If we want to be good at building anything, we first learn from the masters.
Before their licensing exam, an architect in the US today needs to go through over six years of schooling to become qualified to build. During that period, they learn the techniques of architects throughout time like Frank Lloyd Wright and Zaha Hadid. This helps them know what works and what doesn’t when they finally start building.
Much like architects, today’s tech founders learn from the experts when designing their interfaces. The giant tech platforms that spend millions of dollars on their UX and UI – the Apples and the Googles – usually pave the way. For startups without a large budget for UI, the most economic way to get off the ground fast is to mimic these experts.
Ramy Khuffash, a young designer-turned-developer looking for a profitable idea, convinced readers of his newsletter to tell him what they would pay for. The people wanted a website called Page Flows. It’s a platform compiling the user-flows major platforms use in their interfaces to make learning from the masters easier.
After experimenting with paywalls and nearly ditching the project due to slow growth, Ramy today has a profitable, one-man business. One that lets him work only a couple of days a week while he devotes his remaining time to indie hacking. Here’s how he did it.
What Can I Make You Pay For?
Ramy claims he always had an entrepreneurial streak. Growing up in Doncaster, UK, he recalls frequently searching for money-making ventures on new platforms like eBay. However, he never thought he’d be running a business in his twenties.
Ramy’s journey into the world of startups truly began when he joined the marketing team of a small startup called Narrato in 2012. It would be more accurate to say he was the marketing team. The startup had two people.
Narrato was created on the back of the social media boom at the end of the decade when platforms like Snapchat and Tinder were shaking up how we interact. Narrato had raised money through an accelerator and taken on angel investors. It was pivoting to try to become the next big thing in social media. To keep up with the market, Ramy and his business partner spent long hours researching everything that was out there so they could make a quality product.
“We weren’t sure about what our product would be so we spent a ton of time downloading apps and going through their flows,” Ramy says. “It was a time-consuming process and required a lot of sign-ups and emails.”
Ramy realized this was a real nuisance and figured others probably had a similar problem. However, he wouldn’t act on this knowledge for some years.
Ramy and his partner sold Narrato in 2013. They needed to provide an ROI for their investors and were out of ideas and profits. Ramy then switched over from marketing to developing – a field he had briefly sworn off after university.
“In university, I did a bit of software development as part of my course and I absolutely hated it,” says Ramy. “I think I disliked it because it was taught in the most unengaging way. I learned it on pen and paper if you can believe that.”
But working at Narrato gave Ramy new respect for development after he saw how it was really done.
“I was always a tech guy. The reason I went into marketing after graduating was that I was interested in marketing in the tech space,” he says. “After some real experience working in that first startup, I saw what actual developers do and it was nothing like what I learned at university. So that kind of got me back into it.”
Once Ramy picked up a respect for coding he started developing his skills (pun intended).
“I began tinkering with front-end development over the years,” he says. “I was building stuff with WordPress and messing about editing the themes. I enjoyed it, so I thought I might try being a software developer.”
After achieving proficiency, Ramy landed his first front-end developer job quite quickly (though he claims he didn’t deserve it) at a startup called Hubbub the same year he sold Narrato in 2013. The role fit him like a glove and he eventually became a full stack developer for the business by 2016.
While working as a developer, Ramy wanted to keep his designer side alive. He started a free design inspiration newsletter focused on user interface design called UI Movement. It racked up as much as 10,000 subscribers over a handful of years. Ramy then decided he wanted to find a way to monetize his growing followers. He took the direct approach to figure this out.
“I reached out to my subscribers and asked a pretty naive question, ‘What can I make that you’d pay for?’” he says.
What Ramy’s readers suggested was a very similar solution to the one he’d thought about while working at Narrato.
Page Flows: What the People Want to Pay For
“Page Flows is a library of videos of me going through popular products’ user flows. People pay to access the full library,” says Ramy.
The Page Flows home page is a wall of videos showing the onboarding processes of famous platforms like Ahrefs, Squarespace, or Slack. On the left are tabs for other flows like upgrading, downgrading, and referring friends. There’s also a list of platforms customers can use to view one platform’s entire flow at a time.
“People building products spend a lot of time building new features and don’t necessarily have the time to research or the money to hire a pro UI developer. They can sign up to Page Flows to see how everyone else is doing it for a small fee,” says Ramy. “Some of the most popular flows people look at are things like onboarding, canceling subscriptions, and upgrading accounts.”
Ramy says the newsletter does half the work for bringing in his customers today. The other half comes from the long-tail keywords he targets on his web page. At the bottom of the home page is a signup bar for Ramy’s newsletter that started it all. The caption claims signing up gets you a free user flow video every week in your inbox.
Making it Profitable
Despite getting his business model spoonfed to him by his audience, Ramy saw little profitability for the first few years and even thought of scrapping the idea entirely. After launching Page Flows on ProductHub and setting a price, he waited and waited for the customers to come. They didn’t show up.
“It got, I think, one customer in the first couple of weeks,” says Ramy. “I think one of the mistakes I made when I launched it was I set it at a monthly price of $14. It didn’t get that much traction or interest so I nearly shut it down. I removed any requirement to pay and then merged it into a subcategory on the newsletter’s website. I let it sit there for over a year without updating the videos or doing anything.”
After a year of Page Flows as a subcategory for his newsletter, Ramy decided he should finally shut down his unsuccessful product. But while checking Google Analytics one last time before burying it, he noticed something interesting:
“I saw that people were still visiting these videos even though they were a year old. I hadn’t even added new ones,” he says. “That made me think there must be some value there if people were still visiting it.”
Ramy decided to experiment with payments one more time. He created a fake paywall on the videos and waited to see what happened.
“I put up a fake PayPal with a price of $29 for a lifetime subscription to see if people would pay. Some people started messaging me about it saying, ‘Hey, I want to pay for the subscription but it won’t let me do it.’” says Ramy. “Then I added payments back in with Stripe and slowly tested the pricing to the point where it is now. Most people pay $99 for a year today. I think for the type of product it is, it needs impulse-buy pricing, not a monthly subscription.”
He credits the traffic he maintained over the years despite not updating his site to his regularly maintained newsletter.
“By the time I added the paywall my newsletter had probably grown to 20,000 people,” he says. “My niche was a design audience so from launch I already had a steady flow of traffic naturally interested in the product. That drove a steady flow of purchases.”
As for the future of Page Flows, Ramy sees more potential in the B2B realm and is pondering growing his team.
“I’ve seen larger teams at companies sign up for subscriptions so I see potential in that area. I’m also planning to expand content and marketing. I’m undecided about expanding the rest of the team because it adds complexity. However, everyone who knows more than me says I should do it,” he says.
With an idea as simple as Page Flows one would think Ramy faces steep competition. However, he says most competitors focus their sites on mobile while he’s one of the few who covers the whole scope of the field. Plus, he has other projects he can turn to.
“I spend half my week working on other stuff,” he adds. “I started full-time indie hacking in 2019 when Page Flows was bringing in about $1,000 per month. I love tinkering around with small side projects. Time spent marketing is probably my biggest bottleneck for future growth. That and focus because I keep working on other stuff.”
Ramy does not wish to talk much about his revenue but says he is earning more from it now than he was as a developer in London.
A Stepping Stone to a Different Kind of Life
Ramy thanks his time working on Page Flows for letting him live a life he never thought possible before.
“I have massive amounts of freedom because of Page Flows,” he says. “When I first started doing my startup full-time my girlfriend and I went to Bali and Vietnam. It was great being able to travel while working.”
Ramy thinks the reason he can live his life this way is that he kept his overheads low and did not seek investor funding. He feels this may have been possible at Narrato if they hadn’t taken investment.
“Don’t spend too much time building before getting your product out in front of other people.”
“At Narrato we didn’t get an ROI for investors but we were profitable,” he says. “I was thinking if we hadn’t raised money we would have grown it to a decent-sized company. Instead, we had to sell to get our investors a return.”
Though he thinks a large part of his success was pure luck, his advice for other founders working on similar projects is this:
“Don’t spend too much time building before getting your product out in front of other people. Also, once you see traction of any size, don’t give up.”
It’s great to hear about founders who can find success by letting their passions lead them to their next project. The power of running a low overhead operation is that it gives you much more wiggle room to turn a project into what you want it to be, not just what’s profitable.
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