Interview with Philipp Wagner – A Physicist from CERN Turned Internet Entrepreneur

Goran Duskic: Hello Philipp, can you quickly introduce yourself to our readers? What skills, experiences, and connections (mentors, investors, books) helped you become the internet entrepreneur you are today?

Philipp Wagner: That’s a long story. I grew up early and got fascinated by the possibilities of the web before it got on most people’s radar. However, before jumping into it, I studied physics. I decided to choose a completely different path. What I learned best during my physics career was how to deal with massive quantities of data because I was working at CERN, a research facility operating the biggest particle accelerator in the world.

At CERN, they probe the fundamental structure of particles that make up everything around us. They do so using the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments. Photo credit to CERN

The data management skills I acquired during that time are the seed for Converter App since it has a kind of similar approach behind it.
As for the books, there are definitely two I can recommend to anyone who wants to escape their 9-5 job and start their own business: “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferries and the “Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco.

Goran Duskic: These two are some of my favorite books! I think we are going to get along quite well! Looking at Converter.App, there’s amazing growth in usage in the past year. Did you start the project in 2021 or earlier under a different name?

Philipp Wagner: Converter App was established as a company in 2021 from scratch. However, I did start some projects in the past which were not that successful. For instance, when I still was in science, I was pretty frustrated with the search results for scientific papers. Therefore I built my search engine for the journals I was interested in. In fact, it got about 200 users a day. Still, it never grew profitable since the target market was too small (just an isolated group of physicists dealing with strange particles nobody else has ever heard about). When I decided to turn it off, I got complaints from users who were using it daily and missed it. That fact surprised me, but it also showed that it is possible to reach people with an internet company. Such experience from past projects definitely helped start Converter App.

Goran Duskic: Do you have any other projects?

Philipp Wagner: My main priority is doing Converter App, so I left my other projects behind.

The idea of starting a data conversion platform emerged since I was unhappy with the existing tools around. I saw that the domain converter.app was for sale and realized that it has the potential of huge brand strength. Since the website is live, it is growing fast, I think the branding and the domain’s strength were certainly factors. Also, our users value the performance of our converters. We are receiving feedback like those on the landing page every day. And yes, these reviews are by genuine users and not fake, like reviews on the internet usually tend to be.

What surprised me most is that our users regularly send tips over after adding a PayPal donation button to the page. Our users are willing to pay for a completely free service. In fact, the main complaint we regularly receive from our users is that our website is sometimes hard to find on Google. But I am sure this will change in the future since quality and user experience will win over aggressive SEO, which most of our competitors are doing.

Goran Duskic: Where did you buy the domain name converter.app?

Philipp Wagner: I found the domain in the after-sales market, which is where domains that have already been sold but are not used actively go for sale, usually at much higher prices. The company is Afternic, and it’s a subsidiary of GoDaddy. I spotted converter.app at their marketplace, thought, “wow, that’s it” and placed a bid. Of course, my bid was way too low, and it took some time to negotiate a price acceptable for both sides. In the end, they lowered their price and I improved my offer. Partly because the sales agent convinced me there was no other way than buying that domain for what I was planning to do: Imagine you are in an elevator and you meet someone: You have two options of introducing yourself: Hey, I am the CEO of “converter minus app dot com” or “Hey I am the CEO of Converter App” (The famous elevator pitch) – which one would you prefer? The answer was obvious, and maybe a little tongue in cheek. The sales agent did a great job in selling the domain name, but he also had a point.

I decided to buy the domain and paid via transfer, and guess what happened? Nothing. The company claimed that they could not find the payment on their account for almost a month. I got a bit nervous since it was not just a few dollars you pay for a regular .com domain. In the end, they “found” it, and the transfer went through. I’d like to think I forgot about that episode quickly.

The good thing about converter.app was that it already had a good search engine ranking with the on-sale page on it, and the ranking rapidly improved adding the first content. Therefore, Converter App had organic traffic from the very first day.

Goran Duskic: Since you are no stranger to buying domain names on the aftermarket, have you ever bought a website?

Philipp Wagner: Before acquiring the domain name Converter.App I acquired an abandoned PDF Editor called PDFVue to refurbish it and turn it into a PDF tools suite. However, I discarded the approach after I realized that I repeated the same mistake as with my paper search engine: A limited target market with limited growth opportunities. Converter App is not only about PDFs it is about Data. And that market is huge. I am sharing this information about past failures since there is a quote (I can’t remember by whom) saying:

An intelligent person learns by his errors, a wise one by the errors of others.

The important point I learned is that you have to think big if you want to grow. Don’t start too small.

Goran Duskic: For sure, and I can commend you by quoting Henry Ford the automaker. “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” In the end, you decided to just redirect pdfvue.com to converter.app. Does this mean that the converter.app handles PDFs, as well as videos, images or MP3s? Does it do the same job as PDFVue plus more?

Philipp Wagner: Yes and no. PDFVue was a simple PDF editor mainly for annotating PDFs, not much more. We included those features in Converter App, but it can do more. It also allows us to change the text of a PDF (though this feature is still in beta and experimental). You can also convert PDFs to many different formats. We offer video converters, and MP3 converters and also support lots of exotic file formats that are hardly known. There is a unit and currency converter. The goal behind Converter App is to become the place to convert data. Of course, we did not yet reach that goal, but our vision is clear, and we are catching up.

Goran Duskic: What are your thoughts on growing a company by acquiring smaller companies and projects that were started as a side project by someone else?

Philipp Wagner: I do not have a strong opinion here, but from a gut feeling, I would say rather not. Unless it is the company you want to do yourself and there is a risk it might overtake you in the future. Otherwise, I would recommend starting something you are truly behind. Acquiring the PDF Editor did not contribute to the growth of Converter App significantly, according to the numbers I have.

Goran Duskic: Lastly, is there any relation to the composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner?

Philipp Wagner: This question arises quite often 🙂 I am not aware of any familiar relationship, but I like his music and also go to the opera on a regular base.