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I had no intention of creating my own software company. I was kind of forced into it. You see, a few years ago, I was a full-time YouTuber. All was well until my channel got demonetized. This means that I was making $0 from the ads being placed on my videos.
There was a point where I was getting 2-3 million views a month on my channel and didn’t receive a penny. As a way to bounce back from this low, I decided to put my life savings ($5,000) into starting a creator economy software startup at 19 years old. I dropped out of college to work on my SaaS startup full-time, and I have learned valuable lessons along the way. Here are five of the most important lessons I have learned so far:
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1. Done is better than perfect
I had no experience in coding — let alone creating and growing a startup. Despite these challenges, I 100% believed in my idea. Backed with a proof of concept, I was willing to do everything within my limited budget to turn my SaaS idea into a reality.
With a well-written vision and lots of persistence, I was able to find a good overseas developer that not only fit my budget but believed in my vision for Trend Watchers.
We still work together to this day. The first versions of Trend Watchers were hideous, but over time, the UI/UX slowly improved. When I look back at my journey from a software development point of view, I should not have made it this far. I went through so many setbacks and hurdles. I should have quit back at the start line, but by having a great vision and team mixed with the desire to succeed, we were able to pull through.
No matter how challenging a task may seem, done is always better than perfect. Oftentimes, perfection comes through the countless mistakes you make along the way.
2. The importance of data collection
One thing I implemented early on is good data collection. What do I mean by data collection? Data collection has a bad rep, thanks to large companies and scammers abusing it to make a quick buck. But there is a good side to data collection. Data collection can be used to make better marketing decisions. It can also be used to discover what users like and don’t like.
I collect data in a few ways, but two of the most useful data collection tactics I used are asking good questions on our signup sequence and having a session recording software that tracks how long users are on each page and what they click on. These two data-collecting methods have helped with making the right decisions and software updates to improve the user experience.
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3. Get a proof of concept before you build
For the people in the back, I’m going to repeat myself: Get a proof of concept before you build. In early 2022, I thought it would be a good idea to build a marketplace within Trend Watchers. Marketplaces are great, and when used right they can be a great growth engine for startups — but no one wanted that. They just wanted trends they can use to go viral online.
Instead of listening to this market feedback, I went ahead and built it anyway, and it was a major flop. It also caused a whole lot of other issues, but I wasted a lot of time and money on something my users didn’t want at the time. Because of that experience, I always conduct surveys and get a proof of concept before I add a new feature.
4. Tell your story
Starting a software company at 19 years old with my own money was already challenging enough financially. The next question was, how am I going to market this thing with a $0 marketing budget?
Growing up, I’ve always been an amazing storyteller. In my free time after school, I would always write my own books. I would go into our home office, grab a few sheets of paper from the printer, fold them in half, staple them together, and boom — I had a book.
I decided to leverage this skill I developed at a young age to slowly build a movement of loyal followers that would help me get traction for Trend Watchers. The two platforms I decided to focus on to document my progress were Instagram and leveraging press. This wasn’t an overnight success. It took tons of writing, documentation and pitching to slowly start getting my brand’s story heard, and now it is starting to pay off.
One interesting insight I recently discovered about my paying customers is that they tend to stay longer knowing that their money is being put to work. A lot of my paying customers follow my story through my email list or Instagram page for weekly updates.
If you are working on growing your startup, document your journey. Not only do you end up with a well-written journal in the end, but you can also find loyal customers along the way.
5. Take every opportunity that presents itself
Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made were time-sensitive opportunities that came my way. Some of these opportunities included opportunities to buy into programs, go to different places and break my schedule to attend certain events. About 90% of these opportunities came out of nowhere, and every time I took one, it significantly helped me in the process of growing my business.
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As most people know, starting and growing a business is not easy, especially for a young adult with no prior experience. Reading books and watching YouTube videos can be very helpful and informative, but experience is truly the best teacher. The skills and lessons I’ve acquired through my experience have helped me grow exponentially, and hopefully, these five lessons above can help other entrepreneurs — young or old — grow their businesses as well.