Today’s edition of Pro Interviews features Antoine Minoux. As an entrepreneur, Antoine understands what it takes to grow a business from the ground up. In this Pro Interview, he tells us how he turned his concept into reality and about the startup scene in Latvia.
Pagezii — Antoine, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Antoine — I’m a UI/UX designer by profession with a passion for product design. I started designing websites at the age of 14 and haven’t looked back since then. After graduating, I moved to Latvia to work for a French company established in the Baltics. A few years later, I went on freelancing full-time while developing projects on the side.
Pagezii — What is VoilaNorbert and how did you get the idea to develop it?
Antoine — VoilaNorbert is an app that helps you guess the email address of people in an organization. I developed it working with my brother-in-law, Cyril, who happens to be a super kickass developer.
At that time, we were trying to promote another product of ours. To do this, I built a targeted email list of individuals by myself – 100% manually. It was a painful and fastidious process. I showed my system to Cyril and asked if it were possible to automate? And within 3 days we had our MVP!
Brand-wise, we wanted to give the tool a personality, so we tried to come up with a name that sounded like a butler. A butler that finds the emails for you.
Norbert was not that used, so we went for it. We added “voila!” to add a sense of simplicity that reflected the UI at this time, and to be able to buy a .com domain. Norbert.com is probably a five figure domain… something we definitely couldn’t afford as we bootstrapped the entire thing.
Pagezii — How did you get around turning your conceptual idea into your app?
We built Norbert in the leanest way possible
Antoine — We built Norbert in the leanest way possible. I designed everything in the browser and iterated as we went. This style of development is only possible in a two man team and definitely not scalable.
We had no office, we did everything from my parent’s house. Bootstrapped, I tell you. It was fun, but pretty hard. We had to scrap entire features that we’ve worked a few days on just because we realized later on that it was not that great anymore.
Since we are both “technical” and delivering direct value to the product, it was very rewarding to think of a feature in the morning and see it working by the time we left our desks in the evening.
Pagezii — You’re a Designer by trade – How did your expertise help build your app?
Antoine — From the start, I really wanted to have one of the best and easiest tools to use. Great design is incredibly hard. I think the best decision we made was to do everything from scratch. We didn’t use a pre-made design framework. We developed a custom grid. We just did everything custom-made for the product.
Starting from a blank page just gives tons of freedom in terms of UI and UX, but it’s also not that great when it comes to designing an MVP. It’s definitely not the leanest approach you could find… I’d recommend that only when you have a designer full-time on the project, or as a co-founder. In later stages, it’s fine to start from scratch.
Product design is not only in the details.
Because I wanted this fine level of details, I did all the front-end development myself. I don’t particularly believe that all UI designers should code, but I think they should know how to. In the end, it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
I had heated debates with Cyril about whether or not we really needed this particular transition or if another particular thing was just not overkill. I think developers have the natural reflex to try to get to something that “just works” as soon as possible. For example, I see tons of services that just don’t have a proper onboarding process, while this would probably be the most important thing to consider when designing your product. Product design is not (only) in the details.
Pagezii —What were some of the “growth hacking” challenges you faced as a startup?
Deliver an amazing product experience
Antoine — Norbert is a bit special in terms of marketing. Our most valuable customers already knew about email outreach strategies even before signing up on the tool. We’ve had the idea to write an e-book explaining the value you can get from the tool, but never got the time and energy to get around to it.
For the time being, we just focused on building a great product. It’s a rather nice approach, because when you do, people write about you. We were posted on Product Hunt by someone who found Norbert useful and got amazing traction from that.
We were bootstrapped and profitable from day one. We didn’t need funding then and we don’t search for it now. We like being masters of our destiny and we don’t require extra cash to be able to scale.
I think that’s a rule of thumb. No matter how much exit-intent popups, email courses, drip campaigns or free t-shirts you giveaway, your customers will judge you on the quality of your product. If it’s good, chances are they will tell their friends and colleagues about it. That’s the best growth hacking strategy I’d recommend for early stage startups. Deliver an amazing product experience.
Pagezii — That sounds amazing – and to finish things off, how is the startup scene in Latvia?
Antoine — Latvia is fantastic. It’s an amazing place to be a startup founder right now. There is access to a talent pool like no other. People are educated and smart. There are tons of events in the region and government initiatives are there to push ventures further. The Baltics are definitely a space to look forward to in the next few years with Estonia leading the pack.
With the rise of digital nomadism and the ever expanding access to cheap transportation, I think these “country-per-country” considerations will slowly fade away. I haven’t stayed in the same country for more than 6 months in the past 4 years. Discovering new places is key to always renew yourself and broaden your spirit. Never go the same path twice.
Pagezii — Antoine’s success as a startup founder provides invaluable lessons for all entrepreneurs. Thank you, Antoine, for sharing your experiences.