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I have no intention of starting my own software company. I’m kind of forced into it. You see, a few years ago, I was a full-time YouTuber. Everything was fine until my channel was demonetized. This means I earn $0 from ads placed on my videos.
There was a time when my channel was getting 2-3 million monthly views without receiving a single cent. As a way to bounce back from this low, I decided to put my life savings ($5,000) into creating a creator economy software startup at age 19. I dropped out of college to work on my SaaS startup full-time and learned valuable lessons along the way. Here are the five most important lessons I’ve learned so far:
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1. Done is better than perfect
I have no coding experience – let alone create and grow a startup. Despite these challenges, I am 100% convinced of my ideas. Backed by a proof-of-concept, I’m willing to go to great lengths within a limited budget to bring my SaaS idea to life.
With a good vision and perseverance, I was able to find a good developer overseas that not only fits my budget, but believes in my vision for Trend Watchers.
We still work together to this day. The first version of Trend Watcher was terrible, but the UI/UX slowly improved over time. When I look back on my journey from a software development perspective, I shouldn’t have come this far. I went through a lot of setbacks and obstacles. I should have exited at the starting line, but with a great vision and team and desire to succeed, we were able to get through.
No matter how challenging a task may seem, it’s better than perfect. Often, perfection comes from the countless mistakes you make along the way.
2. Importance of data collection
One of the things I implemented early on was good data collection. What do I mean by data collection? Data collection has a bad reputation as big companies and scammers abuse it to make a quick buck. But data collection also has a bright side. Data collection can be used to make better marketing decisions. It can also be used to discover what users like and dislike.
I collect data in a few ways, but the two most useful data collection strategies I use are asking good questions about our sign-up sequence and having a session recording software to track how long users spend on each page and what they clicked on. These two data collection methods help in 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 latter, I repeat: get a proof of concept before you build. In early 2022, I think it would be a good idea to build a marketplace in Trend Watchers. Markets are great, and if used properly, they can be huge growth engines for startups — but no one wants that. They just want trends that can be used to go viral online.
In any case, instead of listening to market feedback, I continued to build it, which was a major failure. It also caused a lot of other problems, but I wasted a lot of time and money on things that users didn’t want at the time. Because of this experience, I always investigate and get a proof of concept before adding a new feature.
4. Tell your story
Starting a software company with your own money at 19 is already financially challenging enough. The next question is, how do I market this thing with a $0 marketing budget?
Growing up, I was always an amazing storyteller. In my free time after school, I always write my own books. I would walk into our home office, take a few sheets of paper from the printer, fold them in half, staple them together, and rumble – I have a book.
I decided to use this skill I developed at a young age to slowly build a loyal following movement that would help me gain traction as a trend watcher. The two platforms I decided to focus on documenting my progress were Instagram and leveraging media. It wasn’t an overnight success. It took me a lot of writing, documentation and pitching to slowly start getting my brand story heard, and now it’s starting to pay off.
An interesting insight I recently discovered about my paying customers is that they tend to stick around longer after they know their money is being spent. Many of my paying clients follow my stories through my email list or Instagram page for weekly updates.
If you’re struggling to grow your startup, document your journey. Not only will you end up with a well-written journal, but you’ll also find loyal clients along the way.
5. Seize every opportunity that arises
Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made are time-sensitive opportunities I’ve come across. Some of those opportunities include the opportunity to buy shows, go to different places and break my schedule for certain events. About 90% of these opportunities come out of nowhere, and every time I grab an opportunity, it helps a lot in my business development process.
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We all know that starting a business and growing a business is not easy, especially for inexperienced young people. Reading books and watching YouTube videos can be helpful and informative, but experience is truly the best teacher. The skills and lessons I’ve gained through my experience have helped me grow exponentially, and hopefully these five lessons above will help other entrepreneurs — young and old — grow their businesses as well.