Hippo / Productivity / Netherlands / $ 25 MRR

Stay close to what motivates you - Interview with Roel van der Kraan of Hippo

Hello ! Who are you and what are you working on? 

Hi! My name is Roel van der Kraan. I live in a houseboat in the Netherlands and I'm working on my startup since February of this year. Before that I worked as Product Manager for TheFork, a large restaurant site owned by TripAdvisor.

I'm working on Hippo, an app that helps you remember important things about the people you care for.

What motivated you to get started with? How did you come up with the idea?

I had two motivations. First, my own bad memory. I'm terrible at remembering names of children, details of a new job that someone got or more important things like sickness. And I started to get really annoyed by this, I wanted to be thoughtful but my memory let me down.

Secondly I wanted to move back to programming. Being a product manager was fun, but I've always coded too. The last years not so much, so building Hippo was a way to get back into coding again. And I love it!

Can you tell us the story of your business from idea to where you are now? 

When I got annoyed by my own bad memory, I tried a few things. First I made notes in my notes app, but it was hard to find notes about a certain person later on. Then I made a prototype in Airtable, where I created contacts and could link them to notes and events. This was very useful to me. I think Airtable is great but can be complicated for the majority of users, so I decided to turn this prototype in an easy to use app.

I started coding in February. After 3 months or so I was ready to get some beta testers on board (I have 40 now). I launched the app to the App Store and on product hunt at august 1st.

What has been your biggest failure or struggle? 

I struggled a lot to build payments into my app. It took me two weeks to get a subscription product working. Somehow that is really hard to do with the App Store. I was decrypting App Store receipts and validating them, it just quite a hassle. I would skip this now and first launch the app, and later add payments.

And what has been your biggest achievement or success? 

The launch on Product Hunt was great! I got a lot of support on Product Hunt, IndieHackers, Reddit and Makerlog, which felt great. It's nice to put your product out in the open and get positive reactions!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers? 

I'm still in the middle of this, I have a marketing plan for the coming weeks, mostly contacting two niche markets: people who could use structured notes to help their memory, and people who already do some form of journaling or note taking.

Describe the process of launching the business. 

What helped me a lot is to even have a small following on Twitter and Makerlog. I have just about 100 people that follow me on Twitter, but when the time comes that you want to launch, it helps a lot if even a few of them interact with your tweet and upvote on Product Hunt. I was very anxious about this when I started, because I just had deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts a year ago.

At some point I had an app that I felt was good enough to launch. This was about one month after my deadline, I had quite some stuff to polish before I thought it was right. I submitted the app to Apple and waited.. and waited.. and waited some more.. After 20 days or so, I reached out to the App Review team, and finally got a response the same day. This was quite annoying, I was ready to launch but when you launch a mobile app, you're dependent on the store review process. And you can't decide when to launch all by yourself.

All that waiting gave me some time to further polish the app and luckily the next update was approved in a matter of days, so I was finally ready to launch.

Did you use Betalist or PH or other Startup Launching Platform for Launching ? How was that experience ?

I used Product Hunt and Indie Hackers mostly. The experience was great! Lots of positive feedback and app downloads. I also posted the app on a subreddit and the feedback was great too.

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue? 

I'm trying a B2C subscription model right now. Users get one month free and then have to pay to use the app. So no freemium model (I hate to block certain useful features). Sofar it seems to work, although I got some feedback that people don't want additional subscriptions to worry about and rather just pay a one time fee.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?

The biggest challenge was to decide that I was really 'done' and ready to launch. I wanted to launch something that was polished enough and worked great. I think I succeeded in that but it took quite a lot more time than I had planned. I even had to shift my vacation a couple of weeks to make time for it.

In hindsight I see some things I could have skipped like payments and an iPad version, but yeah that is easy to see after the fact :)

My goals for the future are twofold: I want to expand my app to work on desktop. I'm also looking for something else next to Hippo, either a job or another project to diversify the work and earn some more money (because my savings are running out..)


How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I'm doing great, I love to work on my own on an app that I've designed. The future looks exciting, I hope that I can make some kind of living from Hippo, but in the short term I need something else to pay the rent :)

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

It helped me a lot to join a community of other makers, because otherwise I would be really alone. I'm on Makerlog, and it's a very supportive community. I had some great advice of people there. I got great help from Twitter too, the Hippo icon is designed by Stas Moor, a great designer who asked if anyone needed an icon for an app. I replied and a couple of weeks later I got a awesome Hippo icon from him. I think that's great, and I'm trying to give back to the community too, by replying to questions and requests for feedback.

Roel, as I understand, you dropped your job and started creating Hippo, Like every other person my question is , “Is it worth it”?

For me it is totally worth it. I have learned so much in the past 6 months. From practical things like coding an app in Swift to more personal things like planning my week and focussing on my own project without external pressure. 

In my job I used to mainly focus on things that my manager and team expected me to do, and leave my own plans and ideas on the bottom of my list. But now I’m working on something I want to build myself. It’s a lot more fun! And if I ever start a job again I hope I can carry on this behavior and work more on the things I enjoy.

Roel, as per your experience what are the things one should take care when they drop job and pursuing their dream ?

I guess it starts and ends with your financial situation. Do you have budget to sustain your living for the coming 6-12 months? 

In terms of income I was lucky to have savings and stock options that I was willing to spend. And I received financial support from the government as part of an unemployment program. 

To increase the time I could live on my budget I cut down my spendings on ‘luxurious’ things. Instead of going to expensive AirBNB’s in the holidays we went camping, which was a lot cheaper (and more fun although my boyfriend doesn't agree :).

I used to regularly buy clothes and new tech. I stopped that and I’m trying to be happy with the things I already own. 

With Apple releasing new devices every year it’s tempting to upgrade my 1st gen Apple Watch or get an iPad. But I realize these things are not important right now. Working on Hippo is, and that is giving me a lot more satisfaction.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

The core is just the App Store of Apple and the iPhone / iPad of the user. I have no servers for data or account, I take privacy very seriously and I don't want to have the data that the user puts in the app. Because it can be very personal.

For the marketing site I use DigitalOcean and just plain HTML/CSS.

I do design in Sketch and coding in Xcode.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources? 

Deep Work by Cal Newton for sure. It's a very nice book on how to figure out what really motivates you. Like a lot of self-help books there is a lot to unpack in the book. But what really helped me was to take one weekend in a cabin in the woods and go through some of the main questions and exercises (and really do them). I did this last year and it made me realize that I had to change a couple of things to be happy, which I did!

Another book which helped me a lot is Grip from Rick Pastoor, a bestselling Dutch book. It is a practical guide on setting goals and creating time to reach them by planning your days, weeks, quarters and years. The book is currently being translated to English, you can subscribe here to get notified when it launches. 

What’s your advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Well, I think I'm also just starting out ? But my advice would be to stay close to what motivates you. So figure out what that is for you, and then see if there is a need for a product.  

And join a community of other entrepreneurs, whether that's wip.chat, Makerlog, Twitter or Reddit. It's helpful to have a place to discuss and get feedback.

About The Author : Binu Mathew

Binu Mathew is the CEO of itmarkerz technologies. It has been catering to the custom software needs of SMEs in India and abroad since March 2011. Binu started his programming and freelance carrier at the age of 17. over around 13 years of experience in startups, startup visas around the globe, and Blogging. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn