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Polypane / Utilities / Netherlands

How I developed a web browser for helping developers and designers - Story of Polypane

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

Hey! I'm Kilian and I'm working on Polypane , which is a web browser that's all about helping developers and designers create better websites. So websites that are fast, accessible and responsive. It does this by showing your site in multiple sizes at the same time, as if you had a bunch of different devices on your desk, and anything you do on one device also happens in all the others. We then make it really easy to edit your site at all these pages, and to test for things like performance and accessibility issues and then fix them as well. All in all that results in people being three to five times faster compared to building sites in regular browsers.

Kilian, CEO of polypane

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

Back in 2015 I had just switched over to Sketch, which is a design tool primarily for designing sites and apps. Sketch has "artboards", which let you see different versions of your design side by side and I used that to show the different responsive versions of a page, so mobile, tablet and desktop, side by side. I noticed that really helped me understand what was going on and the relationship between these different sizes. But browsers back then always just showed a single screen size and that suddenly felt incredibly frustrating. So I set out to build a prototype that showed a live website at multiple sizes

 Polypane, the perfect browser for web developers and designers

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

So I started using that prototype for my own job, I ran a web agency at that time. I quickly noticed I was much faster compared to working in normal browsers. So I kept working on it, sharing it with people and it just grew from there. I added features I missed, other people gave me suggestions and at some point I launched an open beta which got me a lot more attention as well as feedback. I decided to go full time on developing and selling Polypane in 2019 and have been growing the business side since.

What has been your biggest failure or struggle?

I had a lot of experience running a web agency, selling websites and web apps to companies that already wanted them. Selling software in a market that's as new as mine (Browsers with many different screen sizes that targeted developers didn't really exist before Polypane) has been quite different. You have to convince people they need this solution in the first place, rather than explain why you're the best company to do this for them. Finding the right tone and explaining things clearly in that stage has been harder than anticipated.

 Polypane, the perfect browser for web developers

How many hours a day do you work on average & can you describe/outline your typical day?

I try to stick to normal working hours because I think it's important to have a healthy relationship with work, and also because by the end of the day I am tired so any work I do then just wouldn't be good anyway. So I work about 8 hours a day and take the weekends off. The day usually starts with coffee and going through the new emails I got overnight. If it's a Monday I do my admin work after that, processing invoices and all that other boring stuff so I get that out of the way.

After that I either work on the product or marketing side. I try to split it 50/50 throughout the week but don't have a strict separation per day. Some days are all product or all marketing, and some are more mixed.

 Polypane, the perfect browser for designers

And what has been your biggest achievement or success?

Just being able to do all this honestly! I make a living building a browser on my own and it's good enough that people prefer it over something that's freely available. That's amazing to me.

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

I try to be relentless in updating the browser and respond to feedback in-depth. My customers are developers and designers with incredible skills so I can really dig deep into the way things work and why, both in direct communication and in articles that I write for the blog. It's really rewarding when you can take your users along with you on something that's so specific and detailed and have them understand and suggest improvements because of that understanding.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Most of the work around launching the business didn't really have much to do with the product: Register a company, set up all the right contracts, get the right terms of service, build the marketing website and the account management system, setting up the payment system and just generally making sure everything is technically and legally set up correctly.. The months running up to the release of Polypane were spent doing mostly the stuff around the product.

 Polypane, the perfect browser for web developers and designers

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

By the time I was ready for launch I already had a pretty substantial mailing list of interested people so I launched for them first and foremost, but then also launched on Product Hunt, which went okay. It was a really new type of thing so people were still figuring out if it was something that was useful and whether they were willing to pay for it. But people were excited for it in general and it definitely was a successful launch.

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

Polypane is available as a monthly or yearly subscription for individuals and teams. Revenue grows with more people signing up for the service.

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

Basically just getting the word out and then getting people to try it. I spent a lot of time in the past year making it easier to try Polypane, and I'm starting to see the results of that now. Switching browsers is quite disruptive so I'm doing all sorts of things to make that easier by having really good documentation, having browser extensions so you can quickly open sites in Polypane and having really clear onboarding.

 Polypane, the perfect browser for web developers and designers

Let’s talk about your marketing strategy -- how do you market Polypane and grow the service?

I tried nearly everything, like ads, paid blog posts, cold outreach and the best thing for me is content marketing. Because I build a browser I'm always at the edge of what's possible in browsers so I always have enough to write about that's interesting for developers and designers. I enjoy writing really in-depth articles as well so that helps. People read a few articles, recognize the name and end up trying and liking the product.

Do you have a model to get product feedback? What’s your favorite way to get product feedback? Did product feedback help you get the results you hoped for ?

People can contact us through a variety of ways: email, contact form on the site, twitter (DMs are open too), an on-page chat widget and we also have a slack group for people to hang out in and ask questions and give feedback.

I keep track of all feedback and that really informs the priority of what to work on.

 Polypane, the perfect browser for web developers and designers

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

I think it's important to remember that it's all about personal relationships. I try to be available and responsive to everyone and that's really appreciated by people. I frequently get compliments about how fast and thorough I respond, so I try to keep that up.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I self-host or self-build most of the tools I use to run my business, but I spend most time in Polypane itself along with Atom, my code editor which I use for all my writing. I use Trello to keep track of my backlog and releases, GitHub for code and DigitalOcean for all hosting.

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

the presentation "Inventing on principle" by Bret Victors really inspired me to think about more interactive ways to build tools and the book Starting and Sustaining by Garrett Dimon really helped me get clear everything I needed to do to get my business up and running

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

Get feedback faster than you're comfortable with, but also don't share everything you have planned straight away. Find a group of people that are at the same stage you are or slightly ahead and learn from each other.

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