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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Building a Free Photo Editor and Making $100k/mo as a Solo Founder

Ivan Kutskir
Ivan Kutskir
September 28, 2021
Category of startup
Design
Country of startup
Czech Republic
Revenue of startups
$100k-$500k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Building a Free Photo Editor and Making $100k/mo as a Solo Founder

Ivan Kutskir
Ivan Kutskir
September 28, 2021
Category of startup
Design
Country of startup
Czech Republic
Cause of failure of the startup

Ivan created Photopea, an advanced free photo editor, and he's the only person working on it. Photopea is visited 10 million times a month, people spend 1.5 million hours a month using it, and it's generating $100,000 a month from ads.

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Hi Ivan! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

Hi, my name is Ivan Kutskir. I was born in Ukraine in 1990. I moved to Czechia in 2002, and I have lived in Prague since 2009.

I am the creator of Photopea, which is an advanced photo editor. I am the only person working on Photopea, and I do “everything” :)

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2009. I have always been a fan of the web, and I was making some experiments, games, etc. I monetized my games with ads and that was my primary source of income while studying ($100 - $400 a month).

In 2012, I had an idea to make a website for displaying PSD files. I wanted to show a list of layers and allow the user to hide/unhide some of them. The first version (PSD viewer) was released in 2013. Gradually (after thousands of hours of work), it turned into a full graphics editor. I was still studying, so Photopea was my free time activity.

I finished my master’s degree in 2017 and I have been working only on Photopea since then.

How did you go from idea to product?

I just took my laptop and started to code. I was not making or counting on any money; I did it for fun. I did not analyze any market, or “validate” any business ideas.

On the other hand, I was absolutely sure that if you make a replacement for a popular commercial product, people will come sticking millions into your pocket, whether you want it or not. And I was sure I could create pretty much any software I wanted. But I was not sure if I wanted to invest a part of my life into making such a product. 

It all happened naturally, by finishing one feature after another, helping one user after another, without knowing what would come next or what was my goal.

Ivan's AMA Feature Reply

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

I used to “spam” about Photopea all over the internet. I wrote a comment about Photopea under each article about Photoshop alternatives. I posted on Reddit, Hacker News, etc. 90% of my posts and comments were marked as self-promotion and deleted. Also, I begged random YouTubers to review Photopea, 90% of them ignored me, and 10% asked for money (which I did not have back then).

But various people reviewed Photopea “spontaneously” (without being in touch with me), and such articles and videos drew more attention to Photopea over the last 8 years.

Photopea Backlink Profile

I used to monetize my games with ads since 2006, so it was a “well-known” monetization strategy. That is how Google, Facebook, and others generate the majority of their income. Almost all Photopea income comes from ads.

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

Photopea.com is opened 10 million times a month. People spend 1.5 million hours a month using Photopea. The ads allow me to make around 6 cents for each hour someone spends on Photopea.com so that I can make about $100,000 a month from ads.

Photopea Growth

My web hosting costs $50 a year (there is no server-side code, it is just a file hosting for a couple of JavaScript files). The Photopea.com domain costs $16 a year.

I have been cooperating with several programmers in the last two years. I would like to build a team that would “do everything” without me, but I am still far from that.

In the future, I still want to add new features to Photopea and improve the current features. I had an idea of making a video editor or an advanced editor of vector graphics. I know I could do all that myself, but it all takes years to make.

Photopea Home

My personal goal is to do ten muscle-ups in a row; I can do one now :)

Since starting Photopea, what have been your main lessons?

Do not sell your work if someone offers you 10x, 100x, or even 1000x more money than you have made in your life so far. Unless you clearly know what you would like to do with that money.

Do not be afraid to try new things. If you do what you enjoy, you can be 10x more productive than if you did what you don’t enjoy.

Do not let others tell you what a good or a bad idea is, especially when you have thought about it for days/weeks/months while they have thought about it for half a minute. You never know until you try it.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

I often struggled a lot when making some new Photopea features. There are things on which I spent a lot of time without success, so I gave up, and that time did not contribute to Photopea in any way.

I am not aware of any serious mistakes. Maybe Photopea could be much more advanced, popular, or profitable if I did something differently, but it is hard to tell.

I am afraid of getting a business partner or an investor. I would feel quite uncomfortable having one. I am aware that this “fear” is not rational, and I could miss many opportunities.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can follow Photopea on Twitter or Facebook. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or my blog.

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