AppSeed — An intro, a 2019 status, and further steps
My name is Adrian (aka Sm0ke on Twitter and Dev.to) and I’ve built AppSeed — a platform that helps developers to code their products much faster with less manual work. At the moment this article is written (30.03.2020), the platform has been used by 1500+ registered developers and more than 200 apps, generated by the platform, are released on Github under permissive licenses (MIT, LGPL) used by many developers across the globe. The service was LIVE on 1. Jan. 2019 after one year of incubation on my Linux laptop.
What is AppSeed
The whole idea behind this business is fairly simple:
Any UI Kit or design should be converted into usable, tested Web Apps coded in different languages and modern patterns using automation tools, … FAST (minutes or seconds).
AppSeed basically aims to cut the manual work usually involved in web development using automation tools and boilerplate code. When a new project is started, the developer does this repetitive work over and over:
- Integrate the UI (this takes days to extract the layouts, components..)
- Code the basic modules, using the best practices
- Prepare the app with necessary scripts and configuration to be deployed LIVE
The value-added provided by AppSeed it’s a sum-up of all those steps. The flat, lifeless UI is automatically processed using an HTML Parser (in-house developed tool) that prepares the UI files to become production-ready for many technologies: Php, Python, React, Vue.
All those files and components are injected into pre-built starters and the final products are tested and ready to become real products. Using this simple workflow, more than 200 web apps were released in 2019 as freebies in the open-source ecosystem via Github, the main growth pillar for the whole project. Samples can be downloaded and used directly from Github, no account required:
- 30+ Free Admin Panels — coded with basic modules and deploy scripts
- SSG Starters — static apps starters, a trendy technology
- JAMstack — another game-changer tech
This list, quite short at this moment, will become larger once the technologies implemented by AppSeed will increase. For instance, we are prototyping other technologies like GatsbyJS, Svelte, Tailwind and Bulma CSS, based on their adoption trends — more will come.
For more information, feel free to access the platform, the blog or chat with me on Twitter.
AppSeed Status — 2018 to present
As mentioned, the service was LIVE at 1.Jan.2019 and since then, the growth was quite a road for us. The product timeline (first time published here) was done with many ups and downs, I think the usual “road” that every startUp should walk on to become a sustainable business.
- Early 2018 —start the project with Teo Deleanu, the AppSeed co-founder
- 2018 — Prototype the idea and try to generate minimal starters. We had basically nothing, besides a crazy idea and some unstable tools and scripts.
- Mar.2018 — Get help from Techcelerator in a 3mo program, quite useful at that moment. I have a huge thanks to the whole team, especially to Cristina — the program manager.
- Aug.2018 — Quit my job, after 12yrs in the corporate field. My last task in this life as an employee was to provide Tech Lead over a team of hard-working engineers (miss you guys) somewhere in Bucharest.
- Aug.2018 — Funded by GapminderVC with $25k for 6% from the company and start the development with a nice team of 6 people, organized chaotically by me, mostly.
- 2018.[Aug — Dec] timeframe was amazing, I learned a lot and push the product further but not as much as our investors expected. The product didn’t get much traction during those months, and the second $75k investment round didn’t land in our bank accounts.
- 01.Jan.2019— No money in the bank, the team was reduced at two guys only, me and Teo (part-time contributor).
This was the bottom point for the whole project. The last mail sent to the investors (8.Dec.2018) where I’ve signaled the imminent death of the whole project had no echo. We were alone with our laptops, somewhere in Romania.
Jan.2019 — A little bit of luck
In January.2019 AppSeed was accepted in a startUp program supported by Telekom and got funded with $6k (no equity). That was an oxygen bubble that provides us the fuel to sustain, at least the logistic costs for servers and some super light development outsourced to a few contractors. During that month, I was starting to build the AppSeed marketplace, being aware of the fact that I need a stable sales channel with 100% control over it.
01.Mar.2019 — The Marketplace is up
The first release of the platform was ready around 1.March.2019 with a disastrous UI/UX built be me. No money to promote anything, first open-source super simple starters were published on Github.
March.2019 — Team Update
Unfortunately, Teo decides to move further with other personal projects and AppSeed, become suddenly a one-man show project.
March.2019 — God is up there, watching Netflix
The first good news for AppSeed was the agreement with Creative-Tim, a Romanian-based web agency and a powerful player in the UI Themes market. After a 1-to-1 meeting in Bucharest with Alex Paduraru, the founder of Creative-Tim, I got access to the whole premium UI kits bundle and the permission to generate the first bundle with premium and free products, listed in the AppSeed marketplace.
That was huge, in terms of business traction for the project. For newcomers, Creative-Tim has more than 1mil (yep, a MILLION) registered users into the platform and products listed in Bootstrap and the official Vuejs marketplace.
2019 — Growth Strategy
With a $0 ad budget, the main strategy was, of course, to use organic growth through articles, topics, and interactions on relevant communities related to my business persona: solo developers and small web agencies. After a short scan over the tech market, I’ve built a list of relevant platforms for my business:
- Dev.to — this platform has a super nice and supportive community
- @Reddit — is another super powerful medium IMO. Reddit is full of hacky guys and experienced engineers.
- Github — After realizing the power of this platform, all my BitBucket repositories were migrated to Github
- Google — powerful and scary at the same time
I will say a few words about each, how I get traffic or knowledge to push forward the project.
All open-source projects developed by the AppSeed platform lands at some point in an article on Dev. Samples:
- I’ve built 100+ opensource apps with automation tools — 30k views. The article was translated in Russian and featured on HABR. My website got a nice traffic spike.
- Admin Dashboards — Open Source and Free — 71k views, listed on the first page by Google for keyword “admin dashboards”
- React Dashboards — Open-Source and Free — 58k views, #1 in Google for the keyword “react dashboards” — Sorry Colorlib & the gang.
- Flask Dashboards — Open-Source Boilerplates — 28k views — #1 in Google
- Django Dashboard — Learn by Coding — 20k views — #2 in Google
The list is quite long, and every article published on Dev got some traction for the business. My account will hit 20k followers in a few days. I’ll drop here some numbers:
Github helps my business in two ways:
- Connect my products with relevant consumers — the solo developers
- Force Google to take into account what I have to offer
The service traction was great and become visible after release for more than 50 free apps. Currently, the AppSeed Github account has more than 200 followers and some nice numbers around this metric:
I will not tell the whole story regarding the Github growth strategy, being a business secret, but I will drop bellow a suggestive picture:
- AppSeed Repo listed on the first page in Google for “nodejs starter” keyword.
Google — Such a scary MF…
I realized somewhere in the middle of 2019 that Google is something super powerful, and did some hacks to use his power and drive traffic to AppSeed. Google for me, is like that kid from Matrix, who teaches Neo that “there is no spoon”.
It took me a while to learn how to communicate with Google. Of course, it was no budget to pay a good SEO consultant, but that was a good thing after all and super rewarding to see the results in the charts a few months later.
- Organize the links an AppSeed to reflect a simple and logical structure — This was done with many 301 redirects to use old links popularity into the new structure.
- Update the README for all public projects to be SEO friendly and link logically with AppSeed content
- Buy satellite domains like admin-dashboards.com and release as open-source projects to control some small parts of the market related to the AppSeed products.
The charts, after Google, understood my plan. The numbers are still low, but the trend is up, and this is super cool.
Users growth 284%, Session Growth 336%
Source of Traffic Growth
Active Users Growth
Nov.2019— First sale
After a long struggle (~= 2yrs) to put the service on the right track and built a real business, the first sale occurs on 8.nov.2019 and was amazing. Since that date, charts are going up for sales and traffic. I’ll drop below the PP sales report by country. Numbers are still small but provide enough rocket fuel to move on.
The current position was not possible without partners. This year we’ve signed contracts with web agencies, from different countries:
- Creative-Tim — Guys you rock! Thanks for the trust.
- CssNinja — they built a super nice Bulma CSS UI Kit
- ThemeKita —a small company with big ambitions.
- TeleportHQ — a WIP research program
- BootstrapDash —WIP to sign the papers, negotiations finished.