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Growing A $750/month Business Improving People’s Front-End Coding Skills

Learn how Matt started his business idea from teaching and his strategy for growing it.

1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?

Hello! My name is Matt Studdert from London, UK. I’m the founder of Frontend Mentor which is a platform to help people improve their front-end coding skills by providing projects and designs to build. 

The idea came about through the teaching work I do part-time at General Assembly. My students would often ask where they could go to practice their newfound coding skills. I found the answer I was giving to be very unsatisfactory. Essentially I was using the standard advice of “Go and build a portfolio site for yourself. Then go to Dribbble to find some designs and try to re-create them”.

As a professional front-end developer, you typically have a project brief, designs and a front-end style guide to work to. So the advice I was giving didn’t emulate a real-world experience of building websites. Nothing existed that was specifically for this purpose, so I decided to create it!

The very first version of the site was something I created in less than 2 days. I grabbed a single design from Sketch App Sources and put it up on a basic site to see if people would download the project, code it, share their solution and ask for feedback. It was great to see that they did all 4! I began chipping away at building more and more functionality. Luckily, one of my friends liked the project and asked if I wanted any help. So with the two of us working on it, the site is now a full-blown platform running off a Node back-end with NextJS on the front-end.

I’ve only just started to monetize the site properly this month by opening up sponsorship spots on the site and launching the first premium challenge. If everything continues at the current pace (we’re only halfway through February as I write) the site will be on track to bring in roughly $1,000 this month. 

The sponsorship spots are on a month-to-month basis and the premium challenges will be one-off purchases for the time being, so it’s not currently recurring revenue. The plan will be to grow the library of premium challenges and also build more recurring value into the platform itself to be able to warrant a subscription model.

2. How do you attract and retain your customers?

For the very first version, I just sent out a post on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn providing a link to the site and offering a free code review to anyone who shares their solution. You can see the LinkedIn article here.

After that, I started to talk to the people sharing solutions to see what they liked about it and what they wanted to achieve. That gave me enough to go on to build a better-looking version. Luckily I’ve got a good friend who’s a designer and helped me with the initial branding and website designs. The first version of the re-branded site was run off a WordPress API with NextJS for the front-end.

To promote the launch of the re-branded site, I wrote a post and published it on dev.to and Hackernoon. This was enough to get a decent bump of people visiting the site. I also created up a Slack community at this point, which immediately started getting sign-ups.

Traffic was steadily growing and so I didn’t promote it much after that. I wanted to keep traffic low so that I could talk to current users and see what they wanted out of the platform. This allowed me to start planning the custom Node API.

It was early into building this that Mike asked if I needed a hand. He’s a back-end developer, so it was a perfect fit. I can scratch together a Node API, but I’d definitely describe myself as a front-end developer. Having Mike on board made sure that everything was getting built in the proper way and sped up progress massively!

Since launching the platform in April 2019 we’ve still not done much promotion. However, people often promote the platform for us by sharing their solutions on social media and recommending the platform to others. We’ve also had a couple of developers with large followers doing live streams of them completing Frontend Mentor challenges and Udemy instructors linking to the site as a good place to practice.

So the major piece of advice I’d have here would be to find ways to make your service as complementary to other services/platforms as possible. If you’re a natural fit, people will promote your service to others organically. It also helps if you have some sort of social sharing built into your product. Our community is constantly sharing their progress on Twitter and it leads to a lot of traffic.

3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?

The main challenge is time. Neither myself nor Mike is working on Frontend Mentor full-time. I work on it more often and the aim is for me to go full-time soon. But it’s tough to exercise patience and just keep chipping away at the project whenever possible. Someone recently mentioned that they’ve loved seeing it evolve from a couple of challenges just over a year ago to what it is today. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae day-to-day tasks and not come up for air to take a longer-term perspective. If you compare it to how it was this time last year, it’s a massive change!

There haven’t been any major pivots, as I’ve always made tiny incremental improvements and am constantly talking to the community in Slack. So I’m always pretty sure that what I’m building is what the community wants and needs. 

I could have definitely monetized the site sooner, but I don’t feel like this is a major mistake. I’m in an extremely fortunate position where I can take on flexible teaching work at General Assembly, so there’s no rush to force a business model. I constantly re-visit the trajectory of the platform and ask myself “Knowing what I know now, would I have done things differently?”. If the answer to that is yes I’ll dive deeper into the detail of what’s happened and why I feel it’s not the right direction.

Luckily that hasn’t happened much as we build in tiny chunks!

4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?

Having an offering that aligns perfectly with an established market has been key. There is no shortage of learning resources for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But I saw the need for a project-focused platform where people can practice the skills they’ve already learned elsewhere. Because there is no negative crossover with Frontend Mentor and other online instructors or learning platforms I find that people are more than happy to link into the site and recommend it to their students.

So if you can find some unique spin on a well-entrenched and sizeable market then you will be onto something. Focus on a small part of the chain instead of the whole thing. If we tried to teach HTML, CSS, JavaScript on the platform I’m sure we’d have a lot fewer people and sites linking to us and promoting our services without me asking.

5. What is your advice for those are starting productized services?

Frontend Mentor isn’t a productized service, but my main piece of advice is to always have processes and scalability in mind. I’m constantly refining our internal processes and spend a lot of time thinking deeply about any new feature.

I also strongly recommend finding a way to create a community around your offering. The Frontend Mentor Slack community has been an amazing place to get to know the people using the platform. I can call on them for feedback and interviews whenever I need and it’s the perfect place to see what their needs and wants are with the platform.

Also, think deeply about what your core differentiators are. Are there any other services that you can align with? 

6. What are your plans for the future?

My plans for Frontend Mentor are to keep growing the platform. I still haven’t technically launched the site fully on the usual channels (Product Hunt, etc), so I’ll be doing that in March. The plan is for me to be able to go full-time on the project around June/July time.

I’ll also be continuing to launch a mixture of free and premium challenges and to build more recurring value into the platform itself with new features. This will allow me to switch it over to a subscription model, which will bring in recurring revenue.

There are still a number of user experience refinements that I would like to make, so there’s a lot of work still to be done. But we’ll just keep chipping away at it!

7. Where can we learn more about you?

The best place to get in touch with me and follow the progress of Frontend Mentor would be my Twitter account: https://twitter.com/_mattstuddert.

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