Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

How to Avoid Creative Burnout and Build a +$1k MRR Business

Fernando Pessagno
Fernando Pessagno
July 13, 2021
Category of startup
Productivity
Country of startup
Argentina
Revenue of startups
$0-$10k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

How to Avoid Creative Burnout and Build a +$1k MRR Business

Fernando Pessagno
Fernando Pessagno
July 13, 2021
Category of startup
Productivity
Country of startup
Argentina
Cause of failure of the startup

Fernando built ResumeMaker.Online, the easiest-to-use resume maker, as a side project in 2018. To date, more than 700,000 resumes have been downloaded on ResumeMaker.Online and it currently averages +$1,500/m after the recently introduced v2.0.

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

My name is Fernando Pessagno, I am a 35 years old Argentinian Product Designer, currently living in Tallinn, Estonia. I moved to Europe in late 2020 after landing an amazing full-time job at an AI startup, and I focus on my personal business in my free time: ResumeMaker.Online, the easiest-to-use resume maker.

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

In early 2018 I was managing a small digital design studio in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Life was good, but after more than 10 years of only doing client work, my passion for design wasn’t there anymore. I could see the burnout on the horizon, so I knew I needed to do something about it.

During my early teens, in the almost prehistoric era of Geocities, I used to spend entire days and nights building Dragon Ball websites instead of playing video games. It was just too much fun! I missed that feeling and I wanted to reconnect with the playful side of being a designer.

The problem was that I wanted to build *something*, not just anything, and I couldn't figure out what. One day, my sister asked for help to build her resume and I couldn’t find a straightforward online tool to share with her.  The small group of websites that did do a good job had too many features, which made them unintuitive for the average user. Moreover, many of the paid options forced users to sign-up before even allowing them to test the service, and a few others had dishonest and non-transparent pricing methods.

Then the idea came to me: to create ResumeMaker.Online, a WYSIWYG web app that could enable even non-tech-savvy users to design an attractive resume in just minutes.

It was a win-win scenario. On the one hand, I could hopefully help people in something as important as their job search. On the other, it was a great way to put my design and coding skills to a test in a challenging and fun personal side project, something I had wanted to do for years.

ResumeMaker Landing Page

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How did you go from idea to product?

Working on a personal side project was an amazing and liberating experience. However, with no clients that needed the work to be done by a certain date, I was tempted to add unnecessary cool features for no reason but to feed my ego. As the product´s main strength was supposed to be its simplicity of use, I had to be strict and ask myself: which of all possible features are going to add real value for the user?

Luckily I had a two-month-long backpacking trip around Europe planned for later that year, as part of the plan of avoiding burnout, and I took full advantage of it. Since I stayed in multiple hostels, I was able to interview potential users daily, identify friction points and understand their needs way better.

For example, at an early stage of development ResumeMaker.Online had several resume templates to choose from. People with some kind of knowledge or appreciation for design would quickly pick the one that suited them better. But it came to my surprise that, for most users, the freedom to fully customize the template was leading to decision paralysis and frustration.

After I got back home, I removed all the features that did not fully support the core concept (including the ability to choose different templates), polished the UI, and I was confident the product was ready for launch.

ResumeMaker CV Builder

On launch day in August 2018, I posted ResumeMaker.Online on Product Hunt without any real expectations. This was my first product ever and, even if I was happy with the result, it came as a total surprise when it was selected as the number one product of the day and the number one product of the week.

During the first month, more than *20,000* resumes were downloaded from more than 100 countries and it snowballed into countless websites and people sharing and tweeting about it, so I got it quite easy to attract the first users. Beginner´s luck maybe?

At first, ResumeMaker.Online was never meant to be something other than a fun side project. However, the launch was far more successful than I could’ve ever anticipated, and it opened the doors for considering ways to monetize it.

The validation that being featured by Product Hunt provided was a big first step, although I still needed to find out if users would be willing to pay for it.

In this initial stage, I was skeptical of adding a paid version, as I felt it could get in the way of the growth. Instead, I added a donation form with fixed values.

To my surprise, users were donating up to $20 per resume! This was the ultimate way of validating the product and, on top of that, a useful way to find out what could be the price most users will be willing to pay.

During the first two years of ResumeMaker.Online, I kept this strategy to focus on growth, offered a 100% free download, and monetized the product sporadically via sponsored links to other sites that wanted to connect with my audience.

When the pandemic arrived last year, the deals with my sponsors took a hit and I thought it was then time to offer a “PRO” download instead. The free version is still available for all users (especially during these times) but now they can also gain access to a higher resolution and watermark-free paid version.

ResumeMaker CV Info

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

Being selected 1st product of the day + 1st product of the week in PH created a snowball effect with countless websites and users sharing on social media and writing articles about it. 

It's fair to assume that keeping the product 100% free for almost two years helped to keep a steady traffic growth by word of mouth, and the altruistic perceived nature of it provided an extra incentive for people to share it on social media. 

SEO helped a lot too, of course, reaching at one point a 3º global rank for "resume maker". Adding support for seven languages helped a bit (although 85% of the traffic still goes to the English version).

Currently, users need to share a link to gain access to the free version (which contains a small watermark with a link), which certainly helps.

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

Nowadays a lot of things have changed. ResumeMaker.Online has had a huge impact on my professional life. In August 2020 I moved to Europe after landing a job at an amazing AI startup in Europe, while I still focus on my projects during my free time.

To date, more than 700,000 resumes have been downloaded on ResumeMaker.Online and it currently averages +$1,500/m after the recently introduced v2.0.

I´m not going to lie and say I don't think for a second about how cool it would be to move back or relocate to southeast Asia. I could easily lower my expenses and work only on my products from a hammock with a perfect tan and a drink in hand. It's an unrealistic idea that doesn't align with my personal goals, although provides a comforting feeling to know that I could *theoretically* abandon the rat race today. It fuels my desire to build new products and generate multiple income sources to accomplish the European version of that dream scenario.

Luckily, I like my job and it helps to keep my risk profile low while I live in a first-world country and develop my own business in my free time. 

The next steps then are introducing price localization and a newsletter subscription, while I shift my focus to marketing instead of product development, now that I'm extremely proud of the product in terms of its new features and improved performance.

ResumeMaker Final CV

Since starting ResumeMaker, what have been your main lessons?

As a solo founder, I know it can be extremely overwhelming to think about creating a profitable product when just starting, but instead of giving advice, I´ll tell you what worked for me.

I´m not a “proper” developer. I'm more like a designer who knows how to code, so it was natural to underestimate myself and to think small when I started building ResumeMaker.Online. It sounds counterintuitive, but while working on it, ending up earning money never crossed my mind. In retrospect, I think this undisturbed and humble approach to just try and design a useful product was key to avoiding frustration, not biting more than I could chew, and ultimately shipping the product.


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

I knew that building an MVP was the way to go, but even if that was the case, I could have shared the progress much earlier and reduced time and costs. I remember feeling a little uneasy about showing my early progress, feeling the product was still not good enough. It was quite hard for me to slowly stop being shy about it. Big mistake! Later on, it was way harder to cut off all the features that I've already implemented and invested time in. Lesson learned: if you don't feel a bit uneasy while sharing your work in progress, then that is a clear sign that you should have shared it a long time before.


What tools & resources do you recommend?

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.


Where can we go to learn more?

It would be great to continue the conversation in the comments if you want to share your feedback or for feature requests. You can also follow me on Linkedin, Instagram, or Twitter.

Lastly, this link below offers a 50% discount for the PRO download that you can share with your friends and family (valid during July).

Thanks for reading and hope you find it useful!

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