Welcome to the thirty-seventh edition of “Startup of the Week” which features many great startups and interviews with successful business heads. This week, I interviewed Martin LeBlanc, the founder and CEO of Iconfinder, a popular icon search engine.
I’ve asked Martin a series of questions about Iconfinder and tips for budding entrepreneurs. Have a read at what he had to say.
Simply, what does your business do?
Iconfinder is a place where designers and developers come to get some icons and then continue with their work. It’s very much a utility that the users integrate into their workflow.
How did the idea of Iconfinder come about?
While studying computer science and business administration I was working as a freelance web designer. Always optimizing the speed of finishing the tasks and getting the best end results, I had created quite a big collection of icons on my hard drive.
One of my courses was about databases and we were always asked to pick a company to do a case for. I asked my teacher if I could work for Iconfinder, a non-existing company at that time, and he approved it. He probably didn’t know that it was my own personal project.
I ended up working really hard on building a database that would be used as the foundation for the first version of Iconfinder. Six months later I had designed it and built the rest of the site and it was launched.
Did you have a business plan?
Not from the beginning. I knew instinctively that the service was scalable. There was nothing tied to a local presence. It was basically something that anybody in the world could access and use.
It wasn’t until 2011, four years after launching, that I did a business plan. The site had grown to more than a million unique users and I decided to join a competition for startups at our school.
What were the challenges you faced when creating Iconfinder?
For the first version, I was learning to do it all myself. Coding in PHP, creating an optimized database in MySQL, setting up the server with Apache. For many months, the site grew quickly and I had to constantly fix issues.
There isn’t a way to build such a site that both fits 1000 and 1 million users. It’s a very different way of building the site. I basically had to recode the whole thing in order for it to scale. Most importantly the database and caching had to be made so the site remained fast.
At the time I was a student, I earned very little from Iconfinder. I wasn’t interested in adding a lot of ads. I could have done that, but then the site would not have grown as quickly. Nobody likes ads. I had to continue working next to studying and building Iconfinder. For many years, that meant I was in school or worked all day and then worked on Iconfinder in the evenings and weekends.
What is the difference between you and your competitors?
I think we have a fairly good name and have always focused on being a utility and not getting in the way of the users. One important metric was always to reduce the number of clicks and keystrokes before you would download an icon.
Also, we take extra care of our contributors by providing them with a great commission and building sophisticated tools to analyze their sales data. We dedicate some time to coaching beginner designers, if their submissions need improvement, in order to match the standards of Iconfinder.
What were you doing before Iconfinder?
Studying and working as a freelance web designer and as a consultant.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t try to come up with a brilliant idea. Work hard and look for opportunities. If you, for example, are working as a consultant you will quickly see a lot of areas where a startup could fill a gap. If you are in school, get a job at a startup and learn as much as you can about doing budgets, raising money. Offer your help to nonprofit organizations and build a good network.
When you start your own company, focus relentlessly. Stop working on other things and channel all your energy into this project.
What is the one thing you think an entrepreneur should focus on that they may not find important?
It’s easy to get into the hype surrounding tech startups today. Building a company with a lot of hype around it and building a successful company are two very different things. I’ve seen CEOs receiving awards only to see their company flop completely the year after. You can easily create a facade of success these days.
The difficult part is building the team and a process, where you are all moving in the right direction, continuously improving and being better than your competitors at executing in everything from marketing, sales to development. I can’t overemphasize how important execution is.
“I can’t overemphasize how important execution is.” – Martin LeBlanc
There are so many examples of two companies with almost identical products, but one is winning. Often they have both created a fairly good product, but one of them is just relentlessly good at marketing, just cranking out great blog posts, being better at SEO, sending a better newsletter, having a stronger brand. Compare Mailchimp and Campaign monitor, Slack and Hipchat. It comes down to how they have executed on their idea.
In one word, describe your job?
Challenging and rewarding.
Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark
People: Ieva, Monica, Scott, Morten, Emil, Uche and myself.