2014 has been pretty “cray cray.” Before I dive into the juicy details of how I started 3 companies in 3 months, that are making money, without spending more than a couple thousand bucks, and without a technical co-founder, let me clarify something: “starting a company” doesn’t actually mean anything.
Anyone can declare “I’m starting a company” or build a product or pay a lawyer to get incorporated…or even just sell a product for more than it costs to produce. “Starting a company” is a “vanity metric.” Revenue means something. Profit means even more.
Although 2 of the businesses I started are profitable and the other is profitable if you net out upfront/non-operating costs, however I’m certainly not “rich,” so this post is by no means a “victory lap.”
I am making money and it is growing each month, so I’m happy with my progress though. I’m also quite diversified. I have multiple businesses, many different customers, and one of the companies has multiple products, all of which have made money. Compared to an employee, who is completely dependent on one customer and one business, I’m extremely diversified. I also took on a couple small consulting gigs…so that could technically be considered a 4th business.
I’m proud of my progress, however I still have a long way to go. Hopefully this progress update is entertaining and the lessons learned I share are helpful to you. With that, here are the juicy details of how I did it and my best advice to anyone looking to start a business:
1. Find Ways to Help People
While I may theoretically be my own boss, I consider my customers my boss. Any company that doesn’t provide a product or service that’s of value to it’s customers will fail. The job of an entrepreneur in a free market is to serve and deliver value to customers. I made an effort to relentlessly serve customers.
How did I figure out how to serve customers?…
a. Start Small
Instead of trying to “reinvent an industry,” or “disrupt” something, I just tried to find ways to help people. Instead of even trying to find “product/market fit,” I aimed for “product/customer fit.” If you can’t find 10 people who want your product what makes you think you can get a million.
Some of the stuff I’m working on probably couldn’t grow to be massive. I’m ok with that. That’s in line with my goals right now.
b. Customer development, customer development, and MORE customer development
I asked people what challenges they were facing and what products and services they wanted. The specifics of how I did that are a little more complicated but that’s the gist of it.
I did A LOT customer development interviews. I interviewed people over the phone, over Skype, over Gchat, over text, and of course…in person. I was a customer development machine. My life was like a three month long Lean Startup Machine seminar (which I will be mentoring at this weekend btw…come say hi).
2. Optimize for Efficiency
Time and money are an entrepreneur’s most valuable resources. I didn’t want to waste either.
a. Do Things That Don’t Scale
I sacrificed scalability for quality and for speed to validation much of the time. Again, I might not ever scale these businesses. The big advantage of not trying to scale is that you can do things that don’t scale. You can provide better service to each customer, you can use non scalable customer acquisition tactics, etc.
b. “Concierge” Minimum Viable Product
I practiced iterative product development and made use of a minimum viable product (MVP) in order to get feedback from customers and get market validation or invalidation quickly. Basically what that means is I identified what was most valuable to customers and found ways to deliver it in an efficient manner.
One of the products solves such a problem (20+ hours of time) that the MVP was worth $99 to people (I’ll probably write a blog post about that later). Usinging a “concierge MVP” — delivering the value as a manual service rather than an automated product — enabled me to learn more about what I actually needed to automate and how I can improve the experience for customers. It also ensured I wasn’t building something no one wanted. I only “conceriged” what people wanted.
Some might say diversifying is a fancy term for “throwing a bunch of shit against wall and seeing what sticks,” or “not being persistent, committed, or passionate enough.” I say diversifying is rational and responsible.
Knowing that most of my experiments would fail, I juggled multiple balls at once. Some experiments did fail. A lot of the success stories you hear are about an entrepreneur so obsessed with a vision…you don’t hear about the entrepreneurs who do that and fail. I took a more logical approach.
I didn’t just iteratively develop the product…I iteratively allocated my time. Each time I got a new customer I would spend a bit more time on that business.
3. Play to Strength
I took advantage of the skills, assets, relationships, and expertise I have. I have my blog following, relationships with startups, skills in content marketing, and expertise in certain processes more than others. I didn’t try to solve a hard technology problem because I’m not technical and I don’t have a technical co-founder. I didn’t try to serve politicians because I don’t know many of them. I didn’t try to help customers with sharing photos because I don’t know a lot about sharing photos.
4. Hustle, Hustle, and More Hustle
I worked my ass off. It was not easy. I worked a lot of hours and with a lot of intensity.
In a startup, there’s always something you COULD be doing. And time literally is money. When you don’t have the safety net on the downside that a regular salary provides, and when you are directly compensated for the value you create on the upside, you get pretty motivated to work.
a. Burn the Boats
I fully committed. I started on my own at the beginning of the year. My girlfriend moved away a couple weeks prior. I didn’t have cable at my apartment. I have nothing to do at my apartment besides listen to podcasts. So I just stayed at the lovely WeWork Soho and worked more.
b. Suck it Up
It was hard…I was stressed…I didn’t have much time for for other aspects of my life…I cut spending on all the stuff I like doing…
I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to cold call people. But I did it anyways.
You hear the stories about how much hardship entrepreneurs go through and it sounds so cool and tough. Well let me tell you: it’s all true and it’s a lot less fun when you’re the one going through it. Even after hearing all the stories, and after working at a startup, I still had no idea how hard it would be.
My friends are at their stable jobs with their stable salaries…and their weekends off…and I’m just working my ass off without immediate gratification.
Instead of letting the stress cripple me, I acknowledged it, accepted it, and chose to view it as a positive experience rather than a negative one. I focused on the long-term outcomes rather than just the short term hardship.
5. Ask For Help
In addition to finding ways to help customers, I also asked A LOT of people for help. I asked people if I could interview them for customer development, I asked people to share my stuff on Twitter, I asked people for introductions, advice, and more.
I was shameless! Fortunately I have a great network of people that were willing and able to help.
Dustin helped me with some data analysis. Brandon helped me with design. Matt provided a ton of product advice. Lots of people took time out of their day to answer customer development questions and provide feedback. Lot’s of people helped me with promotion. And the list goes on.
6. Software is Eating Software Development
I took advantage of products that make it cheaper and/or easier to build a product, get access to customers, learn to code, and more. Here are the products I couldn’t have done without: WordPress, Codementor, Fedora, Godaddy (amazing customer support), Amazon, Udemy, Fiverr, and Gumroad.
I haven’t spent much money, haven’t raised money or needed to, and I still don’t have a technical co-founder.
What I Didn’t Do
I’ve noted some of things I did that helped me, but I think there are also some things that I didn’t do that helped me. I didnt:
a. Wait around for that mystical technical co-founder. Those guys and gals are hard to find! That could have taken me 3 months on it’s own. Instead, I learned a tiny bit of programming and used the products and services described above.
b. Raise money, or try to. Fundraising can become a 40 hour a week job for at least a few weeks. That’s all time that could be spent raising revenue. I have nothing against raising money, it just wasn’t right given my situation.
c. Have a whole lot of fun :(. haha it was a lot of work and I definitely sacrificed on some other aspects of my life…like my social life and even my nutrition and fitness. I had fun doing most of the work I had to do but I had less fun outside of work.
d. Stay in my comfort zone. I had to ask for help. I had to sell (yes, “filthy,” “grimy,” sales). I cut spending on stuff I love doing. I had to work more than I wanted to. But I did it anyways.
Well, I’m definitely not rich yet hah. If I was paying myself a market rate salary I wouldn’t even be profitable. But I’m making money and it’s growing. And I’m well diversified.
So I’m happy with my progress and plan to continue on the “entrepreneurial journey.” It has been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a ton and I feel I’ve grown as a person tremendously. I really think everyone should spend even three months of their ~1,000 month lives trying to start a company.
So what’s next? That’s something I’m trying to figure out right now hah. That’s part of why I wrote this post (to reflect). I’ll have to make decisions about what opportunities are best to pursue and how to allocate my time. I may need to look for a technical co-founder (and become yet another non-technical founder seeking a technical co-founder). But I’ll figure it out soon and I’ll keep you posted!
I started 3 revenue generating companies in 3 months by finding ways to help people and working really hard.
I started 3 companies in 3 months without a technical co-founder and with under $2k by optimizing for efficiency, and taking advantage of products and services that make it cheaper and easier to build and launch a product.
“Starting a company” doesn’t actually mean anything. Building a profitable and sustainable business does mean something. I’m happy with my progress but I still have a long way to go.