Here is the story behind the creation of Pixelixe.com, an online graphic creation tool I started creating in my free time 12 months ago after an interview failure at Facebook. The project quickly reached profitability, discover below how all started.
The 23th of January 2018 (which was also exactly my birth day), I received the first email from Facebook. In brief, the Facebook London office was recruiting a tech team for the Paris office and they wanted to interview me to potentially become one of their Solutions Engineering Manager.
Here is the first email I received :
My name is XXX XXXX from the EMEA recruiting team in Facebook, I’m keen to connect with you in relation to a role we currently have open in our Paris office - Solutions Engineering Manager, Southern Europe, please see link to the role below.
Your experience looks very interesting and relevant as we are particularly interested in talent who have demonstrated engineering management experience combined with coding capability. I would love the opportunity to have an informal chat with you so I could provide you with more context on the role and share more details with you as to what the team do.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Technical Recruitment at Facebook
After reading the above email, I knew I had to say “Yes”! First reason, even if I was quite happy with my current job, it was hard for me to refuse an opportunity to work for one of the hottest companies in the world. Second reason, I have to admit I was very flattered they were impressed by my CV and reached out to me. Who wouldn’t??
It is important to be aware than in my current job at that time, even if I had a software engineering background, I didn’t code that much. I was and still am the Data CTO for a large retail company based in 16 countries worldwide and I spend most of my days doing mostly management and strategy meetings. I was interacting with engineers but almost three years had passed since I really coded.
Basically, apart from the management skills, this job opportunity at Facebook required to be a computer science expert. And as you already know, companies such as Google or Facebook propose a quite sharp hiring process.
In 3 steps, here is how it works :
Stage 1 : Phone call interview
Stage 2 : Coding screen interview with one of their software engineer leads.
Stage 3 : On site interview
The first phone interview went perfectly well, the recruiter was confident I was a potential good fit for the team. She also added in our conversation that the basis salary for such position within Facebook started at 150.000 Euros and we both agreed we should quickly organise the coding interview.
Even if I built software for a decade prior to this first contact with Facebook, I did my homework dutifully. I read a ton of articles about how to prepare for a software engineering interview at Facebook. I spent days revising basic data structure courses, Big O Notations, recursive functions and so on to increase my chances of success. I even did a lot of fake coding interviews to make sure I will be ready.
The next week, I sat down in front of my laptop, ready to tackle this software engineering interview and guess what?? I failed!
I suppose I was too stressed out, even if the stakes were not high at all, I already had a great job and my life didn’t depend on this interview. But still, I lost my ability to focus.
As you may know, during on screen coding interview, your recruiter asks you to solve problems and you have to write code on a shared live document meanwhile explaining your choices and your approach to solve the problem. English is not my mother tongue (I am French) and I struggled coding and speaking complex technical english simultaneously.
To be honest, I do not blame Facebook at all, both recruiters I talked with were really kind and professional.
Moreover, I have always admired companies that select their employees carefully and tend to attract the best profiles. There are too many companies out there that do not raise the bar high enough and have poor or weak level and ends up never being “innovation” driven.
Anyway, it was exciting to take this little challenge and I do not regret anything. As Gary Vaynerchuck always says, “Have zero regrets”, right?
But, I ended up being really frustrated. Was I that bad as a software engineer? Did I lose my computer science skills? I started doubting myself and my technical abilities. So badly, that I decided to do something about it to regain them. I didn’t want to become one of those high level executive directors that are too far away from operational teams.
A few years ago, I read an article explaining that Werner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon coded at least one day each month even being a busy man in a huge organisation such as Amazon. This article always resonated with me. How a CTO can be efficient and productive for its organization if he loses the link with technical topics and does not understand the suffering of his technical teams?
What a better way to stay updated on computer science evolution and to understand issues met by engineering teams than by keeping coding regularly throughout your career?
So, in April 2018, I started being motivated to code again in my free time (evenings, weekends, holidays). This Facebook rejection motivated me so much, I wanted to prove to myself that I was, not only, able to code but also to built an entire product and launch it all by myself.
The challenge I decided to face was to develop a fully working product, as a side project (keeping my full time job). I won’t be in a hurry if I kept working full time (no money stress), meaning I will always have my job to pay the bills.
Also, when I was young, I have always been a huge fan of Gyro Gearloose (inventing stuff by himself in his garage) and when I grew up, I was fascinated by startups that was born in garages with nothing apart a single guy working on his passion project.
Find below conditions I decided to follow for my side project :
Condition 1 : I decided I wanted to do everything by myself, from the idea, to conception and design and to develop every line of code alone: databases, middleware, APIs, website, defining UX/UI, everything!!! I just wanted to keep fit and sharpen my technical skills.
Condition 2 : I didn’t want to build something too easy. I wanted it to be fun, complex with a lot of calculus problems to solve (to revise mathematics simultaneously with coding), maybe a bit of 3D, something that people would use with pleasure and that I will be proud of.
Condition 3 : It was obvious from the start, I wanted to create a Saas product with a freemium model. As it will be a side project, I couldn’t afford to start a business where I would have to meet people face to face (salesman way) to turn them into potential users or buyers. The plan was to create a tool accessible 100% online. Users will be able to use the free plan or upgrade with their credit cards without any human intervention whatsoever. That way keeping my full time job won’t be a problem at all.
Condition 4 : Finally, I decided to spend no money at all on this project. (Except for buying a domain name which is mandatory) Bootstrapping was the way to go. I wanted to persuade myself that on the Internet in 2019, you could still build something from the ground up with no money. (Like in the 70s/80s/90s, when geeks started profitable businesses directly from their garage).
The next step was to find a business idea. I made some research on Google, Reddit, Quora to find ideas. But nothing really popped up and motivated me.
I then spent two weeks interviewing some friends and my network that had jobs in small and medium businesses. I quickly noticed asking a bunch of questions that a lot of small businesses struggled to get or create graphics to promote their services on social and digital platform (Existing solutions were too complex or too expensive). The tools available were not only complicated, but they were incredibly time-consuming. Hiring a graphic designer was also out of the question for SMBs.
I then decided to create an easier way to design graphics and images for non-designers.
Moreover, this idea was motivating me a lot, I decided to build the most easy to use and accessible graphic design studio on the market. Developing a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor was complex enough to challenge my computer engineering skills. A lot of mathematics and calculus would be involved, perfect. I was excited as hell!
To summarize, the plan was to develop a design studio, conceived for non-designers (SMBs with limited resources and budgets), startups, bloggers and marketers willing to launch simple marketing and social media campaigns without spending tons of money with agencies.
I started developing the first line of code in May 2018.
Step 3 : There is no such thing as finding a startup name, In reality, the trick is to find a free domain name that looks like a startup name
I quickly realised that instead of trying to find a startup name, the main difficulty was to find an available and cheap domain name. This process took me almost two entire days. It was painful, exhausting and I disliked it. My approach was to brainstorm to find words that resonated with graphic/image/design/pixel and spent my time searching if my domain ideas “smartpixels”, “pixelsmart”, “pixelgraphic” and few other hundreds were available or not and was the cheapest as possible. I wanted a “.com”, not a “.io”, or “.ai” or something else.
After two days, I finally found “Pixelixe.com” and I purchased it for $13/year from Google Domains. Yes, only $13 and since then, I didn’t spend anything else on the project.
For the record, I launched the first version of the website in September 2018 but I haven’t tried at that moment to acquire traffic. I was still developing the major features of the product.
Finally, one year later, the app is now live for 4 months and is already profitable
Almost one year after I started coding my graphic studio, I released the first version of the product the 25th of March on Product Hunt.
Since then, I focus my energy on growing traffic and fixing small bugs.
So far, thousands of users created and downloaded a graphic with Pixelixe Studio.
I had my first paying customers the day after the launch. I was so thrilled, it was a really exciting moment for me and a huge milestone for Pixelixe. I felt so rewarded after the ton of hours I put into the project.
After spending a lot of time focusing on SEO optimisations on the website, organic traffic starting to grow every week steadily.
I learned a lot about coding but also, communication, marketing and I am ready to share few tips with you in next articles.
Profitability for a side project can be, I suppose, controversial. I do not rely on Pixelixe, my side project to live and get a full salary. The only expense Pixelixe had so far is $13 to get the domain name “pixelixe.com” from Google Domain last September. In 4 months since the launch, Pixelixe Studio generated around $1000 of positive income. Not bad for a side project start, right?
I did a lot of effort to reduce expenses as low as possible optimizing codes and favorising client-side processing instead of server-side processing to avoid hosting costs. (In another article, I will explain how I did it).
Today, gains are almost 100% bigger than expenses. Therefore, I consider the project as profitable in the sense, it generates enough cash flow to sustain itself (and even more). I do not plan yet to reinvest part or totality of profits into the project, I am still trying to validate pricing, business model and get more organic growth.
I am glad I went out of my comfort zone accepting this Facebook interview. I learned and grew a lot since then.
I am proud to say I regain my coding abilities, design abilities, web marketing abilities and I can carry on as there are so many skills required to launch a startup as a side project.
Don’t hesitate to tell me what your thoughts are or if you have questions about this article. I will be glad to ask. You can reach me at blog( - at - )pixelixe.com