Matt created Frontend Mentor, a tool that helps people develop their front-end computing skills by building practical projects. Revenue has risen month-over-month since establishing a subscription tier in August of last year and now surpasses $17,000.
Matt created Frontend Mentor, a tool that helps people develop their front-end computing skills by building practical projects. Revenue has climbed month-over-month since establishing a subscription tier in August of last year and now surpasses $17,000.
What are you currently working on and who are you?
Hello! I am the creator of Frontend Mentor, a website that enables users to develop their front-end coding skills by building practical projects.
We give our community professionally planned projects to build instead of instructions. Our members gain practical experience building websites and web apps within a realistic workflow thanks to these difficulties.
Users at Frontend Mentor have the option between our free challenges and our PRO subscription thanks to our freemium business strategy. Our free challenges are often shorter assignments with JPG photos of the designs. Members who are more dedicated to their professional growth may access the original design files for our premium challenges, free challenges, and a few extra platform features with our PRO subscription.
Our premium challenges get as close to real professional assignments as is practical. Usually, they are online apps or multi-page websites. The project comes with the design’s file. They have layout designs for PCs, tablets, and mobile devices in addition to a design system for colors, standard elements, etc. These are excellent components for a portfolio that will assist one of our members in getting interviews and finding their dream job.
What is your background, and how did the concept for Frontend Mentor come about?
Actually, I have a background in sports, physical activity, and nutrition! Basketball was one of the numerous sports I participated in as a youngster. I majored in sport and exercise science in college. I left college and started a personal training business in Cambridge, where I was born.
Although I loved running my own business, I wasn’t cut out for a career in personal training. I enjoyed exercising and leading a healthy lifestyle, but I soon discovered that these things were not my true passions. I continued to consume wine and pizza far too regularly!
I became aware of this right away and knew I had to take an alternative route. But all I could come up with were ideas for web businesses. Because I didn’t have the money to hire someone to build anything, I chose to educate myself instead.
I felt compelled to study Ruby on Rails there at the time since Lynda.com was the most widely used platform. Early on, I learned about General Assembly while watching a YouTube video. In order to prepare for a job as a developer, they provided a three-month, full-time bootcamp in London that taught the principles of web programming.
I was hired as a front-end developer after completing the course. After working as a professional for almost a year, I spent weekends and nights in Georgia again. I started off working a full-time job and becoming a teaching assistant. I knew I had a long way to go since I didn’t write my first line of code until I was 28 years old. I knew that teaching others would help me improve more rapidly, reconnect with the GA community, meet new people, and increase my developer self-confidence.
After a year, I was ready to start teaching the courses and seminars I had previously assisted with. My appointment as the main teacher on a part-time basis was well received by GA, so I started teaching the courses myself!
This teaching experience gave me the motivation to start Frontend Mentor. I had been trying in vain to start a new web business relating to fitness at this point. Without ever launching anything, proving the concept, or even figuring out a way to advertise, I had been working on an app for more than six months. I gave myself the exasperating task of releasing a completely unrelated thought in a short period of time.
My initial aim was to create a list of resources for beginners for my pupils. Although I am aware that it was not innovative, it was nonetheless an essential step. Although I routinely pointed my students toward the same front-end resources, I lacked a centralized resource to do so. I decided to create it as a result.
The.io domain was free, the owner of the.com domain wasn’t using it, and the social media handles were all unclaimed, so “Frontend Mentor” seemed like a good choice. I then started working!
I created my resource list after a few days and shared it with my LinkedIn network, my students in the Slack channel for General Assembly, and the (new) Frontend Mentor social channels.
I got a lot of praises and thank you cards, which really helped me out! It also gave me the idea to create more information just for developers.
After thinking more deeply about the common issues my students experienced, I came up with a different approach. Students commonly questioned, “Where can I practice building projects and build a portfolio?” after the completion of our 10-week, part-time Front-end Web Development course.
I first suggested that they create projects and webpages for their other students. They would reply, however, with something to the effect of, “But I’m terrible at design. Anything I create appears amateurish. Where am I able to obtain designs?”
However, several students stated that it was challenging to get designs to work from, and when they did, the assets weren’t available, making it tough to duplicate the designs. My second option was to find a design on Dribbble and implement it in code.
Why wasn’t there a website that offered professional designs, starter code, and optimized assets to developers? That would remove so much friction and allow developers to focus on writing code, with the added benefit of producing portfolio-worthy, aesthetically pleasing projects. This issue immediately came to mind when I was thinking about other challenges for my students.
Frontend Mentor was created as a result!
How did you turn a concept into a finished product?
I knew there was a chance it could become a business in the future, but I didn’t want to rush the development of a business plan. At this time, I had left my full-time employment but had increased my hours at GA, so I was able to maintain my financial stability. I started Frontend Mentor as a free resource. I was more focused on helping developers and addressing their fundamental requirements.
I spent another day uploading a project to the website after realizing that I could design projects for front-end developers. I found a Sketch design on a Sketch resources website and emailed the designer to ask permission to use it in exchange for a link to their portfolio site. After another LinkedIn article, some Slack messages to my classes, and social media postings, I was ready to test my hypothesis.
After speaking with early participants, I realized it was a method of education that people enjoyed. It was also very similar to a real-world workflow, so participants gained practical experience coding a project using a design as a guide. People immediately began installing the project, completing the challenge, sharing their solutions, and requesting feedback.
The next step was to add a few additional challenges to the website to see whether people would accept numerous tasks, which they did. At this point, I had verified the following:
Individuals would attempt to build the project based on the design and project specifications in order to get experience developing front-end programming.
They routinely shared their solution with their network after finishing a job to get comments.
People enjoyed the process, thought it was gratifying to build the projects, and were very happy with the outcomes.
The project appealed to me in every way, and I could envision myself working on it for decades. Not only had I proven a number of crucial ideas, but I also concluded that this was the ideal enterprise for me to develop.
The Frontend Mentor brand and some designs were completed after a day of collaboration, as shown by this Wayback Machine capture from June 2018 (oh, the absurdity!). Fortunately, I have a close friend who is a brilliant designer, and he has volunteered to create some basic branding and initial template designs as a favor.
I used my usual channels for the introduction of the updated website in addition to posting articles on dev.to, Hackernoon, and a Show HN on Hacker News.
In conjunction with this launch, I also established a Slack community, which I initially intended to be a place where people could ask for help with initiatives and share their solutions, but as the community grew, I saw that it was (and still is!) a wonderful place to hang out where people were forming relationships, collaborating on initiatives, and giving feedback on the website, among many other things.
My research group is now the Slack community! Daily conversations with community members provided me with a crystal-clear understanding of the requirements for the first iteration of the web application. At this point, the site was just a static site using the WordPress API, with no login, project submission, or feedback functionality. My objective was to construct gradually in order to increase my likelihood of making wise decisions.
After years of adjunct teaching at GA, I was familiar with the staff. Mike, an instructor, sat down and asked me what I was working on as we talked. I demonstrated Frontend Mentor to him, and he liked the concept so much that he offered to help me! I wasn’t actively seeking a co-founder, but Mike is a brilliant back-end developer and we get along really well, so we decided to work together!
After a few months, we were sure that our partnership was successful, so we decided to make it more official, using the Slicing Pie approach to start splitting equity even though the firm was not yet profitable.
We choose to focus our efforts on community feedback in order to create the greatest platform with the best features rather than externally announcing the debut of the web application in order to keep things reasonable.
Numerous people requested 1:1 mentoring and the ability to view a “official” solution; we did not want to build a mentorship marketplace as this could have become a fallback for the community and decreased the likelihood that people would actually use the solution; we also did not want to provide official solutions as these could have become a barrier to the community and decreased the likelihood that people would actually use the solution; and finally, we did not want to provide official solutions as these could have become a barrier to the community and increased the likelihood that people would
We uploaded the design assets to Dropbox and tested the idea with Buy Me a Coffee. Certain people began purchasing the designs; this was our first online income since we only provided JPGs in the challenges. We frequently received requests for Sketch/PSD (Figma wasn’t as popular back then) files of the designs.
We evaluated “premium” obstacles, which would be the closest thing to a real-world endeavor that a non-professional developer could get, and we initially introduced one, and it began selling! People also started asking for more extensive challenges, wanting standout portfolio projects to present to hiring managers and increase their chances of employment.
Up until this point, everything was a one-time purchase, so we made the decision to package everything into a subscription and offer more “PRO” capabilities, including private solutions, to the platform.
We knew people loved the idea, and we were well on our way to developing a successful business; however, before we could accomplish so, we had to “launch” the website more publicly.
We “launched” on Product Hunt a year after the beta version of the web application, which may seem excessive, but it was intentional. I resolved not to become overly enthusiastic about the PH launch and hasten it before we had established a firm foundation.
Soon after, Frontend Mentor was highlighted in web development newsletters and even in a piece by CSS Tricks’ Chris Coyier, a front-end legend!
We were able to sell nearly $10,000 in subscriptions in the first few days, with a continuous stream of subscriptions arriving after the initial surge, so we knew we had created something that the community desires. After a few months, we were ready to introduce the PRO subscription. The community was excited, and the first 500 subscribers received perpetual early bird discounts.
I validated the business model and launched the subscription too slowly (I prefer to call it methodical, but who am I kidding?). We could have had a PRO subscription up and running with design files and premium challenges within a few months! If I could go back in time, I would do things differently.
What marketing techniques did you use to grow your company?
The majority of our growth has come from people referring Frontend Mentor to others and sharing their solutions; aside from the articles stated above, I have not done a lot of proactive promotion.
Over time, I’ve cultivated excellent relationships with a few streamers, which is ideal because they receive dazzling content that they can create for their audience, their audience gains a tremendous amount of knowledge, and Frontend Mentor receives excellent exposure. Thus, it’s effective for everyone! I noticed that some people were streaming themselves completing our challenges, and on occasion, they had very large audiences!
Frontend Mentor should not be one of the many excellent products that have failed due to a lack of marketing expertise, thus I am determined to get better at it!
What goals do you have for the future and how are you doing today?
With last month’s revenue just over $17,000, Mike has also joined the team full-time (I made the transition in January, when our revenue was $6,500), and Frontend Mentor is currently on an excellent trajectory. Since we introduced our subscription in August of last year, monthly revenue has increased consistently.
We’re now breaking even after costs, wages, and contractors; hopefully, this trend will continue and we’ll be able to grow!
We are completely opposed to the message of the striving culture and have very clear goals for Frontend Mentor; we want to run the company as a peaceful, sustainable enterprise that offers its employees a well-rounded, comfortable lifestyle. Through processes, scalable solutions, and a clear vision, we can grow without endangering the team’s physical and mental health, in our opinion.
We want to build a house in which we can live, and we are utilizing Gumroad and Buffer as models of the sort of business we would like to manage!
On the business side, our next step will be to find ways to link corporations with our very skilled developer community, which is made up of many outstanding people who are actively looking for work from all over the world.
People’s Frontend Mentor profiles will become the ideal location for showcasing their skill-building initiatives and demonstrating their expertise by providing feedback on other users’ solutions. I want a developer’s Frontend Mentor profile to be as essential as their GitHub or Stack Overflow profiles when looking for employment.
Which lessons have you learned the most while starting Frontend Mentor?
I’ve learnt the value of not rushing things, even if I earlier said that if I could go back in time, I would have moved more rapidly. I am continuously coming up with new ideas. I have learned not to be unduly hasty.
If you have an idea, let it develop, take the chance to discuss it with users (or potential users), and see if it continues coming up. Many nights I’ve been unable to sleep because I’m considering the implications of a prospective new idea. If this occurs frequently with an idea, it’s probably a good one. I could have easily steered Frontend Mentor in a different trajectory, which might have spelled its demise by now.
I believe there is a viable alternative to the conventional pressure cooker, growth-at-all-costs business model. Why then would we attempt to establish a business in this manner? We are not solely motivated by growth and profit. Also, be clear about the purpose of your business creation.
It amazes me how many businesses continue to treat their employees like infants by dictating specific work hours and micromanaging every aspect of their job. Our mission at Frontend Mentor is to create a tranquil, sustainable, and enjoyable workplace. If we are fortunate enough to grow a team, we intend to create a healthy workplace where everyone is treated with respect and is entrusted to perform their assigned tasks.
I’ve read a number of books recently that have shaped my views, and I’d suggest the following to anyone looking to create a peaceful organization:
Paul Jarvis wrote a piece titled Company of One.
Rand Fishkin’s Lost and Entrepreneur
The book Start Small, Remain Small by Rob Walling.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work (given the recent Basecamp news, I hesitate to suggest this book, but it’s still a great one)
The book Essentialism by Greg McKeown
authored by Tim Ferriss and Eric Jorgenson, The Naval Ravikant Almanac
Steven Bartlett’s book Happy Sexy Millionaire was released in 2000.
Adii Pienaar wrote the book Life Profitability.
Arvid Kahl wrote a book titled Zero to Sold.
We’ll have to wait and watch as the company grows, but it will be great to try out different operational strategies until we find the one that works best!
What were the toughest obstacles you faced, and what were your worst mistakes?
I started working full-time on Frontend Mentor in January of this year, and Mike joined the team this month, so we’ve been developing Frontend Mentor alongside our paid employment for a few years!
Mike could only handle rare evenings and weekends because he had always worked full-time elsewhere, but I had more time to dedicate to this project because I was an independent contractor.
This has challenged both of us to be patient because of the little time we have, but it has also improved our ability to prioritize the proper activities.
The community has grown over time, and with each month that goes by, it grows faster. In May, the site reached 150,000 registered users!
It’s annoying, but there’s room for other rivals in the market, and I’m all for competition and giving the development community choices. We are also starting to run into counterfeit sites, some of which have verbatim replicated our concept and wording.
It serves as a wonderful reminder that the small decisions you make through research, feedback, and intuition add up to create something genuinely unique. Others may try to imitate you, but if your vision is clear, it will be difficult to halt you. I would recommend The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey to anyone who faces copycats or the launch of competitors.
Time will tell if it was a mistake, but we have also refused funding in an effort to grow the firm responsibly.
What equipment and sources would you recommend?
We make use of a number of tools that I would be happy to suggest to people who are starting an internet company.
I became a huge fan of Paul Jarvis’ business philosophy after reading Company of One, and I also knew that he co-founded a privacy-first analytics company called Fathom Analytics, so we chose that name. Mike and I are extremely privacy-conscious people, so it was essential to find an analytics solution that prioritizes privacy. I would recommend Fathom to anyone seeking a privacy-focused analytics solution!
We use Stripe and PayPal as our payment gateways and Chargebee with ProfitWell so that you can gain a deeper understanding of subscription metrics and monitor your monthly revenue goals. We cannot recommend Chargebee enough because they have developed an excellent product, and their customer service is outstanding.
Our platform’s companion community is a Slack community; if I were starting from scratch, I would probably choose Discord; however, Discord is supporting and building more inclusive communities; therefore, the cost of transitioning would be too costly at this time. Our Slack community has over 60,000 users, and it’s doing a respectable job.
I would advise anyone with similar objectives to join the Founder Summit group, which is made up of people devoted to creating peaceful enterprises!
For further information:
I do publish updates on Frontend Mentor, but I don’t have a blog, so the quickest way to track my activities is through my personal Twitter account, even if I’m not very active there. However, I enjoy writing, so I want to tweet more and start a journal.
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