The idea of building in public has been fascinating to me. Couldn't be happier to take part in this community. I've been learning a ton since I joined, both here and from the IH out on twitter. I'll do my best to share my journey publicly, in hopes that it motivates others.
At the end of March 2020, I woke up to a surprising yet somewhat anticipated meeting invite from the president of the company I previously worked for. With Covid-19 quickly bringing the world to its knees, and the fact that I didn’t report directly to the president, the meeting invite didn’t leave me muddled. After all, we were providing a service to help companies cultivate the culture within their office. The lockdowns that started in California, spread to other states and left offices empty within a matter of weeks. Essentially, was had no product to sell.
Though the departure from my previous employer wasn’t much of a surprise, as with every hard turn in life, it sent me on a mental rollercoaster. Furloughed and on lockdown, with my spouse, our little one and the dog, I was forced to do some extensive thinking.
It's well known that humans don't like change. And in most cases, we’ll do our best to avoid it at all costs. But this was different. This was mother natures’ crazy way of forcing millions of people into the uncomfortable territory of change—whether they accepted it or not. Change was on the horizon for millions of people around the globe. And I was one of those millions facing the dreadful yet much anticipated furloughed status.
I wanted to take my time with this decision. It’s almost as if the constant and ever growing death toll from the pandemic, was to act as a reminder of the importance to this decision. Life is short. Death is inevitable. If there was ever a reminder of life being short, this was it. Knocking at all of our doors - every single day. To dive headfirst into a job hunt seemed typical; the natural approach to life. But is that what would make me happy?
I quickly came to realize that I’d like to embark on an entrepreneurial journey - again. And although past experiences have left both my spouse and I scarred, her endorsement was granted. And that was the first and hardest hurdle to overcome.
The rules this time would be different. I’d play it safer this time. No startup bullshit. No recruiting of investors or external funding of any kind. I wanted to build a company that outlasts the capitalistic drench the demand for the dollar can instill.
The only way I thought of doing this was to adopt the Tesla approach. For those unfamiliar, Musk’s approach to electrifying the automobile industry was to start with developing the more expensive cars and slowly gain the means and experience to build for the mass. In my case, the end goal is to build projects for the mass. And to achieve that goal, I intended to start building products and solutions for clients. A boutique-like development and marketing agency. As we develop traction and momentum, we’d hopefully gain enough experience and the means to release our own products and services to the world. In fact, some of our very own ideas could arise from supporting our clients’ businesses.
I knew that I had a ton of technological experience. And I wanted to offer solutions that were an all-in-one. No upselling techniques. You pay and you get a worry-free experience. If clients bought our hosting plan or any type of development project, I didn’t want them bothered with all the noise that may backlash (i.e https certs, security, backups). Half the folks being upsold from the big hosting firms have no idea what they’re paying for, and can hardly say no to the flashy discount offers being presented. Okay, I’m not sure if that last stat really is 50% but it’s up there. And folks are reluctant to say no to a security upsell that claims it will keep them safe from millions of hackers out there.
Gaining initial momentum was tough. Deciding how everything will operate logistically was a long journey. You try to make the best decisions and hope that you're calling the right shots. From billing and invoicing to onboarding new clients, you wear plenty of hats; and at times, could feel a bit all over the place and lost.
My younger sister, Coral, is obsessed with dogs. A lot of her free time as a child was devoted to volunteer work and extensive animal care, with a heart for pitbulls. When considering my immediate circle, I felt this could be a great start. Perhaps, one of the many non-profits she’d worked for, would need a website, or even help with something technological that was above their means. And with that idea we ran full speed ahead.
We quickly learned that most non-profits operate on a nearly zero cash flow basis. And at first glance, this didn’t seem to be an issue. After all, I was looking to network and grow while supporting a great cause. But, this tough reality meant that unless operated extremely well, many nonprofits struggle to focus on their mission and wind up fighting just to stay afloat, especially this year.
We learned that we needed to find and target more stable organizations. The catch was that in most cases if they were stable, their online presence was already squared away. But we kept at it. With a firm belief in a reciprocity relationship, we carried on to the many social and networking groups that Coral was connected to. I was keen on partnering with a well-organized non-profit that somehow neglected their online presence.
After sorting through endless messages, and having to repeatedly explain why our intentions were sincere, we finally found an interesting opportunity, our first potential prospect, Paws Between Homes. A non-profit that just got their tax ID and is run by a special someone named Cole. Katie, who helped Cole get Paws Between Homes going, saw one of Coral’s messages and reached out asking for help. The introduction to Cole was made and after sharing a bit of his legal background, he explained that Atlanta has one of the highest eviction rates in the United States and that it’s affecting dogs and not just their humans. Evictions led to the surrender of hundreds of family pets to area animal shelters each year. And while PBH can’t entirely stop this phenomenon, they passionately believed that if people got back on their feet in a new home, they should be able to do so as a complete family with no members left behind.
I promised Cole that for as long as I could, PBH wouldn’t need to worry about anything related to tech nor the cost of it. We quickly agreed on the basics and I went to work on a simple site for PBH that would act as a starting point for their launch.
Paws Between Homes was a first of many attempts to build momentum. And it solidified and gave assurance that I was onto something. While this was manifesting, I invested $300 to print signs that I could stick in the ground, in big intersections. I knew that going the digital advertising route would have a heavy price tag. Driving around Maryland, while listening to podcasts, seemed like an easy no brainer. And it paid off big time.
My next move was to tap into my mom’s network. She’d been networking for Eric B Home Improvement for over a decade and has formed ever-lasting relationships. If there was a network to try and tap into - it was hers. After getting a few non profits under my belt for free, a few calls coming in from the signs, it’s fair to say that I was ready for the real deal. I gave Eric B a quick online face lift, structured a lead capturing system (CRM) for their business, launched marketing campaigns for them, and gave my mom plenty to boast about. Within a matter of months, Eric B was an entirely new business. Until this very day, leads are generated in a very efficient and systematic approach. My parents’ home improvement business improved drastically. All while enduring plenty of cancellations, derived from uncertainty the pandemic brought about.
At this point, I didn’t even need to explain to my mom what I was offering. She proudly started telling business partners what was happening with her business. The leads came in hot and were more relevant than ever before. She couldn’t stop talking about what was happening. As I learned while working for Apple, passion is contiguous. And when it’s authentic, it’s nearly impossible for it to not rub on to others.
At one point, I decided to network with various local groups. This meant constant Zoom calls with folks I’d never met. Of course, all with a mutual interest in referrals and business layups. It’s an interesting way to build yourself a group of allies. And while that may work for many, and certainly did wonders for my mom - for me it wasn’t as appealing. Something about showing up to a networking group and claiming my strengths are web development and digital marketing felt contradictory. I forced myself to carry on with this approach for a few months but came to the realization that it just wasn’t for me. My heart wasn't there and I’m content with that.
During WebLime’s first year I began to feel growing pain. The process for handling the first few websites wasn’t going to work for more than 10 websites. Managing the server side became hefty. I realized that in our own small bubble we were quickly facing scaling issues. It wasn’t until a client all of a sudden skipped a payment, or various other issues that surfaced, that I had to stop everything I was doing to manually update the server or do some other manual task. The process wasn’t as cohesive and automated as it should be; and it certainly wasn’t feasible if we wanted to scale to 100 projects or more.
From the technical constraints to how payments should properly integrate with the operation, WebLime needed to provide a robust, scalable solution. Something that would allow me to focus on the business’ growth and not be occupied with previous deals we had. Years ago, I researched the possible solutions. Envisioning a world where I’d one day own an agency and want to achieve a similar outcome. And here I was, facing this very issue head on, in real life.
It took a few months of great talent, collaborative efforts and intense development for me to finally launch DigitalAtar. A platform that would not only allow WebLime to scale with more than 5 to 10 clients but provide them a rich offering of services.
Here’s a snippet of some advantages to the launch of DigitalAtar:
With DigitalAtar in place, WebLime can finally return to provide development solutions. Our approach to being bootstrapped and slowly launching our own products worked faster than I could ever anticipate.
From my career challenges, to my family’s sacrifice through these hard times, 2020 was an insanely twisted!
I’m looking at 2021 with a lot of desire and optimism. Many people have experienced their most challenging year, and a monumental turning point seems to be upon us. I won't list all of our goals but here are a few I’d like to note:
Last fun fact if you made it this far! :)
Our top paying client came from a friend. Not my friend but a friend of a client. And that client came from a non profit called Paws Between Homes. In other words, I built an org a free website, they referred a friend which then referred another friend.