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Interview with Mario Cavalcanti (Fatpaint)

Fatpaint is a free online graphic design software (desktop publishing) and webshop. I interviewed Mario Gomes Cavalcanti, Founder and CEO of Fatpaint to find out more.

This interview is the first in a series of interviews with people working on interesting online projects. Big thank you to Mario for agreeing to the interview! Fatpaint doesn’t require registration and it’s been vastly populated with features and video tutorials.

How would you describe Fatpaint in under 50 words?

Fatpaint is a free online graphic design application (Desktop publishing software) with built-in tools for editing images/photos, drawing with vectors, painting with brushes on layers, making pages and layout, writing rich text and printing on customizable products such as on iPhone and iPad cases, t-shirts and so on.

How and when did you come up with Fatpaint?

I came up with an idea for making Fatpaint when I was on Vacation in my native country, Brazil, in 2002. At the time, web technology wasn’t good enough to accomplish what I wanted to do, so I waited, and started developing it back in 2005, when Flash 8 came out.

I wanted to create something that was different to what already existed, not just another Photoshop clone. I wanted to mix the world of desktop publishing with the world of Photoshop. But I was not counting on spending 5 yeas to develop the first version, I though it would take 2 years. It just kept growing and growing.

At one point we even started adding animation features into Fatpaint, but stopped because of the extra time it would take, but the animation stuff is still something we will add at some point, together with webpage creation features and export to Html5 format. Fatpaint already has the architecture and platform for building animation/webpage creation features. Then it will truly be an All-In-One application, and separate it self even more from the competition. The editor is only 900 kilobytes in size so, there is lots of room to add more stuff and our object oriented approach, makes it possible to keep adding features without clobbering up the user interface.

Has Fatpaint got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

We got plenty of feedback from various forums we wrote to, and the bottom line was that Fatpaint was to difficult to use, so most of our efforts has been in making the application easier to work with. It’s something we still are working on a daily basis.

We had a difficult first year and are still struggling to pay the bills and get the attention we fell we deserve. We did not have much success so far in getting attention from the media. It seems that there is not much interest in “online graphic applications” anymore, but Fatpaint is far from just being “another online photo editor“ so we hope that soon enough Fatpaint will be picked up by the news and go viral.

If we had a known company name behind us, such as Corel or Zazzle, we would not have such a hard time. These guys have millions of users and is exactly what we are trying to have. At the moment, we are not even generating enough income to pay for our 3 servers in Germany. Things are only starting to pick up now, but slowly. We are very far away from where I tough we would be at in terms of users, visitors and revenue.

But I think, we will do ok, I really think we have something unique and useful with Fatpaint, and as the software becomes easier to use on each new release, and internet speed and computers becomes faster and faster, time is on our side.

Yourself, Shahid Butt and Kenneth Christensen are the brains behind Fatpaint? How is work on development, promotion, video production and content split up?

The brains behind Fatpaint is just me. Shahid and Kenneth came onboard last year during the beta period. So far, I have been doing all the development, administration, promotion, video production, testing and content. Shahid is just an advisor and Kenneth just helps me with our Linux servers when there are any problems with them. So they only have a small percentage of the company.

I have set up a systems that is easy for one person to handle. When I need to release something new on the website, I just press 1 button. I developed an Ant build system for handling things.

When Fatpaint starts earning money, or we get some funding, I would off course like to have more people helping me out.

Has your initial vision changed since launch?

Yes, the first release of Fatpaint had a terrible design and was too difficult for most people to understand. So I have worked very hard on improving these things. No new features have been added though. The features you see now were already there a year ago. The only major new thing we added lately, is a better integration with Zazzle. Before, the user had to leave Fatpaint for seeing the product, now this is all done from within Fatpaint.

Fatpaint is available in English, Danish and Portuguese, what’s your first language and why did you go with these languages?

My first language is Danish. These 3 languages are the ones I understand, write and speak well. So when developing Fatpaint, I was writing text in these 3 languages simultaneously along the way.

Is Fatpaint bootstrapped or have you found funding? What are the advantages?

Fatpaint is not generating much revenue at the moment, but the good thing is that the only expenses I have are our 3 servers and living expenses. I have enough funds to continue another year or so but we will soon start looking for a partner/investor. We are planning a trip to Silicon Valley around June.

You make the claim that you are, “the only online desktop publishing software with built-in layered painting and vector drawing tools”, do you still believe this to be true?

Yes. I have not yet seem any other graphics tool, online or offline, with built-in editing of images/photos, drawing with vectors, painting with brushes on layers, making pages and layout, writing rich text and printing on customizable products.

The competition have some of these features split up in smaller apps, so they offer a suite of apps. We have it all in one executable file, 800 kb in size. And we will add more features such animation and webpage creation in the coming years.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Our target audience are consumers all over the world. We are giving people the tools for being creative with graphics and at the same time getting themselves popular products such as t-shirts, iPhone, iPad, mugs, sneakers, etc., with their graphics printed on it. These are products already being sold to consumers all over the world in huge quantities. We want to have a piece of that.

Who is your biggest competitor and what do you make of pixlr?

Our biggest competitors are Together with Pixlr, Sumopaint and others, these are very popular online applications and are so called “Photoshop clones”. These are nice apps for doing photo editing and painting single images. But they all miss the Desktop Publishing features, meaning, they don’t have page layout capabilities and object oriented approach used by desktop publishing applications. And none of them same the level of integration with features for printing on customizable products, like Fatpaint has.

Traditional forums are losing popularity, why did you decide to introduce a forum?

We needed a blog and since we chose WordPress for that, all we had to do for adding a forum, was a plugin. Them we did some coding to glue stuff together. But you are right, the forum is not used much by our users. But it’s a great way for us to track bugs, post news and stuff.

You have an impressive background, starting at a young age on the Amiga, you graduated in 1997 as a Object Oriented Software Developer and went on to develop games for the PC and Playstation as well as contributing to the development of two of Denmark’s most visited websites. What have technologies have most interested you over the years and what is your programming language of choice?

The last 6 years, I have been most interested in the Flash technology. But programming in Acionscript has been like going back to the stone age. No fancy development environment is available. So we definitely prefer Java over Actionscript.

Bottom line is, I am not religious about using certain technologies. I just pick what I think is best for what I want to accomplish. For me, as a developer, technology is just a tool box. I’m not in love with any of it and only uses it for practical purposes and work. It’s not a hobby anymore as it once was back in the days of the Amiga.

Fatpaint is a complicated application to develop, have you seen any gaps in your knowledge, how have you overcome these gaps?

When I first started developing Fatpaint, I didn’t know anything about Flash. But I was already a very talented graphics programmer, so it was easy enough to learn the language and their API.

I had to overcome many things during development because of the way Flash is built. It was never meant for making stuff like Fatpaint, so I had a hard time. I guess that is the biggest reason it took so long develop Fatpaint. Also, we were not happy about the standard GUI components offered by Adobe or any third-party vendor, so we developed our own Rich Application framework, meaning everything you see on the screen was hand coded by me. That is the reason Fatpaint has such a small footprint. I remember when making a “Hello world” example using Flex, we just had a single button on the screen and the file size was already a ¼ of what Fatpaint is today.

Coming from the Amiga scene, I value performance and efficiency. This has been a concern during the whole development of Fatpaint and much of the development effort went to optimization.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Besides the struggle developing Fatpaint’s Flash based editor, we also implemented a back-end system that is very scalable. We got inspired by Google’s distributed and scalable file system, and decided to implement one as well. We could probably spin that off into a Cloud storage project.

It has been really hard work developing Fatpaint. I will probably never do something this complex again in my life time, and I really don’t want to. Life is just too short for spending 6 years sitting in a small 2 bedrooms apartment living like a student and doing little else besides sitting in front of a computer and coding, I‘m 38 years old, and started programming at 12, so its been a long journey. But I still think I have a few smaller projects in me.

Biggest hurdle now is with the marketing of Fatpaint. Our growth in the number of visitors is just going to slow. So at some point, we would like to partner-up with an already established company like Adobe, Corel, Zazzle or Google.

You’ve impressively integrated a lot of other services into Fatpaint, it doubles up as a business model and a great feature. Do you see this as one of your biggest competitive advantages? Which product has been most popular among your users?

To be honest with you. We haven’t sold much. Fatpaint is still very unknown. At the moment we only have 4000 visitors a month. So it’s hard to tell, but I think iPhone and iPad cases, t-shirts and sneakers will be the most popular.

Fatpaint came out of beta at the beginning of the month, what did you learn from the months you spent in beta?

I learned how blind one can be with one’s own product. It’s really important to have other eyes looking at the stuff you make. Also, I had way too many expectations for the first year… I thought I would be driving an Aston Martin and living in a fancy house by now… Nope… Still living in my 2 bedroom student apartment, riding the same old bike back and forth, and without a salary in 3 years.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m very excited to see that Fatpaint is out of beta and reaching a point where the usability is good and we are starting to get noticed out there. Thanks to people like yourself… This is our first interview.

Can you convince the reader to start using Fatpaint in under 50 words?

I can convince the reader with 5 words and a bunch of short videos… “Go watch the tutorial videos”.

The videos speak for themselves… I get very excited when watching them… It’s an incredible feeling seeing 6 years of work, in a few short videos and be completely satisfied and proud of what I made. Fatpaint will be out there for generations to come… For me, it’s the closes thing to immortality…

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