Stories From My First Ten Months
Seconds and Cents, Episode 21. Today we're going to talk about just some of the things that I did when I was just starting out the business. This is probably the first year and a half of the business. And yesterday we talked about experimenting, we talked about kind of how nine out of 10 experiments really fail, they really fail miserably. And so at least in my world, nine out of 10 experiments fail really miserably. And so today, I was just going to kind of tell some stories, some things that happened when I was when I was just getting started. When it was still a one man show. Pretty much everything that I'm going to talk about is when I was a one man show, and yeah, let's have some fun. So this was a tough 18 months, it might have been two years. As a tough two years. I was working probably 100 hours a week. I was making what felt like absolutely no progress. I was always tired. I felt like I was always fixing mistakes that I made when I was tired and this is really
When I was kind of working to establish myself as an entrepreneur and build a business that was, you know, going to be reasonable. So I started out I was actually a, I actually started out as a nonprofit consultant. So I had a Community Foundation approached me my senior year of college, they said, Hey, we'd love to learn more about how you can engage millennials. I knew what I was doing with Buckeye thought at Ohio State where we had gotten four or five 6000 college students to raise 1.5 $1.6 million.
And they said, Well, what did you do in Buckeye THON, and I told him about how my team at the time and I had started working with different psychological concepts in order to increase our average donation. So what happened was, we had an in my first year kind of heading up the financial organization in the business intelligence organization inside a book icon. We had an average donation of about $35. a donation and now is spread out over 30,000
Unique donor, so it's a lot of money, right? But it was a 35,000. There's a $35 average donation, and my team comes to me, I said, my team, we need to figure out how we're gonna, how we're going to do this thing. And let me know what you guys need. My team tells me this. So we have a brilliant idea.
And this was actually this one person who was my director of assessment assessments at the time. She says, I just read about this psychological concept called anchoring. And I would absolutely love to see if we could anchor our our donors and we could increase our average donation. So basically, what that meant was, we were going to ask, instead of asking for $25, or $50, or for $100, for a donation, right, you know, those little like radio buttons where you just select the donation amount, and instead of asking for 25, or 50, or $100, we were going to ask for $250 or 150, or $150 or other. So what we're going to do is we're going to force our donors to select the other
unless they want to donate 200
For hundreds of dollars, and our goal was that we were going to increase our average donation, we didn't think that we were going to get a bunch of 250 or 100 reveal our gifts. But what we thought was, maybe by asking for $25, we're actually limiting ourselves. And so people are kind of taking the extra step to donate more money when in reality, we want them to take the extra step to donate less than one. So we set for 25 $250 and $150. And then other and it turned out that we increased our average donation that year to $70 per donation, we doubled it all because
this group of three college students, not including me these my team had three college students on it. They had done a lot of work into researching anchoring and figuring out how we were going to pull it off. And so it was absolutely unbelievable. We're thrilled that we double doubled our average donation. As far as I'm concerned buck icon is still using those suggested donations because you know, they are just making so much more money, helping so many more people
So this organization approaches me, they say, Hey, we would love to learn about how you engage millennials we had, it was a dance marathon, right? Like, there are lots of different charity bike rides where you fundraise, right? And then you get to participate in event we had a dance marathon. And we had gotten 4000 5000 6000 college students to sign up to fundraise $250 for our organization or to participate in this dance marathon. So I took on the engagement. It was my first consulting engagement. I was still in college at the time. And
I spent about three months basically interviewing the entire community to just understand, well, what is the community because it was a Community Foundation. So you have to understand what the community was I interviewed people all the way in their 80s to people who are quite literally my age. So just hear kind of what was their experience like as a young person, what was what were the more tenured individuals experiences as it relates to young people?
Right. And I made a whole bunch of recommendations for how I thought this community foundation could increase could increase their number of millennial donors. But primarily what it actually related to is it related to well, you have to make a better place in the community. So your primary challenge isn't millennials or isn't getting people here. It's not like Columbus or Cleveland is taking your millennials away from you. It's that it's very difficult for to attract a millennial because there isn't quite as quite a lot of place here. So my suggestions were things like, buy up the cheap real estate, they had a large endowment, I hope they still do have large endowment, they do great work. But buy up all the cheap real estate around your offices and start turning them into apartment buildings, right? And then you can MIT you have a revenue stream based off of the apartments or help subsidize restaurants going into the downtown area so that the restaurant so that the downtown scene can be a little bit more vibrant. I put more streetlights up at night, that way, it's not dark anywhere. Right? And so really, I had a
Like it was kind of a lot of suggestions on not how can you engage more millennials? But how can you make it so that the millennials feel like their community is more built for them?
They took none of my recommendations. The engagement ended actually the engagement ended early. It's like none of my recommendations, they move forward. As far as I know, they still haven't taken into my recommendations.
In the event, that client is listening to this podcast, I hope you're doing well.
I hope that everything is going well, at the foundation. I can't wait to hear how you're doing and catch up. So as that's going on, I make a handshake deal for a line mindfulness, this mobile app that we're going to create and as part of the handshake deal, because I have not built a mobile app before I had self taught. I was a self taught coder, and I was self taught and coding. I spent like 200 bucks. I bought an old iPad off of Amazon because I was in college at the time, right?
expense 200 bucks. And then I downloaded this free game it was made for preschoolers called swift playgrounds. Apple built it, I think quite literally for preschoolers to teach them the fundamentals of logic, the fundamentals of coding. So I taught myself how to code on this old iPad that ran this game for preschoolers. And I made a handshake deal to build a commercial ready app, and which I shouldn't have done looking back in the long run, because you know, that's nuts.
And so it was aligned mindfulness, but I told them, Listen, I will build the first version of the app all the way until the point where it's released. So we'll do all the ideating, we'll do all of the prototyping, we'll do all the initial development absolutely free.
And I'll only charge you an hourly consulting right after that if you like it. And so we actually set out to start in December of my senior year of college, and the first version of the app wasn't released until
September, October of the next year. So it took, it took a long time to build that first version. I was working for free. So I had a little bit of the money from the nonprofit consulting, right that I was kind of funneling into my life. And I was living with my parents, because I moved off from the college campus. And so I'm building this app for free. In the middle of it all my computer dies. So I'm building a mobile app, my computer just up and dies. And so then I had to basically spend all the money that I had made on the nonprofit engagement for
buying a new computer. And, you know, sustaining the rest of my life the next couple of months, I think at the time, I had like a couple hundred dollars in my bank account. And I was just like, this is what entrepreneurship is.
And yeah, so we, we built the first version, it took about 10 months to build the first version of the app, we released it, the feedback, the early feedback was really, really good. And so the early feedback was actually so engaging, that we were like we've got to continue to build this out.
We've got to continue to market we've got to continue to expand. And so so so so so so fortunately, I was allowed to begin charging, like a standard hourly rate for those services Otherwise, I would have absolutely gone broke.
No question about it, nothing gets nothing gets off the ground.
This whole business isn't off the ground in the event that they don't say, actually, you know, what we actually really like, the way that the way that our users are using the app, we really like the feedback that we're getting from our early users.
Thirdly, so this is happening as I as we are just releasing a live mindfulness. So I am 10 months into my kind of entrepreneurial life. And the first five or six months I mean, I was in college finishing up so it's not like I was really spending that much time working on the business. Um,
a guy approaches me He says, Hey, I would like to hear more about exponential technologies. And I'd like you to just kind of consult for me what exponential tech
analogies are out there and how it's gonna affect me and how it's gonna affect my business. And this came from a conversation that I had had with the non profit consulting. It was actually somebody that I met up with to learn more about what the community was where I was doing this community foundation work and
the like, kind of overall theme was I had been accepted into this organization called abundance. 360 abundance. 360 is run by a guy by the name of Peter Diamandis, who made his name by doing two things first, starting the XPrize Foundation and the XPrize foundation only was popular because they had a 10 million either 5 million or $10 million prize, their first prize in the 90s for the first privately funded, privately developed space vehicle that could go up into low Earth orbit and then come back down safely. So
a team does this and the 90s that company
that did it was bought by Richard Branson, which is now Virgin Galactic. And Peter Diamandis. So he started the XPrize foundation. He also was the author of abundance, the future is better than you think. Which was a New York Times bestseller for I don't know how many weeks, but a lot of weeks. And so I was involved in this organization, where basically there was a three day mastermind with a lot of like, kind of the best entrepreneurs in the world. Not that I was one of the best I feel like I kind of snuck into this organization. But that's a conversation for another day.
The best entrepreneurs in the world on how are we going to use exponential technologies to solve some of the world's greatest problems? So looking at looking at problems like food, looking at problems like water, like sustainable energy, homelessness, right education, how could you get internet everybody on the planet? Right? So it was kind of mastermind about how are we going to use technology to solve some of the world's greatest problems? I showed that this thing in
January of my senior year of college. And then this guy nine or 10 months later asked me to teach him everything that I learned. So I now I was in the business of exponential technologies consulting.
And so they're, they're asking all these different types of questions about artificial intelligence and robotics and blockchain. This is right when Bitcoin was going all the way to $21,000, right, per Bitcoin. And I probably spent 10 or 11 hours total, doing this consulting and then the guy was like, You know what, I don't think exponential technologies consulting is right for you. So unfortunately, I lost that client after a month, 10 hours and a month's worth of work. We had met up for six hours of the 10 probably. And that was just kind of it. I did it explained what AI was how AI was going to impact the world. But through this and this was a really interesting opportunity through this. I became really enamored with artificial intelligence. I became really interested with artificial intelligence. I think
felt like, you know what, AI is something that I should learn about. So I had heard at a conference that there was this guy named Jeremy Howard, who was the best AI researcher in the world, they actually rank them. He was the best AI researcher in the world for two years in a row. And he had this free open online course on how to do state of the art deep learning. So now, I'm 10 months into my entrepreneurial career, and I'm deciding I'm going to learn how to do state of the art deep learning. I hardly knew how to code I'm deciding, I'm just going to do I'm going to do artificial intelligence. This is just what's going to be Um, and so I signed up for this class, I get a couple of servers spun up on AWS. And sure enough, in the first lesson, I watched this lesson for two hours and the first lesson, we were building state of the art algorithms where you could tell a photo of a cat versus a photo of a dog down to 99.8% accuracy and just felt amazing. I felt like wow, AI is
to really impact the world. And so I stuck with that. So how did I find that I liked doing technology? I liked doing automation. I liked doing things that really helped make the elevates the work world into a more exponential future. Well, I started with nonprofits. I liked doing the nonprofit work, but it wasn't for me. I did mobile apps, I continued to do the mobile apps, we integrated AI into the mobile app. So what happened was the mobile app became a shell for the AI. Later on, we had exponential technologies, so and just like kind of education, how are these things going to change the world? How are these things going to help you through your entrepreneurial journey? or How can you start a business I can get out in front of a lot of these technologies. At the time. One of the big conversations that was going on when I was doing this exponential technologies consulting was, well could you use blockchain to replace the modern database. So this was also when like, kind of the theory of
blockchain was gaining a ton of steam, not that it's lost steam, but Ethereum blockchain was getting a ton of steam there was this idea that you could do smart contracts left and right. Could you put the blockchain in your manufacturing facilities? Right? So could you put the blockchain in your manufacturers facilities? And now, you don't have to do as much inventory control because it's all in the blockchain. And so we kind of very quickly said, No, that's none of that's gonna happen. It's totally that's totally outlandish. It doesn't make any logical sense. But at the time, the world of exponential technologies was really surrounding AI, robotics blockchain and how you could put all those three things together. And what I found was I found that I really loved AI. So it took me three different projects to really get to the point where I liked AI. Enough, right enough to take action on it.
At that same time, I had this pizza shop approached me so that pizzas Rob, I talked about it yesterday, but there's pizza
A shop approaches me Hey, I'd like a mobile app so that customers can order from, from my shop. And this was a really interesting experience. This is going to be kind of my last story of the day that this was a really unique experience that I wouldn't recommend, again, not because of the pizza shop, or the pizza shop owner. But it was because I had taught myself how to code in a in a product called swift playgrounds, which taught me the programming language Swift. Well, what I learned the hard way was that building an app for an iPhone is far far far different than building an app for an Android phone. So either I was going to have to learn how to
I was going to learn how to code in a different language. So I have to teach myself a second language as I'm building a line mindfulness as I'm doing exponential technologies consulting, as I'm learning how to do state of the art AI, right. Or I was gonna have to find a way that I could write an app in school.
left this programming language, and then deploy that run that on an Android phone. So it turned out that there was this company, they were in the early alpha stage, you had to email the CEO of the company, which was a four person company, in order to get access to be able to actually like, use their software. And what they were was they were building. They were allowing you to use this language swift in order to build apps for Android. They were alpha stage software for people on the team, where you had to email the CEO. I repeat that to just say and emphasize kind of how small they work how crazy of an idea it was in 2016 or 2017, whenever 2017 and
I just checked in on the company, like literally right before this podcast, I'm not sure if they're still in business. I hope
They are I hope that they are succeeding.
But their software was so buggy. It was so buggy. It was alpha software, that's what you expect. So I'm trying to write software for a pizza restaurant that can run on an Android phone. With software that is buggy. It was either that or I was gonna have to learn an entirely different programming language. So I think I spent like 90 days trying to work through this ultra, ultra buggy software, at which point I just gave up. And not I gave up so hard that I use this product. The software program was called, I think MIT App Inventor. You can check this, where they literally create little puzzle pieces.
And you can build an Android app using these little puzzle pieces. And I deployed the first version of this pizza app into production for a client using these little puzzle pieces. And that an MIT
AP allowed me to use it was just nuts. I mean, I spent so much time doing so much work, just to put puzzle pieces together because I had to import. I had probably 5000 or 6000 different puzzle pieces in this app, which was built, I think, again for preschoolers, because
I had to put the entire pizza menu and all the toppings and all the topping variations into this app where I was doing puzzle pieces. I mean, I remember crashing the software multiple times because we were doing because we I was putting so many menu items into this app that the app was overwhelmed with data it couldn't support it. Sure enough, after like two or three weeks of just working with puzzle pieces to get this damn pizza app put together. We were able to deploy the product.
I would not have
recommend it however, and what I learned from this was, you know, you should probably never use alpha stage software for anything. There's a reason why alpha stage software is opposite your software.
So, no matter how interesting the free trial looks, just don't sign up to use it find a different way, the best thing that I could have done was just hire somebody to take the app that I had written in Swift and put it into an Android programming language. But at the time, I wasn't necessarily convinced that hiring people and giving other people my money was going to be a good idea. Now I swear by it, but yeah, so today's podcast is really just telling some stories from the first really, what is it? It's the first 10 months of starting a business where it's just all sorts of different projects, figuring out what do I like, what do I not like? Why do I like certain things, quantifying these qualitative experiences and starting to say, Well, what are the experiences that I really liked that I would repeat
And one of the things were the experiences that I really liked, but I won't really repeat and then what do I hate.
And so, I hope this has been interesting. It's really quite a bit of fun, actually, for me to say the story out loud because I hadn't actually put it together in this context until I was doing this podcast. So I hope you have a great day. I'm really looking forward to chatting again soon.
The above is an AI transcription of Evan’s Seconds and Cents podcast.