When we start new projects, it’s easy to be enthusiastic. The possibilities seem endless, and every challenge is a new adventure.
However, that exuberant attitude changes over time. Possibility slams into reality, and the outcome of our efforts feels little more than a single step in a grueling marathon. Then we need to make a choice: Do we end the race or try something new?
Fernando Pessagno created his startup, Resumemaker.online, to make it easier for everyone around the world to create a resume. The platform began as a hobby to help him rekindle his enthusiasm for design, but his passion project’s simplicity and free features made it a fast-growing hit.
Today, users download 15,000 resumes a month and Fernando earns roughly $24,000 in ARR. But it took him two years before deciding to monetize. Along the way, he validated his product with a donation feature and created a powerful marketing pipeline when he realized one small problem with the way he was telling his story.
Chasing That Magical Feeling
At age 13, Fernando became enraptured by the internet. Instead of playing video games with his friends, he built small websites like a Geocities page for the popular Japanese comic, Dragon Ball. ‘It was so much fun,” he says. “I would spend hours building something, just because I thought it was cool. I had an almost magical ability to reach anyone in the world.”
Spurred by his love of web design, Fernando spent his early career in Argentina as a freelance UX designer. After a decade of designing for SMEs, however, his passion for design dried up. He needed a personal project like the ones he’d made as a child to break out of his rut.
“I wanted something simple, straightforward, and feature-light. I also didn’t like the idea of paying for something you use only once or twice.”
A perfect opportunity appeared in 2018 when his little sister started applying for jobs and asked him for help designing her resume. Fernando searched for templates online, but most weren’t useful.
“I could see how tricky it was to find an easy solution for building a resume,” he says. “I saw a lot of free tools with many editing options blocked or too many features.”
Fernando took this as his chance to create an online resume maker he’d like to use. “I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone trying to build a resume,” he says. “They’re likely not very technical and looking for simplicity. I wanted something simple, straightforward, and feature-light. I also didn’t like the idea of paying for something you use only once or twice.”
Bouncing an MVP off Backpackers
Fernando worked on Resumemaker.online as a hobby project during weekends. He built slowly to avoid burning out, keeping features light and deadlines loose. “The challenge was not to get sidetracked and add too many features because there was no deadline,” he says.
“When I told a personal story, I got lots of attention.”
In early 2018, Fernando turned a trip to Europe into a market research opportunity by showing his product to backpackers at the various hostels where he stayed. Hostel backpackers (many of whom were between jobs) helped him remove even more unnecessary features until Fernando had a satisfactorily streamlined product. Upon his return to Buenos Aires in July, he was ready with an MVP.
That August, he launched his MVP on Product Hunt. The following morning, he awoke to an inbox filled with notifications from newly created accounts and resume downloads. By 2019, over 20,000 resumes had been downloaded.
“In the beginning, the SEO push from Product Hunt was extremely helpful,” says Fernando. “I got a bunch of backlinks when I started and easily picked up features and interviews. Almost seventy percent of traffic today is still from organic search.”
However, it was hard for Fernando to garner attention outside of the relatively small indie hacker community. He began researching how to reach a wider audience without paying for advertisements. He created a media kit and pitched major news sources but struggled to entice journalists on the merits of his platform alone.
Fortunes with the media changed when Fernando started writing personal journey stories and a newsletter to much greater effect. Soon, he snared an interview with a large South American news site called Clarin¹, and his fortunes changed. “When I told a personal story, I got lots of attention,” he says. “I also received a bunch of free backlinks because many other sites reposted the original story.”
“Nobody donates online, yet I was getting two to three donations per week.”
While these two events rocketed Resumemaker.online up the search results, one of Fernando’s greatest struggles has been keeping its high ranking. In December 2020, the Google Core Update tanked Resumemaker.online’s rankings and nearly caused Fernando to quit. “It was a shock but also a wake-up call that I need to improve the website,” he says. “I took a two-week vacation from my full-time job and for one week, I rested, and during the second week, I worked nonstop to improve it. Now, it ranks better than ever.”
Testing Monetization With a Donation Button
After COVID-19 broke out in 2020, Fernando started to feel the financial effects. UX work dried up so he decided to focus on making Resumemaker.online profitable. At that point, it was still free, earning a little revenue from promotional links.
Fernando was cautious about throwing up a paywall, so he tested the waters with a donation feature on the main page. Almost immediately, users began donating as much as $20 per resume. In August, he’d reached 500,000 downloads and 60,000 monthly users. Two percent of them had donated.
“Nobody donates online, yet I was getting two to three donations per week,” he laughs. “That made me wonder how much people were willing to pay.”
Encouraged by the donations, Fernando added a paid version to the website in 2021. Instead of limiting the features free users could access, Fernando gave paid users access to things like applicant tracking system (ATS) resumes and better download resolution. He turned free resumes into a marketing channel by adding a Resumemaker.online watermark and requiring free users to share the platform on social media before downloading. Both channels bring in ten percent of his traffic today.
And adding a paid version didn’t hurt traffic in the slightest. As of July 2021, he had 100,000 users every month and average monthly sales reached roughly $2,000. In 2022, one million resumes were downloaded, and Fernando began adding extra features like multilingual support. “You need to support languages that add two to three percent more traffic, though I know it’s much easier for me because I just have one page. I wouldn’t advise it for complex sites.”
Resumemaker.online’s most recent feature is an AI writing assistant that suggests content based on the role customers are seeking. “I personally curate the suggestions because I think that’s an issue with all this AI-generated content,” he says. “Without curation, it can be tricky for people to measure what’s good or bad. If you don’t know how to write, how can you tell which option is the best?”
Don’t Think About the Work, Just Dive in
While the design project rekindled Fernando’s love of design and he’s happy with its results, he believes he’d never have started had he known just how much work he was in for. He advises other founders to dive in and get started rather than worry about the project.
“I would have never gone into this world if I had known how complex and difficult it was,” he says. “I didn’t know this site would eventually turn into my own business. The key was to not bite off more than I can chew and just go for it. Thanks to my side project, I landed a job at a startup and relocated to Europe.
“Building a startup is not just a way to earn money – it’s also a way to develop skills and connect with people.”
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