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NOTABLE! 30 Years and kinda stuck in a hamster wheel

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Mario_Dev

New Contributor
Sep 11, 2020
3
9
11
Germany
Hey guys,

first of all, I really appreciate this community right here :). I've been lurking for the past couple of weeks and decided to create an account. This post will probably a little bit longer so here the TLDR version:
- Created 2 businesses. Made some money with the first and absolutely failed with the 2nd.
- Still working a 40h Job
- Married with 1 child and another one on its way
- Kinda stuck because of my life situation but still trying to succeed :).

If you want to know how you shouldn't start a business you shouldn't skip the part about my 2nd business ;).

Who Am I?
My name is Mario - first and foremost I'm a father and husband. I love my family to death and they will always come first. and I'm a Techlead within the business management sector of a billion-dollar company. I've read the book of MJ around 7 years ago and it was probably the first book that sparked my interest in entrepreneurship. After that, I started to read a ton of books (like 10x rule, 4hours work week, the expert secrets and so on) and to be honest none of them were really worth it - yea you can learn a thing or 2 but most of it felt like mental masturbation.
Nevertheless, I would like to show you on what path I've been and what my current goals are :).

What was my first business?
The first business was pretty unspectacular - it was an ecommerce agency. We were a group of 3 people - 1 Developer (me), 1 Design/Marketing guy and a sales guy. On paper, this sounds kinda perfect and for a while, it felt quite good. But I quickly realized that this type of business model just isn't for me. First of all, I had to do PHP programming within a framework that felt like garbage - but hey ok if it makes me some money I'll be alright. But then we also had one customer that started a lawsuit against us out of the blue. We found out that he was trying to scam us and told him - 1 week later we received the first lawsuit... I mean WTF was wrong with him. We were even fair enough to not draw any consequences from his scam attempt (besides canceling our partnership with him). Gladly we had some good lawyers that dealt with the issue rather quickly but it left a bitter aftertaste.

One might say: "hey - that's just business" and you are absolutely right and I think we might have continued if our sales guy wasn't just the sneakiest person ever. He slandered our customers behind their back and was just an overall disingenuous person. After a while, I decided that I can not work with this person anymore and told him upfront. Since everybody had 33% of the company we offered him our 66% for some cash. There are still 450 Euro open from that deal (I think it was around 2016 where we sold). Furthermore, he tried to revoke all my software licenses (Jetbrains - an integrated developer environment) which I paid with my own money and only used the business E-Mail.

We had the agency from 2014-2016 and made probably around 60k in total profits. It was quite good money for just a small side hustle (I was still working 40h on the side). With this chapter closed, I started my 2nd Business.

What was my second business?
My second company was SAAS Software. The idea was to flip the job market - instead of letting the employees apply to employers we wanted to give the employers the chance to search for their perfect employee. So instead of using headhunters and paying thousands of dollars, we wanted to create a job board where an employer can find hundreds of potential workers. I still think that the idea executed right is still worth a LOT of money - at least here in Germany where I live. Why? Because we have a so-called employee market. A lot of businesses struggle to even find a coworker - and this is true for a lot of sectors (starting from health care to IT).

But why didn't we succeed?
Haha Oh boy this will be the absolute perfect example on how to not start a business. I try to give you everything that went wrong so you don't have to do the same mistakes. To be honest I also know about all these possible mistakes beforehand and I still did them... don't ask me why :D.

1. Too much Features
Yeah... well... the first thing you always hear from people is that you should build a minimal viable product. So let's see what my MVP had to offer:
  • Registration for Companies and Employees - including automated E-Mails via sendgrid & co (so far so good)
  • CV Creation for employees (yea the mvp should be nearly ready)
  • Search for Companies to find employees and a way to contact them (nice the mvp should be done)
  • Progression of the communication between an employee and an employer. Smth. like this: contacted, accepted, interview appointment, offer, offer accepted
    • this also included an interactive chat were the each side was informed via E-Mail if a new message appeared and they were offline (ooookay this might be a little bit over the top - but hey now the mvp can start)
  • A distance calculation where the employee can say that he is willingly to drive 50km (31 miles) and he will only appear on the search result if the company is in distance (weeellll ok I mean maybe this might help or hurt the start since the search results will not contain everybody... but NOW is the right point to start)
  • User management for companies including roles (äh what - we don't even have a single company... why does this feature exist???)
  • Clustering, filtering, sorting and all the other stuff you don't need. (... well yea.)
2. Too much people
So we initially started with 2 persons (me and the design/marketing guy). But quickly added another developer, an accountant, a project manager, a photographer (what????). I sold them all my dream but paid them very little (friends and family). Out of all these persons, what do you think are we missing??? ding ding ding a sales guy. Like what the hell was I thinking.

3. Spend too much money for "dumb" marketing
Well, our marketing guy was mainly a designer (with a focus on conversion rate optimization) and what do all people do that have no real clue about marketing? Yes - right - spending waaaay to much money on campaigns that don't work. But to be fair at the end we had some success - 1 employee cost us around 5 Euros which is actually quite cheap in such a competitive market.

4. No sales guy
Yeah - well actually we had 1 sales guy which was me and that didn't turn out too well. A basic conversation was like:
me: "Hi I'm Mario and I've seen that you are currently looking for xyz"
them: "yea that is true"
me: "can I have 5 minutes of your time to talk about our solution"
them (noticing oh shit it's a sales cold call): "no I currently have no time"
me: "k bye"
them: "bye"
Well, the first objection was always the last for me. I feel really uncomfortable doing cold calls and it is definitely not one of my strengths. Sadly we needed a really good sales guy for the b2b part of our business - but we never got one :(.

5. B2B and B2C
Another issue was that we were b2c and b2b so we always had to advertise in 2 markets... with the limited budget we had it was not feasible.

So what did I learn from this journey?
I'm really good at developing products. Even to this day, I'm really proud of the software that I've build. I always try to keep an eye on clean code and best practices - while keeping the overall complexity as low as possible. I'm so confident in my skills that I think that even a no coder could understand what and why I did the things I did.
I can also unite people and get them motivated to achieve a certain goal (although we missed it by miles :D).
But besides these 2 points, I'm below average in all the other stuff (marketing, sales etc.). And I think in future companies I'll either try to work around my strengths or get into a market that is a true blue ocean with a certain need. Furthermore, I'll try to keep my company and software as small as possible and scale it appropriately.

...Holy f*ck. I just realized that this wasn't even a business - it was just a hobby that burned a LOT of money....

What now?
From 2014-2018 I did a lot of work - at least 60h/week for 4years straight. While I created these businesses above I still worked at least 30h/week for an employer to save some money to pay my student loans. With the birth of my son in 2018 I started to take a break from startups and focus on him and my wife. While my wife was always supportive for the last 10 years no matter what kind of crazy ideas I had I wanted to give back a little - and of course spend as much time as possible with my son :). I'm still soooo grateful to have such wonderful persons around me.
Currently, I'm in a really good position (tech lead) in a major company - but I still have this urge to create my own company and I have the feeling that it will never stop.
Actually... my biggest career fear in life is to never bring a profitable saas/company to live...
So that's the reason why I'm currently trying to pick a good niche and start all over again. My primary niche, for now, will be ABAP developers(developers for SAP(probably biggest ERP in the world) systems) in enterprise companies. Lets see how this turns out :).

I'll try to keep this thread up to date. Just to see what the journey was like because you tend to forget so much about the past.
 

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Eisenstein

Bronze Contributor
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Read Millionaire Fastlane
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Hi Mario,

welcome to the Fastlane Forum!
Your journey sounds exciting and thank you for sharing your mistakes - I'm sure you will learn a lot from them. I think, I'm doing some of these mistakes, too - like too many features in the first product version.

Viel Erfolg bei deinem nächsten Projekt!
(Btw I'm from Germany too!)
 
OP
OP
M

Mario_Dev

New Contributor
Sep 11, 2020
3
9
11
Germany
Hi Mario,

welcome to the Fastlane Forum!
Your journey sounds exciting and thank you for sharing your mistakes - I'm sure you will learn a lot from them. I think, I'm doing some of these mistakes, too - like too many features in the first product version.

Viel Erfolg bei deinem nächsten Projekt!
(Btw I'm from Germany too!)
Thanks a lot, mate. I appreciate your support!

Ich wünsche dir auch viel Erfolg bei deinen Projekten :).
 

Subutai

New Contributor
Aug 5, 2018
3
1
13
Ha Mario,

Thanks for sharing your story! The part with your sales calls made me laugh. You seem really driven (+ skilled) so I'm sure you'll do well. Please keep this thread up to date!

Why did you decide not to proceed with the job platform? Since you've already built the MVP, is it not worth trying again, but with a different marketing strategy?

I'm interested in building similar SaaS software; a "candidate" board for employers to find their ideal employee, but with a special focus on recent graduates (as I'm a student myself). I'm currently thinking about how I can best approach this; I know I need to get the user acquisition process nailed down first!
 
OP
OP
M

Mario_Dev

New Contributor
Sep 11, 2020
3
9
11
Germany
Ha Mario,

Thanks for sharing your story! The part with your sales calls made me laugh. You seem really driven (+ skilled) so I'm sure you'll do well. Please keep this thread up to date!

Why did you decide not to proceed with the job platform? Since you've already built the MVP, is it not worth trying again, but with a different marketing strategy?

I'm interested in building similar SaaS software; a "candidate" board for employers to find their ideal employee, but with a special focus on recent graduates (as I'm a student myself). I'm currently thinking about how I can best approach this; I know I need to get the user acquisition process nailed down first!
Hi Subutai,

thanks a lot for your kind words!

There are multiple reasons why I didn't continue the product.

1. It was not an idea I was in love with. Even to this day, I don't mind that there isn't such a product (so this is a bad sign :/). The idea was mostly born out of making big money and not solving a real problem. Nevertheless, I still think with great execution you could still make it work.
2. With little money, it will probably take years before the idea will take off. Yea you could niche down on certain sectors and try to get employees/employers and be hopefully cost-efficient, but it will take a combination of luck and money (I can tell you going for the health care sector probably isn't the best idea).
3. I still don't know any sales guys(that I actually like) and for b2b within the hr departments, you need one. That's why I currently try to niche down on customers where personal relation is not the most important thing.

Now that I'm writing about it... I think Number 1 is the real reason I didn't continue.

I think your idea is perfectly valid - but you have to think about who would search for recent graduates. Mostly these are companies that want to save some money.
Getting graduates to use your platform won't be extremely hard but convincing companies might be hard - at least that's what my impression was. And before the idea becomes interesting for a company you have to have a couple of graduates -> so it will probably cost you a little bit.

All in all I would say... tough market - but possible. But if I were in your shoes I would search for ideas that are easier to execute.
 

Subutai

New Contributor
Aug 5, 2018
3
1
13
Hi Subutai,

thanks a lot for your kind words!

There are multiple reasons why I didn't continue the product.

1. It was not an idea I was in love with. Even to this day, I don't mind that there isn't such a product (so this is a bad sign :/). The idea was mostly born out of making big money and not solving a real problem. Nevertheless, I still think with great execution you could still make it work.
2. With little money, it will probably take years before the idea will take off. Yea you could niche down on certain sectors and try to get employees/employers and be hopefully cost-efficient, but it will take a combination of luck and money (I can tell you going for the health care sector probably isn't the best idea).
3. I still don't know any sales guys(that I actually like) and for b2b within the hr departments, you need one. That's why I currently try to niche down on customers where personal relation is not the most important thing.

Now that I'm writing about it... I think Number 1 is the real reason I didn't continue.

I think your idea is perfectly valid - but you have to think about who would search for recent graduates. Mostly these are companies that want to save some money.
Getting graduates to use your platform won't be extremely hard but convincing companies might be hard - at least that's what my impression was. And before the idea becomes interesting for a company you have to have a couple of graduates -> so it will probably cost you a little bit.

All in all I would say... tough market - but possible. But if I were in your shoes I would search for ideas that are easier to execute.
I see, I can imagine that working on an idea you don't love will eventually cause you to not put your best effort into it. I have to admit that this is something I currently underestimate, so I might have to reconsider which ideas I want to work on.

Thank you for your feedback on my idea. I had a few more questions, but I don't want to hijack your thread haha so I sent you a DM!
 

MJ DeMarco

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Great into, marking it NOTABLE because you really highlighted some of your struggles and learnings. Much appreciated and welcome!
 

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