The esa way - Creating a Profitable Product from a Hobby Project

The esa way - Creating a Profitable Product from a Hobby Project

This is the slide deck which I presented at Tokyo Rubyist Meetup @trbmeetup

esa ( ) is a SaaS product in which you can share documents with your teammates in a wiki-like format, and is made with Rails.
We started esa as a hobby coding project four years ago. Now it has over 2,700 organizations and is profitable.
I'll introduce our way of turning a product from a hobby into a business, and how to increase collaboration between engineers.



October 03, 2018


  1. The esa way Creating a Profitable Product from a Hobby

    Project @ken_c_lo TAEKO AKATSUKA Tokyo Rubyist Meetup / Oct. 3, 2018
  2. !2 • TAEKO AKATSUKA • @ken_c_lo • @taea • Graphic/UI/UX

    Designer • Co-founder of esa LLC Who am I ?
  3. !3 RubyKaigi 2015 @Tsukiji

  4. !4 • esa LLC is a very small company. •

    1 designer (me) and 2 engineers. • There are only 3 people. • Founded at November 2014 • (Next month is our 4th anniversary ) • Our main service is About My Company
  5. About Have you ever heard about “esa” ?

  6. What is esa ? • “esa” is a SaaS product

    in which you can share documents with your teammates. • in a wiki-like format. • Various kinds of documents can be shared. • e.g. Manuals, Specifications, Idea notes, Reports, Diaries… • It can be written in Markdown. • It’s made with Rails.
  7. • including great and famous tech companies in Japan. More

    than 2,700 teams use esa!
  8. • A distinctive feature of esa is WIP (Work in

    Progress), • which shows other users documents that are still being worked on. • You can share imperfect documents with your teammate easily. • It fosters better collaboration by improving transparency of information in your team. Sharing Documents with WIP
  9. Sharing Documents with WIP 2 submit buttons❓

  10. Sharing Documents with WIP Save as WIP When you submit

    a WIP document, you can use this WIP button Ship It! When you submit a nearly completed document, you can use “Ship It!” button
  11. Sharing Documents with WIP • Title is grayed out •

    It can be seen from other team members • Push notifications are disabled at this time. (e.g. slack) • You can share the document without proactively letting others know. • Title is turned black • Now push notifications are enabled! • So your teammates will pay attention your update and read your document. WIP Ship It!
  12. • I'd like to talk about our way of turning

    a product from a hobby into a business, • and how to increase collaboration between engineers and designers. • I would be happy if I could encourage Ruby engineers who loves making products as a hobby through this presentation. Today’s Agenda
  13. The History of esa The story from starting as a

    hobby to becoming a business.
  14. • At a Hackathon in “P4D”, which is a Ruby

    community, in May 2014. • @fukayatsu (Engineer) and I started building • esa team was only 2 people then. • Although this Hackathon was only 2 days, we built esa’s first usable version. esa was born 4.5 years ago
  15. • P4D = Programming for Designers • P4D is a

    community in which engineers and designers teach each other their own skills. • Ruby engineers teach designers how to use Git or Rails. • Designers also teach engineers how to design. • P4D sometimes held hackathons in which a pair of an engineer and a designer make a product in a day or two. About P4D
  16. • After the hackathon, We had continued to develop and

    deploy esa everyday. Developing esa Everyday +, • esa was improved day by day… It was so fun!
  17. • We continued to USE esa every day. • With

    several of our friends, we were sharing diaries in which we wrote what we experienced or thought every day to each other. • Improving esa, it made my friends who were using esa happy, and it motivated us to improve it more Using esa every day ✏
  18. • Some companies asked us to let them use esa.

    • So, we released esa to dozens of companies as closed beta version. • We were not a corporation at that moment, and only provided esa as a hobby. • We started to consider founding a company for esa. Limited Release of closed βversion 4 months after from we started
  19. • Finally, esa LLC was founded in Nov. 2014 Founded

    esa LLC 6 months after from we started
  20. • Finally, We launched esa to the public and started

    billing. Launched and Started Billing 8 months after from we started
  21. • esa became profitable enough to live for us off

    it, for just 2 people. • And now, our users and sales increase steadily Being Profitable 2 years after from we started Subscription →
  22. • 3rd member @ppworks (Engineer) joined us! • Now, we

    are 3-person team 3rd Member joined us + 3 years after from we started
  23. • Over 2,700 organizations are using esa. • esa came

    to be known among the people who are working in tech jobs in Japan. • Subscribed users and organizations increase steadily every month. • And we continue to develop esa so happily Now, 
 Everything is going well 4.5 years after from we started
  24. The esa Way The most important things for us

  25. • We started from just a hobby, • from a

    tiny product, • from a small team (only 2 people) • and from small range of target users (for only my friends). • We didn't found a company in the beginning. • We didn't aim for profit by itself from the beginning. Start Small
  26. • I was a freelance designer before founding esa, •

    so I continued my previous jobs while developing esa. • @fukayatsu (engineer) was a full-time employee of another company until we released esa to the public. • He continued esa development as a side project for a while. • In the beginning, we were developing esa in our spare time or on the weekend and we kept other sources of income. Keep other sources of income
  27. • Our team members are only people who write code.

    • We use external services for annoying tasks for us: e.g. accounting or paperwork. • We depend on • SaaS (for accounting, management, selling), • Adviser accountants, • Attorneys … Use External Services
  28. • We deploy, monitor, and process invoices every month with

    ChatOps. • Even our payroll transfers use a chat command • Let the machines do as much as possible, because we want to slack off • (It’s thanks to engineers. I did nothing about it ) Automate Routine Work
  29. • We respect each other’s ideas, thoughts, sensibilities, and feelings.

    • Designer can also write code and communicate with code. • We improve UX agilely by using a real product. Collaboration between Engineers and Designers +,
  30. Making a concept • Concept word: “Glowing Documents”

  31. Making a concept • We create a concept which defines

    the reason for existence of the product. • esa is created thoroughly based on the concept which is reflected in UI and UX. • esa users can enjoy its pleasant and comfortable worldview which comes from the concept, not only just using it. • I think it's the most important thing in the power of design.
  32. The Beloved Mascot a ⒡㱿⒡   esa bird

  33. The Beloved Mascot a ⒡㱿⒡   • We've created

    and are selling a lot of kinds of swag. • We think "Kawaii" is very important
  34. Developing with Users • We have a feedback form for

    the users on bottom right of every page.
  35. Developing with Users • We usually reply to user feedback

    in just five mins. • When receiving user feedback, sometimes we fix or improve within one hour if the issue can be resolved quickly. • Such a quick response often makes users happy. • Sometimes our users tweet or blog about our services and mention about that quick response. • It leads to a good reputation for our services. • We think users’ opinions are very important because we are a very small three-person team.
  36. No Online Ads • We've never placed advertisements online because

    we don't like them. • So far, esa was spread only by word of mouth, blogging, or tweeting by our users. • We sometimes sponsor tech-conferences which we love. • Or, we sometimes give a presentation in conferences or meetups just like this presentation, • so then it's also a good chance to let everyone know about esa.
  37. Free for Students or OSS • We also provide an

    Academic Free Plan for students • and Tech Community Free Support Plan for OSS or non-profit tech communities. • It is also the token of appreciations for OSS and tech communities. • If you run a OSS or non-profit tech community, please ask me to use the free support plan.
  38. Don't change the world immediately • First of all, we'd

    like to make people who are close to us or make ourselves happy. • Probably, we are not a ordinary start-up. • So, we don't aim for too rapid growth. • We do things at our own pace.
  39. Just for Fun • esa was originally started from a

    hobby product. • esa was produced from our thought that coding for problem-solving or creation is so fun. • Even now we've became profitable, we think fun is the most important. • We believe that the motivation is the source of all creativity. • We refuse to do unenjoyable things just for the sake of profit.
  40. Thanks to Ruby • Rubyists are so nice, • they

    welcomed me into their nice community although I’m a designer. • Ruby and Rubyists taught us the fun of writing code and creation. • Ruby is the origin of everything for us.
  41. Thanks to Ruby I was so glad to tell Matz

    at RubyKaigi “Thank you!
 We were able to change our life completely thanks to Ruby!”
  42. Thank you for listening I would be so glad if

    this presentation of our story could encourage you. And thank you also @pwim! 
 I’d really appreciate your help with my presentation slide.