How I Started a Colour Palette
Algorithm For Easy Blog Post Headers
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Quinn Rohlf. I’m a software engineer and designer, and I usually have at least a half dozen side projects cooking at any given point in time. Trianglify.io is a side project I built to make finding abstract backgrounds for my launch pages and blog post headers easier. It saves a lot of time over building patterns by hand. Unlike most stock asset sites, it uses a randomised algorithm to give you truly unique results. You can match it to your brand with custom colour palettes and lots of options for tweaking.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I did my undergrad in Computer Science, and have worked as a professional software engineer for about 10 years, focused mostly on front end web work but with detours into mobile apps and embedded hardware along the way. I also have a background in analogue photography, which gave me a good understanding of colour theory and design.
Trianglify began life as a developer-oriented open-source library in 2014. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere – it was just a fun side project for me to play with some low-poly backgrounds, math, and colours.
It gained an unexpected following on GitHub, and I spent a few years polishing it and playing the role of open-source maintainer before realizing that there was a good business opportunity for Trianglify in the design space that would complement my open-source work.
In 2019, I spent a week building the user interface and payment/rendering infrastructure that became https://trianglify.io/. While my previous work had been aimed squarely at fellow engineers, my goal with the new product was to deliver value to a non-technical audience of designers and marketers by building a user-friendly interface to my core library.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
From its inception, I knew that the site had to be extremely low-cost to operate and maintenance-free. Low-cost operation was important because my market is very price-sensitive – most designers can easily replicate the output of Trianglify with a little bit of manual labour, or find a similar asset on a variety of stock image sites.
Zero-maintenance was essential because I live on the road and frequently spend a week or more off the grid. Any kind of usability or technical issue on a site like mine that makes money on volume could quickly become a support nightmare. This translated into a very simple tech stack on AWS and Digital Ocean, with email delivery and payments offloaded onto a couple of trustworthy SaaS offerings.
Trianglify.io is an interesting business to run because I am effectively my own competition. Anyone can download my open-source library and start generating their own assets with it, for free.
My value comes from making it easier, faster, and more cost-effective in terms of time to use the web-based UI and pay a small fee for high-res exports. I try to always keep that axiom in mind when I’m making changes to the site or building new features.
Speed and ease of use is the reason my product is valuable, and anything that introduces any unnecessary friction into the process of generating and exporting patterns with Trianglify.io is a direct hit to my bottom line.
The marketing piece of Trianglify.io is still something I’m exploring. I don’t have much of a background in this area, and so far 100% of my traffic has come from word-of-mouth and submissions to sites like Product Hunt or Hacker News.
This year, I plan to start doing some basic blogging and content marketing to help a wider search audience find my product. I think that it’s possible to approach marketing the same way I approach building a product – I plan to write good evergreen content that delivers value to my readers, and avoid maintenance-heavy options like paid search advertising or the social media treadmill.
Who is your target market?
My target market consists of designers, marketers, and digital professionals that need unique image assets, often with custom branded colours, who prioritize low cost and a fast turnaround.
I’d estimate that using Trianglify.io can save a customer around 30 minutes per generated asset over a fully custom option, and I’m even priced below most non-custom stock vector image services. It’s a particularly appealing option to high-volume work like social media content generation.
Beyond those specifics, my market is pretty wide. I’ve seen Trianglify patterns used in airport advertising for network security products, on a Swiss TV station, in numerous blogs and landing pages, and even for a poster at an aquatic centre I frequent in a small Canadian town!
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
I’m an engineer first and foremost, so I’ve found I can best connect with my audience in forums that speak my language. Sites like Product Hunt, Hacker News, Indie Hackers, and Smashing Magazine have been great for connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs that have similar needs (namely, plentiful and cheap images to use for marketing).
I don’t have any plans at this time to do any kind of paid advertising, but I may experiment with hiring some folks to write content for a product blog that I’m working on. Organic search is currently my best channel as far as conversion rate goes, so I’d like to lean into that.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The unique nature of the images my product generates is the primary retention mechanism I have. If a customer starts to build a campaign that uses Trianglify patterns, it’s likely that they’ll eventually come back for more assets that match the aesthetic they’ve already established. I also make sure to do things like make it easy for users to return to the site to edit and re-export an asset that they’ve already purchased.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
I’m a solo founder and Trianglify is just one of the side projects that I run. This means that I prioritise simplicity and reliability above all else.
Trianglify is doing its job when it leaves me free to explore other ideas or work on my open-source projects, so whenever I build any kind of new feature I don’t ship it until I’m 99.99% confident that it will scale and run without issues or additional work required on my part.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
The Trianglify.io frontend is a 100% static site hosted on S3. The backend is a stateless microservice that uses a couple of interesting tricks to run all of my image rendering and payments logic without a database – the key to eliminating a huge slice of the work that a SaaS operation would normally involve.
Besides my infrastructure providers (AWS and DigitalOcean), I rely heavily on Stripe for my checkout functionality and Postmark for transactional email. With these two services, I’m able to offload a lot of the non-product-specific heavy lifting for Trianglify to third parties so that I have less to worry about myself.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
The ongoing lesson that this product has been teaching me is that the best thing you can do for a successful side project is to understand your audience and focus relentlessly on their needs. All of my best marketing has come from building a product that is good enough to be recognized by my peers and promoted in public places. I attribute that to a heavy emphasis on good design, great UX, and choosing to focus on making a simple tool that does one thing incredibly well.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Flexibility. Having the extra income from Trianglify means that I have more freedom in the contracts that I choose to take on, time to work on personal projects that might someday turn into something bigger, and the option to just disappear off the grid for weeks at a time, whenever I want to.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
It’s really easy to get “siloed off” as a solo founder since you don’t always have easy access to colleagues and collaborators to bounce ideas off of. I’ve definitely gone way too far down the road of building certain things, only to discover major missteps after showing my project to someone else for the first time.
It’s a constant learning process, but I think one of the best things you can do to combat this is to actively seek out feedback from everyone around you, not just other entrepreneurs. Some of my best product advice has come from my friends, random strangers in coffee shops, and my mom! Don’t be afraid to put your work out there early and see what people have to say.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Indie Hackers, in particular, is a great source of ideas and feedback for small-to-medium sized projects. I also spend a lot of time outside of the typical “startup world” in my personal life – rock climbing, biking, doing freelance work as a photographer, and travelling in more rural areas of the US. I think that having access to all of these atypical perspectives really helps when it comes to finding unique niches in industries outside of the typical B2B software startup profile.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I’m seeing steady growth in my revenue as more people and publications become aware of my product. I’d like to continue pursuing more visibility for Trianglify, and reinvesting some of my revenue into experiments in marketing and new features. Fundamentally, though, I’d be thrilled if Trianglify in two years is the same as Trianglify today – a small, useful, profitable service that saves my customers time, and generates some income to help support my open source work and allow me to pursue future projects.