amount by any means, but it's side income."
    2. Why are you still working your 9-5 if you want to grow this? Is it stable? How much could you grow it just by yourself if you invested those ~40 hours per week from your "real" job into this?
    1. 1

      @heylorenzut If I'm being honest, I was so new to this community when I published this post, I assumed that the majority of projects on here made a lot more than mine. I've sense changed my mind and am pretty proud of my success.

      Great question. Although I consider myself every bit an entrepreneur, I'm not one to risk letting a stable, full-time job go for the prospect of growing a business. I think about it all the time, but I don't have it in my at this point. I make $100K+ a year at a job that doesn't require much of me. I'd be silly to let that go at this point. Unless of course I was absolutely determined to jump all in and do whatever it takes to make DesignJoy work.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the honest response! We all have different risk tolerances, and that's great!

  15. 1

    Congrats! I just shot you an email :)

  16. 1

    Terrific site and concept, more so once I turned off f.lux and could see the real colours.

    Q: How do you handle your vacations? You're committed to a 48-hour turn-around. Wives are very understanding... even they have limits and don't tolerate work on vacation.

    1. 1

      Vacations and holidays are tough. It's a subscription service, so there technically are no breaks. But even though we deliver requests in 48 hours on average, that's still just an average and not a guarantee.

  17. 1

    I'm curious how much of your process is productized. You've clearly put thought into the design ops process so I'm guessing 95% of your time is actual design production. Is there any room to grow here?

    Also, I'm curious what you use to deliver your Brand guides. The product I'm building, https://www.1brand.co, is targeted at solo consultants to help them create a productized offering. You might already have it figured out for yourself, but I'd love feedback on what you would look for from 1Brand (disclaimer: we're still in beta).

  18. 1

    Congrats on such a success, good on you!

    If you find yourself in this type of position, have you ever thought of charging equity instead of ###? For example, give a discounted rate to clinets, but also take a 2% equity stake, or something.

    1. 1

      That's a really great question. I haven't really given that any thought but it's an interesting pricing model for sure. Do you know of anyone else doing this?

      1. 1

        I am at the moment. :) Still in negotiation, but start up looking for a quality developer, so dropped rate to $800/week, but also want 15% equity. I think they will go for it, and makes sense to do this type of pricing model, especially with startups struggling with cash flow.

        1. 1

          Interesting. How do you handle the more legal side of obtaining equity? It's something i know nothing about.

          1. 1

            Yep, I know something about it. Can you drop me a quick e-mial at [email protected] please? Happy to explain this, and also would like to talk to you about something else.

            Cheers,
            Matt

  19. 1

    You could find designers on Dribble?

  20. 1

    Hey Brett! I am an NYC based designer and startup founder. I do a bit of design work on the side but honestly would say my greatest strength is my ability to work fast. If you're looking for help I'd love to chat and share some projects!

  21. 1

    Okay, this is cool. At the moment because it's just you it's a much much better pitch than the average freelancer portfolio, but would be cool to see this developed into an agency on the backend. Obviously easier said than done to find people who can deliver, as you pointed out.

    What does the deliverable look like for a website design? Figma file, .ai, something else?

    1. 1

      The pricing is so low it makes me a little bit worried for your health and well being. Do you ever get overwhelmed by concurrent requests from your different subscribers?

      1. 2

        Thanks! The deliverable is either Sketch or Figma depending on the client's needs.

        And that's a fair point. My wife has been worried about my workload for years now. It's yet to catch up to me but someday I'm sure it will. I'm way too driven for my own good.

        I rarely ever feel overwhelmed managing multiple projects at a time, but that's not to say it never happens. I honestly work so fast and that's the only reason I'm able to handle the workload.

        1. 1

          Well I'm looking forward to trying it out, just signed up for a pro-account. :D

          1. 1

            Wow, you rock! Looking forward to designing for you. :)

  22. 1

    Reading this inspired me - I have quite some questions to ask you, is it possible to connect through the mail?

    1. 1

      Hehe, I assume you mean email? Sure, connect with me at [email protected].

      1. 1

        :D thanks!

  23. 1

    Man, this is great. Great model, messaging is perfect. Might take you up on the offer soon.

    1. 1

      @timomass Wow thanks man, I appreciate that.

  24. 1

    "But I'm in no position to do that. I can't duplicate myself. I can't find designers who can work as quickly as me. Or if they can, they can't produce the level of quality that I demand my service provides."

    This is your challenge, solve it and this becomes a million dollar business not a side project.

    Yes it is tough to find people who dedicate as much as founders do.
    It is painful seeing mistakes made that you know you would have avoided.
    Impossible, not at all.
    Make this your primary goal and success is possible.

    1. 1

      @awcode Thanks for the motivation. Means the world. I'll give this a go!

  25. 1

    "It's not a significant amount by any means, but it's side income." - I would class 60k - 72k per year as pretty significant for a part time one man operation!

    1. 1

      True. I suppose I more so meant that it wasn't much for a "business." But for a side project, I guess you're right!

  26. 1

    Given enough time you could probably find someone or a team that could take over. There's plenty of talented people out there.

    1. 1

      That's sort of the plan. The key is scalability with this model. I've thought about setting something up fairly unique where when I bring a designer on, that person owns 50% of the revenue generated from their clients. There would be no cap to what they could make, and it would be an extra incentive to do good work so that they can retain that income for as long as possible. Who knows. But thanks!

  27. 1

    That’s some pretty decent revenue for a side project. Your design work is great, so I can see why it’s doing so well. Have you tried bringing on another designer to scale it up or are you just assuming no one would be a good fit?

    1. 2

      Thanks Gabe, I appreciate it. I brought another designer on at launch because the request volume was more than I could handle, but I didn't have profitability figured out at that point and still don't when it comes to additional designers. I'm thinking that more of a revenue share model would work, but I just don't know at this point.

      1. 1

        Yeah, I totally understand that. In a similar position in that I know I could scale up with another really good dev, can't bring on someone full-time yet, it would take time to find the right person, etc, etc. Good luck!

        1. 1

          Oh yeah, for sure. I checked out your product and it looks amazing. I'd love to potential partner up down the road if an opportunity ever arises.

          1. 1

            Thanks! Yeah, I'd also be interested in partnering at some point if we can come up with something. I could see Divjoy users needing design services or Hue clients needing dev work or maybe even a co-offering of some kind. Who knows! I'll make a note to reach out in a couple months. Is there a good email to reach you at?

  28. 1

    This comment was deleted 7 months ago.

    1. 1

      Hi there!

      I used Webflow to build my marketing site, and utilized Memberstack to manage user profiles and billing. Outside of that, I use Trello for request management.

      In terms of helping you, I stay pretty busy with DesignJoy. I'd be happy to work with you there if it's within your budget.