Startup Interview with “PDFShift” Founder Cyril Nicodeme
In my Startup Founder series I feature interviews with entrepreneurs with kickass profiles from all over the world. I hope they will inspire you as much as they inspire me! Today, we meet the Cyril Nicodeme
Hi Cyril, nice to meet you! To start, who are you and what do you do?
Hi! My name is Cyril Nicodème. I’m a French developer for more than 18 years now and fall on the entrepreneur side about 15 years ago. I’ve always loved working for me on things that I love and this has been an important factor in my professional decisions.
I’m currently running PDFShift.io, an API that converts HTML documents to PDF. I got my first payment less than a month after its initial launch and I’ve been able to grow it pretty nicely since then. My current objective is to make 5k MRR in December.
How did you start? What motivated you?
The idea came after realizing that on all of my previous projects, I always needed a way to convert HTML to PDF, mostly to generate invoices that would be sent to customers by email.
I was using libraries to do that job which was always a pain because of compatibility issues, mostly with recent web features like CSS3, web fonts, etc…
Before diving head first in a new project, I was pretty sure this kind of service was already present and, of course, it was, but I was surprised to see that the quality of the services was not that great. In fact, that’s a frequent message I get from my users: the quality of PDFShift is (apparently) better than other competitors.
And have you encountered any obstacles in your entrepreneurship experience?
Oh yes. The entrepreneurship experience is paved with obstacles. That’s what makes this path so awesome. It’s also what makes this lifestyle not available to everyone. You need to be strong, focused and committed to being successful in your ventures and this is hard.
For instance, when we decided to increase our infrastructure to handle more conversions, we hit some scalability issues that were not clearly identified through the logs. We had to search in the dark, step by step until we figured out what was the root cause of the problem
That’s the kind of issues that make you reconsider your decisions because it’s not enjoyable when the storm is over your head, hitting you hard. But if you keep going, you’ll eventually reach a place where the ocean is calm, and sailing your ship becomes an awesome experience.
Do you encourage anyone with to go with entrepreneurship?
Anyone, no. It really depends on a person’s state of mind. Maybe saying “no” surprised some of you, but I know a bunch of people who prefer to work at a company, have a steady job and a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month, rather than struggling to have their project brings revenue when the bank account is in red.
It’s not for everyone and you have to be ready for everything that will come at you. Moreover, you will have to wear many hats, from developer (if possible) to marketing, including support, sysadmin and community manager.
You need to be ready to handle any odd issues in various circumstances, and get rewarded with nice emails from your customers from time to time.
Any advice for people who want to create their own business?
Stay committed! I run a marketplace to sell side projects called Transferslot.com, and I realize that, too often, developers sell their projects before they start making revenues. The reason behind it is because they either don’t want to do the marketing work or find it difficult.
The issue nowadays is that we have too many blog posts like “How we got 50k in two months!” or “We reached 1M$ ARR in just a year!”. How can you compete with that?
When you do your best to find visitors and end up with 50 daily sessions per day for three months, it’s hard to not compare with those articles and feel like your project is not that great. And too often, the reaction builders have is to throw their project off and start a new one.
The truth is, having users is hard. Having customers is harder. You need a lot of commitment to convert visitors to users, and users to customers, and a lot of work in getting the word out. If you look under the hood of those “porn blog posts” you’ll see that people struggled they way up. For many, this is also not their first try at entrepreneurship!
I, for instance, have already bought more than 60 different domains, each of them being a single project (that either went live or didn’t had any line of code written) before one started to take off.
So yes, commitment is for me the most important key factor for any entrepreneur.
What are your favorite tools in a daily basis?
The main tool I use daily is Amplitude. I’ve connected all my projects to an Amplitude account and configured a dashboard with all the important metrics.
This helps me quickly see the health of the projects I’m running.
Another tool that recently got a lot more interesting for me is Google Analytics. I used to install it on all my websites, but never got the idea of using objectives. It’s only recently that I’ve started sending events to Google Analytics based on my visitor’s behavior.
For instance, I now track when a visitor creates an account. When I login on Google Analytics, I have a quick overview of how many visitors have converted , but also – and this is important – their origin (referrer). With this, I know which websites are bringing the most users and thus on what website to work more!
Finally, Stripe. The best way to resume how Stripe is awesome is a tweet from François Grante, founder of Hunter.io:
Stripe is by far the service we paid the most at @EmailHunter. But without even thinking about it.
Let’s talk more now with one of my favorite subject 🙂
What do you think about social media nowadays?
I believe social media is an important factor nowadays. One of my main source of paying customers is being active on Facebook groups. This is also one of the tips growth hackers mention more and more, and for true reasons: you talk about your product on a targeted market, of course, it works great 🙂
One of my main source of traffic is StackOverflow. Since my tool is targetting developers mainly, StackOverflow is the best place to be to answer questions related to converting HTML to PDF and target the best user possible: someone looking for an answer to a pain point they are having right now.
Talking about answering targetted questions brings me to Quora. Quora is my main source of visitors right now. I’ve spent weeks answering multiple questions every day, and this was very valuable because Quora is visited by a lot of people, and my answer also addresses their pain point directly.
As for Twitter, it’s still a great tool to share your product and get recognized. When an influencer mentions your name, potential customers have access to this. And even though they don’t click on the link right now, they have your name on the back of their head, which will be easier to convert them later when they’ll come on your website.
As for other social networks like Pinterest or Instagram, it depends on your target and your product, but can also have tremendous results! So yes, social media is definitely important to be active on.
To know you even better, could you tell me what is your best achievement so far?
As an entrepreneur, the best achievement I’m really proud of so far, is the sale of my previous project, VoilaNorbert. The full sale process took a long time but knowing that I was able to build a project that worked great, generated revenues, and finally was acquired is a milestone I hadn’t in mind when I started, but one that I’m really proud of!
What values do you stand for?
Commitment, as I previously (and lengthy) talked about.
Honesty, as I believe that lying can only bring you bad things in the future. Being honest has always a great outcome because people feel you are authentic and appreciate you more. When things are hard, if you are honest, they will share your feeling and try to help you. And when things go great, they will genuinely be happy for you 🙂
What’s next for you and your company?
My objectives are to grow PDFShift in a bigger product that will give me more flexibility, bringing more related projects to the community. I plan to hire a marketing and support team in order to increase that growth, and have a few projects in mind to give back to the community.
As an entrepreneur, my plan is quite easy: keep that lifestyle 🙂
Wanna see more of them?
Check his Social Media links and Subscribe to their channel to follow their activity
https://pdfshift.io – My HTML to PDF API service
https://transferslot.com – A marketplace to buy and sell side projects
https://sponsored.tech – A directory of tech newsletter selling ad space
Wanna talk to me? Feel free to reach out — firstname.lastname@example.org