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Heliom – Leaving client services behind to focus on building great products

Antoine Meunier's profile picture Antoine Meunier on

This post is part of our Customer Interviews series. Every now and then, I dig deep into the confines of our database to find the most interesting projects, products and companies built on top of DNSimple by our customers.

This week, I got in touch with three audacious gentlemen – a designer, a front-end and a back-end developer. I met them four years ago, they were fresh out of school and had just ditched their nice jobs at successful agencies to launch their own. They quickly grew it into a profitable web development firm… got bored of dealing with clients and eventually dropped them – effectively killing their cash cow – to focus exclusively on building great products. Here's their story.

They were calling themselves Heliom and were taking advantage of the overall confusion that surrounded the idea of the "mobile-web" circa 2011.

We built our core mission around "responsive design done right" and found some clients willing to work with a group of three youngsters – we were only 21 and 22 at the time.

Boy, did it work! Sure, none of them is throwing parties with Sean Parker or hanging on Kim Dotcom's yacht but they did a fine job growing their three man agency into a locally appraised firm on a promising trajectory.

They had a flawless workflow where Tristan would be working ahead on the UI flows and designs while Raf and Etienne would catchup – respectively integrating the back-end and front-end of the project. From client to client they adjusted their dynamic to eventually come up with a well oiled-machine spitting out beautiful responsive websites at a quick pace.

Should they have kept going the agency route, this could have very well been the story:

Three guys launch a web development agency, make money and retire happily. The end.

But like most talented developers… they got bored. Big time.

I remember walking into the co-working space and seeing Tristan come out of the conference room with a Clint Eastwood grin on his face: he had been muzzled by yet another shortsighted client.

To make up for the increasing client-related drama, they kept nurturing their passion for building clever and well designed products.

Soon enough, they began shifting their focus to work more and more on their own projects:

Our motto was "50% client, 50% product". – Tristan

Planning the great escape

Constraining the time for client work forced them to pick their customers. In a way, it gave them the luxury to turn down many of the high maintenance (and often low revenue) clients that makes client work so painful.

However, bigger projects and larger profits didn't get rid of their feeling that they were creating much more value for their customers than they were taking for themselves.

It wasn't necessarily the money left on the table that caused them problems. It was rather the fear of wasting their valuable time working on someone else's product when, in fact, they could thrive and profit from a product of their own instead.

The switch from client services to products was inevitable.

The idea of an independent Heliom began burgeoning when Philippe – a mentor who advised them to take the leap and launch Heliom – approached them with a new project: an easy way to create name badges online. As an event organizer, he knew how painful it was to deal with name badges and had was already developing the platform.

They saw it as a low risk, high reward time investment and joined him on the spot. A couple months later, Conference Badge was born.

Call it luck or serendipity, they got this a couple days before launching day prior their launch:

I saw that you were developing off Eventbrite's API, and I wanted to reach out to inquire about the product that you'll be building. — @Colleran - Product Manager for API/Platform at Eventbrite

Thanks to Eventbrite who prominently featured them on their blog, Twitter account and help section they got early traction and managed to reach 7k in monthly revenues within the first year with little marketing and no sales effort. ( Early on, 100% of revenues were coming from Eventbrite users. It eventually decreased to 50% within the first year.)

We were waiting for a couple of planets to align. It's the combination of Conference Badge taking off, us having enough for at least 6 months, and other products like Medalist in the pipeline that really pushed us to go forward. – Raf

Pulling the trigger

Our client work savings were enough to let us focus 100% on our products for several months. All those factors combined convinced us it was the right time to switch. We never looked back since. – Etienne

It was risky business: their projects were barely making enough profit to support two guys at the time and their client savings was melting at a rapid pace. In hindsight, it was a savvy move since Conference Badge kept growing organically at a steady pace and, within months, began pulling in $35k in monthly recurring revenues with no signs of slowing down providing them with a significant revenue stream.

Multiplying revenue streams

With Conference Badge being a great financial support, we can manage to work on other cool projects without external funding. This was pretty much our dream from day one, and now the challenge is to balance the comfort of financial stability with the drive of launching new products. – Tristan

They've been steadily rolling new products with Medalist (in partnership with your's truly) and more recently with Lean Ticket.

Lean Ticket was actually commissioned by Eventbrite who came back around wondering if they would be interested in building a spin off of Conference Badge for tickets to handle their roaring concert ticket business. Yet again, the business took off right off the gates and the funky little ticket printer has been spitting out dollars ever since providing the collective with an additional revenue stream.

… and never looking back

Almost 2 years into productland, the four guys are crushing it with a profitable cash cow (of their own, this time!) that is currently funding their new stealth product. I've harassed them for informations on it but no one would snitch. I guess it calls for a follow up post: "How to fund your next project with a high profit/low maintenance product".

Disclaimer: I like these guys so much that I ended up launching a product with them. I guess it's safe to say that my opinion is definitely biased. No matter what, it required true grit for pulling the plug on the profitable client business to jump into the game.

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Antoine Meunier

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