Sales is pretty fun once when your heart stops beating so hard.
Me after my first cold call.
I started a sales course for tech founders last month, and one of my early assignments is to find people who are in fitness that are willing to talk to me. Ask them about their work, their jobs and things that really bother them— seemed simple enough.
It’s really not so bad, at least not at the moment. Most of the people I’ve contacted are friends or loose acquaintances, so it’s like calling an old friend and explaining why I forgot to wish them a happy birthday for the last 3 years (kidding).
This week, I’ve gotten with calls with about 10 people, so I’m off to a great start. Now if I can get back on the social media grind and start posting more content on SuperFit and @imleokwan. So many things to do, but just one of me.
Another thing I learned about doing sales and scheduling calls— way more people than I imagined are willing to give their insight and perspective as help. Phrasing a chat in that context makes everything seem much more natural, and we all almost forget the sales intent of my call.
Thanks friends and others for speaking with me. I appreciate you and every bit of guidance helps.
2019 might have been the most difficult year in my life. It shouldn’t have been, but it couldn’t have felt any worse. I’m aware that I’m raised in a privileged country, and that I’m just privileged, I have a set of AirPods Pro, they work well.
Starting a business is hard. I never learned what it truly meant, despite working for many companies before.
The issue is that I’m a pretty stubborn and contrarian person. These traits sound negative, but they’ve steered me pretty far in life. I usually don’t settle with how good something is because I’m always considering how it can be better; for example, my jumpshot, company dogma, coding skills— you know, this type of stuff. It’s a little hypercompetitive, and it definitely rubs some people the wrong way.
This approach screwed me up big time with my bootstrapped business. I didn’t listen to others. Better yet, I didn’t even ask. I assumed I knew it all and that people who did not understand my idea were not my target population. This thought might have been true for some occasions, but I really wish I tried asking for more feedback before writing code like a maniac.
Being a contrarian and doing what’s ‘right’
I always told myself, if someone does something stupid — you need to tell them. It is your duty to let them know, ‘this is wrong’. This year I learned that this mentality is driving a lot of my temper issues. I get angry a lot about stupid things that other people are doing, so much to the point that it all came boiling down one night in December where I came down hard and was just in a bad place, details not important.
Even at that point, I still didn’t get it. I just told myself to chill out more.
It was when I started a sales course last week in hopes to reach profitability in 2020, that I realized — being upset at people’s tendencies and behaviors are not traits to be mad about, they are opportunities to profit from.
This sounds disgustingly salesy, but through the context of growing my business, I learned that people are often who they are and don’t have a weird inkling like me to never settle and continually improve at everything. They often just want to pay to fix a problem if it’s painful enough. I wish I had a more profound experience that taught me to “leave people be”, but it’s only typical I learned a personal lesson while working on the job. I need to get out more.
Create something that solves a real pain, not just a problem.
Continuing from my last point, this learning was the most important for me personally despite the business context. There are a lot of things people want and find problems with, but just aren’t willing to pay to fix. When I built my fitness app, I thought a lot of people would want to use it— they didn’t. There are many others reasons why it didn’t work— didn’t market well, niche audience, etc.
One thing was very clear though, no one came banging on the door for it. That’s the product market fit I did not have.
And then I thought about myself.
I’m pretty weird.
I don’t use QWERTY, rather in Colemak. I track a lot of things because I lack long term memory; I definitely have OCD and I even think I possess some level of ADD, (even before the social media age).
I’m also not a fast learner, so I’m the type of person to spend the extra time to understand and adopt something, even if it’s very unintuitive. As you might imagine, this mindset is terrible for a solo-run business because I think athletes might actually care enough to navigate my app and even come back often.
Aside finished, I learned the hard way that your focus and intent as a business is at the mercy of your selected customers, not you — no matter how fitting you believe you are to them. As a result the untethered motivation and excitement is no longer there with building my business, but I don’t intend on quitting. I’m not sure if it’s ‘right’ for founders to feel this way about their business. Shouldn’t one be waking up with a bright-orange sunshine in frame of her, hitting the morning coffee and zealous to growing something awesome?
I don’t know the answer,
but I’ll finish with what I think are positives to my hard learnings. My customer voice and my actual customer’s voice are now separate. I don’t assume what’s not fulfilling my interests is what’s best for my business. Because I’m not as emotionally invested, I wholeheartedly feel more steady, mentally, since 2020 began. (random: I also started taking multi-vitamins so that helps.)
I also give less shits about putting in the daily hours working because though I will never downplay the need for hard work, I’ll always prefer losing sleep working for my personal interests over that of others— contextualize this positively, please. I hope this mindset continues to help me work with a more balance attitude and schedule. More time to do random things, and more time to cook with my girlfriend.
Last year, my company SuperFit was selected to Y Combinators’ online startup school program. If you don’t know, Y Combinator is a popular tech incubator in Mountain View, California that, in exchange for 7% of your company for a 130k seed investment~, provides support, mentorship and the most popular platform for showcasing your startup’s purpose to investors and the world.
What I really like about Y Combinator if we look past its venture motives, is their efforts to democratize the science of entrepreneurship, mainly with respect to technology. For one thing, most of their tips and nuggets of wisdom are posted on their youtube channel.
The largest tangible benefit I got out of Startup School’s was their long list of freebies in partnership with many other companies and services like AWS, Digital Ocean, and Stripe Atlas. (Digital Ocean offered 30k in credits to all their services!). Let’s talk about Stripe Atlas.
Okay, my gripe isn’t necessarily with Stripe as it really should be with one piece of advice from one of Y Combinator’s video lectures on business formation.
Should you elect for an LLC or C Corp?
Based on Y Combinator’s suggestion, C Corp was a no brained. My business SuperFit is already incorporated in NY as an LLC— I thought to myself, “gahh, I should have done a C Corp in the first place!”
I did not plan on doing anything about my decision until I found out Stripe launched a program called Stripe Atlas, which aimed at making the filing for C Corps super easy, and if you were accepted into Y Combinator’s startup school program, you were eligible for the Atlas program at half the price the package would normally cost!
So I did it— Stripe is an amazing company, I trusted the advice from Y Combinator in partnership with Stripe Atlas without hesitation.
Annnnnd then the fees came.
I signed up for a C Corp late in the year, October, and now I’ve got to pay about 50+ dollars on Delaware franchise taxes.
Preface: I am not a lawyer. Y Combinator will often preach that start up companies undoubtedly start C-Corp formations. That may be sound advice for companies lined up for YC’s winter and summer pipelines, but for its Startup School program, which is their equivalent of an online MOOC with office hours, that advice does not hold up with as much certainly, especially for my case. If I had to make an educated guess, I would imagine that got to be at least a quarter of companies in Startup School (~1500) that plan on bootstrapping their business long term as indie hackers.
With that said, there is still a resounding case for forming a C-Corp over an LLC.
For me personally, I’ve decided with an accountant that I should hold off on dissolution of my Stripe Atlas C Corp until the end of 2019, in case I decide that it’s worth going that direction over my current LLC.
To give some credit to LLCs, Facebook started as an LLC and became a C Corp years after— Basecamp and Wildbit are very successful companies building software on an LLC formation.
Bootstrapping for now
If I learned anything on this path to the right business formation, it’s that my interests and long term motivation lean closer to the www.indiehackers.com community than YC. YC is great— their podcast series is terrific and they are without question a thought leader in startup culture and tech, but I’ve found that people and companies list on Indie Hackers are more relatable to my daily challenges.
I’m Leo and three years ago, I pivoted from pursuing a three-year post grad degree in Physical Therapy at New York University to learning how to code. Prior to that, I worked at NYU as a part-time strength and conditioning coach for its Division III athletes, and as my first job out of college, it was a dream come true.
Graduating from SUNY Buffalo with a degree in Exercise Science, I always wanted to train athletes and work in the athletic world. I interned around the country as a student, and I was a disciple to industry leading coaches and organizations in sports performance.
I was never tech savvy growing up, but I considered myself a nerd to anything I put my interests in. You know, that person who learned through the textbooks and came off a bit awkward to others because that person thought he knew everything. That was me (might still be, I hope not).
I was a student of the game.
I graduated college in 2013, and immediately, I went straight down to Pensacola, Florida for a summer internship with Athletes Performance, now named EXOS. Athletes’ Performance (AP) was regarded as the cream of the crop of sports performance gyms in the US. They trained the best collegiate and pro athletes in all major sporting organizations, particularly American Football.
I learned a whole lot interning at AP. I won’t get into detail but it was a top notch facility with world class coaching. Side note: growing up in NY and living in Pensacola for 3 month— big culture change.
Coming out of college and internships like EXOS, I thought— why isn’t smarter coaching content available for other sportsy people out there? There are a ton of people like myself who wished they had trained more effectively at a younger age. Can technology solve the problem?
I had an idea
Two years into working as a strength coach at NYU, I realized there should be an app for this. I didn’t know how to code, but in my spare time I learned how to make a website and create mockups like the banner image above.
The idea was called Atrium, and it was a fitness app that would bring teammates together to train as a team, thus the “atrium” name. Awful name, but a lot of motivation.
But what about my career? In the meantime, I was wrestling with my future career trajectory and quickly trying to figure out how I would generate a steady income. Physical Therapy seemed like the clear direction for me. I loved fitness and sports performance, but juggling NYU and personal training at Equinox was hard.
Physical Therapy seemed like the clear direction for me.
Back at EXOS, I was inspired by the sports medicine staff, particularly the athletic trainers and physical therapists. Their work on athletes looked so novel and, for lack of a better phrase, intellectually challenging. It seemed fitting for me, so I looked into Physical Therapy as my next endeavor after strength conditioning.
But what about my idea?
I spent a year completing remaining prerequisite classes (bio 1 & 2), punching in volunteering hours at the hospital and perfecting admissions essays for NYU and Duke’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. I was ready to put my idea to rest and move on with a new chapter in my life.
Then… I got rejected by Duke’s early decision process. I was distraught and pretty disappointed. During that time, I remember simply thinking about two things.
I had to focus on getting into NYU. It was the only other PT program I applied to besides Duke, and if I didn’t get in, I’d need to wait an entire year to reapply.
I stumbled upon a free online class about technology entrepreneurship by Stanford.
This class changed my life.
There was nothing ground breaking taught, but for someone like myself who had never took a computer science course, it spun my mental model harder than any other class I took in my life. I eventually got the acceptance letter into NYU, but I had already made my mind. I was going to opt out of Physical Therapy to learn how to code, and ultimately, build my app.
“Atrium” was the initial name of my business. Before I even knew how to code, I sketched out exactly how I wanted my fitness app to look. For future entrepreneurs, don’t do this. Move and adjust quickly.
Fast forward to today
This is personal and hopefully anyone who traveled a similar path can understand its difficulties.
I left strength conditioning, NYU and the fitness world to pursue a field I wasn’t entirely sure about. I learned how to code, got a tech job, and continued building my app in my spare time. I said I would never want to get too involved in tech, just enough so I could build my product and move on. But the truth is when you want to be great at anything, you cannot help but pour every ounce of effort to stand out. I did that with fitness, and I’m trying to do that with software development and technology.
Even though I never hoped to stray far from my passion for sports, programming has opened so many doors for me. I’ve made incredible friends and colleagues in tech that I can’t imagine not meeting. I’ve also developed a new set of skills, particularly computer programming and deep problem solving, that I really lacked before I wrote my first line of code in 2015.
The toughest lesson I had to learn
Up until now, I thought technology would save the day. People use mobile apps and I know how to build them. Innovation in website development has moved really fast, and some web applications just blow me away every time I use them. Big tech buzzwords like AI, AR, machine learning, and deep learning have sprung up in the last three years, and companies like Google, Apple and Facebook are racing to be at the front of these domains.
As a programmer who writes code 40 hours a week, I’ve also adopted the mindset that better software equals better business, and that if I want my apps succeeding in the fitness industry, I, too, need to build smarter technology and take the lead in this innovation race.
Coaches and trainers just need to be better coaches and trainers. Athletes need to be attentive, trust their coaches and put the requisite hours in the gym and in their sport. I’ve spent so much time focusing on the wrong things, because I often forget the core needs of coaches and athletes.
Coaches and trainers have to problem sharing their content on a google excel sheet. Even less complicated than that, I’ve seen coaches share static word documents outlining their premium workout program. This is a really tough lesson I’m learning to swallow: do not add innovation where it is really not needed.