Questions about the legal part of selling plugins from colleague developer

Hello Ragdoll team!
I hope this message finds you well.

My name is Andrew, and I work as a Pipeline TD. I always followed your work and greatly appreciated what you did as a VFX / animation tools developer.

In my free time, I develop things as pet projects in parallel to my full-time job as a Pipeline TD in the studio. I wanted to ask you several things because you have more experience distributing/selling software related to our industry. I hope it’s not rude; I just wanted to learn something from you as a more experienced professional.

I was thinking of developing/maybe selling some plugins for Maya (or other DCCs) on my website, but I’m a bit worried about some legal stuff, which I wanted to ask you. I’m sorry to bother you; in this area, there are not many people to ask around (at least in my circle). And because Autodesk / Foundry / SideFX are large companies, I’m a bit afraid to ask them directly.

From a legal standpoint, what the original software vendor ( Autodesk / Foundry / SideFX ) thinks about is someone selling a plugin that uses their API (API from commercial software). Are there any legal issues connected with it?

How are you handling taxes as part of your sale? This question may sound silly, but does it require you to open some legal business to handle the tax of selling plugins from your website?

How are you handling the licensing of your tools? I mean the piracy part. It is an issue, and running some RLM servers is not an option when discussing some relatively small plugins for Maya.

Was it beneficial for you? I mean developing and selling those plugins from your website commercially. I mean, understand me correctly, I’m not interested in any numbers - that’s out of the question and not my business, I mean overall.

Thank you, I hope you are having a great day.

Thanks for bringing these questions to the forum! As mentioned via email, I’ll include my lengthy reply to this as I believe it’s information that’s both hard to find and fundamental to anyone looking to start their own business and product like Ragdoll. I’ve personally gathered a lot of experience and knowledge during this venture, and much of it does not have to be secret. Sunday today, stay tuned for tomorrow!

Turning this into a bigger thing than I had time for, so instead of that here’s where I’ve got so far. Hope it helps someone, and hope to expand on it in the future!


I want more artists making tools for other artists, so I’ll share the answers to what is normally sensitive information with everyone here and on the web in the interest of encouraging that. Let’s go!

  1. What are the legal requirements for distributing software such as Ragdoll?
  2. Do I need a legal entity, i.e. a company?
  3. How do I keep the pirates out?
  4. Was it worth it?

Legal Requiremenents

From a legal standpoint, what [do] the original software vendor (Autodesk / Foundry / SideFX) think about someone selling a plugin that uses their API. Are there any legal issues connected with it?

In short, anything you write is yours and can be distributed freely in any way you choose.

The part about “using their API” is interesting; the thing to keep in mind here is that law and licencing mostly applies to distributing other people’s code. And by “using” their API, you are not distributing their API.

For example:

print("Hello World")

Here, I’m “using” the Python API to emit messages to the console of anyone running my software. You may argue that I do not own the right to Python’s source code and thus cannot distribute this file, but the Python source code is not included in what I distribute. Only my own characters, written on my own keyboard. It is the user, running, who has Python on their machine and who is the one who agreed to whatever licence was involved when installing Python such that they can run my software.

Let’s take a look at another example.

import maya

Now I’m “using” the Maya Python API. But again, this file contains only characters written on my own keyboard which means I can distribute this freely with absolutely no restrictions. In fact, what does “maya” refer to in this case? Is it the Python API of Autodesk Maya, or is it this Python package?

Or maybe this file is part of a Python package you’ve written, in which there is a that is calling on. At the end of the day, it cannot be known and doesn’t matter. These written characters are mine, I wrote them.

Distributing Other People’s Code

If you only ever distribute code you write, you can stop reading here and live a merry life.

Where licencing does become relevant however, is when you do distribute other people’s code. For example, in Ragdoll, we use several open source libraries, like this one.

When it comes to distributing other people’s code, there are usually two categories.

  • Distributing source code
  • Distributing compiled binaries

Most projects are specific about what you can do with both of these. For example, you are able to freely download and use an LGPL licenced project, but if you distribute it you must also distribute the source code; Qt is a good example, Autodesk has made modifications to it for Maya which is why Autodesk then also distributes it alongside every other project is uses for its software projects.

The prevalent reason for GPL-style licencing is for making additions to a library; the author wants those additions to be free like the original, so as to benefit the project and everyone using it. Other common licence types are MIT and BSD which you may distribute, both in source and compiled form, so long as you include their licence. As a form of credit.

The RapidJSON licence is here, which includes mention of this obligation.

For Ragdoll, we include this with each release of Ragdoll, and looks something like this.

Legal Entity and Taxes

How are you handling taxes as part of your sale? This question may sound silly, but does it require you to open some legal business to handle the tax of selling plugins from your website?

This would depend on country and state but in general whenever you have income, you need to declare it to the government. In the UK, you can have income as an individual, that’s called a sole trader - for example:

  • If you rent out a room in your house on AirBnb, that is income.
  • If you mow people’s lawn on weekends (for cash), that’s income.
  • If you sell software, that’s income.

Whenever you declare income to the government, they will want a slice of that income in the form of taxes, and there comes a point when opening a separate business will yield more money for you and less for them. If you operate a £100/year business, you are likely better off as a sole trader. The tax you pay will become part of your personal tax declaration (i.e. self assessment). Depending on how much that is, you’re looking at roughly 30% of your income to taxes. 30% of £100 is nothing to lose sleep over, it’s the cost of doing business. If you operate a £1mil/year business however, it won’t be 30% but 60% and above, and suddenly taxes are no joke. Somewhere between £100/year and £1mil/year will it become sensible for you to open a separate business - probably around the £10,000 and £100,000 mark. In the UK that would/should be a “limited” company.

A company is like a person. It will earn income just like a person, except taxes are slightly different. A company can earn income and spend it before paying any taxes; in fact most companies spend all of their income for the sole purpose of not having to pay any tax. Any percentage of tax on £0 is still £0. And that’s good for the economy as well, it means more money in circulation. For example, if you charge customers £10/licence and you sell 100 licences over the course of a year, your company will have £1,000 in the bank. By the end of the year, the tax man will stop by and ask for 30% in what’s called “corporation tax”. 30% of £1,000 is £300. The rest you get to keep, the tax man is now done and will return next year to take another 30% of whatever you make that year. If instead you sell 100 licences, get £1,000 and then spend that £1,000 on e.g. a new computer, then the tax man will stop by and find you have £0 in the bank, and promptly leave without asking for any payment. So now you (or your company, rather) have a brand new computer worth £1,000 in your belongings.

And I say “your company” because that’s important to remember. Again, a company is like a person, and all that you are to your company is a director. A director is like an employee, and like any employee you would have responsibilities towards this company, primarily in doing what is essentially a self-assessment but for the company, called a corporation tax return.

For developers in our field, there are other ways in which to lower that 30% number, such as government grants and paying for your home office through the company and things such as:

Which is one of the many ways in which a limited company is different from being a sole trader, and your main consideration for whether to start one comes down to that yearly revenue figure.

Payment Processor

You can take cash, and you can have people transfer money to you via bank transfer. But for online businesses (and offline, for that matter) card payments are more common and you can’t do these yourself. For that, you need some service capable of facilitating the transfer of money from customer to yourself.

For that, we use Stripe.

There’s a bunch of options here too, like PayPal and Square. What it comes down to is cost; they all want a slice of your sale. Stripe is rather expensive, but makes up for it in convenience and features. For example, handling subscriptions is no small task.

  1. Onboarding a user for recurring payments
  2. Automating recurring payments
  3. Making cancellation and edits to a subscription
  4. When they subscribe, automate licence generation
  5. When they cancel, automate licence cancellation too

There are even services that combine the payment processor and licence management; we initially used but found that (1) their method of bundling licencing and downloads were limiting and (2) their UI for payments is lacking and (3) they are basically a wrapper on-top of Stripe and Stripe has a really nice API so we opted to simply use that directly.

Software Licencing vs Pirates

How are you handling the licensing of your tools? I mean the piracy part. It is an issue, and running some RLM servers is not an option when discussing some relatively small plugins for Maya.

It’s great question with many answers; some subjective others strategical.

For Ragdoll, we use LimeLM by WyDay.

It’s based on a DLL file (SO file on Linux) that ships alongside Ragdoll, and this DLL file has already been cracked. Meaning if you get hold of this cracked DLL and replace the file shipped with Ragdoll, Ragdoll will believe you are a legit commercial user.

We’re able to spot the when, where and who of this happening on our end and do keep an eye on it in case we need to take action, but so far it’s under control.

At the end of the day, we don’t use LimeLM to keep pirates out, we do it to keep honest people honest. Not everyone agrees with this approach, and that’s okay. I personally believe that if someone wants to use your software illegally, they will. If there isn’t a way to do it, they will find a way to do it. I also believe that if someone wants to use your software legally, they will. What they won’t do is jump through too many hoops to get there. If using it legally becomes more difficult than using it illegally, you’ll turn honest users dishonest because what matters in the end is getting their job done. So, Ragdoll was cracked weeks after the release of 1.0 and we are aware of it (flattered, you might say!). Are we losing sales because of it, probably. Are we gaining sales from keeping licencing simple? Most definitely. So given that you cannot completely eliminate piracy, it becomes a matter of figuring out the balance which I today believe we’ve found. But again, this is subjective and will vary based on person and product.

Was it Worth it?

Was it beneficial for you? I mean developing and selling those plugins from your website commercially. I mean, understand me correctly, I’m not interested in any numbers - that’s out of the question and not my business, I mean overall.

Without numbers, no answer I could give would mean anything to anyone, because whether it is beneficial will depend on your personal goals. Some want wealth, others want freedom.

I’ve now spent 10 years down this path; from prototyping with nCloth in Maya with my limited skills as an animator to realising it wasn’t enough and having taught myself programming and how to run a business and manage a team of developers; if we look at the total figure in 10 years of earning income working for someone else, then I only recently reached the point where I have earned as much via Ragdoll as I would have as an employee.

Which, as you can see from my fancy graph, involves a large up-front cost. In my case, I never had to dip below 0, which many do in the form of taking on investment or loan.

As an aside, let’s have a look at some other ways in which this graph can and often do go:

Bad idea, bad execution, or both

You use up all of your savings/investment but never manage to sell any copies.

Not worth it

You manage to sell product, but would have made more money as an employee. This may still be a win, if all you want is freedom and don’t care about money.

No savings, no investment

This was me 4 times in a row for 7 years; restarting can be easy (like it was for me) but heavily depends on life circumstances (e.g. kids).

In my case and the first graph, what happens after today is obviously highly optimistic, but you’ll need a lot of optimism if you are to run a business. :blush:

Moving on, I was earning £40-70k/year as an animator in 2006-2013, which I expect would have increased with those 10 years of experience and perhaps change of role into something more technical, so let’s be generous and say on average I would have made £100k/year and that I worked full-time for 10 years, that’s £1,000,000. On average, companies take 5 years to become profitable. As in, 5 years until you’ve covered the cost of developing the first version and reached plus/minus 0 and can start saving again, so add another couple of years to reach the point you would have been at if you had just taken those initial 5 years and saved money along the way.

I heard this exact thing 10 years ago but never believed it could take this long, and here I am 10 years later repeating it to you. :blush:

In my case, I never made £70k in a year, but rather spent 2-4 months each year on freelance earning roughly £20k followed by 8-9 months of living off of that (in London, i.e. very frugally) to try and develop what is today known as Ragdoll. Once cash ran out, rinse and repeat and 7 years later I had developed the first version of Ragdoll.

Early Website

It was a bug-ridden mess with very few features. But, it solved a real problem, for real customers. There is a lot more to say on the topic of how to develop and launch, so feel free to ask if that’s interesting. I publicly launched Ragdoll in 2021 and generated £200k in the first 3 months of trading, far exceeding my expectation and more than covering the cost of development up until that point. Since then revenue has ebbed and flowed; there are a few key players out there more willing to take risks on startups (the early adopters) and once you’ve crossed that threshold you are left with the realists; the bulk of the market with higher demands and less patience. This is where the real work begins.

Overall I feel the timing was just right; for me personally, given that I get to utilise every skill and experience I’ve had as an artist and programmer, from modeling to animating for showcase material, to pipeline development and Python tooling, to web design and development for our landing page, to writing documentation via my work in open source (e.g. Pyblish and Allzpark), to managing people as a lead and co-founder in previous companies, to devops and setting up build servers, to making music for announcement trailers, to having enough of a network that I could rather easily find my first set of customers. The timing was right commercially and technically as well; hardware is more than capable of doing what Ragdoll requires in real-time and realism in film and animation is in dire need of tooling; it is simply too expensive and challenging to match the expectations of our audience and to follow the leads of rendering and modeling and texturing, which have gotten so far ahead of where character animation is today. There is a lot more to say on that too, so feel free to ask. :blush:

With this in mind, was developing and selling software beneficial to me? I enjoy working with others and not having to think about what to do next; being given a task and executing it to the best of my abilities. I know studios enjoy hiring me, I do a good job. But oh man, it does not compare to having built your own thing and seeing it help others. Putting all of my experience, and lately the experience of my staff, together into single .zip file to be distributed to peers in the industry I know and love; there is nothing more rewarding.

I take it you didn’t expect a reply like this, but believe you me; founders are happy to share. I speak to some of them myself on a regular basis (shoutout to JangaFX, Polygonflow and Inbibo!) and reached out to many more before starting Ragdoll, including Ziva and Pixologic (shoutout to James and Ofer!), they love talking about their experiences too. Running a company can be a lonely endeavour; there are far more employees than employers, so you’ll naturally find more conversations about being an employee but at the end of the day we’re all human.

One of the reasons I chose to get into detail here is because one of the things that bothers me about starting a business is how black box it is. In your case, the legal aspect alone can understandably drive you away from even trying. In others, the financial aspect such as “do I need investment?” - which seems really common but does not have to be! - can drive someone away. I also had these questions. For the first year or two of Ragdoll, I stood prepared for the UK government to come crashing through my door due to having forgotten some obligation for running a business - some missed tax payment or missing bit on our website. Or for Autodesk to require I only sell software on their their own app store and demand compensation for not having done so already. And there are still threats out there, things that can cripple any business in an instant for things not already done in the past - especially for things related to law which is why your questions are so important.

It is necessary to read licence agreements, like the MIT and GPL walls of text, and the Autodesk EULA when developing for Autodesk software. Some of those texts are trivial and clearly a non-issue, others will be challenging to understand which is when you do need an accountant and/or lawyer. But these people are out there for you, so when that time comes it really is as simple as reaching out to ask. It is unlikely you will need any of that before you generate any revenue, and by the time you do you also have money to spend which turns it not into a question of “can I afford it” but rather “how much more will I earn by having an accountant? By hiring this lawyer for a couple of hours?”. When everything you spend can and often does make you more money, that’s when you know you’ve got a successful business. At the end of they day, nobody is expected to know everything; mistakes can and will be made. Even law is built around this, because law is built around us being human. What matters is not that you know everything up-front, but how you deal with mistakes. If a payment is due, you will be reminded. If some law is broken, you will be notified. At no point will you be punished before being given a chance to remedy the mistake.

Bottom line is, you can do it. Aside from an idea, all you need is perseverance. Where there’s a will there’s a way, true in life as it is in business.


Finally, in the interest of completeness, there’s a podcast between me and Miguel Campos from a few months back talking about many of these things and more at depth.

Hope it helps, and feel free to continue asking questions here!


Hi @Andrew_Golubev , I find the topic extremely interesting because there are not so many people who start software companies in the VFX industry, so maybe I can share my experience on those topics and questions as well, hopefully extending what Marcus already said. Great answers @marcus!
My name is Marin Petrov and in ~2016 me and my co-founder Eriks started a company called “RGB Notes”. It was a platform for visual collaboration and feedback in the cloud. Imagine YouTube + Photoshop in one. Long story short, through a merger and acquisition it is now part of Amazon Nimble Studio so I have some modest knowledge and experience building products and startups in our industry.

From a legal standpoint, what the original software vendor ( Autodesk / Foundry / SideFX ) thinks about is someone selling a plugin that uses their API (API from commercial software). Are there any legal issues connected with it? How are you handling taxes as part of your sale? This question may sound silly, but does it require you to open some legal business to handle the tax of selling plugins from your website?

Like Marcus said, it’s not a problem in that case. If I were you, I wouldn’t even do it through a legal entity - too much hassle. I would do it personally through a Gumroad page or something like that. Gumroad or any similar platform acts as a reseller (merchant of record to be exact), gets a cut and you don’t have to deal with all the legalities around taxes, VAT for different countries and jurisdictions, and whatnot. If you do it yourself or through your own entity, you might save those 10% you give them, but you will need to deal with a lot of legal stuff which I would personally avoid as it’s so complex that to be fully compliant you need to be a tax accountant and a lawyer on top of being an engineer :slight_smile: Then you only need to declare those incomes each year, again depending on your jurisdiction.

How are you handling the licensing of your tools? I mean the piracy part. It is an issue, and running some RLM servers is not an option when discussing some relatively small plugins for Maya.

If it’s a plugin, expect it to be pirated. But here is the deal - think about who are your customers. Most probably studios? They will never pirate your stuff. It’s just not worth it for them. The people who will pirate it are NOT your customers anyway, so they will never pay you regardless of the price. Like Marcus said - just make it extremely easy to install/try/use your software and pay for it. The less friction, the more adoption. One of the most important metrics you need to hit here is a lower barrier of entry and time to satisfaction. This is how many seconds it takes for someone to see your software to try it out and experience the benefit. Aim for lowering that number as much as possible.

Was it beneficial for you? I mean developing and selling those plugins from your website commercially. I mean, understand me correctly, I’m not interested in any numbers - that’s out of the question and not my business, I mean overall.

It was beneficial for me in several different ways (not only monetary), but to be honest, the probability for it to happen was pretty low. I would say < 10%. And oh, boy, would I have done things differently now vs then. We made many mistakes. Knowing what I know now, would have made it much easier back in the days, but these are “unknown unknowns” so it’s impossible to convert them to “known unknowns” or “known knowns” while you are doing it. I hate giving advice, so take everything with a grain of salt and always do it your own way. So these points are NOT advice, but rather things I found to be true most of the time.

  • Is the problem you are trying to solve a real problem or something that is nice to have? In other words are you selling a painkiller or a vitamin? Don’t waste your time with vitamins.
  • Iterate fast. Kill things that don’t seem to be “painkillers”.
  • Think about are you a B2B or B2C product/company. Who are the decision-makers to buy your product? Are they artists or not? If artists are the ones to see and try your product, are they also the ones to buy it? You will need to have different go-to-market strategies depending on the answers here.
  • First-time founders focus on the product, second-time founders focus on marketing, and third-time founders focus on the team. Yeah, well, all of those are important. But don’t make the mistake of only “making” stuff. You also need to market them. Sometimes that’s really hard for us “makers”, but if you just make cool stuff that nobody knows about, it’s not really useful. If you don’t like marketing, partner with a marketer or a salesperson.

Btw, I love talking with other entrepreneurs, if there is anything I can help with - find me at

Hope that helps.

Awesome, thanks for sharing @Marin_Petrov. Wealth of information here now, very nice.

Second this. They’ll take a larger cut, and it’ll do you no favours in terms of standing out from the crowd, but definitely as a first step in prototyping and testing the market this is a quick path. It’ll enable you to test several things in a short amount of time and dive into more bespoke things once you find your niche.

Come to think of it, I also started with Gumroad. :sweat_smile:

Thank you both for your replies. I highly appreciate it; it is very helpful!

I would do it personally through a Gumroad page or something like that.

I was considering Gumroad as a main option because, as usual, there is no guarantee that there will be some demand for my product, and I’m not sure if I will be able to handle taxes and open the company at least at the very moment.

…there are not so many people who start software companies in the VFX industry…

In my opinion, the main reason is that VFX software is not that large of a market and not that stable. Also, preferably, as a developer, you need to go from within the VFX industry to understand the demand for proper software (or understand things from the artist’s perspective), which narrows the number of developers even further.

If it’s a plugin, expect it to be pirated.

About piracy - yeah, I have no illusions about that; if someone needs it, they will find a way to pirate any software. But I still need to handle it - releasing open code is not an option (even compiled/obfuscated one as it is). I am worried about whether studios will consider this “plugin” if it will be sold through Gumroad.

Is the problem you are trying to solve a real problem or something that is nice to have? In other words are you selling a painkiller or a vitamin? Don’t waste your time with vitamins.

I’m not sure about the vitamin/painkillers part; it’s my opinion if some software can help to reduce some problems, help iterate faster / smoother or improve the pipeline - then from my experience, there can be a demand for that. But of course, I can be wrong;)

Yes, you do. Like doors in an office, users should not be able to access doors they have no business accessing. If they are locked, then there can be no confusion about whether they should or should not be there. So the challenge is finding these doors and figuring out how to lock them.

Every software project will have a different set of doors that lock in different ways. A lot of software is designed in such a way that they can be locked. For example, take online gaming. It’s one solution to the problem of cracked games. It used to be the case that users could inspect local code and make local modifications, but at no point can they modify remote code or gain access to players outside of their local machine. So a lot of games are designed around this idea, not because they benefit from the online component, but rather as a means of combating piracy. Looking at you, Death Stranding and you Diablo 4.

Sometimes this design requirement makes for a worse product. With Ragdoll, we got really lucky with this.

Initially, the plug-in immediately plugged into and drove the animators’ controls. So our problem then was, what should happen when the trial runs out? What should happen when a user without a licence opens a scene with Ragdoll in it?

Naturally, the plug-in couldn’t output simulated positions if it wasn’t activated or expired. So what ended up happening is old scenes opening with all controls at (0, 0, 0). A really ugly solution to licencing. Now we are making life worse for anyone who has tried Ragdoll in the past.

Then something seemingly unrelated happened. A design eureka in the form of “markers”.

I still remember this day fondly. :blush: It changed everything, including our licencing problem. We separated simulation from animation and introduced a “bake” step. Now licencing could simply apply to baking, which would have zero effect on artists opening up old scenes or scenes with an expired licence. Since those scenes would simply be keyframed from a previous bake. Furthermore, very recently, we found that we can even let people run their simulations and get a full experience with Ragdoll without any licence at all. Only requiring a licence when/if they actually need to convert their simulation into keyframes.

It’s one example of design and licencing actually working with each other, rather than against. Other good examples are things like Canva and Figma or any SaaS where you access the software entirely remotely and thus have a natural gateway for where licencing should kick in; during login.

So, long story short. Whatever product you build, finding where to put the doors is important. If there isn’t a place for it, redesign your software such that a door can be put in place. And try to keep that redesign from making your product worse, like in the case of Diablo 4 versus Figma.

How to go about implementing licencing once you know where to put the door is a conversation in its own right, so feel free to ask!

What I wanted to ask you both is - how do you handle marketing? Are you doing something to promote your tools?

Additional question, sorry for being annoying)
Did it affect your sales numbers when you switched from Gumroad to your website/company? Has it changed something? Or have most improvements happened from changing the payment model from a single payment to a subscription model?

Always. If you are wondering if you are doing enough marketing, the answer is most probably no :slight_smile: There will always be people who haven’t heard about your product but could be a potential buyer, you need to make the start of the funnel as big as you can by reaching them in some way.

I have a few things to say on this (hence why it took a while to write!). :blush:


Build a great product and they will come.


Ads are a cancer on society, specifically:

In short, information in places you did not expect designed to manipulate you into making a purchase.


One of the great things about running a business is the number of choices you get to make and the effect those choices have. Marketing is whole category of choices, many of which comes down to:

  • “How much do I care about leaving this planet in better shape than I found it?”

Some care a lot, others care not at all. The less you care, the easier time you’ll have making money. But at what expense?

Let’s look at the spectrum of marketing choices.

Intensity Amount Description
0 No marketing Your friend stumbles upon you developing your project and tells another friend, who tells another.
5 Standard marketing Do what everyone else does, hire a PR agency, attend conferences, reach out to bloggers and YouTubers
10 Full marketing Lies, deceit, manipulation, say anything to anyone to get eyes on your product, e.g. Theranos

Somewhere in here you’ll find a sweet spot of reaching your intended audience and being able to sleep at night. The more marketing you are able to go, the worse you are to humanity, but the more money you’ll make. So there’s that.

Level 8 - Funnel Boost

Let’s look at a real example of marketing level ~8.

A month or so after 1.0, a marketing company reached out with what sounded like a good deal.

  • “Let us reach out to everyone in your network and forward those interested for you to close the sale.”

And they made it sound really great, that it would be silly not to do it, wasteful even. And that this is perfectly normal, which I’m sure it is.

In practice, this meant emailing those in my LinkedIn profile with a message akin to:

Hi, Marcus here. I’m the CEO of Ragdoll Dynamics, a plug-in for Maya to automate the boring bits of character animation. Would you like to see a demo?

Now, there were 2 problems with this.

  1. The message says it was from me, that was not true.
  2. You can’t get emails from people off of LinkedIn, so to get it they put the name into their “engine” that presumably scans the interwebs to find their email address.

Some people have no problem with these points. I did agree for them to email others on my behalf, this happens all the time. They found emails via public channels, no homes got broken into. And in exchange, I would most likely see an increase in sales.

But to me, and hopefully some of you, even writing about this fills me with shame. This is clearly deceitful; putting my name in an email that was not from me, via connections from my personal LinkedIn network did not agree to share their email with me. It is a bottom-feeder approach to marketing that - based on the amount I get from other companies - is much too common. It makes the world a worse place, a place where you cannot trust an email being from the person it says its from.

The unique appeal of this company was that they had learn how to work around spam filters. They knew that certain writing would more likely get caught, that any domain we send from would immediately get blacklisted and that we would therefore need a new domain that looked similar to Basically, they had learnt how to lie. Spam filters exist for a reason, a reason they’ve chosen to ignore.

Needless to say, I fired these people as soon as I realised I was the sucker who got sold on their pitch.

And wouldn’t you know, as though to underline how pervasive this is, as I was writing the above a letter popped in through my door.

Mhm, “personally”.

What if someone actually wanted to personally write to me? You’ve now made the distinction more difficult, thereby making the world a worse place. Well done.

Level 5 - PR Company

Let’s look at another example. This one has a much less well-defined “should I or should I not?”; working with a public relations company. I was recommended one and despite my developer-mindset of “definitely no” I took a leap of faith and went all in.

It didn’t work out, let’s look at why.


What if you can offload all marketing to someone else? How great would that be? Someone who gets your product and can talk to customers. Not just talk, but find customers too. Someone with a giant network of media platforms with which to amplify the megaphone of “Extra, extra, read all about it!!”

From there, all you had to do was buckle down and develop your product in peace.

That’s what I was looking for and thought I had found, I was ecstatic!

  1. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, heck even TikTok, all sorted
  2. News coverage on CG Channel, Animation Magazine, and the multitudes of other channels I don’t even know exist myself
  3. Guidance on how to format our marketing copy, how to develop the software in such a way that a “hook” could be found and easily presented and digested

Basically, my marketing efforts was over, I had found religion.


80% of my time was suddenly occupied with doing these things myself.

At first, the time was spent communicating my vision. What was this company about, where was it headed? Who were our audience, where did we want to be in 5 years? 10 years? That takes time, understandably so. But Liaison is well versed in our industry with many similar experiences under their belt, so they did eventually get it, and they were excited.

But 3 months and $30,000 later, we launch Ragdoll 3.0 and got some tangible numbers on the value of our investment.

  • 17 posts
  • 16 social hits (many outlets put it up on multiple channels),
  • 2 newsletter blurbs
  • 3-4 expected pieces: 3D World feature, Animation review/potential magazine story, DMW post. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see more in the next week or so.

Coverage Book, the report assembly tool we use, provided the following stats, as well.

  • Estimated views of the posts: 107K
  • Estimated reach: 4.93M (combined circulation for all the publications)
  • Social engagements: 441

You can browse more details in this interactive thing they put together.

Here’s the number of pageviews on this forum during that time

This is a reasonable metric of how many people were interested in these “posts” and “reach”, since they would have needed to not only read and understand what they were being fed, but continue to seek out information until finding this forum.

Can you tell where the campaign took place?

It was December 2022. (The big spike in July 2022 was from our online competition)

“It takes time” they said. All I had to do was to continue paying $10,000/month and pray that one day it would all be worth it. :blush: A lovely business model. Someone takes your real money in exchange for hypothetical money down the line. An investment in hope and dreams. Not unlike lottery.

What can we learn from this? Perhaps that there are no shortcuts. Nobody can sell product and vision as well as the founder, and it’s part of the job to just-do-it.

All of that said, they have other customers and success stories behind them, like Luxology and Ziva. I bet there’s value wrapped around this model somewhere, but the fact that it is so unmeasurable means it is too ripe for abuse. Maybe if I gave them another $100,000 things would have been different? What I know for sure though is that I’ve instead got $100,000 to spend on my staff.


Now let’s look at what did work!

Before starting Ragdoll, I had made 3 other companies, one of which never finished any product. So let’s focus on the two that did.

  • 2014: Pyblish
  • 2017: WeightShift

Back then, I had no clue how to reach my target audience. I had identified the need, had my initial users that could benefit from the solution I’ve built, but no way to scale. So, they remained niche, unknown. Odds are you’ve never heard of either of these, especially the latter.

For Pyblish, I did no marketing. It is a VFX and games pipeline product, open source and available on GitHub. The goal was to provide a product for free and do consulting around it. Being the expert at this product, I could continue my then-freelancing habit to integrate and support this product into the pipelines of studios. And I did, and all was well. I had a network of prior work, and so marketing wasn’t necessarily relevant in the first place.

WeightShift was different. It was a standalone product (a pre-cursor to Ragdoll). With Pyblish, I charged freelancer money in exchange for my time, £400-500 per day per customer. It was enough, but I was limited by time. Generating revenue from a product is different. You can’t charge freelancer money, but you are no longer limited by time.

  • Pyblish: Sell to a few customers for a lot of money
  • WeightShift: Sell to a lot of customers for a little money

Only the problem was, my strategy of reaching out to my personal network was no longer enough, I had to reach more people, quick. But how!?

In the ~3 years of running WeightShift, we never figured it out. In the end, we had a total of 2 customers, both of which was from personal connections and experience at the companies buying it.

So when Ragdoll came around, I was faced with the same issue, until one day when I posted on LinkedIn.

People actually noticed! My mind was blown. Looking back, it makes perfect sense. Animators in our industry come to LinkedIn for inspiration and to stay up to date with new technology. And we fit right in.

LinkedIn enables you to reach your audience without the need for manipulation. Does it also enable you to reach an audience via manipulation? Yes… Like any cancer, manipulative means of marketing is pervasive. The challenge you face as a product developer - as a brand - is to stay true and honest. If your product helps people, they will advertise it for you.

And therein lies my main lesson in marketing in ways that fit my ethical and moral standards:

  • Demonstrate the capabilities of your product, inspire and impress your audience, solve their problems. Make them believe in you and your product.

Word of Mouth

The greater your product, the lower your voice.

Imagine for a moment that you learnt of a new product. “Maya on crack” people called it. It does everything Maya does, except 1000x faster and 100x more intuitive. You didn’t have to watch a single tutorial; it felt like it was made for your unique way of thinking and you could pump out your own personal shortfilms in hours or days at most. Studios could 100x their revenue, or save 100x on expenses, if only they knew of this product.

Except, only a handful of people knew about it. The developers had no marketing, just a website with some examples and a download link.

How long do you think it would take for this product to become the new norm? Who in their right mind would still use Maya if such a thing existed? They would be relics in an instant, outperformed by competition overnight.

And that’s what happened with ZBrush. Sure, they had the occasional banner on CGTalk back in 2006. But what really fuelled their growth was how excited people got by it. How they were unable to keep their mouth shut about it. Everyone in their surroundings just had to see it and when they did they could not look away.

Now look at Omniverse. An overly-complicated, design-by-committee product, a solution without a problem and huge marketing spend with big names behind it. They appear everywhere overnight, begging people to use it. Yet they resist. They forget. Only to be reminded time and time again: “we exist!”. NVIDIA needs and will continue to need big marketing for their product to both reach and keep their audience.

What differentiates these products? What can we learn?

Extraordinary products need little marketing. Garbage products need extraordinary marketing. The challenge is, and should be, building an extraordinary product.


Word of mouth is the way to go, and what I said about LinkedIn also applies to Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook too. The challenge is dodging the many ways in which they want you to spend money to manipulate your audience.

Word of mouth is the perfect filter for whether a product provides value and enhances people’s life. Good products are worth spreading. If word of mouth is not working for your product, I would reflect on why that is and pivot until it is, rather than increase any spend on ads and manipulation.


I didn’t use Gumroad long enough to make that comparison. To me, it was a matter of branding and wanting to stand out. I don’t take products sold on Gumroad seriously; it’s one of the consequences of going the “easy route”. It’s great for low-key products and prototyping, I would leave it at that.

I started off with perpetual licences only, as I do not subscribe to any software myself and wasn’t able to see the value or point in having it available, other than as a means of extracting more money from customers. I exist to make customers happy, so this just wasn’t an option at the time.

But then, people started asking for it. I didn’t know why or how; is it Stockholm-syndrome!?

Until one day it clicked; subscriptions are great for when you aren’t yet ready to commit.

  1. Someone can choose to pay for 10 licences for just 1 month, to take it for a spin. Once they are comfortable with it, they can go all-in and spend the big-bucks.
  2. Other customers are bound by policy to either buy perpetual or subscription; it’s out of the hands of the one making the purchase. So if you haven’t got what they need, you lose this customer.
  3. Some are even more specific; they can’t buy perpetual, and they can’t buy recurring. They can only buy a fixed amount of time at a time, most often a year. So, a time-limited subscription. A rental. They are typically the big fishes, so you’ll definitely want this option as well.

So, did adding a subscription option change our revenue, yes but not for the reason of being a subscription versus a perpetual. In my experience, which is perhaps specific to my audience and price point, you’ll need both.

Thank you so much, Marcus, for your in-depth answers! I appreciate them so much; they are incredibly helpful and such a good source of knowledge and experience; thank you for sharing them with us.

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