Hi makers! Today we're interviewing Philip Baretto, a maker building tiiny.host–a simple hosting website for developers and freelancers.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a software engineer by trade, I studied Computer Science in London back in 2009. After university, I joined one of the big banks in London, but I always knew I wanted to launch a start-up at some point. I was working there but also working on apps and products, eventually leaving to work on my own start-up full-time.
The first startup was in the legal space, with a proper team of engineers and everything (the typical startup mentality). That didn't work out after a couple of years, but along the way and with a couple more jobs within tech I learned how to build great products and honed my web development skills.
In the past year, I've worked on Tiiny.host, which was an idea that stems from my work in these previous companies. I used to set up static websites and served their frontends for all of these companies through cloud services. I eventually realized how easy and cost-effective these setups were, but it's only that way if you figure out and understand how to set these things up.
There's a lot of configuration steps for hosting static sites, so I wanted to see if there was a way to automate all of this and expose it through an easy, accessible solution.
Tiiny.host was born back in November 2019, and I've been growing the roller-coaster experience ever since. We recently hit $500 MRR.
How was the experience of building your first, legal industry startup?
Building that startup was my first role outside of a big, corporate environment. I went from, you know, a company with thousands of engineers to just having zero and building everything from scratch.
In a nutshell, we were developing an analytics product for a legal firm. The goal was to help legal firms and lawyers find out how much time they're working on specific clients. A legal firm would typically work with many clients at once, and they would charge accordingly based on how many hours they've worked with them. The space was very archaic (and kinda still is), it involved using manual timers to figure out those numbers.
We built an automated solution that basically sat on their machine and figured out the time based on the documents you were working on. That was a really great experience, I learned about how to hire, deploy to web and build a SaaS application. Building a team, building a product and making sure that's moving together in a good way. I definitely grew the most in that year.
The product existed, but the business side was moving quite slow, so I set myself a one-year target whether I wanted to continue working on it. It just wasn't taking off as quickly for me to be involved.
How do you feel that experience has impacted your more independent startup efforts?
One of the things you see in startups and indie hacker projects is the lack of marketing efforts and feature/scope creep. We didn't do as much marketing efforts as we should've from day one. We were feeling that we weren't ready to go live without clients and needed to build more and more until we got to that point.
With Tiiny.host, I realized I could get something live in about two to three weeks. I tried to do the opposite of my previous experience with startups.
Do you have any open stats to share for Tiiny.host?
We're at $500 MRR right now and seeing around 300-400 visitors a day, with over 12-13k websites uploaded since day one. The growth has been really great lately: it's been quite slow at the beginning, but it skyrocketed mainly due to the SEO marketing efforts.
What were those initial days like, how'd you start spreading word?
Communities were a big part of it, I think. Indie Hackers, Reddit, and other platforms. The first 300 users came from these communities.
It really was a matter of going around and spreading the word of "I built this thing". After the first 200 users, there was a push on many different things such as content marketing, SEO, YouTube videos, Product Hunt. All of this compounded into the current growth momentum.
What tactic has yielded the most?
It's definitely been SEO for me. If you asked me four-five months ago, I wouldn't have said that, but it's surprising how well it works. If you know Sabba from Veed.io, he taught me many of the techniques and tricks they employed right at the beginning of their product. A lot of the growth you see now is purely from Google.
There's no silver bullet to it, though: the strategy that's been super powerful is figuring out what people would actually use your product for. Being a bit creative about what people will Google, using tools such as Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, etc.
With those tools' metrics, you can figure out search difficulty, keyword difficulty, as well as how much people are paying for those keywords. You want to find low hanging fruit: that is, phrases or keywords which are very low difficulty (not a lot of competition on them). After that, I research about five-ten ideas around those keywords: things like "how to host HTML file", "zip file hosting", etc. From that point, I start building landing pages for those keywords which become funnels for the homepage.
What's the stack?
It's pretty simple. We run React on the frontend, Node on the backend. We use AWS to create this environment where you can host websites: S3, EC2, CloudFront. It's optimized to help you get that website live in seconds.
How was the process to achieve that product-market fit?
In past startups, I had so much of a vision of the product I wanted to build that it alienated many users and use-cases. For Tiiny.host I really didn't know who would use it and anyone could pick it up and use it for whatever they needed. I'd let people upload whatever content they want.
To this day, I still regularly see what people upload and that helps me get a feel for what kind of uses there are. The demographic turns out to be students, freelancers, developers prototyping and the product is starting to make sense for people who simply want a less technical way to host websites. Most of our users want to upload and edit a website quickly.
Across these demographics, you start to see common patterns, and that's where the new features come from. You also start receiving feedback from users wanting new things, and build what has the most demand and is likeliest to move the needle forward.
Where is Tiiny.host going next?
It aligns with the feedback I'm getting and what's next for the platform. The core principle and vision is to make things as simple and quick as possible, so something we really want to do is to allow people to edit the files online. Suppose you want to make a small change, you have to edit the file, reupload... Making it even faster by going into Tiiny.host to make changes quickly is a big next step, alongside enabling making complex stuff on the web really simple and accessible.
As a final question, what music motivates you?
Good question! I'm quite diverse in the types of music I listen to. When I'm really trying to program and focus, I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks and put them on the background. It's quite dramatic most of the time, so it really helps me feel something while I code: it's not too distracting to take my mind out of the code.
It's really a diversity in music for me.
Hey all. This interview was really fun to conduct: Philip is an incredibly hard working indie maker and listening to his journey building Tiiny was nothing short but inspiring.