How This Developer Is Building A Suite Of Tools For Creators

Rox
Founder, ThumbnailTest
$320
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
ThumbnailTest
from Greenville, NC, USA
started June 2022
$320
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
2.75M
alexa rank
29
followers
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How This Developer Is Building A Suite Of Tools For Creators

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I’m Rox! I stream myself building startups live on Twitch pretty much every day.

And I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’ve run Clipbot.tv for a while, and just recently launched ThumbnailTest.com which is looking to be my biggest project ever!

Clipbot helps Twitch live streamers repurpose clips of their streams into TikToks and YouTube Shorts (IG coming soon :D)

ThumbnailTest lets YouTubers A/B test thumbnails and titles live on YouTube to figure out which are best.

I’ve just broken $800 MRR across these two projects, and am closing in on 7,000 followers on Twitch.

And I built almost everything live on stream.

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I got internships at a handful of different tech companies, namely Microsoft and Facebook, and got to see what real tech jobs were like. And at the end of my last internship, I just felt sad. Well… maybe not sad, but, empty?

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I just want to be special.

That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

But the journey to get there hasn’t felt so great.

I started in college studying game dev and computer science like most of us do.

I got internships at a handful of different tech companies, namely Microsoft and Facebook, and got to see what real tech jobs were like.

And at the end of my last internship, I just felt sad. Well… maybe not sad, but, empty?

It felt like the life ahead of me was a bit… prewritten?

I could try super hard, claw my way up the Facebook leaderboard, and eventually be making high six figures and be a director or something.

And one day, when I died, they’d put “Good Software Engineer” on my tombstone.

And that’s my biggest fear.

I don’t want to just end up as some software engineer. My therapist says I have a “fear of being normal”, and he’s right. I’m lucky to have the privileges I do. If I don’t turn them into something amazing, this life has been wasted on me.

So after my big tech internships, I went after my first startup. I had two cofounders, and we tried to build a bunch of different restaurant tech. QR Code payments, rewards systems, referrals, you name it we tried it. But nothing ever really took off.

But we had one shining opportunity - a monthly call with the head of admissions at YC.

She believed we were a team of 3 technical founders that didn’t hate each other - which meant once we succeeded we’d go far.

But, we’d never get that far.

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Note the mattress on the floor

Almost 3 years in, sleeping in the living room of a Chicago apartment I shared with a cofounder, I realized I hadn’t been happy for a long time. A close friend asked “why are you still here?”, and I didn’t have a good answer.

So, I called everyone I knew and loved and asked for their opinion. 100% of people told me to leave. My buddy Piet said, “me and a bunch of friends are moving to Thailand, leave the startup, come with us, and do your own thing.”

So, I did.

Sold everything, bought a nice laptop, and left the USA for pretty much the first time in my life.

And so began my first project, Clipbot.tv!

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I had already been streaming myself building in public for about 8 months at this point, so I planned to build a tool I could use to grow my audience. Clipbot automatically takes clips of your Twitch stream and reformats them into Tiktok’s and YouTube Shorts, then uploads them automatically for you. A content machine!

I had seen tools like Clipbot before but felt there was a missing opportunity in the market for a tool that could do it all automatically instead of manually. Since I was already a streamer, I was solving my problem, and figured not many engineers are also Twitch streamers, so that could do a lot for branding.

I made a TON of mistakes building Clipbot - it took me over 5 months to launch, I fought through integration hell, and the horrors of code signing, but today it’s up to a respectable ~$600 MRR, with some big new plans ahead.

But with the lessons I learned from Clipbot, my next big project, ThumbnailTest, would do everything right…mostly.

I knew ThumbnailTest was a good opportunity when I saw that TubeBuddy was selling a $50 subscription to 10+ tools, but everyone just used the A/B Thumbnail Testing Tool which wasn’t getting many upgrades. I thought: “Why not just make that its tool and sell it cheaper?”

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So I did exactly that. I launched the beta within two weeks and made $100 right away. After one month I launched officially, and in the 14 days we’ve been launched we hit $200MRR not including the beta users, who would push it closer to $300.

It’s nothing crazy…yet. But I’ve learned enough lessons to feel that this is going to be my big win. Mark my words.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

For Clipbot, I did everything wrong.

I spent 5 months building a desktop app, using crazy puppeteer scripts, and fighting with integrations to various platforms that kept changing throughout the development of the tool. On top of that, dealing with code signing certificates (making sure your desktop app doesn’t have a warning popup) and starting a legal business all had to happen before I could “launch”.

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I had absolutely no design skills, and I wrote the entire app in VANILLA JS, CSS, AND HTML. To this day, this is one of my biggest regrets, because it has become increasingly difficult to support over time. But also, it makes $600 per month, so it proves that no one cares how crappy your code is if you deliver value!

But luckily for the design, I open-sourced my frontend repo and had a twitch viewer submit a full CSS/HTML rewrite to make the app look not terrible. It’s still not great, but it was usable! Before that, I didn’t have CSS, just a bunch of functional js and HTML.

With ThumbnailTest, I fixed all of this ahead of time. I called in a favor and got @AprilynneAlter to do some initial screen designs for me, and designed the entire app against those. I built with a much more modern stack I’d been using, which made all of the dev much faster. But also, I’ve built tools like this before - I know the YouTube API already, I know cron jobs, and how to fight against quotas. So I’ve built something that I, specifically, can build faster than most!

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Describe the process of launching the business.

For Clipbot, I got a bunch of beta testers along the way, but my big launch was on Reddit (/r/twitch). I stayed live on Twitch the entire day asking people to upvote the Reddit post and leave a nice comment. I even left my stream online with no camera and no sound when I went to bed, and just had a screen that said “please upvote my Reddit post <3”. By the end of the next day, I had my first 20 paying customers for Clipbot!

I launched ThumbnailTest to beta users and built off of their feedback for about two weeks which made the tool 10x more usable before launch. I made sure to have everything be self-service (signup, usage, etc.), but still strived to chat with every initial customer as soon as possible.

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Between beta and launch, I built in public a ton on Twitter. I posted in-progress marketing videos, got landing page feedback, and talked about new features I was building. This did wonders, as I often got people interested in joining the beta before I had even launched officially.

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My big launch message was on Twitter two weeks later, where I already had a decent audience and called in some favors from friends to get some early retweets. I also streamed all day asking for likes/retweets/comments on the thread. This worked out pretty well, as some really big potential users reached out early just from seeing that tweet!

Don’t be afraid of cold DMs, especially if you have something people want. When people respond to your cold DMs, you’ll know you’re on to something.

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

For Clipbot I tried SO MANY THINGS. But very few worked!

The initial Reddit launch post lasted longer than expected - I got new customers from that post trickling in even a couple of weeks after the post was made. But after that, I wasn’t super sure where to go, so I did the classic - started spamming blog posts for SEO! WOO!

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But amazingly, that SEO became my BIGGEST source of traffic. I wrote less than 10 total articles (clipbot.tv/blog), but Clipbot now gets over a thousand clicks a month just from Google. This is where the LARGE majority of my customers come from. The tough part here is that the SEO took a WHILE to catch up, so this strategy only worked because I was willing to spend a lot of time on Clipbot and I could be patient and wait for it to kick in. But if you need quick results, this probably won’t do great.

In general, word of mouth on Reddit, or even just posting as myself on Reddit became a large source of traffic. I used F5Bot.com to find out when anyone was talking about Clipbot on /r/twitch or similar subreddits, but I’d also go to any post that mentioned TikTok or YouTube Shorts and talk about Clipbot a bit. Each time I did this, I’d get a spike in traffic, and often 1-2 new customers. Sometimes, my customers would just leave comments about me without any request from me, and I’d get the same result. Every time I saw this, I made sure to reach out to them and thank them for posting, which led them to do it more.

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I tried a ton of other stuff that didn’t work - posting in other subreddits, building free tools, offering free plans to influencers, etc. None of it worked, but if ya try enough stuff, something will eventually.

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Free tool that got me 0 customers

On top of this, I retained a ton of users by funneling all my new customers into a discord where they could ask questions and tell me about bugs. Being super responsive helped a TON in not losing customers even up to today - especially bigger streamers who needed a bit more handholding.

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For ThumbnailTest, building in public on Twitter got me surprisingly far. Asking for feedback on my in-progress marketing video got me two customers. Mentioning my beta got me one customer. Asking for landing page feedback got me another one. If the product is exciting, it works!

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This guy had 200k+ followers

After that, I quickly got requests from YouTube managers/consultants for an affiliate program - especially since my competitor has just dropped their affiliate cut from 50% down to 30%. So I launched an affiliate program with 60% going to the affiliate and 40% coming to me which got me 2 new customers, 1 of which was an annual plan.

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I also joined a ton of discord communities talking about making better thumbnails and videos, where I would search for YouTubers with a big following, who were active in discords, had a SMALL audience on Twitter, and were active on Twitter. If they checked all of these boxes, I knew they’d be a good candidate to respond to a cold Twitter DM 😀 I got a lot of good conversations and a couple of customers this way.

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For retention, again being super active in my customer-only discord and fixing bugs within the hour got me a great relationship with all my users and has them recommending me to friends. On top of this, I offered free “consulting” where I’ll go through customers’ YouTube analytics and recommend videos to test or improvements to content to help establish myself as part of their “team” so they stay on and continue to give me great feedback.

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

Things are pretty good! I just broke $800 MRR total, ~$200 from ThumbnailTest (~$300 including beta testers), and ~$600 MRR from Clipbot.

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The speed of growth of ThumbnailTest is much faster than Clipbot, so I’m putting most of my time and energy into ThumbnailTest and expanding it to support teams and people with multiple channels. There’s a ton of revenue being left on the table without those features. After that, I’ll be hardening the product by giving way more powerful analytics analysis.

For Clipbot, I’m hoping to bring on a marketing cofounder soon who has a large presence in the Twitch streamer space to help 2x-3x Clipbot so I can hire my first dev to help move Clipbot from a desktop app to a webapp. Once that’s done, I’m convinced there’s a ton more market share I can capitalize on - many people in the streaming space don’t know that tools like Clipbot even exist, so that’s where most of my focus will be.

Most Clipbot customers come from Google or affiliates, and most ThumbnailTest customers come from Twitter or affiliates.

You can test a lot without building anything, and save yourself a lot of heartbreak on the way.

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I spend most of my day streaming myself building/marketing these startups as I try to be someone special.

My long-term plan is to build a suite of creator tools. I’ve realized that building within a niche means that each new product helps your old products succeed even more. So eventually, I’ll be taking on TubeBuddy I guess.

I will be the “Creator Tools Guy”.

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

SHIP FAST. DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN 30 DAYS ON AN MVP EVER. I spent almost 5 months on Clipbot before I launched it and it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Had I launched earlier I could be twice as far by now?

HAVE GOOD UX. An unusable product is not an MVP. Good UX + Simple Valuable Feature Set = MVP. Example: ThumbnailTest is pretty straightforward to use, and does all of one thing - A/B testing. People love it!

DO MARKETING. SOMEHOW. Building features is not marketing. Mini tools can be! SEO is insane if you have the time but don’t start there. Don’t be afraid of cold DMs, especially if you have something people want. When people respond to your cold DMs, you’ll know you’re on to something.

BUILD IN PUBLIC. Kinda obvious but normally “Twitter” isn’t much of a marketing strategy, but if you spend enough time there and gain a following it can be. Anyone can do this, there are tons of guides and courses and strategies if you want to speedrun it.

PARTNER WITH PEOPLE. Partnering is the coolest thing in the world. The best opportunities I’ve had for explosive growth have come out of me saying “hey if I give you equity / free access / an awesome affiliate cut, will you market this for me?”. I’m still working out a lot of these partnerships (potential cofounder included) but when my MRR triples soon, this will be why it happened I’m 100% confident.

BUILD FOR PEOPLE WITH MONEY. If you try to sell your product to people without a budget, you’ll be very sad very fast. Build for people making a lot of money and you’ll be able to build new features for big customers and get way more MRR from them.

BUILD SOMETHING PEOPLE ARE ASKING FOR. People post about A/B Thumbnail Testing every day and there’s one tool for it. That’s an opportunity. People kept asking for new features in Clipbot’s competitors. That’s an opportunity. I have built a dozen projects nobody asked for, and they all failed.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

oh god so many

Landing pages: Umso

Referrals: Rewardful

Basic Tech Stack: Typescript, NextJS, tRPC

Event Tracking: Amplitude

Getting Paid: Stripe

Notes: Notion

Hosting: Vercel

Logs: GraphJSON

Domains: Namecheap

Finding out when people talk about me: F5Bot

SEO: Google Search Console, Free Ahrefs tools, Free Semrush tools

Scraping random data: Phantombuster

Growing audience: Twitter/YouTube/Twitch

Converting Twitter following → Twitch: Pulsebanner

Running a community, getting customers, handling bugs: Discord

Organizing tasks across projects: Motion

Marketing: Reddit

Drawing out ideas: Microsoft Whiteboard + Intuos Drawing Tablet

Streaming while traveling: Alienware laptop + GoPro camera + Portable Monitor

Browser: Brave

Running a good stream: OBS, VoiceAttack, OBSCommand.exe

Staying productive: Twitch.tv

Living: Airbnb

Eating: Grubhub/Glovo/Foodpanda

Having fun: Steam (Rocket League + Apex Legends)

Good music: Spotify

Not getting hacked: 1Password

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

Leadership and Self Deception by The Arbinger Institute:

Made me a better person. Taught me were my own emotions come from and how to better work with others.

Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen:

Taught me how to communicate like an adult and understand the depth behind simple situations.

Atomic Habits:

Taught me that all my problems are because of habit. I still haven’t fixed them, but now I understand them better.

How To Build A Startup Without Funding by Pieter Levels:

If you’re gonna start Indie Hacking this is a dope video

Mental Health Coaching:

The only reason I’m not a giant pile of tears and nightmares. I use HealthyGamerGG.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

You’re gonna be sad.

It’s gonna hurt.

That’s ok.

It’s really easy to only see the good side of things. See the joy of being successful, the dream of that magic MRR number going up like a video game leaderboard. But this isn’t what most of my time looks like.

Building a startup, especially alone, is like looking in the mirror every hour of every day and having to face every ounce of imperfection in yourself.

It crushes me when I have an unproductive day. As passionate as I am, most days it’s a struggle to even get a normal amount of work done.

Especially at the start, feeling like you’re building/shouting into the void is hell. It can feel like you have no purpose, and nothing you do has any meaning, and you’re wasting your life away.

Sadly, in most scenarios, the only difference between this and the “fun” part is when you start to succeed.

Before that, you can build a ton, tweet a ton, write blog posts, send emails, and most likely no one will care or respond.

Months of the building can get you 0 feedback and 0 motivation, especially if you aren’t building/launching quickly.

It’s not easy.

Even before this, when I was building startups through an accelerator in SF, I was sleeping in the living room of a 1 bedroom apartment I shared with my cofounder, got extremely depressed, and moved on to this.

(The video I made when I left, depressed)

Now I have the freedom to do anything, but with infinite freedom comes infinite expectations.

If you follow some of the simple advice and get attention earlier, make friends, get an audience, get partnerships, etc… You can get that positive feedback loop sooner. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Without it, you might end up like me a few years ago, hating my life in a room without a door.

Things are good now. Still a struggle, but good. I don’t know anyone that got successful in startups like a ladder - just going up each rung.

It’s more like a mountain, climbing a lot, tripping a bunch, falling, hurting yourself, but eventually, hopefully, getting somewhere cool.

But if this is what you want, if freedom is truly the dream for you, then get started.

Start as a side project while still doing your current job.

Or just build a landing page.

Or just send some DMs and see if people care.

You can test a lot without building anything, and save yourself a lot of heartbreak on the way.

Good luck, you got this 💪

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Rox, Founder of ThumbnailTest
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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