INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Kilian Valkhof of Polypane Shares How He’s Building a New Browser on His Own through a Pandemic
We talked to Kilian Valkhof of Polypane on how they develop responsive and accessible websites and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Kilian Valkhof: We’re doing fine, thank you. We have the luxury of being able to work from home. Things mostly just feel “slow” because there’s not a lot happening.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Polypane.
Kilian Valkhof: I’ve been a web developer essentially since I was 11. I started my first company, a web development agency, at age 16, and eventually grew that to 15 people. After 14 years, however, I was looking for a new challenge. That challenge was Polypane, which was a side project I was playing around with at that time. I have always been building side projects, but with Polypane, there was this immediate feeling of there being an opportunity there even when it was just a small prototype.
Polypane is a web browser not for browsing websites but for building websites. It comes with dozens of tools to make the website more responsive, faster, and more accessible. Because it has all these tools built-in, developers and designers are between three and five times faster when using Polypane, resulting in serious time and cost-saving. At the same time, because the browser helps out with so many aspects of building websites, the end result is more robust and contains less bugs, so maintenance is also much lower.
How does Polypane innovate?
Kilian Valkhof: When Polypane launched, it was the first browser to let you see a single page in many different screen sizes at once with all of them synced, and while there are other browsers now that do it too, Polypane is still the only one that syncs everything with others using third-party code that wasn’t really made for the purpose.
The real way Polypane innovates is that we really try to provide a cohesive experience and set of features all focused on that goal of making better, more responsive, more accessible, and faster websites. While there are dozens
We keep finding new and innovative ways to help people develop websites and have a backlog of features that contains enough for the next five years or so.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects Polypane, and how are you coping?
Kilian Valkhof: I’ve been very pro-active about dealing with this because I saw it coming that a lot of companies would pull or postpone large online projects in Q2 of this year, in turn leaving my customers with less work. So I decided to meet people where they are and provide relief for people who temporarily couldn’t afford Polypane due to less work.
Initially, it looked like it would have a big effect, especially around new signups, and I have seen some customers cancel as well, but the majority have returned since their work has picked up again. So, fortunately, it hasn’t affected me too much.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Kilian Valkhof: Being a solo developer means that I have to make trade-offs all the time. Do I work on the product or work on marketing, and do I focus on what helps in a short time or what will work in a long time. I don’t always make the right choices, but I’m at a point now where I prioritize the long-term and existing relationships, which helps me make “the right choice” in most situations.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Polypane in the future?
Kilian Valkhof: The lockdown in effect here hasn’t affected me much, fortunately, because when it came into effect, I had already worked from home for well over a year.
To deal with stress and anxiety around work, I keep a small file with kind things people have said about Polypane and me, so I read through that, which helps silence the little voices in my head.
I still try to do little side projects, which helps when I get stuck on the technical side of things. They can be online tools or completely new apps. I’m always coming up with ideas, so that also motivates me.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Kilian Valkhof: There are obviously the major browsers, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Firefox that also target developers in some way, and then there are some browsers that have adopted the model I pioneered in Polypane.
I think one of the benefits I have is that I’m a small company, so I can iterate, adapt and ship really fast compared to some of the larger browsers, and I have quite a lot of experience as a developer and designer but also as a manager of other developers and designers, so I think I have a good overview of what the real needs are.
Of course, features I innovate frequently get copied both to the major browsers and the ones that took their model from Polypane, which is always painful. In the end, copied features lack the understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve, so they will always be worse than the original.
Your final thoughts?
Kilian Valkhof: Beyond the incredible hardship because of this pandemic all around the world, it’s been incredible to see how fast we have all adopted to working from home, interacting through screens, and asynchronous communication. All of those are taxing, especially if you’re a parent, and we’ll have to innovate around a lot of these topics to make it work sustainably, but I really do feel that we’ve innovated in a year what would otherwise have taken a decade.
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