industry roundtable - entrepreneurship

Industry Roundtable: Spotlighting Entrepreneurs

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Calling all aspiring entrepreneurs! How are your New Year’s resolutions holding up? Did you swear up and down that you would finally launch your business in 2019? Have you gotten sidetracked already?

No worries! According to U.S. News & World Report, you’re not alone. They reported that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. 😬

BUT, as entrepreneurs, we’re used to failing and starting all over again. We just adjust our perspective. We embrace our renewed optimism and motivation because we know starting a business is one of the hardest and most rewarding things we’ll ever do.

So, to help you regain your confidence and inspiration, we called on some of our friends. We asked them if they’d be willing to impart their hard-earned wisdom. And while not all successful entrepreneurs want to share their secrets, these folks were happy to offer their support and insights.

As the great Greg Mercer once said, “You can do bigger things; you just need to believe in yourself, get out there, and take action.” It all starts with a little bit of courage.

And so, without further ado…

Meet the Participants:

Foundr: Nathan Chan, Founder and CEO
Foundr is a multi-faceted digital media company that provides educational content for a global community of entrepreneurs. You can learn how to grow and build a successful business from people who have already done it!

Instasize: Eddy Homez (CFO), Omar Arambula (COO), Natasha Ponomaroff (Senior Marketing Director)
As a visual marketing company, Instasize builds tools for creatives and entrepreneurs looking to grow their influence, brand, product, or service on social media.

AdvertiseMint: Brian Meert, CEO
AdvertiseMint is a digital ad agency specializing in Facebook and Instagram advertising. Offering services across all major social media platforms, they will get your business where you want it to be – faster!

InvoiceBerry: Uwe Dreissigacker, Founder and CEO
Small businesses and freelancers can simplify their invoice and expense tracking by using InvoiceBerry, a smart invoicing service. Save time and money!

ChannelReply: Michael Dash, Co-Founder and CEO
ChannelReply is a customer service platform that utilizes the multi-faceted and highly sophisticated interfaces and APIs of Zendesk, Desk.com, Freshdesk and Help Scout. It seamlessly ties together all retail channels so sellers can answer client questions easily.

Entrepreneurs HQ: Liam Austin, Co-Founder
Entrepreneurs HQ is an excellent source for business advice. They have handpicked world-class entrepreneurs and marketing experts to teach you their proven marketing strategies for growing your leads and sales online.

What you do you think is the biggest hindrance when starting a business? What is holding entrepreneurs back from launching their business idea?

Foundr: Being afraid to fail, and caring what other people think. These are the two biggest killers that hold people back. At the end of the day, life is too short to not give something a try. If it doesn’t work, you will have learned a ton of lessons and grown as a person. It sounds easy when you read this, but I know it never is at the time.

Instasize: The biggest hindrance holding anyone back is failure and rejection. But we have to understand life is mostly about failing. It’s what you learn from the process and re-apply on your next idea that moves the needle. This is how I measure success; in small daily increments that make up where you are today.

AdvertiseMint: Confidence. There are tons of different ways to run a business. Confidence will come from doing things and learning what are good and bad decisions.

InvoiceBerry: Too much talking and dreaming, and too little doing things.

ChannelReply: Comfort. When you’re comfortable, you don’t want to risk losing that. You have to get out in the cold if you want to go anywhere.

EntrepreneursHQ: They don’t have the support needed to take the leap. There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and you can’t possibly be good at them all. Except for your actual business idea, there is the hiring and managing of staff, finances, accounting, design, SEO…you get it!

I’ve found that people, in general, are super generous with advice and sharing their experience. Ask a lot of questions within your community of choice and support them back as much as you can!

Once you’ve built a successful business you’ll find that a lot of people will say you’re ‘lucky’. These people often have no idea what you’ve given up to be where you are and would probably not be willing to give anything up in order to start a business.

Keep in mind: you’re not lucky, you’ve made it happen.

What do you wish you knew before you started your business?

Foundr: The power of focus and doing one thing really, really, really well.

Instasize: How important a/b testing is. I always heard about it but didn’t really think it was a big deal. I don’t think we’d be where we are today without a/b testing.

AdvertiseMint: First, always listen to the market; that will tell you what to do. Second, it’s not the end of the world to make mistakes. Third, not all things in business are equal or fair. You may have a better product and put in more time, but your competitor may be the son of Warren Buffet and have billions at his disposal.

InvoiceBerry: That being an online entrepreneur can be extremely lonely and tiresome. If you don’t have an office with work colleagues, you also don’t have a water cooler for those little chats in between work. Creating a remote team is another hard and time-intensive task. It takes a lot of trial and error to create a good and reliable remote team.

EntrepreneursHQ: That if you find the right partners to work with, everything becomes easier. You can grow your email list, your number of leads and your overall revenue without having a big audience. Instead, you’re leveraging your partners’ existing reach. I’ll say it again and again: partnerships are a must!

“If you’re starting out, try the spaghetti method of throwing a bit of energy and money onto a number of ideas and see what sticks.”
– Uwe Dreissigacker, InvoiceBerry

How did you first begin to build your customer base?

Foundr: We launched the magazine on a platform/marketplace which has a big sea of buyers (app store).

Instasize: In the beginning we used Twitter. We would create pseudo accounts, find people who complained about resizing on Instagram, and reached out to tell them about Instasize and the features we offered that resolved the issues they were having.

AdvertiseMint: When I first began my agency, I used Upwork to find new clients, and also hired a full-time blogger to help me bring the right type of customers to our website.

InvoiceBerry: I reached out to people in my office building to get the first dozen users for InvoiceBerry. After that, I personally emailed hundreds of small business owners before I established more automated marketing channels.

ChannelReply: Originally, we had no plans to build a customer base! We created ChannelReply for ourselves and needed a way to support eBay customers from Zendesk. We only decided to sell our solution when Zendesk noticed what we were doing and asked if we would offer it to their other customers.

Zendesk sent us our first beta users. When ChannelReply was ready (thanks in large part to those users’ feedback), we released our app on the Zendesk marketplace. That has brought in a steady stream of customers right from the beginning.

EntrepreneursHQ: Virtual Summits has hands down been the biggest key to our success. We started our list from scratch, and grew it to 15,000+ with our first launch. Now, we’ve got a list of over 100,000 subscribers, and the majority came from the Virtual Summits that we’ve launched.

Let’s talk finances. Did you start your business with a budget, savings, or outside funding?

Foundr: Off the back of a credit card, started very very very small, with it costing around $3000 US and quickly got to break even on operating costs after around 3-4 months.

Instasize: We found a developer in Pakistan that was able to build our V1 for $600. I think the most we spent overall was around $1500. After that, we started making enough money to fund development.

AdvertiseMint: I started with negative $250,000 from a failed business that I had to pay back. This was really tough but kept me 100% focused on making decisions that were profitable instead, or trying things that had the potential to fail.

InvoiceBerry: I’ve had several successful businesses in the past. So I’ve had a bit of a cushion for my personal expenses. However, I set myself a challenge to spend as little money as possible to launch the first version of InvoiceBerry. I’ve done all the product development myself and exchanged some of my consulting time for the first version of our web design.

EntrepreneursHQ: The beauty of info-products is that you don’t need a big budget to get started. As my co-founder had just graduated from uni and didn’t have a lot of savings to spend, we gave ourselves three months to start generating some revenue (which is quite a short time-frame), and it worked!

Although to reduce financial stress, I’d suggest you have enough money for the basics, i.e. rent and food, for at least 6 months.

I wouldn’t suggest taking loans or funding when starting a business unless absolutely necessary. Starting a business is stressful enough without investors breathing down your neck. Personally, I’d rather have another job on the side to make ends meet.

“Remember this: you’re not lucky, you’ve made it happen.”
– Liam Austin, EntrepreneursHQ

Did you face any setbacks along the way? If so, what were they?

Foundr: Yep, many – most notable being sued by Trademark infringement by one of the biggest business magazines in the USA.

Instasize: There’s been a few but I’ll just name our first one – It was our second or third release of our v1 and the app started crashing for every user at launch. At the time, we had no idea that you had to QA a build. When we saw the complaints coming in, we thought it was over. Luckily we found the bug and submitted a build immediately.

The lesson in that is that nothing is ever as bad as you think, and to act quickly.

AdvertiseMint: This question made me smile. I face setbacks on a daily basis. Most of them I never see coming, which is why I call them landmines. You’re just running your business, thinking you’re doing great and **BAM**, you get a huge bill from the IRS that you don’t have the money to pay. You need to become quick, fast and creative at solving problems.

InvoiceBerry: Definitely. There are setbacks every day when you run your own business. It could be a key team member quitting without any warning, or a major marketing campaign not working out the way I anticipated it would, let alone a server outage that is out of our hands.

ChannelReply: The split with my co-founder was the biggest and hardest. I also lost one of the developers who had helped build ChannelReply in the turmoil. That left me with only one—all the knowledge of our product in one man’s head! It could have all fallen apart if he’d decided to leave. Thankfully, he stuck with us, and we’ve since built a larger and stronger team.

EntrepreneursHQ: Not with my current business, but previous ones yes. I definitely think my current venture has benefited from previous experience and setbacks. In previous businesses, it just took too long to get enough traction, cost me a lot of money, and in the end, it was too hard to keep up with bigger competitors. Hence my reply to the first questions, and try as best you can to predict these possible future implications.

“Make sure whatever it is you’re doing, you understand that building the business that you dream of takes time. A very long time. Be prepared to grind it out. Also, don’t compare yourself to others. That is the biggest thing that will hold you back.”
– Nathan Chan, Foundr

What is your most successful marketing tactic?

Foundr: Very difficult, but probably would be the concept of moving the freeline, which is from Eben Pagan. We give our best content away for free. Ninety-nine percent of Foundr content is free and we work very hard to make it better than most companies’ paid stuff.

Instasize: We’ve found a lot of success on our blog with our “content creator spotlights”. Essentially we’re giving influencers/content creators a platform to talk about their craft – what they’re doing that’s working, what isn’t, how they were able to grow thus far, etc.

Not enough light is shown to this specific niche of creators, and we’ve found these partnerships to be mutually beneficial – it also allows for us to create lasting relationships with people who have a voice online.

InvoiceBerry: There’s not one marketing tactic that fits it all. It really depends on your business, niche and customer base. If you’re starting out try the spaghetti method of throwing a bit of energy and money onto a number of ideas and see what sticks. Whatever works, concentrate on that for some time until you’ve got enough resources to work on more than one marketing strategy.

ChannelReply: Blogging. It may seem old-fashioned, but it works. Put out high-quality content and people will read it. Some might even try out your product.

EntrepreneursHQ: Again, Virtual Summits has played a key role. You’ll struggle to find a tactic that gives you a bigger impact than running a virtual summit in terms of establishing authority, building partnerships with influencers in your field, growing your email list, and generating revenue. Launch a Virtual Summit following a proven method and your results in just 90 days will be unparalleled – whatever your niche.

entrepreneurs

How do you continue to innovate?

Foundr: We look at companies in totally different markets from us but have a similar business model, and look at what they are doing from a product and marketing perspective.

Instasize: We do a ton of consumer research, both with our current user base and people who aren’t currently using our product. We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of content creation and we want to ensure that we’re always providing content creators with the tools they need to create their next edit. Our marketing team is always engaging with others on social and this helps get us into the consumer mindset.

AdvertiseMint: Always listen to your customers. If you spend time listening, they will tell you exactly what you need to create. Listen for cues like “I hate it when” or “You know what I need”. Those statements are like blank checks, if you figure out how to solve those problems you can become rich.

InvoiceBerry: Direct email contact with customers as well as podcasts, blogs, and Facebook groups is where I get most of my ideas from.

ChannelReply: By listening to our customers. They constantly come to us asking for things we’ve never thought of, often things nobody has done yet. A huge majority of our features are the direct result of customer requests.

I also give the team a lot of autonomy to try new things and see what does and doesn’t work. If someone has a well-considered idea, it’s usually better to give it a shot than to shoot it down.

EntrepreneursHQ: By staying close to experts within my niche, as well as listening to my audience, I keep a constant finger on the pulse. Talk to people! You don’t know what potential customers want or need from you if you never ask them.

Also, don’t be afraid of trying new things. Keep in mind that you can sell something without having created the product beforehand, as long as you set expectations for delivery. This is the beauty of online products. If they sell well enough, you can move to create the product and fulfill the orders. Sold only a few? Return the money and move on to testing for a more successful product.

What tools or software do you use to stay organized?

Foundr: Trello, Google Calendar, Schedule Once and Slack

Instasize: Wunderlist. It’s just like any other to do list, but I prefer the organization of this one.

AdvertiseMint: I love Gmail, Trello, slack, Google suite, grasshopper, QuickBooks online, copper.

InvoiceBerry: We use G-Suite, Trello, Slack and a bunch of internally developed tools.

ChannelReply: We use Jira for project management, Slack for internal communications, and Zendesk for customer service. They’re all awesome.

EntrepreneursHQ: We’re a remote team and spread out all over the world, so Slack has become a life-saver in keeping us all on the same page. We’ve also used Trello for years now. I’ve tried other productivity software, but keep coming back to Trello. It gets the job done with minimal distractions, and I love its simplistic layout.

“Always listen to your customers. If you spend time listening, they will tell you exactly what you need to create. Listen for cues like ‘I hate it when’ or ‘You know what I need’. Those statements are like blank checks.”
– Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

How do you define or measure your success?

Foundr: The strength of our product, and the number of people we’re able to serve at a large scale, plus the growth of the business.

Instasize: Everything is measured with feedback, in life or business. New product idea: am I getting sales? New exercise routine: am I getting stronger?

AdvertiseMint: Some people focus on money or revenue, which is a great motivator. But money alone gets boring and can drain your soul. I would say what makes you happy and allows you to sleep with that feeling of accomplishment. For me, it’s helping other businesses grow and getting to be creative.

InvoiceBerry: Being able to travel the world with my family, while working and managing my team remotely…and having the occasional post-lunch-time dip in the pool before getting back to work!

ChannelReply: By what our customers think. Few things make me happier than reading a five-star review saying my product has helped someone scale their business. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s great to have made a positive difference for somebody.

EntrepreneursHQ: For me, it’s about creating a life that makes you happy. Right now, for myself and my partner, that’s being location independent. We’ve created our dream life of being able to run a business while crossing off travel destinations from our bucket list.

Is there a book you think every entrepreneur should read?

Foundr: The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz.

Instasize: The Millionaire Fastlane, by MJ DeMarco (that book is what made us want to start all of this back in 2012!).

AdvertiseMint: If entrepreneurs want to know more about driving traffic to their company through Facebook and Instagram ads, I wrote a book that I recommend they read, called The Complete Guide to Facebook Advertising. It’s a bestseller on Amazon and contains 300 pages or tips, tricks, and walkthroughs on how to get the most from your advertising budgets.

InvoiceBerry: I am currently reading Deep Work, by Cal Newport, and love the idea of concentrating on deep work rather than shallow work. I often realize I spend too much time of my days in my email inbox, and too little concentrating on deep, meaningful work.

EntrepreneursHQ: Work Less Make More, by fellow Aussie, James Schramko, is a great book for learning how to work smart by knowing how to prioritize, building a great team and understanding your business model.

What I’ve found is that, contrary to what many envision when thinking about a startup, you don’t have to work 20 hours a day from some basement and survive off 2-minute noodles and weekly showers.

Unless you won’t settle for less than becoming the next Steve Jobs, you can build an amazing, profitable business on a normal 40 hour week! No, it’s not the four hour work week you might dream of (not just yet at least), but it’s a damn good start for a startup founder. It means you can also have a life! haha!

What was your mission when you first started your business, and has it changed?

Foundr: To build a magazine that shared actionable insights on how to build a successful business. Now it’s to build one of the largest entrepreneurial brands online that impacts tens of millions of people every single week with our content.

Instasize: Initially it was the idea of solving a problem and having freedom from bosses that made it exciting. The mission part, from making money in business, is offering value. I don’t think that ever changes for me.

AdvertiseMint: For AdvertiseMint, our mission was to help companies grow. We’re still doing that every day for our clients.

InvoiceBerry: As a teenager, in one of my previous businesses, I lost all of my invoices that I manually created in Excel. Years later, when I thought about creating a new business in the SaaS space, I remembered all the time I had to spent with my accountant to recreate all of those lost invoices.

That was when I decided that I can’t be the only person in the world with this problem and, a few months later, InvoiceBerry was born. Until now, we continue to serve the smallest of businesses as well as freelancers in our mission to make their life just a bit less painful.

ChannelReply: Our mission was and is to make customer service easier for online sellers. In other words, to make things just a bit simpler for my fellow e-commerce entrepreneurs. Thanks to the invaluable input from our customers and the hard work of our team, we’re achieving that goal and doing it more effectively every day.

EntrepreneursHQ: I wanted to build a supportive community and resource platform for entrepreneurs that I was missing when starting my first business.

I was tired of marketing gurus whose advice I didn’t know if I could trust, and wanted to bring the expertise of proven real-life entrepreneurs to people who couldn’t necessarily afford consultancy from those experts. This is what we’ve built with Entrepreneurs HQ, and our mission stays the same: Making it easy to action the strategies of proven entrepreneurs.

What is your best piece of advice to new entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Foundr: Make sure whatever it is you’re doing, you understand that building the business that you dream of takes time. A very long time. Be prepared to grind it out. Also, don’t compare yourself to others. That is the biggest thing that will hold you back.

Instasize: Try to remove your ego as best as you can. Sometimes we get caught up in getting our own ideas out for a product, instead of getting the right one. Also, on the financial side, keep your personal transactions separate from your business. This might sound like common sense but it’s easy to forget.

AdvertiseMint: Start moving and don’t worry about making mistakes. Part of the process is learning what does and doesn’t work. The only way to find that is through learning and action.

I love doing mud runs, like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. These races are just like operating a business. You come around a corner and there is an unexpected obstacle in front of you. You’ll need to figure out how to get past it quickly and keep moving forward.

InvoiceBerry: Follow your gut and solve your own problems. It’s incredibly hard to solve a problem that you haven’t had yourself in your life, or build a product that you wouldn’t use yourself. You might need to work several months or years before you see any progress or success. You can only go through rough times by working on things that you’re interested in and excited about.

ChannelReply: Hire effective people and learn to delegate early. You can’t do everything on your own. Find people who can do a job well, get them settled in, and then leave them to it.

EntrepreneursHQ: Everyone says follow your heart, work hard and you’ll get there. And it’s true, partly. What a lot of people forget though is to do some good old fashioned ground-work before investing your time and money.

Is there a sufficient need for your product or service? Are any big players looking to expand into what you’ll be doing? Will there be legal complications holding you back?

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much you love your idea yourself if no one else is ready to pay for it.

A BIG thank you to all of our participants! You’re keeping it real and keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive!

If you’re feeling inspired, jump in the comments below and let us know how you’re doing 😉

 

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