02 Oct 2017

Belle is on board

As of today, Belle is a full-time Hello Code employee, finally being paid for her hard work. It's been a long road to get here, and I want to celebrate by looking back.

How we got here

Belle and I started working on Exist way back in July 2013. By March 2014, we were ready to reveal ourselves to the world and start taking its money. We launched with a Kickstarter-like campaign, but failed to hit our ambitious goal that would fund us both to work on Exist full-time for a year. Undaunted, we both continued to work on Exist part-time and split its income — I freelanced, and Belle quit her job as Buffer's first content marketer so she could freelance and spend time on Exist too.

Early on, we thought we wanted to "go big" with the backing of venture capital, but after we couldn't get anyone interested, we changed tack. We were still undaunted. But now we were bootstrappers, indies, doing our own thing without VC funding or VC opinions.

The plan, from this point, was always to build up two full-time salaries as quickly as possible. Neither of us wanted a day job, but money was a necessity. So we continued to work for the man part of the time, on our baby part of the time, and kept splitting the income.

By early 2015 it was clear the Exist was a real thing that people liked, and it needed more love than we were able to provide in our current setup. We decided, with heavy hearts (but still undaunted), to end our income-splitting arrangement and start putting it all towards paying one of us. As the person in charge of 90% of the development at the time, I was the recipient. By June 2015, almost a full two years since we started, I was finally able to quit freelancing and earn a very meagre, below-the-poverty-line income exclusively from Hello Code. A big milestone for me! Belle took a full-time content job with Ghost the next month that would support her now-unpaid work on Exist, as she continued her role as marketer and nascent iOS developer. She had also accrued a large tax debt from her previous jobs to sort out, and needed to, paradoxically, focus on earning lots of money to pay off the large amounts she'd previously earned.

This situation was far from ideal. Belle was feeling the emotional burden of being co-founder of a business that still couldn't pay her. She yearned for the sweet release from her other work, and the unburdening of two jobs' worth of pressure.

I felt the pressure of not growing Exist as fast as needed, and built Larder and then Changemap to attempt to provide enough income for Belle. Turns out, this doesn't work unless you have the time and will to market heavily, and without a huge marketing push Larder didn't bring in many dollars. (Changemap is still officially unlaunched.)

Still, undaunted, Belle continued to work on Exist throughout 2016, while freelancing again, and built up the iOS app into the Apple Health-importing powerhouse it is today.

Finally, at the turn of the new year, Exist's fortunes were looking up. Its income had been growing steadily, and buoyed by our post-Christmas boost, was paying me an above-the-poverty-line salary. It was time to think about being poor again and splitting that with Belle, who was more than ready.

We made a plan. If Exist kept growing, and we cut our expenses even more, we would have enough and could affort to return to poverty-line salaries by the end of the year. Belle had tired of freelancing and was working at RescueTime as a content marketer, but by July, we were pretty sure she wouldn't be there too much longer. As rent was our biggest expense, we began looking for a tolerable dump cheap house in the outer suburbs that would get us through.

In August our move was completed and now, at the end of September, Belle is free. Today she'll receive her first pay from Hello Code in over two years. Since we launched, we've outlived a bunch of lesser competitors, freaked out about our direction and plans a lot, been both well-off and pretty poor, and in spite of it all, just kept working really hard to get where we wanted to be. And it paid off.

Here's to the next four years of Exist, in which we make enough money to be comfortable and stop blogging about money. Welcome, Belle, and I'm sorry it took this long, but I'm really glad we made it.

Belle is on board The model after the photographer told her she was now a Hello Code employee