Product Alchemy: Launching my new design subscription

This month I launched Product Alchemy, a service for startups where they can request unlimited UX/UI tasks for a flat monthly subscription. In this post I go through what inspired me to launch this new business, what I've learned so far and what are my next steps.

By
Diego Menchaca
November 3, 2022
8
 min read
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What was my inspiration

Two things intersected within a few days. On a Friday in October, I read this post on Indiehackers by Davor Egyed. In it, he describes how he went from €0 to €18k MRR with his productised service in 90 days.

Subsequently, I read the book Company of One by Paul Jarvis. Paul’s core message is that companies can focus on quality rather than quantity by staying small. And that by remaining small, they gain autonomy and freedom.

“Real freedom is gained when you define upper bounds to your goals and figure out what your own personal sense of enough is.”

- Paul Jarvis

Davor’s business made sense to me, and Paul’s book resonated with my values.

I continued my research, learning about productised services and finding stories of other entrepreneurs building successful small companies with this same model online. Designjoy is the most notable one.

In a matter of hours, I had decided it. My next venture would have the following three ingredients:

  1. It will be a company of one
  2. It will be a productised service
  3. It will be focused exclusively on product design for tech startups

My path as a designer

I don’t have a formal design background but creating art and designing have been big passions since I can remember.

I loved drawing, playing with legos and building things as a kid. And as a teenager, I went all-in on designing in Photoshop and Illustrator.

When the time came to choose what career path to follow, like probably everyone, I wasn’t sure.

My main decision criteria was that I wanted a university degree that gave me flexibility. Graphic design matched my passions, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a designer day in and day out for the rest of my life.

That decision led me to get a B.A. Business and Administration at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile.

A few months after I graduated, I started Teamscope, a startup I ran for nine years and sold to StudyPages in September 2022.

May 2, 2013: This was the first ever drawing of Teamscope.

For the first three years of Teamscope, I hired freelance designers for our product and website. I had mixed experiences with some incredible designers that did fantastic work and other instances in which I wasn’t getting the quality I wanted — or probably wasn’t explaining my needs clearly.

In 2016 I decided to try doing all product and web design myself. I learned Sketch that same year and Webflow in 2017, and off I went. All these years, pushing Teamscope forward, I designed the whole site, every feature on the platform, corner radiuses, and drop shadow.

Did I enjoy it? I loved it. 

Product design was — by far — the most incredible thing I got to do at Teamscope.


What is Product Alchemy

Teamscope was a PhD on entrepreneurship — on steroids. I had to wear in those nine years a million hats and often at the same time. That meant, on the same day, doing sales, customer support, online marketing, reviewing legal contracts, etc.

As I write the new chapters of my professional life, I’ve decided to focus on a small subset of skills, eradicate all multi-tasking and one thing at a time by daily mantra. I want to go from being a T-shaped professional to a specialist, and the skill I have chosen is product design.

This leads me to launching Product Alchemy, a design service for startup founders. With Product Alchemy, you can request unlimited UX/UI tasks for a flat monthly subscription and cancel anytime.

Product Alchemy is an agency of one. I will be the only employee on the payroll and will outsource specific things to other designers, like illustrations or SVG animations.

Included services

I envision Product Alchemy as a one-stop shop for all UX/UI needs a founder may have. My services include:

Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) is the central brain of a product. When defining a product’s IA, I focus on three things: entities, the hierarchy between those entities and how the user should navigate between those entities. When a product is tough to explain, this often is caused by an information architecture that is too complex. To create a simple-to-use product, start by defining a lean information architecture and one that users can explain to each other in a few seconds.

Rapid prototypes

I make rapid prototypes on paper with marker sketches. The power of rapid prototypes is that they are cheap to make and iterate, and they open up the discussion and encourage new questions around a new feature. By loading paper sketches on Figma, I can easily make them interactive in just a few minutes.

User research

User research is the study of a user’s needs and pain points. I do user research by having in-depth interviews with users, providing unmoderated tests with Maze and reading negative reviews from users. User research is where the million-dollar insights come from and is fundamental to creating a delightful product experience.

High-fidelity mockups

User interface design is a core aspect of product design. Figma is my go-to tool for UI design, and I use UI kits like Untitled UI and Relume Library to save time and speed up my work. I also use Webflow to create mockups. Webflow in Nov 2022 released Devlink, which opens up unseen potential for product designers.

Design systems

A design system is a collection of components and guidelines that team members can use to create new products. A sound design system has to have as few components as possible. A large design system may give more expression, but it will take more time for team members to learn how to use it.

A/B testing

A/B testing, aka “split testing”, is a method of testing variations of app interfaces to see which one has the best business outcome. Common use cases for A/B tests are testing the CTA button with different labels and experimenting with different layouts.

What I’ve learned so far

It’s been a few weeks since I launched Product Alchemy, and I’ve had a blast.

Below are things that have worked and those that didn’t:

Pros and cons of async work

I love async work. The more async work a customer allows me to do, the more engaged I am and the higher quality of my work. With that said, from the feedback I’ve gathered from my first customers, a 100% async service may not work for all. As I advance, I will keep this service essentially async but have the flexibility for a weekly call, especially during a customer’s first month.

Offering free work to attract leads

I’m offering a 7-day free trial and spreading the word via Twitter and Linkedin quite aggressively about this free offering. That marketing hook is bringing a steady influx of inbound leads, and people are very open to referring and spreading the word for me. I plan to continue providing the free trials as they are a great lead magnet.

One mistake I’ve made is not asking clients in the free trial to start the free trial subscription via Stripe. I didn’t push too hard for that because I didn’t want to turn them off. 

Asking clients that want a free trial to enter their credit card details is a good move because it makes the experience more authentic. Moreover, if they convert, Stripe will handle the charge automatically, and I won’t have to chase them to convert. 

Using twitter for finding leads

I’ve had a Twitter account since 2012. I used it to talk about my work with Teamscope and practically didn’t use it for the last three years. I’ve now gone back to Twitter, and it’s an excellent place to connect with potential clients and spread the word. The downside I’m seeing on Twitter is that it can be addictive and very distracting for work. To mitigate that, I’m using the Chrome extension News Feed Eradicator, which I highly recommend.

The opportunities that the economic downturn is opening up

Every economic downturn or crisis opens up opportunities. Many companies that have implemented hiring freezes are resorting to consultants and freelancers. Startups with a limited runway are looking for ways to keep fixed costs as lean as possible. The dire economic landscape is a ripe moment for freelancers to create innovative business models.

While being a freelancer or a design agency isn’t new, offering it with a subscription model attracts much attention.

My next steps

I’m a person that highly values autonomy, having control over time and working with purpose and direction.

I dread multi-tasking and chaotic environments with a lack of structure and organisation. These needs are personal, and others may not care about them, but taking ownership of them is fundamental to my happiness.

Product Alchemy allows me to connect with my creative side, work with talented founders and do it in a way that suits my sanity.

Design subscriptions are picking up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see an avalanche in the new year of professionals across disciplines offering their services on a subscription-bases.

Paul Jarvis, in his book, promotes something that I think is brilliant: that everyone sees themselves as a company of one, not an employee. We take ownership of our purpose and how we want to work and understand that no one in this world will look out for our best interests but ourselves. I launched Product Alchemy because it answers my deep existential questions about what I want to work on and how I can best deliver it.

Diego Menchaca
Product Designer
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