Today, anyone with a great idea, involved in a startup, freelancing or a part of a small business is considered an entrepreneur.
Yet, millions of entrepreneurs fail because they’re unable to get connected with the necessary resources to flourish.
In this post, I’m going to take you through the very real pain I faced when I didn’t have the connections to successfully launch a startup. I’ll explain the struggles I faced while co-founding Fount, how it can help you if you choose to go down this path, and I’ll also teach you about a few tools for entrepreneurs that I love and have been huge for our business.
First, the Beginning
I grew up in the greater Detroit area. From an early age I was raised to think like an entrepreneur through my mother. She was a real estate agent for many years, and started a lot of other side businesses. My high school was filled with kids who were grinding to make a dollar; selling bootlegged cd’s, playing some version of craps, I even bought and sold throwback basketball jerseys for profit.
From an early age I knew what it meant to hustle.
In college, I attended the University of Missouri’s renowned journalism program and launched a website that amassed over 100 thousand hits in it’s first 3 months, and over a million in the first year. The website was simply a blog that kept people up to date with topics that were trending. I had over 25 people that were contributing to the website daily by writing articles for exposure.
After graduation, I moved to sunny California and took a job managing facility branding for a car manufacturer. It was here that I met my good friend and co-founder of Fount Evan Leong.
The company we worked for was going through a corporate restructure and we were worried about being relocated, or worse, losing our jobs.
This came to a head one night when we decided to go out for some drinks.
After hours of talking, we both kept coming back to the realization that our dream “job” wasn’t really a job at all – it was to be entrepreneurs.
We began brainstorming and I told him about an idea I had for a business networking app geared towards entrepreneurs. The app would allow for a user to quickly search for someone’s name and get a load of details that would allow you to determine if they were all hype, or if they actually meant business.
This brainstorming session formed the basis for Fount – an app that connects entrepreneurs by proximity.
For instance, users could type in a keyword such as “graphic designer” and instantly a list of graphic designers would populate. Simple, clean, and effective.
We knew we had a great idea, we knew we were ready to get to work, and we knew the time was now or never to become entrepreneurs.
The Start of our Entrepreneurial Journey
Evan and I worked tirelessly on the idea.
I moved into his apartment so we could focus on it constantly, even at our day job where we sat feet apart, it was Fount 24/7.
My uncle John had a lot of experience in the startup world after launching his own productivity tool startup that helps people focus and be more productive called [email protected].
Note from Sean: If you read Location 180 a lot, you know I’m a HUGE fan of [email protected] I am. In fact, I’m listening to it right now as I edit this post…
Apart from John, we had no connections or experience with the startup world. Considering over the next couple months we had to find a couple key people to help us with our business, it made things that much harder.
Specifically, we needed a graphic designer to help us with our wireframe concept, and we quickly learned that any potential investors wanted us to have a technical co-founder.
This meant we had to find an app developer who believed in our idea enough to take equity rather than money up front. Not an easy task considering most of these guys are making well into six figures.
And if you haven’t noticed, zero up front isn’t quite six figures.
With no connections, and limited experience, we knew this would be difficult. We tried a lot of things. Some worked, some didn’t.
In this next section, I’ll talk about some of the strategies we tried that didn’t help us find our developer, but did help us grow our business and network.
5 Strategies that Didn’t Help us Find Our Developer
#1) Asking our Friends on Facebook
This is the first place we looked when we needed to find an app developer.
We both made Facebook statuses asking, “We’re looking for an app developer, does anybody have experience or know anyone with experience?”
I see a lot of statuses like this on my Facebook feed. But unfortunately, only about 2-4% of your friends (or people who like your business page) actually see your post, depending on what the content consists of. Not quite the reach we were hoping for.
We were able to get a couple of meetings through the posts, but nothing that panned out.
Here are a few ways to make this more effective:
- Boost your post – Even though we wanted mostly family and friends to see these posts, had we spent a few bucks to boost the post, it would have ensured more of our network would see it, as well as any people who had liked our business page.
- Ask our network to share the post – We didn’t do a very good job of trying to get our family and friends to share our post to see if there were some 2nd or 3rd level connections.
Meetup.com allows you to view hundreds of different meetup groups in your city. These are usually around a shared interest, so we figured going to developer meetups would be a fantastic way to get started.
We went on the website, made profiles, and joined a lot of tech, entrepreneurial, and mobile app meet-ups. One was called the OC tech happy hour, run by a tech entrepreneur named Lee Decker. It’s an awesome group of people that meet-up, talk tech, and enjoy happy hour drinks. It’s amazing to see how much this group has grown in 2 years.
There were also a couple iOS specific app groups we looked at. While on the whole we met some great friends, had some good conversation, and learned a ton – ultimately we didn’t find a perfect fit for what we needed.
What I liked most about Meetup is it allowed us to break into the technology scene in our area. We had no experience but we instantly met and networked with tons of people that were in our same scenario. We made a lot of great connections who became initial beta testers, friends, and people we could really count on.
So even though we didn’t get exactly what we thought we needed, it ended up still being extremely valuable to our business.
You know what LinkedIn is, right? Ok, good. If you don’t know, it’s one of the biggest social media networking sites out there geared towards professionals.
We turned to LinkedIn after we couldn’t find an app developer through Meetup. LinkedIn’s website allowed us to see if either Evan or I were connected with any app developers that we didn’t think of.
Unfortunately we were not.
We could also search by app developers we weren’t connected with, but one of the drawbacks about LinkedIn is you can only message someone if you’re connected. And you can only connect with someone if you know their email address, if you send a request saying you’re a friend, or you’re in the same group.
We ended up sending a lot of connection requests to random app developers we didn’t know. Most of them didn’t accept our requests.
We did find one guy named Brian who seemed like a great fit. But after a quote of $10k, we realized our budget of zero dollars and an equity share wasn’t in the cards for him.
Some ways we could have better leveraged Linked In:
- Gotten a Premium Account – This would have given us a bit more credibility when approaching people, as well as given us more information on the people we were trying to find.
- Asked for specific intros – There were a handful of developers that were 3rd string connections – we didn’t work all that hard in trying to ask for introductions there.
- Tried to use their publishing tools to get the word out – We could have used LinkedIn Pulse to try and write content that would be useful, spread, but also let people know what we were looking for.
#4) Emailing All of Our Contacts
This is a great way to reach people you normally wouldn’t have.
Not everyone checks their Facebook or LinkedIn every day, but most do check their email.
When the first three strategies didn’t work out, this was our next stop.
We did it in a very strategic way. Every time Evan and I went to a Meetup or event we received about 15 business cards each. We would take all of the email addresses from these business cards and input them into an excel document.
Then we exported all of our LinkedIn contacts, extracted the email addresses and imported them into our excel sheet. We then drafted an email detailing our situation through MailChimp and emailed everyone at once.
We got a couple responses, but not from anyone that was willing to produce our vision for equity.
Angel.co is a website that allows the public to learn more about startups to potentially invest in.
We signed up to the site and filled out a profile explaining our predicament and hoped an angel investor would swoop down and provide us with all of the funding we needed to hire an app developer.
Angel.co allows you to post a job, raise money for your entrepreneurial venture, or even fund a company. We wanted to raise money but unfortunately we didn’t get saved by an angel.
We needed to prove our product worked and get traction before any investors were going to get involved. And we weren’t going to get traction without a product. We needed an app developer to created the product.
Living Through the Pain our App Would Solve
This lasted 5 months!
I repeat! 5 Months!
A constant cycle of reaching out to people, networking, grinding, and getting in touch with people as much as possible.
Ironically, this entire process validated our app idea. Our vision was to create an iPhone app where we could simply search for skill sets like app development and a list of app developers would populate.
We needed our app to find our app developer! This was the most frustrating part of the entire experience.
After 5 months, our friend Jorge introduced us to one of his friends who was an app developer. We pitched the app developer and his partner the idea of Fount. They liked the idea, and in fact they liked it so much that they agreed to create the app.
It was our first method of connecting with friends that was the one that ended up proving successful, or so we thought…
The MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and What We Learned
After months of coding we had our MVP.
It was a little rough around the edges to say the least:
- Push notifications were sent randomly.
- The messaging feature didn’t work as well as we needed it to.
- Different things were broken on different versions of iOS.
We still went out and pitched it as much as we could.
We got feedback, took investor meetings, and knew we had to make changes in order to give our users a product that they wanted to use.
With the initial version of the app we had users sign in through LinkedIn because we thought that would be the easiest way to verify people and their experience.
We learned that 25% of the people who downloaded our app didn’t remember their LinkedIn credentials. A big problem for us because it was the only way to log into our app.
For the remaining 75% of people who remembered their LinkedIn password and made it through to our intro screen, we prompted people to fill out a lot of details in their profile. This included their skills and what they were looking for.
We found out that 50% of those people lost interest in our app through this because they had to type in tons of information before they even knew what our app did.
We were down to 25% of our original users before anyone could even use the app.
We knew the next version of our app had to be easy to use, eliminate signing in with LinkedIn passwords, and show people what it did from the start.
In short, it had to be frictionless.
Overcoming Adversity in the Process
Evan and I knew we had a lot of changes to make. Evan quit his corporate gig so he could focus 100% on the app. We told the developers of the new plan for the app and they agreed.
After about 2 more months of development they called us and said, “So, unfortunately this isn’t going to be a good call.”
They then said how they lost faith in the idea and didn’t believe in it anymore. They signed paperwork relinquishing their equity, and while we weren’t quite back at square one, it certainly felt like it.
We quickly formulated a plan.
We knew we couldn’t go through another 5 month search finding rare unicorn app developers that were willing to work for equity. Instead, Evan took the leap and learned how to code.
Four months later our app was in the app store.
Once we were in the app store, we learned about other very important entrepreneurial networking tools that can help you today to help growth hack to obtain more users.
5 Strategies for Networking to Grow Your App
#1) Facebook Groups
Facebook Groups is a section of Facebook, as well as its’ own app.
Facebook Groups allow you to search for a topic, such as entrepreneurship, and then join a group filled with people that are interested in the same topic. This made it very easy to get in touch with our target demographic.
I joined a lot of entrepreneurship and tech Facebook groups and then spread our link with a short intro to all of these groups. Some of the groups can be spammy but others proved to have immense value.
As general rule of thumb, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. So before telling everyone about your projects, work to add as much value to the group as possible. This will ensure other members really feel compelled to help you out.
One thing that’s great about these groups is you have the opportunity to reach a lot of people that are interested in your topic at once.
Another feature of Facebook Groups that we really liked is you can create a group yourself and add your own friends to the group (everyone has the ability to opt out).
When you post within the group, anyone who is a part of the group will get a push notification. This allows you to reach people more effectively.
Reddit is a website/app that allows people to post on just about anything in a public forum. There are tons and tons of sub-categories within Reddit, called sub-Reddit’s. For example, the entrepreneur sub-Reddit is a constant stream of ideas and entrepreneurs to connect with.
I joined this sub-Reddit and began interacting with people about entrepreneurship.
The most important thing I learned about Reddit is that it’s a unique community. I initially tried to get people using the app by just posting the link on Reddit. Our app gave people value, but nobody was clicking on the link.
Worse than that, I felt like I got shunned by the group for self-promotion.
I learned that (similar to some Facebook Groups), with Reddit you have to become a part of the community first before you can get value.
The first thing I did was begin answering people’s questions. Once you provide value for others, people will help you and add value to what you’re working on.
I slowly gained Reddit’s trust and I began to network with other people on the platform to spread the word about Fount. People began giving great feedback and became some of our initial beta users of our app.
For instance, the guy that owns BeefJerky.com reached out to me once I answered a question about marketing. We talked on the phone for a bit and he became one of Fount’s earliest users and even mentioned us in an interview!
This built in community is very useful once you know how to use it properly.
For more information on how to leverage Reddit, check out: How to Earn Extremely Targeted Traffic from Reddit (for Any Niche)
Quroa is a website/app that is an open forum question platform. It’s similar to Reddit in that way, and allowed us to easily find entrepreneurs by asking questions and searching.
Had we known how effective Quora was beforehand we could have parsed through people that have answered app development questions when we needed an app developer and messaged them to see if they wanted to work with us.
Or we could have just asked, “Does anyone have advice on finding an app developer?”
At the time we were unaware of how important Quora could have been to us finding the exact person we needed. It is similar to Reddit in the way that you can give unique insight to questions and build a community. Once you’ve built up your clout, you can reach out to people that can help.
#4) Beta List
Beta List is a website that allows entrepreneurs to post their own startup or idea and receive feedback. Users can also comment on other startups and give feedback.
This was where we went first to get our initial group of beta testers. It was a great place to get feedback about our product. People commented on our profile daily and asked questions about our app and how they could use it.
Within a few days Fount was trending on Beta List. We had amassed over 150 emails from people we would turn into our initial beta testers.
Obviously we’re going to be a little biased on this one, but we created Fount specifically to solve all the problems we shared in this post.
Quite simply, it’s an iPhone app that connects entrepreneurs, and had there been something like it, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, headaches, and stress over the last two years.
We create Fount to be as simple as possible, having users login through their Facebook accounts and then fill out a profile detailing what skills they possess.
- Graphic design
- App development
- Web Design
- Business development
Now, our platform is filled with users providing various skill sets. You can sign up to our app and instantly find the skill sets you’re looking for in a matter of seconds.
If you don’t have time to fill out a profile, or don’t want to be contacted but you still need to find a resource, all you have to do is post to our “Need Feed.” This is simply a place to post things you need in a timeline format.
Our goal is to grow our entrepreneurial community so anyone with an idea can find the connections they need to create something great.
To Summarize the App Creation Process
As you can tell, creating an iOS app when you don’t have any technical skills or connections on the startup world, is incredibly difficult.
It was a long and stressful process for us, but one that we would absolutely do over again in a heartbeat.
Hopefully, you got a few things out of this post:
- Whether or not creating an app is something you’d like to pursue
- Ways to go about finding the right people to help you further your entrepreneurial goals
- Strategies for promoting your new business that you may not have considered.
Simply leave them in the comments below and I’ll do everything I can do answer each and everyone.
Vincent Vitale is the Co-Founder of Fount, an iPhone app that helps make it easier for entrepreneurs to connect. You can download the app here.