Ukrainian single-handedly creates Photopea, “free Photoshop,” and makes $1M per year

In 2016, Ukrainian Ivan Kutskir launched the web application It is an advanced image editor that works in the browser and is completely free. As of today, the product brings Ivan $1 million per year. Notably, Kutskir has no office, no employees, and no other must-have attributes of a business – he does everything on his own.

AIN.UA has compiled a brief history of Kutskir and his project, based on open sources.


A bit of a biography

Ivan Kutskir is 30 years old. He was born in Ukraine but moved to the Czech Republic in 2002.

“I was born in Ukraine and lived there until I was 11. I have very fond memories of it. I read and speak Ukrainian well, but I am already struggling with typing in Cyrillic because I have never used it: when I was living in Ukraine, there were no computers or smartphones. At least once a year, I come to Zakarpattia, where my grandparents live. And last summer, I visited Kyiv for the first time in my life,” Ivan said in a commentary to AIN.UA.

Picture courtesy of the interviewee for AIN.UA

After finishing school, Ivan received a master’s degree in theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence in Prague.

Before Photopea, Ivan was involved in the development of flash games that infested the Internet in the early 2000s. Such games were monetized by displaying banner ads in them. In the future, his deep understanding of this monetization model would stand Kutskir in good stead for his graphics web editor.

In his work, Ivan was using Photoshop a lot and came to know it really well. At some point, he wondered if he could parse .psd files in the browser. He created a simple web tool that allowed to open a .psd and download all layers separately. That was just the beginning: the programmer got very enthusiastic about developing a free Photoshop analog that would work entirely in the browser.

At the time, Kutskir was working on 20 other projects. However, Photopea was the most pleasant to work on, so he decided to focus on it. “ I know I’m building a unique tool, and it motivates me to continue,” he told Lunadio in an interview.

Photopea: from $0.0 to $1M per year

Ivan started working on the Photopea project 7 years ago, and he started to monetize it 4 years ago. Now, the application has become his main source of income: during 2020, Ivan made $500,000 off Photopea.

Photopea has three sources of income:

  • almost 90% of the money comes from displaying ads in the application
  • there are also premium subscriptions that users can buy to use Photopea without seeing any advertisement
  • the licence sale: Photopea can be customized to your own project and integrated through an API. Kutskir charges monthly fees for such integrations

The startup’s revenue is growing steadily. Over the past 12 months, Ivan has earned nearly $1 million for the first time. He spoke about it in his commentary on Hacker News. Screenshots of his comments were published by the serial entrepreneur Pieter Levels, known for such projects as Nomad List and Remote OK.

“I love this project in so many ways: bootstrapped, no funding; vanilla, no frameworks; solo, no team – $1M/y revenue. Power of the internet and individual curiosity and persistence to just make something work. I use myself almost every day for years,” Level writes.

“When you start your own project, you never know if it will ever make $250k a year. But if you get hired, you can be quite sure that you will never make more than $250k a year,” Ivan notes.

He has managed to earn still more, and that without being hired. Photopea grew rapidly: in 2018, it brought in just $20,000 annually, whereas, in two years, this figure increased 25 times!

Diagram: Lunadio

No office, no employees, no marketing

Photopea currently has 300,000 active users per day. On average, they spend 45,000 hours a day on the app. However, Kutskir’s financial expenses to maintain the project are very modest: $45 a year for the server.

“It’s all rendered in the user’s browser. There is no database, no backend. I only pay for the hosting of Javascript scripts and static files.,” Kutskir said in an interview.

The project has no other expenses: no office, no employees. Ivan has been working on Photopea all these seven years alone.

In the beginning, I thought it’s a disadvantage. I didn’t want my customer to know I’m the only one working on this. I was afraid of their reaction when they would find out it’s only me using an old $500 notebook.

But over time, Kutskir’s opinion changed. He realized he shouldn’t be ashamed that no one helps him. On the contrary, it’s an advantage.

Picture courtesy of the interviewee for AIN.UA

Photopea also has no marketing budgets and no promotion strategy. Most people come by word of mouth, from organic search. Everything that Kutskir does is sharing new features on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and Hacker News from time to time.

Screenshot: Lunadio

Several years ago, Ivan published a project on Product Hunt and got absolutely no results. Last year, a random user of Photopea, who has only ten followers on the platform, reposted the project, and it immediately entered into the top 4 projects of the week with over 1,000 upvotes. That is why Ivan does not develop complicated marketing strategies – he uses a different approach for project growth.

“Start with a small product, and add more features on the go. I’ve learned it’s good to launch your projects or features before you are 100% satisfied with that. I still do that now. I’m not trying to do all things perfectly. I launch it as soon as it works, and then I wait for user feedback,” he told.

Kutskir collects requests for new features on GitHub. People use it to report bugs and make suggestions. Curiously enough, 80% of Photopea users have GitHub accounts just for this purpose. Ivan picks the most inspiring requests and starts to implement them.

There is no secret sauce behind it. It’s all about building what people want.