By Matt Visiwig Sep 9, 2021
Hint: I didn’t come up with the idea out of the blue.
My brilliant idea was a culmination of dreaming up and building other ideas for over a decade. Dissect any successful founder and there is a 100% chance they came up with more than a single idea. Even their money-making idea was iterated and heavily fleshed out over years of experimentation.
If I approached this idea as a newb, it’s likely I wouldn’t have earned a single internet dollar. Instead, my experience helped me actualize my idea and pull in 5 figures to date.
Let’s go back in time and track down those key moments of my journey.
I was sitting in my dorm room freshman year of college and I wanted to build a website to promote the music I was making. A friend hooked me up with MS Frontpage. I didn’t touch the code, it was rad, it was frustrating, it was 2003.
Why it mattered: I could now get things up on the web.
Fresh out of college, I did what most graduates do, I pivoted. I went back to school to get a graphic design certificate and learned key design software that I still use today, notably Adobe Illustrator.
I also earned my first internet dollar shortly after completing the program. A hard earned $75 building a website for a client I landed off of Craigslist.
Why it mattered: I was introduced to vector graphics.
Entrepreneurship was the most crucial period of my journey.
If I didn’t build my first website in 2003, I would have years later. If I didn’t learn Illustrator, I would have learned other important software in whatever industry I joined. But I believe if I didn’t take this entrepreneurial leap of faith, my life would look completely different.
I pursued an idea, full-time. I co-founded an online business that operated for 2 years.
I thoroughly failed. But you can’t fail this bad and not walk away with value, like valuable technical skills, business experience, know-how, and insights. There’s no course that can substitute for that experience. When you run a business, you’re constantly testing out your hypotheses (AKA ideas). You either have good ideas and spend your time wisely, or you don’t.
Why it mattered: I gained first-hand business experience.
I got a full-time job as a web and graphic designer and developed my professional and technical skills. I started learning about mobile web design and noticed SVGs started appearing on some websites.
This 7 year period is where I had the bulk of my business ideas.
When you’re an entrepreneur sitting at a desk job, it doesn’t take long before ideas start flowing. You think one idea can change everything. It can’t. Ideas are nothing without execution.
I was brainstorming to find an idea with low startup costs that I could pull off on my own.
I kept thinking about starting a web design business and I even took on a client. I realized trying to start a side-hustle is exhausting while you hold down a full-time job. I also considered starting an escape room business and shifted the concept to a traveling version to keep rent out of the equation. I built a handful of puzzles using cardboard and design software.
Up to this point the ideas were intangible.
Why it mattered: I grew professionally, albeit slowly.
I was preparing to move, which meant I had to quit my comfy job and find a new one. I had trouble landing a new job and my idea of starting a web design business became a reality.
Guess how that went.
Even with two months to get my act together, I had a rough start. I got one prospect’s verbal agreement to work with me, but the project failed to happen. I didn’t pull in a single dollar for four consecutive months. My runway was shrinking quickly.
Why it mattered: Real-life pressures pushed me to narrow my focus towards a singular goal.
My sales and marketing were failing. Badly.
I wanted to create a resource to capture traffic.
Why it mattered: I started thinking about grabbing eyes at all costs.
Everything led to this moment.
I noticed an opportunity.
It was a routine work day. I was familiar with how to add SVGs to websites, but was aware there were other methods to embed SVGs that I wasn’t using. Curiosity struck. Were any of the other methods better? I googled how to use SVG Backgrounds.
The results were not what I expected.
I was led down a wild goose chase and the results took time to dissect. A tutorial led to a technical article on how to programmatically create Data URIs from SVGs. I dug deeper and deeper out of necessity because there was a lack of good resources. In most cases I would have concluded that this path was a dead end and that I already knew how to use SVGs well enough. But the thing that would bore the hell out of other folk, piqued my interest.
Throughout my journey, I’ve been fascinated by vector graphics and web design, but the two have been incompatible with the inevitable death of Adobe Flash. Naturally when the stars began to align with SVGs and the web, I took more interest than the average professional.
I decided to experiment.
This is when I started to formulate the initial idea of SVGBG. I was surprised I could buy the domain SVGBackgrounds.com, which only reaffirmed that there was a lack of resources. I quickly decided to go for it and build a resource. I took inspiration from websites I found useful in my web design journey, such as subtlepatterns.com and transparenttextures.com. I also found two websites doing something similar to what I set out to do. I wasn’t the first or last to create a background generator, but that didn’t prevent me from adding my own spin.
There was a learning curve. I was trying to figure out something that few other people were talking about. I bought the domain mid-December 2017 and I launched as soon as I could a month-and-a-half later, as I was bleeding savings.
I have to admit I got lucky with the launch. My marketing efforts weren’t moving the needle, but I had a successful ProductHunt launch that got the attention I was seeking.
Overall, I think I approached my idea well. I didn’t invest time in monetizing it or adding any bells and whistles initially. I cranked it out quickly and only began to pursue it further after seeing I was on to something.
I saw the initial version of SVGBG as a way to grab eyes. I thought it would help garner credibility and capture leads. I quickly realized I created a different beast.
As I monetized my product, I faced other struggles, which should be its own blog post. But essentially I went from having an offering few people were buying, to growing MRR simply by listening to my customers.
I didn’t come up with my idea out of nowhere. My brilliant idea formed after a decade of pursuing other ideas, building experience, and growing my skill set. The idea looked mediocre on paper: unpolished, unflashy, and unoriginal. But I felt it was worth pursuing and so I moved quickly. I’m glad I did.
Here are some key takeaways from my experience.
Ideas are not tangible, until you build
You can brainstorm an endless amount of seemingly good ideas. But, ideas are nothing without execution. You must test ideas out. This could be as simple as building a landing page to gauge interest, but in the end you won’t know you have product-market fit until customers are paying real money and sticking around.
You can’t build every idea you have
Instead of pursuing lots of ideas, come up with key parameters. For me, I was looking for a startup idea without initial costs because I wanted to bootstrap. I also wanted to take advantage of my industry skills and I ended up somewhere at the intersection of code and design.
There are no guarantees that an idea is good or not. All ideas are bad until you prove otherwise. You can spend days, months, years, etc. trying to prove an idea is good, so spending the least amount of time proving you are onto something is a must.
Ideas are fluid
You might be onto a great idea, but it might be great for reasons you are not thinking about. Assume you will have to pivot and refine. Listening to your users and customers needs is the most obvious path to product-market fit.
Your idea doesn’t need to be completely original
Entering a thriving market is less risky than building a first-of-its-kind product. While you will want an original approach or reimagined solution, you don’t need to build something new for the sake of being completely original. I’d rather build in an established market over an unproven market simply to be sure I’m creating a product that people need.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found my story useful. If so, follow my journey on Twitter @MattVisiwig.