How A Skin Cancer Diagnosis Forged A New Business


You are planning to be out in the sun all day, so you pop on your favorite shirt and apply sunscreen to your arms, neck and face. But, what most people don’t consider is the sun protective qualities of the shirt itself. Did you know that UV rays can penetrate fabrics, and most t-shirts provide well below the recommended level of UV protection? What good does it do to apply SPF 50 sunscreen on your face and neck if the covered areas of your body are only getting the equivalent protection level of SPF 5? It’s not a thought that ever crossed my mind growing up, but something I now think about every day.

In 2019, I decided to pay a random visit to the dermatologist for a routine skin check – an event that ended up changing my life. It was during that checkup that my doctor found a spot on my back which turned out to be Melanoma. Fortunately it was caught at an early stage so the doctors were able to completely remove the tumor, but it was an eye-opening experience for me. It was around that time that my doctor also recommended I start wearing sun protective apparel – the type of apparel I should have been wearing all along.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start Rayward Apparel?

I love the outdoors, so staying cooped up inside for the rest of my life was never an option. I’m an active member of the volleyball community and a current CrossFit Coach and athlete, this translates to a lot of hot days in the sun. After my melanoma diagnosis I had to find shirts that provided proper UV protection, but were still comfortable and breathable enough for New Orleans summers. This proved to be harder than I thought. I purchased a variety of sun protective shirts from about 10 different companies, and couldn’t find any that I actually enjoyed – so I decided to create the exact type of shirt I was looking for. This is when Rayward Apparel began.

How did you validate the idea? Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

UPF rating is similar to the SPF rating of a sunscreen, but specifically for fabrics. While the average t-shirt has a UPF rating well below the recommended amount (generally about UPF 5), most sun protective fabrics have a UPF rating of 50+, as do all of Rayward Apparel Products.

rayward-men-hood-blue

This means they are providing 10x the protection from damaging UV rays. But to achieve a UPF 50+ rating does not mean you need to sacrifice the comfort or quality of the apparel. After months of testing various fabrics, we were able to create a unique fabric blend that maintained a UPF 50+ rating, but was also soft, lightweight, and breathable.

Who is your target demographic?

Rayward Apparel is committed to skin protection, and not just for those that are at high risk. We are committed to developing clothing that looks and feels like the other high end options, but just with the additional value of keeping your skin protected. We are also dedicated to helping the fight at a much higher level. 5% of all company profits, now and forever, will be donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to the research and treatment of skin cancer.

Did you run any companies prior?

At the time of my melanoma diagnosis I was the Co-Founder and CEO of a virtual reality events business which I started back in 2016. I was able to grow it from a small local provider to one of the largest in the nation. We had a team of brand ambassadors who handled all of the event operations while me and my business partner focused on growing the business. I decided to sell my VR company in 2019 and use the profits as the capital investment to get Rayward Apparel off the ground.

Have you raised any money? How much?

As of now Rayward Apparel is completely self-funded. As mentioned previously, I sold my previous business which provided me the capital to be able to invest in Rayward Apparel without having to sacrifice any of my ownership share.

I understand the value an investor can bring, and is something we may consider in the future. However, I feel like a lot of new businesses seek investment capital too soon in the process which can potentially undervalue the company and cause founders to lose some creative control of the business.

What regulatory approvals did you have to go through?

Fortunately there are not too many approvals needed to get an apparel business started. As is needed with most businesses, we first needed to set up an LLC in our home state of Louisiana. Because we sell tangible goods, we also needed to retrieve a sales registration certificate to stay in good standing with the state and pay the applicable taxes due on our product sales.

From a product standpoint we needed to secure a registered identification number (“RN”) with the FTC to properly label our products. Additionally, because we sell sun protective apparel we secure UPF 50+ certification for all of our products through lab testing per AATCC 183 standards.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Honestly, I’ve never been too concerned about our competition. There are certain elements of the business that we look to see what our competitors are doing and where they seem to be achieving success (pricing, keyword statistics, marketing channels, etc…), but I don’t worry too much about protecting ourselves from them. There is endless opportunity, I believe if we continue to do the right things and focus on providing value to our customer rather than protecting ourselves from our competition we will ultimately be in a better position for success.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Just start doing something! Most people spend so much time thinking about possible businesses and the possible issues they never actually try to do anything. Once you get started, things seem to fall into place. Even if you are working a full time job, carve out a few hours every day and start working towards setting up a business. You can offer your services for free to get started and get traction, it will naturally grow. If you provide a great service or great product, there will be opportunities. But start doing it now, and worry about everything else later.

What are your favourite books?

The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris is one of my all time favorites. It is well written and provides clear and actionable steps to better utilize your time. However, I think it’s a dangerous mindset if anyone takes the title literally and wants to only work four hours a week. If you are starting your own business, you should spend as much time as you can growing it. The book is simply about how to use your time efficiently and intelligently.

Also, Getting Things Done by David Allen has some amazing snippets which I use every day. Specifically, how to manage tasks throughout the day and maintaining “inbox 0” to minimize decision fatigue and get the most out of the day. These lessons have not only helped me in my business, but my personal life as well.

What are the next products you’re working on?

Our initial line of products, The SUN BOUND Collection, was aimed at solving my immediate need – a comfortable shirt for everyday and athletic wear. In addition to this collection we will be releasing a second line of products in the coming weeks focused on keeping other exposed areas of your skin protected, your head and your face. This will include mens and womens sun hats, along with a variety of UPF 50+ lightweight face shields. We are also currently working on a line of UPF 50+ polo shirts utilizing a similar fabric as our SUN BOUND Collection.

If you are interested in sun protection tips, updates, or special access to new Rayward Apparel products and coupons, please subscribe to our newsletter. And if you have any questions or would like to reach out to us directly, please contact us here.

Company Name: Rayward Apparel
Founder: Devin Regan



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Revolutionising the Sports Recovery Landscape Using CBD


DEFY was a percolating idea that eventually turned into a light bulb. The concept of CBD kept showing up for us over the course of 2 years until we finally listened, like it was meant to be. Once we validated that the benefits of CBD were real, a lightbulb went off and the path was crystal clear.

With a focus on changing the sports recovery landscape, we chose to launch DEFY at the 2019 Indy500 in partnership with the Arrow SPM Indy Team. Launching as the first CBD season sponsor is not only Indycar history, but in major professional sports generated national media coverage focused on defy and our Co-founder, Terrell Davis. The resulting exposure generated online sales immediately.

We validated the idea by doing extensive due diligence and research. If you can’t check all of the boxes, you will have a problem. Never deviate from your absolute “must haves” when validating potential opportunities or partners. Our rule is trust but verify; meaning at the end of the day, if a partner or opportunity can’t be validated and fails to check a box in our process, everything is nullified and it’s time to move on.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

No. Some of our founding partners did, as well as our advisory board. We surround ourselves with experts who have knowledge in the space. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with a team that can execute where you can’t. Know what you know and know what you don’t know, otherwise you’re dead.

Have you raised any money for DEFY? How much?

Our founding partners bootstrapped DEFY initially. We raised enough money. The best advice I’ve received is to keep as much equity as you can and make sure you have enough cash to execute your strategy. You can have the best idea in the world but no one will ever know about it if you can’t execute your strategy. Be smart, not greedy and plan ahead.

Who is your target demographic?

Everyone over the age of 18. We have built a mainstream brand for all people interested in improving their daily experience through health & wellness. Our motto is to “defy your everyday”, however that shows up for you.

Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?

Through life experiences that all tied to me. Always remember to “show up”. Looking back, you may be shocked at how many of the things you second guess but ultimately show up for, end up being the most significant.

Defy Team

In terms of finding the first employees, you must use your network and rely on the recommendations of people you trust. Be thorough.

Did you run any companies prior?

Yes, I did run a company prior to DEFY. I am motivated by the upside and control over my destiny.

My family and friends are very supportive but skeptical about the business I’m starting. Right now, they already get and understand it.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

I expect things to go wrong and they do. I trust the process and pivot accordingly. My end goal is to create the #1 CBD performance brand and to generate value for all stakeholders (customers, partners, employees & investors). Ultimately, to sell the company.

Media around our story has driven the most sales.Our path is clear; the only thing that would stop us from being 3x the size we are now is a failure to execute.Right now, Shopify is the one of the apps that our DEFY could not run without. Data Data Data is the main reason why it is essential.

For those who are just starting out, failure is not an option. Bet on yourself & find a way to make it work. If failure or a backdoor is an option for you, then being an entrepreneur may not be the path you want to pursue.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

At this point by being the first mover and not letting anyone catch up. By never compromising our standards. The moment we think we’re too far ahead or get a bit lax, we‘re dead. We have trademarks/IP/Patents.

Shopify is one of the apps that DEFY could not run without. It is essential for data purposes.

I prefer real life mentors that have experience that I can learn from in real time instead of books. My favorite quote is “Knowledge is only gained through experience.” – Albert Einstein. This is the truest quote to life that I know.

For podcasts, it is Joe Rogan. He creates the best content and all his stories & guests are based on experience.

What are your next steps?

In terms of new products, we just launched our new lines of perform CBD oils and DEFY CBD muscle balm. We plan to produce other product lines. Our new DEFY Zero line of performance drinks with zero sugar is coming soon.

Defy Products

Five years from now, I can see DEFY as the leading brand in industry. Our revenue continues to grow, 2020 revenue is already exponentially higher than last year and is compounding.

I would consider selling it if the price is right.

Company Name: DEFY
Founder: Beau Wehrle, Terrell Davis, Megan Bushell



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Preventing Use Of Over 5M Plastic Straws By Bamboo Alternative Straws


Plastic straws take hundreds, sometimes thousands of years to actually break down. Every plastic straw ever used still exists today. They pollute our waterways, oceans and landfills every single day; here in Australia and around the world. They are unrecyclable and do not biodegrade leading to long-term pollution of our land and oceans. When they do go to landfill, they release harmful toxic gases such as methane, ultimately contributing to climate change. This has led me to co-found theotherstraw – to make a sustainable difference in the world’s single-use plastic consumption. theotherstraw is a social enterprise replacing single-use plastic straws with reusable, compostable, sustainable, ethically-sourced bamboo straws.

Since we launched, we’ve sold over 60,000 reusable bamboo straws and prevented over 5 million single-use plastic straws from entering our landfills, natural environments and oceans. We’ve also hosted over 5,000+ conversations about plastic waste and pollution with businesses and individuals and educated over 11,500 individuals and businesses on the impacts of single-use plastic straws and their plastic footprint. In addition, we have supported over 45 ocean cleanups and provided 50 fair and sustainable jobs to the Hmong Ethnic Minority Group in Northern Vietnam.

We serve both B2C and B2B markets. We sell our bamboo straws directly to consumers via our eCommerce store and also sell our bamboo straws in bulk wholesale to the B2B market. As businesses are the biggest users of plastic straws, they are our main focus. Some of our current B2B clients include Johnson & Johnson, Hilton Hotels, Ko Olina Marriott Hotels, University of Missouri, Deakin University and Alterra Home Loans amongst others.

We were fortunate that our growth has been organic since day one. A few months before launching, we created an Instagram page where we built up an engaged and like-minded community. Once we launched (in October 2018), we had a community of individuals and businesses in front of us who trusted our brand and were ready to convert, they were our very first B2B and B2C customers.

Who is your target demographic?

For B2C, our target audience consists of conscious, green consumers, both female and male aged 18 – 45 years old with interests in sustainability and zero waste living. For B2B, our market is quite broad. We sell our bamboo straws to a variety of fast-food chains, retail stores, cafes, bars, restaurants, events, festivals and corporations.

Our customers are our biggest advocates, and their values are very closely aligned with our brand values. One of our most memorable moments was when a customer from our eCom store wrote us a personal letter in the mail to describe how much she loved our brand, the founders (myself and Jamie) and wanted to thank us for the work we are doing. It’s a great feeling to receive these sorts of notes and encouragement letters from your customers.

How did you fund the idea initially?

Jamie, my partner and I founded theotherstraw together. We’re fortunate to live close by the beach and we’ve seen firsthand the damaging impacts single-use plastics such as straws have on our natural environment and wildlife. We’re both passionate about sustainability and the environment, which led us to start theotherstraw.

We are a boot-strapped company. The initial funding for the theotherstraw was with our personal savings (which was meant to go towards our house). However, we knew this business was more important and would have such a significant impact.

Did you run any companies prior?

theotherstraw is my first startup. We started theotherstraw when we were quite young in our career. Jamie and myself both studied business and worked in the for-profit sector; however, we wanted to seek an opportunity that was more fulfilling and purposeful.

We’re fortunate to have a really supportive network of friends and family who have been our biggest advocates. When starting a business, it’s really important to have an honest and supportive community around you.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

Our why is pretty simple, we started this business with the goal to eliminate single-use plastics, and this is our biggest motivation. We’ve seen many businesses fail, and predominantly this is because they start their business with the wrong motivations or intentions. It’s important to be true to yourself and know exactly why you are starting your business, as this will keep you going on those tough days.

theotherstraw founders

How do you protect yourself from competition?

We like to think of theotherstraw as a brand – not just a supplier or manufacturer of bamboo straws. We differentiate ourselves by our strong, embedded brand values which align closely to our customers.

We are a social enterprise and donate 50% of our profits back to ocean cleanups and ethically source our straws in Northern Vietnam. Our business operations and practices are sustainable and carbon neutral, this is something really important to our customers which helps differentiate our brand.

What are the top 3-5 apps that theotherstraw could not run without?

Trello – Our team uses this for all our project planning and task allocation to keep us organised and on track.

Ahrefs – If you’re looking at scaling your SEO strategy, Ahrefs is a must.

Pipedrive – Pipedrive is favourite CRM and helps us manage all our B2B sales leads.

What are your favourite podcasts?

  • Personal Mindset and Growth: Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu
  • Marketing: Small Business Big Marketing Show with Timbo Reid
  • Sustainable and Purpose Driven: One Wilde Ride

What are your next Steps?

To further our impact, we will be launching new products (which we can’t reveal yet) within the next few months. We want to replace other single-use plastic products with more sustainable alternatives.

Below are our next steps.

-Finalise R&D of new products

-Develop a working prototype of a new products for Australian, USA and Europeans markets

-Launch MVP of new products

– A public beta

– Official launch in July 2020

For the next 3 years, we’ve set some impact milestones which I’d love to share:

– Prevent over 30 million plastic straws from entering our landfills, natural environments and oceans by 2020

– Educate over 20,000 individuals and businesses educated on the impacts of single-use plastic straws and their plastic footprint

– Support over 150 ocean cleanups in Australia and around the world

– Provide over 100 fair and sustainable jobs to the Hmong Ethnic Minority Group in Northern Vietnam

Keep an eye out on our Instagram @theotherstrawor website to stay in the loop!

Company Name: theotherstraw
Founder: Lennart Meijer





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How We Succeeded in Creating Plant-Based Frozen Smoothies


The inspirational spark for Sweet Nothings originally came from my children. After running a company for 15 years, I was ready to start a new project and realized that the challenge I faced of finding healthy, delicious snacks for my family was a reflection of a broader epidemic of unhealthy eating across America. I knew it was possible to make healthy, delicious food, but there weren’t enough options that were widely available or convenient. When I dropped my youngest off at kindergarten, I immediately went home and got to work on creating a truly healthy and delicious anytime snack. (Beth Porter)

As all entrepreneurs know, the first few customers can be the most difficult to get. We were lucky to have an opportunity early on to be invited to a competition at LinkedIn. They brought in 25 snack brands to sample to 500 employees. The employees then voted for which snacks they wanted in their break rooms, and we got first place. At the time, we had not even figured out commercial production and we were the youngest brand by far!After this competition, we were inspired to approach other corporate accounts, to share our plant-based frozen smoothies as the perfect snack for employees who were looking for something nourishing and satisfying during the work day.Fast forward to today, we have transitioned from corporate cafeterias to supermarkets across the country. (Jake Kneller)

How did you validate the idea?

Beth: I have a brilliant group of incredible women I have surrounded myself with for the past several years. We support each other through the challenges of raising children while balancing careers. They have been, together with their kids (and mine), a major supportive force as Sweet Nothings has grown. I have borrowed their children on many occasions to be taste testers. I love getting the opinion of kids, because I always know I get the most honest feedback from them. Once they loved my formulations, I knew that I was ready to bring it to a broader audience.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

Beth: When my daughter was seven years old (four years ago) she decided to become a vegetarian. My mission became learning how to make healthy plant based foods satisfying for the whole family. Thankfully, I’m a very passionate home chef, so I was excited to take on this challenge.

Jake: I worked at Impossible Foods in strategy, pricing and expansion and then worked as a consultant for various CPG start-ups in a similar capacity.

Who is your target demographic?

Jake: We have two pretty distinct, and passionate customers. Our first is the on-the-go millennial. These customers read nutrition labels and love discovering new, innovative brands with a focus on health and wellness. They are looking for snacks to power them through busy schedules but they don’t want to sacrifice deliciousness.

The second is health-conscious parents. These customers are managing multiple schedules for their family but still want to provide them with real, whole foods that taste good and are easy to serve. These health conscious parents are looking for simple ingredients and know the dangers of added sugars, sugar alternatives, and stabilizers found in many “better for you” snacks today.

How did you fund the idea initially?

Beth: I have been fortunate enough to have had success with the first company I founded, as well as leaning on my husband’s success. Thankfully, we were able to fund the initial stages of development ourselves. We felt it was worthwhile investing in creating a product that could change people’s lives, making healthier, sustainable food more accessible. We then brought on some investors/advisors that we thought could really help us get to the next level, including some of Jake’s professors from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Nick Green (CEO and Founder of Thrive Market), and Marissa Duswalt-Epstein, who ran Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign.

Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?

Jake: I was connected to Beth through mutual friends while Beth was working on the initial version of the product. I was working on some ideas of my own in the plant-based breakfast and snacking space. When I tried the product and realized Beth’s passion and vision, I knew I wanted to work with Beth and we became co-founders.

Jake Kneller Co-Founder

I think the number one lesson we have learned is the need to be really honest as entrepreneurs with what we are good at, and what we are not good at. We have had the opportunity to hire a few amazing folks with food marketing and foods ops experience, and their background, network, and perspective has been invaluable.

Did you run any companies prior?

Beth: Prior to Sweet Nothings, I founded my first company that provides behavior services to families with children on the autism spectrum. Created over fifteen years ago, the company is still a thriving business serving 100+ families a day in Southern California.

Jake: I ran my own consulting company for various innovative plant-based start-ups including: Impossible Foods, Row 7 Seed Company, Smallhold, Matthew Kenney Cuisine and Deliciously Ella. I advised and developed long-term strategy, pricing, expansion and operational plans, and I served as project manager for building and launching new CPG products.

What motivated you to start your own business?

Beth: My kids were a big part of my motivation to start Sweet Nothings. I consistently found there to be a lack of truly healthy and delicious plant based options that I could feel good about buying for them in the grocery store. Desserts and snacks were the hardest categories to find convenient, healthful options. Fruit was always something I felt good about giving my kids, so I started with that as my base inspiration. I wanted to create a product made of whole ingredients that I’d be ecstatic to have my kids choosing to eat on their own. Kids are the most honest critics, so I knew that if they loved it, others would too. Most importantly, I wanted my kids to have the opportunity to watch me take an idea and make it a reality. I want them to know that with passion and perseverance, they too can do anything!

Sweet Nothings Starwberry

There was a lot of excitement when I shared what I was working on with family and friends. Who doesn’t want a super tasty snack option made from organic fruits, nuts and seeds? People that I’m close with know that I’m extremely persistent and driven, so they knew that something big was going to come from the idea.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Beth:The most important factor to me as an entrepreneur, and the advice that I would pass along to someone just starting out is a quote a friend told me in the early days of building Sweet Nothings: “The team you build is the company you build.” It’s all about the people. I’m so grateful for the people we’ve been able to attract to Sweet Nothings – it’s a dream team.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Beth: We were told early on that the only way to make a frozen product in a format that you could eat like ice cream was to use sugars, fats and chemical stabilizers or gums. This was never an option for me, so I worked for months on finding alternative combinations using only whole fruits, nuts and seeds that could provide the necessary functionality.We filed a patent for the use of a specific combination of seeds+superfoods that we found to be most effective, while avoiding the use of any chemical stabilizers as a result.

We also filed for and received a trademark for the name “Sweet Nothings.” There’s a great backstory here, because Sweet Nothings was the original name of one of the first non-dairy ice cream companies. We found out, through cold calling the founder, that the trademark was about to expire after a series of acquisitions. We jumped on the opportunity and managed to get it – but it wasn’t easy!

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

Jake: We are mostly a remote team, so rely heavily on Slack/Zoom to communicate. In addition, we really prioritize creative assets and branding, so Air (air.inc) has been a great help to our team. Lastly, I personally love Trello for to-do lists and to stay organized on priorities.

What are your favourite books?

Jake: I just finished reading Grocery by Michael Ruhlman which I found incredibly insightful and useful. I also love all of Ruth Reichl’s writings, which are more restaurant focused but still inspiring – the way she thinks about, and writes about food is unparalleled in my mind. And lastly, Chef Dan Barber’s The Third Plate. I learned so much working for him and the team at Row 7, and think the book does an exceptional job of articulating his world view on where we need to move as a society to make our food systems sustainable.

What are your favourite podcasts

Beth: My favorite podcast is definitely How I Built This. It was a major inspiration behind starting Sweet Nothings – hearing about other entrepreneurs, their stories, their struggles and their successes. I’m also a big fan of Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. It’s always enlightening to listen to deep conversations of authors, business leaders, politicians, and of course health and wellness experts and how they live their best life.

Company Name: Sweet Nothings
Founders: Beth Porter + Jake Kneller



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How I Built a Website that features Family-friendly Recipes


Jessica Randhawa is the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon a website that features delectable family-friendly recipes that anyone can make.

The Forked Spoon have been featured on Buzzfeed, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Country Living, and Greatest and many other renowned syndication.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start The Forked Spoon?

The Forked Spoon LLC, in its modern form as a family-friendly recipe website, was a slow evolution of growth over the last nine years. It started as a food and travel blog while I was traveling with my boyfriend, now husband, in Asia and Europe.

The Forked Spoon Recipes

I was able to log my adventures and recipes on Blogger, which I was sharing across my social media accounts. Before I knew it, I had gained hundreds of thousands of followers and was getting propositions from various companies and agencies coming from everywhere to promote various goods and services.

Have you raised any money? How much?

As our business grew organically from the ground up, we never needed to raise any money – we have always run a very tight ship to maximize profits.

What regulatory approvals did you have to go through?

While we are not subject to any regulatory approvals, we do need to keep abreast of online compliance laws like GDPR and CCPA. The online publishing industry is a bit of a roller coaster at times, so you have to be ready for changes to happen quickly.

Who is your target demographic?

Our target demographic is anyone looking for a recipe. People have to eat every day regardless of the economic climate. Our analytics data show that of our 1,250,000 page views in May of 2020, 84.7% of our visitors were female, 30.1% were between 25-34 years of age, and 74.3% were from the USA and Canada.

The Forked Spoon by Jessica

The Forked Spoon is primarily monetized with online ads served when visitors are browsing our recipes. In an ideal world, we would try to target the highest Revenue per Mille readers who would probably be in the USA, but that is not something easily controlled on the World Wide Web.

Did you run any companies prior?

While I have never run a company before, I found it easy to look around the Internet at other travel and recipe websites for inspiration. There are some recipe and travel websites/blogs that open up their books in blog posts to show their monthly or quarterly line itemized profit and loss – some of those were serious eye-openers and serious motivators.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your business?

Some of my family thought of my business as more of a hobby. Other family members that are in or closer to my millennial generation understood the business model a bit easier.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

My best possible advice for someone looking to get into online publishing would be to consider WordPress.org and focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) right from the beginning. I did neither of those as we started only focusing on social media. At the same time, our website was on Blogger, then we switched our website to Squarespace (which was a huge mistake) before finally migrating to WordPress, where we could dial in our SEO.

What has driven the most sales?

While we were on Blogger and Squarespace before we migrated in January of 2018, we only focused on social media sites like Pinterest, which was driving the majority of our traffic. Our revenue then was 100% from sponsored posts – basically brands/companies offering us pre-negotiated compensation to include their products or services in a post. For some reason, Google seems to hate Squarespace. It is almost impossible to optimize anything for SEO purposes on their platform, but their websites do look gorgeous. You can also better control social media sharing via WordPress, which enables growth.

The Forked Spoon LLC

Fast forward to being on WordPress for over two years, and we have grown our traffic from May 31, 2018, to May 31, 2020, by 2139%. 58% of our traffic is now from Google, and 35% is from social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. As a result of that growth, we rarely do any sponsored posts anymore, as we focus on traffic growth, which drives ad revenue.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

We do try to protect ourselves from the competition via copyright law, and we do have a trademark on “The Forked Spoon”. Internet security is also something we take very seriously. We always keep all our computers, servers, website versions, plugins, etc. updated. We are also behind Sucuri’s Firewall, which we are also very pleased with as it is also a high-speed Content Delivery Network(CDN). We also have one of the new and shiny cyber insurance policies for good measure.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?

There are quite a few applications that we could not sustain our current business model without:

  1. First and foremost is WordPress.org – it is simply the best content management system for publishers currently.
  2. Adobe Lightroom is fantastic for photo editing purposes.
  3. We love the WP Rocket plugin for WordPress, as it integrates with our Sucuri CDN and makes our website super fast for our customers.
  4. Lastly, we are huge fans of the WordPress Recipe Maker Plugin, as it is always up to date with the latest changes or requirements in the industry, and their customer support is first class.

What are the next products you’re working on? Are there any releases you can tell us about?

At The Forked Spoon, we are always cooking up something new and exciting! Just in the past few weeks, we have gone on a Cajun Cooking Spree with our:

  • Jambalaya Recipe
  • Gumbo Recipe
  • Dirty Rice Recipe
  • Shrimp Étouffée Recipe

Where do you see the company in 5 years? Would you ever sell?

Within the next couple of years, we see revenues going into seven figures if all stays on track. As such, with this kind of growth as a small publishing business, we don’t see a sale of our company happening, but we are always open to new ideas and pitches, as that is really how it all started.

Company Name: The Forked Spoon
Founder: Jessica Randhawa



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How We Got 8500 SaaS Signups by Syncing Smartphone Networks


Starting Cira Apps Ltd was a lightbulb idea, for sure, although I back-burnered it for years. It started on Sept 11th, 2001. I’d been helping companies deploy to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. We had a couple of customers and one in particular lost their network infrastructure on that terrible day. Their data center lost power.

So suddenly these great wireless devices were useless. They could make phone calls, but they didn’t have any phone numbers. Texting wasn’t common then. They knew that at the time, there was a method to send a message from one BlackBerry to another using PIN messaging.

You had to take your co-worker’s 8-digit PIN, go to your address book on your BlackBerry and type the code, and then copy it into your contacts. The person receiving the message had to put your PIN into their contacts.

By automating these PIN updates in everyone’s address book, you could immediately communicate with your co-workers in an emergency — no different than text messaging today. Automating contact updates for everyone in the organization provides a huge advantage even without emergencies — it facilitates day-to-day productivity. The ultimate solution is to automatically push entire contact lists and calendars to smart devices.

How did you get your first three customers?

Well, you try to build a product that consumers actually want. You test it, fail a lot and hope something great comes out of it. Then, you try not to blow your marketing budget. Word gets out. You scale up and make a pile of money. Anyway that’s the dream. It didn’t happen that way for us. At least, not at the start. It took my company three years to get to our first 30 customers, representing about 25,000 users. That’s not great.

As I tested and tested some more, trying to find a way out, we blew through time, money and some of my earliest employees, who realized there were greener pastures elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

Eventually, we found a way to live the dream.

How did you validate the idea?

Honestly, we had to get our heads out of our on-premise software and into the Azure cloud! When we launched our on-premise contact management software, it took five years to reach the first 30 customers. While that may seem pathetic (it is!), those 30 customers represented about 25,000 seats.

When we launched the second business, it was virtually the same type of application but it was SaaS-based and the contrast is insane. It took five weeks to acquire the first 30 customers.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

In a way. In 2001, I started building server and handheld apps specifically for the Microsoft Exchange platform. The company, itrezzo, was a success – today it has more than 1,000 customers including HBO, the City of Austin, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Cira Apps came along when, in 2015, I saw some customers migrating from on-premise messaging to Microsoft Office 365. I remembered my old insight from the BlackBerry days, and decided to start building cloud-specific applications.

Who is your target demographic?

Any medium or large organization with a substantial network of employee smartphones. Our current customers include, for example, software companies, media and entertainment companies, sports teams, water and power utilities, large construction companies like Skender, large plumbing and HVAC concerns, government organizations, and conservation non-profits like the Alberta Conservation Association.

What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?

We had this cranky IT head of a European construction company who would do almost anything to avoid filling out a purchase order. So rather than on board everyone through the cloud, which would have resulted in a small amount of paperwork for him, this guy went desk to desk… over 500 employees… installing the software on each one by hand! Eventually he crashed his own Global Address List – we hadn’t prepared for such an odd eventuality!

How did you fund the idea initially?

Organically. We self-funded right from the beginning and didn’t need to look to outside sources.

Where did you meet your cofounder/ founding team?

We are in Silicon Valley and have been pretty fortunate in the matter of hiring, although it’s always very competitive around here when you’re looking for talent. And of course it’s much much trickier today, even compared with three or five years ago.

In finding first employees, look for self-starters – and also, people who have skills and experience that you do not have.

Did you run any companies prior?

I started working for BlackBerry in 1999, helping deploy thousands of handheld devices. Working at the heart of cutting edge-mobility, I acquired a foundation of tech and user knowledge that I have used when developing new software products. It also helped me spot a market opportunity, for server and handheld app solutions, specifically for the Microsoft Exchange platform.

In 2001, I founded itrezzo and ended up with a lot of terrific customers. I learned a lot from building that company and solution which prepared me for my next company. By the next decade, the market was changing, technology was maturing, and it was clear we had to pivot.

Existing customers began migrating from on-premise messaging to cloud-based Microsoft Office 365. I wish I could say that we moved faster, but I was initially skeptical about how many medium and large enterprises would migrate to the cloud. After exploring options and cloud technology, we decided to build cloud-specific applications for Office 365. We launched Cira Apps Ltd with its flagship SaaS solutionCiraSyncin April of 2016.

What motivated you to start your own business?

It was a natural evolution from hardware developer, to software developer, to tech team leader — and then after 9/11, the critical need for our kind of solution became clear. I just enjoy coming up with a minimal viable product, getting something into beta and starting to get users on it.

From there, you just keep whacking moles until there are no more moles to whack. Finally, you get to production and hopefully can get people to pay for it. I just like the whole process.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

To stay motivated, I’ve been going to Tony Robbins seminars. Things really clicked for me at a Business Mastery seminar I went to in Las Vegas. That whole track keeps me focused and involved in trying to improve both myself, and things that are important for the company.

One thing I’ve gotten out of the seminars is that as individuals, there are three types of identities. An artist, where you just like to create new stuff. You can be a leader, someone who wants to inspire and guide other people. Or an entrepreneur, who wants to make money. Of those three, I’m more of an artist. I like to focus on creating really cool software. As an example of putting this into practice, last year I hired a Chief Marketing Officer. It was a big financial decision, but it’s been very helpful and productive. I spend only 5 percent of the time I used to spend on marketing, which has opened up time for what I really want to do, so I don;t burn out.

While looking forward, keep paying attention to the low-hanging fruit of improving efficiency within the company. And in terms of business, really pick your software development projects really carefully. Talk yourself out of certain projects or get others to talk you out of them, because the software graveyard has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What has driven the most sales?

Honestly, to keep customer focus, I write s ton if blog articles — even knowing that many of my readers aren’t customers. Having that library of useful posts will let your clients help themselves. What kinds of content works? Create how-to videos and blog content. Make it granular, with specific answers to specific questions. You want lots of rich, helpful content.

I also recommend making the “contact us” page on your support site as easy to use as possible (some companies hide it — social media websites are good examples of this strange practice). And when customers do reach out, communicate with them ASAP. Do all of these things, and they’ll love you to death.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Differentiation. We have a fairly niche offering — a SaaS that helps enterprise companies to automatically sync up their Microsoft Office 365 contact lists and calendars to their phones. And I’d say we provide better education than most, to let clients self-service a lot of the time. We try to make our whole experience seamless from the beginning — making the demo the onboarding, and the onboarding the demo. Our approach is frictionless.

To actually run the business: QuickBooks Online. We use it, of course, for all accounting and finance. More importantly, our CiraSync back-end uses QuickBooks.

For example, if a customer wants a sales quote, the back end will send an API request to QuickBooks which generates and emails the quote. Even better, when a customer makes a purchase, our SaaS backend will create the invoice in QuickBooks, take the user’s credit card number, charge via Authorize.net, and then record the payment.

This also emails the invoice confirming payment. Last month, about 170 invoices were automatically sent via QuickBooks. Everyone in the company has a Microsoft Office 365 account with the full suite of desktop apps, Teams and email. Although Zoom, a video conferencing tool, and Slack are redundant features in Office 365, we still pay monthly for those too.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

In 5 years, we’ll be the number-one SaaS solution provider in the USA for helping enterprise firms ensure their communications are 100 percent synchronized.

Would we ever sell?

Write a number down on a napkin and we’ll see!

Company Name: Cira Apps
Founder: Vern Weitzman



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How I Created an Online Grammar Tool & Gained 100k Unique Visitors


The Word Counter is a dynamic online tool used for counting words, characters, sentences, paragraphs and pages in real time, along with spelling and grammar checking. Writers leverage it to improve word choice and writing style as well as helping to detect grammar mistakes and plagiarism. Additionally, to assist with public speaking, our tool will accurately estimate speaking time to help with prep for class presentations, wedding speeches, or anything of the sort.

It was a gradual decision to start The Word Counter. Ultimately, I was doing hours and hours of keyword research and I found that there was an enormous amount of monthly searches for the term “word counter” (see below). I realized that I could build a very large content site around that tool and answer common questions that people have about the English language.

I got my first three customers through organic search. I started to write articles about the difference between confusing words in the English language and I committed to myself to publish one blog post per day for 12 months. I am only about six months through that commitment but my first three customers arrived on the site as a result of landing on my articles from Google Search.

I validated the idea by looking at a few competitive sites and determining what their estimated traffic was on a monthly basis.

The site is monetized in two ways:

  1. Google Adsense
  2. Grammarly affiliate program

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

I have expertise in digital marketing and specifically, SEO. That is why I felt confident that I would be able to launch a website that would be able to capture hundreds of high volume search queries and eventually rank number 1 ,2, or 3 for those terms.

We have not raised one dollar of outside capital. We are 100% bootstrapped. I do digital marketing consulting work and I use every dollar I earn through that and put it right into my website.

Who is your target demographic?

  • College students 18-22 who are writing papers for class.
  • Copywriters and digital marketers who need the ability to track their text length against common web standards like Twitter’s tweet character count (140), Google’s meta description (300), and Facebook’s average post display length (~250).

When looking for first employees and , ask for referrals through trusted friends and work colleagues. That is the best and most efficient way to find your first employees.

Did you run any companies prior?

I grew up in Daytona Beach, FL until the age of 18 and then moved to Washington, DC to attend Georgetown University. I graduated with a degree from the Mcdonough School of Business in 2013.

I then moved to San Francisco, CA to pursue a career working in startups. From 2014 – 2016, I worked at Google at their HQ in Mountain View, CA helping startups and large enterprises manage their Google advertising strategy. After leaving Google, I went on to serve as the head of marketing for a couple of e-commerce companies in SF.

Most recently, I am the head of growth and marketing at Opendoor before leaving in February of 2020 to co-found an SEO agency. I am also a limited partner in two venture funds. I had a successful track record of helping startups and individuals to increase their organic traffic and conversion rates online.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

I am motivated by the idea of having a consistent passive income stream for the next 30 years. The end goal is to get the site to 1 million organic visits a month and to educate millions who have questions about the English language.

For someone just starting out, do your research, validate your idea, and commit to working on the project for a specific period of time. If you don’t know an answer, network your way to the answer and make sure you ask the questions you need to feel comfortable you can execute on your project. If you ask, you will receive the answers.

What has driven the most sales?

Organic search has driven the most affiliate revenue from Grammarly.

Time is the main factor that is stopping me from being 3x the size I am now. We are publishing 1x per day and will continue to do so in perpetuity! This will help to grow our business and then we will layer on affiliate marketing, email marketing and potentially paid FB / Google Adwords.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

I have not taken any steps to protect myself from competition other than ruthlessly executing my strategy and understanding that it is very very hard to compete with my strategy of publishing the highest quality written content ever produced on the subjects we have chosen to cover. I do not have any trademarks / IP or patents.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

  • Klaviyo (email marketing) – email marketing to our readers
  • Google Analytics – analytics tracking for our site
  • G Suite email – ability to communicate with prospective partners

What are your favourite books and Podcasts?

Books:

  • The Lean StartUp
  • Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Podcasts:

  • Insightful conversations with online business pros, industry experts, and more
  • Entrepreneurs on Fire

What are the next products you’re working on?

We are going to launch a Grammar checker, and a plagiarism checker. We just recently launched the Word Unscrambler.

In 5 years, I see it as the most visited website on the internet to learn about the English language. It will do 10 million + unique visitors per month.

Company Name: The Word Counter
Founder: Kevin Miller



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Growing Airbnb Management Service to $125k+ without Paid Ads


HostGenius became HostGenius months after we were already operating, had clients, and were figuring out exactly what to do. I started the company mid 2017 by renting a home, and subletting individual bedrooms out on Airbnb. I lived downstairs in the mud room while I learned what worked, what didn’t, and what I could scale. I did this for about 3 months, and learned two things.

Our first clients came from cold calling and emailing. I was reaching out directly to hosts asking for a 5 minute phone call on how I could both make their life easier and make them more money. Many were interested to hear back to say the least, but a lot less wanted to proceed when they found out I was quite a bit younger than them and had no evidence of my work. However, I had one client who gave it a shot, and allowed me to manage his 6 bedroom house. I used this as a case study to prove I could both save hosts time and increase their rental yields. ‍

How do you attract clients?

HostGenius’ target demographic are homeowners who want to use their property for short-term rentals. Fortunately, our service is not a one size fits all, so there is no one type of homeowner we are for. We have helped helicopter pilots, native art collectors, travelling hydrodam technicians, Canadian snowbirds, experienced superhosts – and a lot more. Our aim is simply to help people make their life easier with hosting on Airbnb.

We attract clients through our around the clock affordable service. Most local managers charge more and offer less services.

The strangest request we have had was to act as both property managers and cat sitters. The client requested that we take care of the cat in between reservations, and during reservations discuss with the guests on how often to feed her and to make sure she comes in every night.

How did you fund the idea initially?

The idea was initially funded by itself. Managing a place was near free to me as I would do all the work myself, including photography, editing, listing-setup, and even housekeeping and replenishments. However, as we started to grow, I dipped into all my savings made from refurbishing and selling sofas on Facebook marketplace. After a few months, I met Alex, our COO of the company. He further helped the company drive forward and see accelerated growth. The excellent part about working with others is they have a different perspective on everything you’ve already imagined.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Stick to a goal, and remind yourself of it every day until it’s reached. Set small goals as well as large, so you can check things off as you go. As a CEO, it is very important to never lose sight of the general mission of your company. It’s easy to get bogged down into small matters, but at the end of the day, you are responsible for the growth of the company and have to make sure a lot of what you do helps with that.

If you are just starting out, I recommend staying organized. Most people’s mistake with staying organized is in the bookkeeping. Even if you are only running through a few transactions a month, the last thing you want to do when you are ready to grow substantially is spend your first few weeks going backwards. If you are not yet in the position to hire a bookkeeper, learn the basics and do it yourself. Keep all your receipts and organize them.

I also recommend reinvesting money into growth as well as improving your product. Consider learning how to run Facebook ads manager, or pay a consultant on Fiverr to give you a breakdown. It is a very cost effective way to run ads for even the smallest of businesses. But do not forget to invest your TIME in marketing as well. There are so many free ways to market your company… just because large companies spend a large percentage of their revenue on marketing does not mean you have to at such an early stage.

We built HostGenius from $4,000 MRR to over $125,000 without a single client from paid ads. Whether that be through cold calling, emails, or community outreach, there were a lot of people who were interested and we could reach without spending money. There are also a lot of free ways to build up communities that take nothing but time. An example of that would be the way we use Meetup. We have a Vancouver’s Airbnb Hosts meetup group, which is filled with 75+ hosts who are in the position to use your services.

There is also a local grocery store who built up a group of over 6,000 members talking about environmentally friendly grocery options, and they host monthly meetings at their store. Look at your company’s clientele, and see if you can build a community out of it. But make sure to build the community as yourself and not your company. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you are a small company, you are not yet in a position to be a community host for your topic.

What apps help you run your business?

We use Monday.com, Slack, and Waveapps. It doesn’t matter how big your team is, productivity management tools will help your team understand who is doing what, when things are due, and an incentive to complete tasks. Slack helps bring your team together for communication. As easy as sending texts to each other is, it’s definitely not the best way for a company to communicate internally.

What are you working on now?

Our aim is to provide our hassle-free service to more Airbnb hosts around the world. We currently operate in 3 cities, with the plan to open up in 4 more in 2020. We are currently going through a seed funding round to accelerate growth to new cities. Our revenue for the past 12 months was around $700,000. However, as we saw a lot of our clients join us on the second half of the year, we saw over $500,000 of that over our last 2 quarters. With our largely increased portfolio, we expect to see over $3,000,000 in revenue over the next 12 months.

Company Name: HostGenius
Founder: Charles Mullany + Alex Stewart



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Eliminate Non-Violent Crimes From $16.4B Losses to $0


The idea of Flock Safety actually came from my own experience. My neighborhood in Atlanta had become subject to some property crime and I just felt that there was a solution to this very real problem. This led me to approach the police with questions about what neighborhoods could do to help them solve these crimes even better. They told me if neighborhoods could provide a license plate, this would be the actionable evidence they could use that not only stands up in court, but helps them track leads even better.

As an electrical engineer graduate from Georgia Tech, building this was something that was already in my wheelhouse so I decided that I would be a problem solver. I looped in my good friend, Matt Fuery, and we set out to build our first neighborhood license plate reader. Within the first 60 days of completion, we helped local police solve their first crime. This is how I knew that we can serve neighborhoods in a capacity that no one else had ever done before. I took what I discovered, pitched it and we were able to start this company by raising over $2M in our seed round.

Who is your target demographic?

We want to serve anyone who has a road and a community that they care about. That usually means HOAs or neighborhood groups, but it’s not exclusive to them. We also have police, business, residential, and business district customers who use our cameras to help solve crimes every single day.

What happened in the early stages?

The best place to start is to see if the product is viable in the market you’re looking to serve. As I mentioned before, we made our first arrest within 60 days of completion of the first camera, so we knew that the cameras worked. The next task was to see if we could show others in the area that it was an effective tool so we went very grassroots and used the door-to-door, word of mouth campaign and pretty shortly, we were able to spread across Atlanta. The cameras worked and I think that was a major selling point. We were going to be able to help communities catch the person that was stealing packages or breaking into cars and committing all types of property crimes. It took a lot of dirty work, but no great company ever started without people willing to get their hands dirty for extended periods of time. Since March 2017, the company has exhibited double digit month over month growth. As a result,Flock Safety has raised over $20 million in venture capital from leading firms YCombinator, Matrix Partners, Founders Fund, and Initialized Capital.

Did you run any companies prior?

I have a little over 10 years of experience in early stage companies across Banking, Automotive, Live Events, and Sports. Prior to Flock Safety, I helped launch Clutch and Experience and was able to help lead the sale of Experience to Cox Enterprises for $200 million in 2014. Because of these experiences, I knew that Flock Safety was something I needed to create and could create. I became passionate about stopping nonviolent crimes and wanted to have a hand in doing so. I believe that this is a cause that everyone can get behind so I can say that I’ve had a lot of support from every end of the spectrum from family to friends.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

It takes a strong mission to motivate you when things don’t happen as quickly as you would like them too. That’s why we set “eliminating nonviolent crime” as an end goal. We do feel this is attainable, but we also understand this takes a lot of hard work. This country alone experiences over $16.4 billion in losses every year due to property crimes. That’s a number I’d like to see go to $0.

My advice for any founder and early stage CEO is to stay the course, set a strong mission, and work as hard as you can everyday no matter the highs and lows. I like aggressive goals. They set the tone for what you’re trying to achieve, but it’s also good to remember that growth comes with growing pains and patience. It means being able to adapt with changing seasons and interests and not being defeated by failure, but learning from it. If you can master that, your company will have no problem growing and becoming better every year.

What are your favourite books and podcasts?

The Daily by NYT, Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

What are the next products you’re working on?

Yes! We are just getting started and expect to launch a handful of new products this year, all focused on eliminating crime. We’ve seen that when we can use tools to work together, they’re even more successful at helping police get the evidence they need. We’re invested in doing everything we can to continue to build the solutions for every community and foster great public/private relationships while dramatically reducing crime across the entire country.

Company Name: Flock Safety
Founder: Garrett Langley



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Developing Personality AI to Predict Someone’s Personality


Crystal is the app that tells you anyone’s personality. By knowing someone’s personality, you can quickly understand their behavior, motivations, and communication preferences to adapt your own communication style, which can help you improve your sales pitch, write a more persuasive email, build a stronger relationship, and more.

Crystal’s Chrome Extension is able to predict personality. It utilizes a new technology called Personality AI, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict someone’s personality. In the same way your brain processes information about someone, like their job or the way they speak, in order to get to know them, Personality AI uses publicly available data about a person to make predictions about their personality. It can do so much more accurately than we can as people.

Crystal’s online personality test gives an individual a chance to take a quick personality test. By ranking sets of words based on how they apply to their personality, someone can easily discover their personality type. Once you know your own type, you can share the assessments with your friends or family to discover theirs, as well.

Who is your target demographic?

Our audience is mostly made up of what we call “Professional communicators”. These are people who communicate for a living, like salespeople, recruiters, managers, and consultants. Currently, thousands of professionals globally use Crystal to communicate more effectively.

How did you meet your cofounder?

Drew and I were roommates in college. We met at the Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club and were roommates for a few years. We tried a bunch of different business ideas, including co-founding another venture-backed startup before Crystal﹣an event management company called Attend.com. After growing Attend.com for nearly 2 years, we ended up fired from the company by our board, which was definitely a wild experience for a couple of 23 year olds. While we understand technology decently, we clearly had a lot to learn about people, and this was part of the spark for our next company, Crystal. By the way, we share the story of how we ended up fired in painful detail in our book, Predicting Personality.

Was it a gradual decision or lightbulb moment to start the company?

After Attend.com, we were working out of the Harvard Innovation Lab in Boston, exploring lots of ideas. The idea for Crystal definitely clicked early on because it was so impactful and relevant to solving problems that we had felt personally. We understood the struggle that we had with communicating at Attend.com and Crystal seemed like a solution that could benefit anyone.

How was the idea funded initially?

Initially, we worked on it with no money and were doing everything ourselves. Within the first year, Crystal raised a $500K seed round.

As of 2020, we’ve raised a little over $7 million, with Salesforce Ventures as our lead investor.

Where did you get the first 10 customers?

Some of our initial users came from our personal network in Boston, and a lot of people found us organically and signed up. It took off virally when it first launched because personality can be so intriguing. Some people even labeled it as “creepy” since it appeared so accurate and people didn’t fully understand how it works. Needless to say, it got a lot of organic PR.

Our family and friends were very vocal in sharing their opinions. Their responses ranged from“it’s weird” to“How is that even possible?” and “What would anyone do with this?”.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Start small and narrow your focus. In the beginning, you don’t have to try to be everything for everyone. Your product needs to be really simple. Ideally, you should be able to build it yourself, in a fairly short amount of time. Crystal has evolved a lot since we started, but we were able to build the core ourselves with almost no money. Reducing the barrier to entry can really help you get started.

Any tips for finding the first employees?

Start with your own network﹣people from your previous companies, people you went to school with… look for people you trust. The impact that early employees have during the beginning of a startup’s life, is substantial. Getting that right is important, and if you get it wrong, making changes quickly is also important.

Ideally, look for people who have more experience than you. One of the early mistakes I made, before Crystal, was hiring people that had less experience or knowledge than me in different areas, figuring I’d guide them all. It should’ve been the opposite. I should’ve been hiring a better engineer, a better salesperson, and a better marketer than me who could have been guiding me along the way. Make sure to put an expert in each seat if you can.

What has driven the most sales?

For us, word-of-mouth has had the most impact on our sales. When someone uses Crystal within a company, they’re motivated to see their coworkers’ personalities, so they send it throughout their office and it spreads quickly. We currently don’t have a dedicated sales team﹣everything is provided through self-service online and we garner interest through recommendation.

personality-map

We once had a customer frantically ask us to stop stalking her. Because she had received a personality result that she felt was incredibly accurate, she thought we were using video surveillance to analyze personalities. That was funny for us, since Crystal just uses publicly available text to make a prediction. It did affirm our accuracy, though.

What is the app your business could not run without?

Trello is hands-down one of our most-used apps. It’s one of the best tools for helping teams collaborate and track projects, which is why we use it across our organization.

What are your favorite books/podcasts?

For podcasts, I really like How I Built This with Guy Raz. It may seem cliché, but there are a lot of interesting stories and inspiring tips that can be really helpful when you’re running your own business.

Of course How to Win Friends and Influence People has been helpful. Our entire idea is centered around communication, so it’s only fair to include this book as a source of inspiration.

I also like Shoe Dog from the creator of Nike. It’s interesting to hear about other businesses’ stories and learn from their experience.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

One of our bold visions is to make personality assessments and personality insights more ubiquitous across companies. If Crystal can continue to spread the way it does and help people communicate more empathetically, understand each other, and build better personal or professional relationships, that would be a success. We hope that within the next five years, Personality AI is more of a mainstream technology and that people see personality as an important factor in communicating empathetically with others.

What is stopping you from being 3x the size you are now?

Building a product that can grow organically and that customers immediately understand and can purchase scalably is really hard﹣that’s a big, audacious goal we have for ourselves. We are constantly tweaking and innovating the product on a daily to weekly basis in order to find Crystal tighter product-market fit.

Because Crystal is so universally applicable, we’ve always struggled with “Shiny Object” Syndrome﹣there are so many things to do with it that we spent time chasing overly broad goals. Narrowing our focus, getting our business model right, and perfecting the product will help us grow.

Are there any releases you can tell us about?

We’re constantly iterating on our Chrome Extension, which allows you to see anyone’s personality from LinkedIn. We’re making it more accurate and adding additional content to give you more communication insights.

We’re also constantly expanding the types of assessments you can take on our platform. Within the last six months, we’ve added the ability to take an Enneagram test, Myers-Briggs test, and Strengths assessments, which gives you even more ways to learn about yourself and coworkers.

Company Name: Crystal
Founder: Greg Skloot + Drew D’Agostino



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