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“Be a Doctor” : Grueling Growth, Discrimination and Rethinking My Startup [Journey in Coding] #5

Angus Cheng
June 27, 2024

Previous Post|A Cool Idea and Costly Lessons: The Roller coaster Ride of My App Development [Journey in Coding] #4

August 2021, Blogging Starts

Reducing Limits

At this point in time I was very generous with the free tier of the product. Anonymous (not logged in) users could convert 10 pages for free every 24 hours. Logged in users could convert 20 pages for free every 24 hours.

This meant users could log in, convert 20 pages and then log out and convert another 10. If they had 90 pages to convert they could get through them in 72 hours.

As a mean guy, with an eye on the dollar bills, I decided to cut the free tier limit. I cut it down to:

  • 1 page every 24 hours when not logged in.
  • 5 pages every 24 hours when not logged in.

Why so mean? Users were creating multiple accounts, so I wanted to make it more annoying for them to do so.

Error Reporting API

When something goes wrong in the backend, I write a record into the database. I check these errors to make sure the app is working properly. However I wasn’t doing this in the front end. So I created an API for the front end to send error reports to the backend.

Jacalyn Emails Me

One day I got an email from a user called Jacalyn. She wanted to know why something didn’t work. I have a look and see that she uploaded an image based PDF. This means the PDF has no text elements in it. It’s either a scanned bank statement, or some sort of annoying bank statement where they render out pixels instead of text elements.

I don’t really know why, but some banks like to protect their PDFs so that computer programs cannot extract the data. I call these banks scumbag banks.

Other banks like to put in little clues to help you extract the data from the PDFs. I call these banks nice guy banks.

Since Jacalyn’s document was a scanned PDF. I replied to her saying “I’m sorry we don’t handle scanned PDFs”. Then I stood up from my desk, put on some shorts, opened the door, got in the lift, pressed “G”, walked out the front of my building and started running from my house in Tin Hau to the Star Ferry Pier in Central.

Midway through the run I got this email from Jacalyn.

It’s nice that Jacalyn puts her sign off in a different font with a different colour. I like that.

I don’t know why, but reading the word devastated made me feel sad for Jacalyn. I did a little bit of thinking and then I thought “Maybe I could try to figure out a way to convert these scanned PDFs”.

I didn’t include it in the picture above, but Jacalyn had her phone number in her email signature. It looked like an Australian mobile phone number. So I called her.

“…Hello” she answers cautiously. It was 830 PM in Hong Kong, and 1130 PM where she was.

“Hi, I’m Angus, we’ve been emailing each other about the bank statement website”
“Where are you calling from”
“Hong Kong”
“Oh okay”

We then talked about her situation. She had a lot of clients that were sending her paper statements and getting through them manually would take her a very long time.

“I think I can process them, but I’ll need two weeks to get something ready. Can you wait that long”
“Yes yes yes!”.

For the next few days I mess around with Tesseract, an optical character recognition library and get something sort of working for scanned bank statements.

Started Blogging

I think I started blogging in 1998, in a class at school we were taught how to use a web builder created by homestead.com. I created a blog, and then forgot about it. Many many years later that blog is gone. Kind of sad really, it would be nice to read the blog posts I wrote when I was ten.

After that I had a blog on netfirms.com, that has also gone away but I still have the HTML files and flash animations from it. Then I had a wordpress blog at ballerindustries.com. One day I just didn’t feel like paying for it and it went away. That’s on the internet archive.

Around this time a friend of mine started blogging about how crypto exchanges work. He put a lot of work into his posts and a lot of people read them. I started to think “Maybe blogging is a good way to get people to use this Bank Statement Converter”.

I did some reading and decided “Yes, I will make a blog”. The first thing I wrote about was getting an upset email from Jacalyn.

End of Month Numbers

September 2021, A Strange Dinner

For some reason, Dad messaged me and told me he wanted to get dinner with Uncle Ken. Ken is very loosely related to me and my Dad.

Depressing Dinner with Ken 2007 Edition

The last time I saw Ken was in January 2007. At the time I was studying Computer Science at university and Ken was working for the Hong Kong government in some information technology related job.

Dad probably thought “Ah, the boy is a computer man, Ken is a computer man. I should introduce him to Ken to help him do business networking”.

We went to dinner somewhere in Wan Chai and immediately Ken didn’t believe that I was related to my Dad.

“But you don’t look like him at all? Danny are you playing a trick on me, is this one of your colleagues?”
“Ken, this is really my son okay?”
“...alright Danny, but I know you’re a trickster”

Ken talks about working in IT, he paints a bleak picture and spends the whole dinner trying to talk me out of it.

“Angus be a doctor instead, that’s much better”

I tell Ken I want to be a programmer and I want to work in Hong Kong when I graduate.

“Well that’s not going to work. Look I shouldn’t tell you this, but no one is going to hire you here. You’re half Chinese, which basically means not Chinese, and we don’t like to hire non Chinese people in Hong Kong”

I didn’t really believe what Ken was telling me, and there were lots of subtle signs that Ken was a bit of a loser. I’ve been to many dinners, but I’ll never really forget that one. Dad was hoping to help me with my career as a computer man, but instead some jerk tried to talk me out of the world of computers.

Depressing Dinner with Ken 2021 Edition

I don’t really know why Dad wanted to see Ken, and I didn’t really want to go. I didn’t like the guy the first time I met him and I was planning to never see him again.

We went over to Ken’s house for dinner, his Mum and Sister are there too. I can’t remember what we talked about but Ken asks me what I’m up to. I tell him I quit my job and I’m making a PDF converting app. I tell him it’s not really going very well, and then Ken just nods and talks about something else.

I zoned out a bit at the dinner and then I started thinking “Did Dad organize this dinner to tell me not to be like Ken? Am I on the path to being like Ken? Do I need to change something?”

I started thinking about stopping work on Bank Statement Converter and going back to working for a bank.

Turning Off Ads

Since launching I have brought in $6263 HKD in sales and I have spent $35,960 HKD on Google Ads.

I had to turn off the ads.

This was psychologically difficult to do. I knew that once I turned off the ads, traffic to the website would drop massively. On September 24 2021 I stopped running the ads.

The unique visitor count went from about 70 a day to 15 a day. I was expecting it to drop to 1 or 2 users a day, so in a way this was a good thing.

Hacker News Second Chance List

One day I got a bunch of OutOfMemoryErrors. I did some profiling and found that the app was allocating a ton of memory in certain situations. I did a bunch of stuff to reduce the memory usage. Since I had a blog I thought “people might be interested in reading what I did”. So I wrote a blog post about it.

I then submitted the post to Hacker News, and it got onto the front page. This led to a few days where I had hundreds of visitors. It also led to three new registrations. Loads of people read the blog post, but not many went and tried the app after.

Still it probably had a good impact on my Google search rankings.

End of Month Numbers

October 2021, Zero Ad Spend

Raising Prices

At this point, if you gave me $19.99 every three months, I would let you convert an unlimited number of PDFs. I was starting to think the pricing was too low. I raised it to $14.99 billed month or $89.99 billed yearly.

I had more than doubled prices and People didn’t seem to care. Good, more money for me.

Enter Eugenio

One day a man named Eugenio who works at a law firm in London emailed me. He complained that the text on my website was vague and he asked me a lot of questions. I replied to all his emails and there were a lot of them.

He liked the app, and he told me “Good job”. Then he bought a subscription. A few days later he said “Angus, this app is too cheap, you should charge me seat pricing”

I did some thinking and then figured out a way to let people buy multiple subscriptions so that they could add in other people they worked with. I told Eugenio and then he bought two more seats. Thank you Eugenio.

Eugenio could have shared his login credentials with his colleagues, but instead he decided to give more of his law firm’s money to me. Thank you Eugenio.

End of Month Numbers

Written by Angus Cheng (Link)

BankStatementConverter.com

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Writer

Angus Cheng
BankStatementConverter.com
|
CEO
Founder of BankStatementConverter.com