Photopea: The Free Photoshop Alternative Making Millions
Adobe Photoshop is the most popular image editing tool in the world. It's used by over 29 million people and has become a household name.
But it has a few problems. It takes up a ton of computing power and battery, which makes it difficult to use on old/slow computers. And the biggest thing, cost.
You can't just buy Photoshop with a one-time fee, instead, users spend $20/mo for a subscription to use the product.
- 10 million MAU and $2 million ARR
- Completely owned by Ivan
- $60/mo business expense with zero paid marketing
How it all started
You might be thinking, "how did one person build this?". Well, Ivan had a lot of time.
When Photopea started in 2012, Ivan was a full-time student. Photopea's initial version was a simple PDS viewer, and Ivan treated this as a hobby.
If there was a video game that was more fun, he would play that instead of working on Photopea. But Ivan would incrementally build out advanced features while studying. Including his own PDF parser, content-aware fill feature, and even supporting GIFs.
After completing his master's degree in 2017, Ivan solved 400 bugs/feature requests from users, produced several open-source libraries, and turned Photopea from a hobby into a powerful image editor and his full-time job.
But monetizing and growing Photopea wasn't easy!
From 2012 - 2016, Photopea had no monetization plans built in. And after graduation, Ivan only produced $29k in the first year and a half of monetizing.
Despite this, Photopea had positive user responses and the user base was growing quickly (~300%) through organic means.
Then, it all clicked.
YouTubers began sharing video tutorials on how to use Photopea, and many of these got hundreds of thousands of views!
And in October 2018, Photopea hit an all-time high of 1.5 million visits, setting it up for one of its biggest marketing campaigns: AMAs
In Nov 2018, Ivan hosted his first Reddit AMA. It went viral. 50k upvotes, 2.2k comments.
9 months later, his traffic doubled to 3 million visits, and he did another one.
Viral again, and he kept repeating. In 2021, he decided to host one on Hacker News. And just like Reddit, it made the front page and went viral again!
As it turns out, this was the ultimate marketing campaign. Creating a free version of a complex product like Photoshop attracts people because it saves them money (hundreds a year).
But sharing how you built this and garnered millions of users and revenue makes ultra-viral content. And Ivan utilized this to the fullest.
Hell, even I'm writing about it!
Photopea only costs $60/mo to maintain
You probably don't believe it only costs $500 a year for a business that makes millions.
Instead, Ivan's main costs are just hosting a simple webpage, which makes this super easy to maintain (no server work) and incredibly cheap to support.
Additionally, Photopea has been primarily worked on and maintained by Ivan. He grew his team by adding two of his previous college mates in the last few months. But Ivan still says he does about 80% of the work.
Photopea is an advanced image editing tool that rivals Adobe Photoshop and is built by one person, Ivan Kutskir. But these features weren't built in a day, Ivan spent the better part of 10 years slowly building out Photopea! He's solved over 4,000 feature requests and issues on GitHub alone!
With no paid marketing, Photopea found success through AMAs and old-fashioned, word-of-mouth sharing.
As Ivan says, "if you make a free analogy to an expensive product, users will (eventually) use your product. There is simply no other way."
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