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What I Learned Shutting Down a $240,000 Membership to Scale

What I Learned Shutting Down a $240,000 Membership to Scale

Four months ago, I launched a membership.

I sold twenty slots at $1,500/month in the first several weeks.

Then I built a system to automate the lead generation process for it.

I even wrote an entire guide on how I did it. This community was everything for me.

It allowed me to move to Los Angeles to partner with my co-founder, Houston Golden.

And to pay rent and overhead as we built our agency.

We were on track to scale it to 1 million ARR.

Then I closed it down.

Here’s what I learned in the process:

1. Build an Audience First

For a year and a half, I focused on writing content about marketing and entrepreneurship every day.

I wrote 500 answers on Quora and detailed my tactical approach here to getting views and engagement.

To date, I have over 10 million views and I’m a Top Quora Writer of 2017.

I also focused on building an active Facebook Group.

For a year and a half, I wrote posts almost every day.

Not just any posts, tactical and engaging posts.

To give you an idea, we average over 100 engagement per piece of content posted.

The result?

15,000 members in a group with 80% participation rate.

To be honest, this took up my social life and every weekend for almost a year.

But if you want to become an entrepreneur, there are certain sacrifices you need to make.

Because I had an audience who knew, liked, and trusted me, I could sell to them.

And after thousands of posts, I knew what they’d buy.

The first part is the hardest.

For example, it took me five months to get three thousand people in the group.

Then another five months for an additional eight thousand.

It was the same with my Messenger list.

Also, it took me several months to grow my Messenger list to a thousand people.

Then it took me two months to turn this one thousand person list into eleven thousand.

If you’re at the beginning, be persistent.

It gets easier.

I promise.

2. Sell Before You Build

I’ve never worked in sales.

And when I left my job as the growth evangelist for Autopilot, I wanted to become an entrepreneur.

This meant no more cushy salary. The problem: I was scared to ask for money.

I thought my community would turn on me.

During my week break, I visited Los Angeles where I met my future co-founder, Houston Golden, and also Brian Smith, founder of the Founders Organization.

He met with me to get the latest updates on growth hacking.

Instead, it turned into a pep talk about how I needed to launch a company.

“Sell anything. Then figure it out.”

That’s what I did.

I ripped off an agency proposal I found online and made it sound like a membership.

Next, I launched it with several Facebook posts.

I sent this proposal to several hundred people.

Also, I used a Rebrand.ly link that would allow me to make edits to the proposal I sent in real time.

As I got feedback, I changed it.

At the end of two weeks, I’d made over fifty edits.

Without any choice, I was building out what I was selling while adjusting it to new iterations in the proposal. To add on to it all, I have countless sales calls pitching this constantly changing proposal.

As you can imagine, I had many sleepless nights.

It was well worth it.

After three weeks, I sold it out.

A lot of what I was selling had to do with the tool, Mass Planner (note: this tool has been banned), one of the most famous growth hacking software. I was running the members’ social accounts on it, but it was killing my computer. Even worst, it required all my attention to set up and ensure it ran continuously.

I lost my excitement.

Money is nice, but it’s not worth being miserable over.

So rather than complain, I outsourced automation tools using UpWork that replicated Mass Planner’s features. I then gave them out to the members.

This saved me a ton of time, but caused a big problem. I spent so much on outsourcing that I broke even.

I didn’t make any money off the membership.

3. Over-invest

Rather than back down, I kept outsourcing to automate all my membership work.

The second month, I had a net positive.

I was excited, but it also happened to be the first month I paid rent for our agency’s office.

Yikes.

All the money kept disappearing :/

But I knew two things:

  1. The members were happier
  2. I had built a sales funnel that was getting leads for the membership every week.

Most of these leads came from LinkedIn, so I decided to double-down on it.

4. Double-Down on What Works

As we got more leads from LinkedIn, I began to post every day.

Using my background in copywriting, I wrote over fifty viral posts.

This led to almost one thousand leads.

And a crossroads.

Most of these leads were interested in the agency, not the membership.

This was a good problem, but required immediate attention. By posting viral content on LinkedIn, we added ten more agency clients to our roster in two months. Our average deal size is over 10K/month which meant we were headed in an upwards direction fast.

I was scared.

How well can we execute for them?

All the worries passed as I realized “it’s us.”

We’ve all had senior growth roles for multiple companies.

And Houston and our head of e-commerce, Bryan, were the directors of growth for a hundred-person agency, so they kicked into gear and executed brilliantly. In the last four months, none of our clients churned or complained.

A month in, I woke up and compared figures. Our agency was on track to do 5 – 10 mil in its first year.

The membership? 1 million.

The problem was thirty percent of my time was still focused on the membership.

Ouch.

 

5. Invest in People

Business opportunities are everywhere.

The people you enjoy working with? They’re hard to find (to say the least).

When I met Houston, I knew he was someone I could spend 24 hrs working with every day and never get bored. He’s a brilliant mind and inspires me to do better work.

The membership has a small value compared to working next to my co-founder.

By investing more time in the agency, I’d be investing more time in hanging out with friends.

And that’s priceless.

6. Focus

For an early-stage company, you need to focus on one KPI.

Everyone on your team needs to be aligned with it.

I was scattered.

I was selling the membership, the agency, hiring, and writing.

Today, our most important KPI is new agency clients.

It’s no surprise that when we winded down the membership, we added several more clients.

Raise the Flag

Now that we’re not promoting what felt like two different companies, we can hold our flag higher.

We’re a team of twelve in only four months!

We’re hoping to expand to twenty in the next two months.

The membership may exist again, but only in a capacity where I’m not full-time on the agency.

I’m excited to see what happens.

And thank you for following the BAMF journey with our mission to empower 1 million founders.

The Magic Of Color, Fonts, Headlines

The Magic Of Color, Fonts, Headlines

What could be the color, fonts, and headlines??

5 Essential Elements
  1. Instant Clarity Headline & Tagline
  2. Amazing Photography
  3. Consistent Color
  4. Consistent Font
  5. Logo

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

Instant Clarity Headline

Formula:

End Result Customer Wants

+ Specific Period Of Time

+ Address The Objections

Examples
    • Your home sold in 90 days or I’ll buy it

 

    • In 1 hour, learn the copywriting systems that will double your conversions or your money back

 

  • Hot fresh pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or it’s free
Simple Formula

“I help people do THIS so they can have THAT”

Know when to capitalize a word: titlecapitalization.com

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

Why It’s Important
    • Articles with images get 94% more total views

 

    • Including a photo and a video in a press release increases views by over 45%

 

    • 60% of consumers are more likely to consider or contact a business when an image shows up in local search results

 

    • In an e-commerce site, 67% of consumers say the quality of a product image is “very important” in selecting and purchasing a product

 

    • In an online store, customers think that the quality of a product’s image is more important than product-specific information (63%), a long description (54%) and ratings and reviews (53%)

 

  • Engagement rate on Facebook for photos averages 0.37% where text only is 0.27% (this translates to a 37% higher level of engagement for photos over text)

More great stats can be found here: jeffbullas.com/2012/05/28/6-powerful-reasons-why-you-

should-include-images-in-your-marketing-infographic/

Some Great Resources to Bookmark

Free stock photos:

1.allthefreestock.com

 

2.dreamstime.com

 

3.photobin.com

 

4.freeimages.com

 

5.designmodo.com/free-photos/

 

6.unsplash.com/

Automate Posts:

  1. postplanner.com/visually-brand-your-facebook-posts/

Best image editors:

  1. picmonkey.com
  2. canva.com
  3. campl.us/
The Importance of Color

Color plays a vital role in our world. Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. It can irritate or soothe your eyes, raise your blood pressure or suppress your appetite. When used in the right ways, color can even save on energy consumption.

As a powerful form of communication, color is irreplaceable. Red means “stop” and green means “go.” Traffic lights send this universal message. Likewise, the colors used for a product, website, business card, or logo cause powerful reactions.

Find out the meaning behind different colors here:

color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html

Color Can Do Incredible Things

26 Million People Changed Profile Pictures With Facebook’s Rainbow Pride Filter.

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

Great Color Resources

Choosing your color scheme:

 

Color theory and ideas:

FastCompany.com/3028378/leadership-now/what-your-logos-color-says-about-your-company-infographic

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

What the Font is Going on?

Fonts & Logos of Popular Brands:

hongkiat.com/blog/fonts-used-logos-popular-brands/

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

Know How to Pair Fonts

Download fonts:

Dafont.com

BAMF The Color, The Fonts, The Headlines Article Image

Logos
    • Picking your logo is crucial to translate your message.

 

  • I picked my logo because it represents interconnectedness and leading communities

Resources to find your logo:

 

  • Squarespace Logo
A Little Extra
  • If you want a logo designed by a professional, then I suggest outsourcing a design from Fiverr or 99designs. I’ve used both and have come away a happy customer over and again without digging too far into my pockets.
Next Steps

1.Create your headline

 

2.Create your tagline

 

3.Take good pictures

 

4.Select a font pair

 

5.Select your colors

 

6.Find your logo

 

 

How to Get Press for Your Startup in 2019 with PR Hacking

How to Get Press for Your Startup in 2019 with PR Hacking

How to Break the Internet with PR Hacking
By
Houston Golden, Co-Founder & CEO of BAMF.Media

When I was young, I wanted to be a famous musician. I reached out to many publications to cover my music, but no one would. At the same time, one of my closest friends, Connor, got a ton of his music covered.

The difference?

Connor personalized his outreach to the bloggers. He’d write about previous posts they’d published and pitch stories around his music.

That’s when I realized there was a systematic way to get PR placements. Let’s break it down:

Types of PR Placements

  • Interviews

This can be an interview on a podcast or a full-fledge write-up like we do on the BAMF Media blog.

  • Featured Stories

This is more of a “Hey, check out the story of this team or product.”

  • Paid Placements

This is when a blogger, fan page, or influencer responds, “Hey, it will cost this much for a shout out.”

  • Product Reviews / Testimonials

YouTube videos rank on Google Search, too.


Why Does it Matter?

By getting PR placements, it helped build third-party credibility. It’s the difference between you saying you’re great vs. the opposing team’s coach calling you a star player. Not only does is build credibility, but it can often send a wave of traffic to your site. In our case, we use the third-party credibility to warm cold audiences with Facebook ads.

This way when we run an ad later to the same audience to visit our page, we get much more positive feedback. There are even more benefits, including building your site authority with Google. The more content you have from well-renowned sources linking to your site, the better Google will treat your site when it comes to ranking content.

Using the tool, Alexa, we can see all the websites linking into BAMF.Media.

Depending on the placement, you can get upwards to thousands of visitors from one article. If you have a story worth sharing, often you can get it placed many times from tutorial, reviews, and features which can turn PR into a scalable marketing channel.

Start with Data

To get placements, you need the contact info of journalists, podcasters, and fan pages. An easy way to get this data is to download it from BuzzSumo for journalists, have a virtual assistant scrape iTunes for podcasters, or use Socialbakers for fan pages.

For BuzzSumo, we search for content relevant to our subject matter. If we’re a tea company, then we may search “tea.” This will bring up every article about tea. We can set preferences for when these articles were written from the last 24 hours to 5 years.

The next step is to click the Export button and download this data.

Here’s what it looks like:

Once you have this data, make sure to clean it up. All you need is the author name and website URL. From there, break apart the company name from the website URL by using the Power Tools’ Google Sheet add-on. Once you do that, you can now process this data through Hunter.io to get their emails using the Email Finder feature.

You can do the same with Anyleads.

Better yet, you can use Phantombuster to get the LinkedIn URLs of the people you have in your Google Sheet using their LinkedIn Profile URL Finder API. Then you can process this into Anyleads to get their personal emails.

Contactout will also give you their personal emails. From there, you can upload this list into Facebook as a custom audience. This will give you the ability to remarket to these journalists about your company before they even get your pitch.

The same process works with Facebook fan pages using Socialbakers.

Here’s the resulting data.

There a couple of ways to do this one. You can either DM their page or use Hunter.io t0 pull employee emails from each company’s marketing department at scale.

For podcasts, select a category and/or subcategory of podcasts you want to scrape using the iTunes desktop podcast library.

Copy and paste the podcast list to Column A in a new Google sheet. Since the list is separated by alphabetical page, you will need to get a virtual assistant to copy and paste the list 27 times (A-Z, #) in order to get a complete list. Or have them use Listly’s bulk URL processor to get all the data from each page in one click.

Remove “(MP3)” and “(HD)” words from column one by using the Power Tools add-on (Add-ons > Power Tools > Remove > Remove a substring: > “(MP3)”, “(HD)” > Remove)

Update the Google sheet settings so that anyone with the shareable link can view. Run the Google Sheet through Phantombuster’s Domain Name Finder.

  1. Spreadsheet URL: [shareable Google sheet URL]
  2. Column name… : [*no text*]
  3. Ignored domains: [youtube.com]

    [apple.com]

    [vimeo.com]

    [yahoo.com]

    [stitcher.com]

Save, then launch Phantombuster. Depending on your list size, this may take a few minutes to a few hours. Export the list and upload to a new Google Sheet.

Run the Domain Name Finder worksheet through Phantombuster’s LinkedIn Company URL Finder. Export the results to a new Google Sheet. Next, run this worksheet through Phantombuster’s LinkedIn Companies Employees.

Export the results to a new Google Sheet. Format “currentJob” column so all rows contain the string “host.” From here, filter by relevant job title. Then use Linked Helper to LinkedIn message them at scale based on their LinkedIn URL and Hunter to bulk process the filtered list into emails.

Personalize it

This part is a bit harder. You need a virtual assistant to check out the post from each blogger and description from each podcaster. Then use a piece of it in the email or LinkedIn message. The idea here is to make it feel natural.

If the recipient feels like you sent that message only to them, then they’ll be more likely to respond to your emails and messages.

How to Structure Your Email

Personalized Intro

  • Example: Pre-written personal blogger statements
  • 1-2 sentence pitch
  • 3-4 value props / topics of interest
    • buzzworthy stories related to brand
    • thought leadership / subject-matter expertise
    • how we did XYZ to achieve X
    • notable milestones / accomplishments
  • Define Clear Call to Action (CTA)
    • “Scheduling a call, interview, next steps, let’s chat”
  • Sender Persona + Profile Pic

Start Your Outreach Campaign

I’d recommend using the tool Mailshake to send emails in, ideally, five-stage sequences. Sync Mailshake with Calendly using  Zapier. If your main call to action is to book a call using Calendly, then you can use this Zap to take the recipient out of the sequence if they book.

Here’s an example email:

The results?

TechCrunch:

Use Your Powers Wisely

With the right story and the right recipients, you can seed the next viral story.

Imagine your product being talked about across many publications from TechCrunch to Time. Traffic. Backlinks. Customers. All at your fingertips.

How This Woman’s Missing Prototype Turned Into a 7-Figure Consumer Product Company

How This Woman’s Missing Prototype Turned Into a 7-Figure Consumer Product Company

Leila fell into entrepreneurship from a young age.

When I was a young girl, I asked my dad if I could get a job.

He said, “You’re too young; you need to be thirteen to have a permit.”

To, at least, go to work, there was a bikini shop near my house and I kept talking to the owner.

I said, “One day you will give me a job.”

She replied, “Sure when you’re 13.”

“I can try bathing suits on for you and that can be my job to see how they fit.”

She caved and Leila started at her first job

She remembers thinking, ‘‘This is great. I’m only 13 and I got my first paycheck.’

Her mind wouldn’t stop.

While she was in the bikini shop, she kept finding flaws in the processes.

“You should put this on the mannequin.”

“Your entryway is too dark.”

There was always something.

Then when she was in high school, she would take clothes that she’d bought and change the pieces on it. Her friends would ask me where I got it.

Instead of telling them where she got it, she’d say, “You can buy it from me.”

That spark of entrepreneurship turned into a clothing store she’d eventually sell.

It was then when she learned how to operate a business.

Then a pivotal moment happened in her early entrepreneurial career.

When she came back from college, the camp that she went to as a kid was going under and she was devastated. So she started a program to keep the camp alive.

The kids would get picked up by a school bus and go on a field trip every day. And that way they kept the older kids coming to the camp and the younger kids in the camp. The camp survived. It was the first time she’d helped a business not fail and didn’t have equity in it.

That was the beginning of her saying, “Wait a minute.”

It was at this time, Leila knew the next venture would be entirely in her hands.

All it took was patience for the right idea.

How did you come up with Sphynx?

Like many successful companies, Sphynx was founded on a problem that wouldn’t go away. In fact, Leila would experience the problem for years before she had enough of it.

When I was younger, I was on the dance and cheerleading team. I would constantly realize I had missed spots shaving. When you’re younger, you’re just learning how to shave so I’d go to the gym carrying a razor around with me.

The problem resurfaced when I got older.

I used to do marketing for Nike, Microsoft, and Red Bull. I would travel the world for them. I’d be at snowboarding competitions where you don’t think you need to shave, but then you go out afterward.

You’re taking off all these layers of clothes because they make it 110 degrees in the bar so you’re profusely sweating. Now all your ski clothes are on a chair somewhere. And then I was like, “oh I didn’t think to shave.”

Then when I was working at a toy company, I was presenting to Target in a meeting. I remember mid-meeting, I realized the buyers were staring at my underarms instead of at me. I was like, “oh my gosh,” I don’t remember the last time I shaved.

It went from being in high school learning how to shave to missing spots because I was traveling, then forgot because I had a demanding professional career.

This problem kept following me.

I had to solve it.

What hurdles did you face early in your journey?

With consumer products, there’s extra difficulty in making it successful. It’s not just about building an e-commerce store. You need fulfillment, distributors, and much more. Leila realized she came into battle with less than what she needed but used her tenacity and resourcefulness to make it through.

“It took me a year and a half in development to create Sphynx, an on-the-go razor set. I was still working full-time. So I would come home at night and work on it until 3:00 am, especially since China is in a different time zone. I had just gotten married, too, and my husband would say, ‘You need to come to bed.’ I’d reply, ‘No, China just woke up.’

I had never worked with China. I had so many bumps in the road because I had so many middlemen since I didn’t learn Chinese. I was plugging away for six months after I quit my job. Then it took another year because I didn’t find any good factories. Then I found the one.

When I finally got the prototypes, I gave 30 out to 30 of my top friends. The prototypes cost anywhere between 100 to 300 dollars.

I’d send emails asking for feedback every week as I was reiterating the product. One friend calls me, ‘Leila, I’m so sorry, but I don’t have your prototype anymore and I can’t give you feedback.’

‘What what do you mean? You know my prototype costs 300 bucks’

‘I just started at my new job, my boss took it off my desk and I don’t have the heart to ask for it back.’

How did you first gain traction?

The success of Sphynx might’ve been the best April Fool’s prank. Sometimes the unexpected happens and at that moment, Leila had two choose between fight or flight.

“On April first, I get an email from the company, Ulta:

‘Hey, we’d love to meet you. We got a hold of your product.’

I thought ‘Who is this genius who found someone who works there and told them to email me. It’s an April Fool’s prank.’

But it wasn’t.

Turns out her boss fell in love with it and gave it to the buyer and said, “You have to get this thing. It’s the best, hot new product coming out soon.”

That’s when it hit me –

I still had to get the prototype stage done. They wanted it in three months and it takes six months to manufacture in China. I looked at my husband, ‘Listen, I need your help. You do operations. I will do design and product development. Let’s make this happen.’ I quit my job, then went full-time into entrepreneurship.

At the time, I was at a toy company. Dolls were a dying breed because technology is advancing so fast. I took what I learned from the camp because we were scrappy. I tell the kids to go home and bring a water bottle back to camp tomorrow. Then we’d put water, olive oil, and food coloring in the water bottle and it would turn into a lava lamp.

I did the same thing with toys. My job was to come up with concepts for toys and how to market them. So we launched it. We were supposed to be in the Impulse section. It’s the section when you’re at CVS and you see at the front there’s nuts, candy, and chapstick.

I also attended a lot of trade shows. I also did something that you can’t do anymore which is run Facebook ads to influencers if they listed themselves as a Public Figure.

So they would find me instead of me finding them. I started getting a lot of press and influencers talking about us. Then I went to a trade show where I won the Beauty innovation of the Year award.

All these brands came to meet with me and order the product. It blew up overnight and I was not ready for it. I ran out of inventory. Packaging wasn’t closing correctly and there were so many struggles along the way, We only had an intern at the time. And we were in a thousand stores by the end of that show. Good problems.”

What major hurdles did you face in building a lifestyle brand?

Leila learned the hard way that if you don’t define your brand, then someone else will do it for you. Today, she puts her foot down when it comes to distribution and marketing so people know Sphynx is a lifestyle product.

“We ended up in the razor aisle, which was my worst nightmare. I didn’t want to be in the razor aisle because I didn’t want people to position this product in that category.

It’s not a replacement for your home razor because the whole point is it’s for your purse. It’s for the touch-ups on the go. It has the water and the razor so you can do the whole process.

Another obstacle appeared when I got booked for QVC in Christmas. They called me a week before and said, “Hey, we’d love to have you earlier. So I went on to QVC. Unfortunately. There was a terrorist attack in Turkey that day and it was hard to go on air.  

Then they told me, ‘Okay your product will be for grandmothers who are in wheelchairs and can’t shave in the shower.’ I thought, ‘My product is not built for that skin type. It has nothing with that demographic because they don’t even care to shave on the go.’

After that, I decided not to go back to QVC.

I got a lot of orders that day, but it wasn’t the right market. All the stores that contacted me afterward wouldn’t be selling where I wanted. And I didn’t want to dilute the brand.

After that, I was really particular about the stores I went into. I was thoughtful about anyone who wants to sell our product. I wanted to be a lifestyle brand.

Now we’re in about three thousand retailers. It’s on my vision board to get into Target. It’s huge but it’s also scary as hell because you have to be prepared to get into Target.”

What internal problems did you need to solve to scale?

Leila is super mom, super businesswoman, and a super wife all at the same time. No one said it would be easy – and it wasn’t. She’s worked hard to optimize her time while still finding room for creative expression to delight her customers.

“The team is ten people as of today. We had three new hires this morning. Since I don’t have time to work out, there is now a treadmill in my office. 

I also just had a baby so it’s been really crazy.

In the beginning, we were fast to hire and then when they weren’t culture fits or the skillset wasn’t quite there. We taking more steps backward than forward. Today, we have a strict hiring process where everyone has a chance to interview the person who’s coming in.

We want to do our own distribution in-house because our product is only $15. It’s costing us way too much. I also wanted to experience the touch and feel of whatever was going out so I could see what consumers are getting.

Sometimes we throw confetti in there as a little treat. We try to keep it fun around here. We’re really focusing on making sure everything that we develop next is disruptive in design and product. Whatever it may be, so when you see it on shelves, we want it to wow you and make you wonder what it is.”

What’s next for you guys?

Leila is expanding by focusing on company culture and innovating in the lifestyle space.

“My favorite part is building within. I love when I get the chance to promote someone from the team; it’s really the best feeling. And our team is growing. We moved into our own warehouse in Los Angeles. Regarding Sphynx, we have three to six new products coming out by the end of the year. So we’re doing a lot of product development and expanding our website.

These big companies use a Band-Aid approach to solve the problem of women on-the-go. So we’re scaling the product but we’re also looking into developing more products. I don’t envision the brand as a razor company. I envision it as a brand for the woman on the go with portable and convenient products for our lifestyle.”

Today, Sphynx is one piece of the on-the-go lifestyle market for women.

Leila has the passion and drive to take the rest of it. With larger companies snoozing, her goal is to ensure women are more empowered than yesterday to experience freedom.

With all the graphs pointing in the right direction, it’s exciting to see where she’ll go.

6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Founder

6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Founder

Do you ever wonder how some founders can come up with endless ideas?

Yet, other founders can only come up with a couple.

I did.

I wanted to learn how to become creative.

I never had the right idea to help my company grow.

Or, at least, enough ideas to choose among.

I had worked for five startups that had failed and had zero to show for it.

If I could figure out how to overcome the creative hurdle, then I could break this pattern. Motivated, I studied the creative process by reading countless books on psychology and then practicing.

The result is I’ve come up with hundreds of original ideas to help companies grow. I’m even the CEO and co-founder of one of the fastest growing companies in Los Angeles. All because I can rely on the most important intangible skill, creativity.

During the process of figuring out what makes a founder creative, I learned six ways you can add fuel to your creative spark:

1. Develop Your Deep Ts

Creativity doesn’t happen on the surface level. It happens deep beneath the ground. It’s where your expertise lies. It’s the T in the T-Shaped model.

But there’s a catch – unless you’re in the top .01 percent of your field, then you need two deep Ts. Yes, two skills you’re highly proficient in to be creative.

The reason is creativity happens when you combine ideas. If you can combine them from deep expertise in two verticals, then the chances the idea is original increases exponentially. For example, if you combine your knowledge of programming with content creation, then you might come up with a brilliant software idea.

If you had surface level knowledge of both areas, then you might come up with what you think is an original idea. Then you share the idea with an expert and they’ll probably say, “Yeah, that’s an old idea. It doesn’t work.” That result is fine because it shows you that you have much more room to learn.

2. Become an Expert

If you’re not an expert, then you need to know the steps to become one. The good news is this is the easy part. The hard part is the execution.

To become an expert, follow this four-step model:

1. Find an expert to mentor you

Use LinkedIn, Facebook, and email to reach out. Mentorship is a big time commitment on their part so asking right away will deter them. Start by giving them value no matter how small, then ask for coffee. Get them to become your friend before you ask for them to become a mentor.

2. Deconstruct the skills that will deliver 80 percent of results

Ask experts, then research on Google and YouTube what those few core important skills are to get results.

3. Stop multitasking

You’re learning one skill, not a hundred of them.

4. Practice until you can recognize your mistakes

Did someone say practice?

Yes, you have to show up every day if you want to be good at anything.

World-recognized learning expert, Josh Kaufman, explains that all you need is enough information to self-correct. That means you need the ability to recognize your own mistakes, and then make adjustments when this inevitably occurs. Over time, you become mistake free.

Rinse and repeat, and you’ll eventually get to your desired level of proficiency.

3. Don’t Be Hard on Yourself

Most people quit soon after they start.

The major barrier to skill acquisition isn’t intellectual; it’s emotional.

Whenever you start learning something new, you get frustrated because you feel inadequate. It’s easy to lose hope. And nobody wants to feel like they’re no good at doing something. They key is to recognize that feeling, then do it anyway.

That’s what the best leaders do.

They feel the fear, then still take action.

It’s not that they’re more confident, it’s that they internally process the idea of fear better.

4. Get it out of Your Head

In 2013, Science published a study by economist Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University and psychologist Eldar Shafir of Princeton University describing how reminding people with a low income of their financial trouble reduced their capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations.

A subsequent study found that Indian sugarcane farmers performed much better on the same cognitive performance test after receiving the once-a-year payment for their produce, temporarily resolving their monetary concerns.

The learning lesson?

If one’s mind is constantly occupied with urgent problems, such as paying bills, there will not be much capacity left to come up with long-term solutions or creative ideas.

In other words, your mind only has a certain amount of capacity to carry thoughts. Your job is to constantly open up this capacity by externalizing your thoughts whether through writing, video, or audio. As long as you’re not distracted by thoughts at the forefront of your mind, then you’ll own your creativity.

5. Store it in a Compartment

If you’re externalizing your thoughts, it’s best to organize them to the best of your ability. That means writing books, using your Google Drive or Dropbox storage, and even creating how-to lessons and uploading them to YouTube. Here’s a peek into my Google Drive. There are over a 100 guides in here about marketing. That’s 100 tutorials I no longer have to keep in my mind. And that’s exactly why I can keep coming up with new ones.

If you’re not a writer, then record yourself on video documenting your creative ideas. This only helps to an extent when removing the idea from your head. The next step is executing it to see if it works. If it does, you’ll now have room to come up with more creative ideas to improve it. If it doesn’t, then come up with new ideas to chase.

6. Find a Partner

Not all of us have time to learn a new skill or document all our processes. Sometimes we need a little help. When I co-founded my company, BAMF Media, I partnered with Houston Golden, the former director of growth for an agency. Here’s a picture below when we opened up business for the first time.

I didn’t understand much about founding and scaling an agency. I knew a lot more about marketing, writing, and building an audience. So I found someone who’d already helped build an agency. This way, when we founded the company, we had two deep Ts that we could rely on for creative ideas.

Take a Leap of Faith

Chasing creativity requires an abundance mindset. You need to get all your bad ideas out to come up with good ones. It doesn’t always work out in your favor, but if you try enough times, then it will.

The secret: trust in the process.

Know that creativity only comes once you’ve documented and executed on your already existing ideas and problems. If you can stand on the plate and keep batting, then you’ll hit that home run.

Take your swing.

Why This Entrepreneur Quit Microsoft to Found an On-Demand Marketplace for Photographers

Why This Entrepreneur Quit Microsoft to Found an On-Demand Marketplace for Photographers

Nicole didn’t intend to be an entrepreneur. She was working day and night and took a break in Paris with her best friend of three years. They were on the cobblestones with no husbands, no kids, and wanting to take a photo because “this will never happen again.”

They did what everybody does. They took selfies, but the photos weren’t perfect to represent this magical moment. So they connected with a local friend of hers. She gave the friend her iPhone and said: “can you take some candid shots of us from a distance?”

She didn’t want a posing and cheesy photo in front of the Eiffel Tower. She wanted something that captured the spirit of the moment like walking down the cobblestones, drinking coffee.

Twenty minutes later, when she looked at her phone, she had goosebumps. The photographer had captured the spirit of her trip. It was the best souvenir. In this small moment, the idea for Flytographer was born.

When did you realize you could turn your idea into a business?

The first step in starting a company is finding an idea that won’t go away. Nicole had that idea. She just needed the courage to take the jump. That would start with one small test to prove out her idea.

“I thought ‘When I travel again, how do I do this?’ I went back to Canada after that trip to my job at Microsoft and could not stop thinking about this idea. I would think about it 20 times a day. But the thought of jumping into a startup was overwhelming. Still, the idea wouldn’t go away for nine months.

I realized I had to do something about this because I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. I’d regret it the for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something. So I was turning forty in September and I gave myself that artificial deadline.

The next step is I went on Craigslist Photographers and found one who seemed legit. I had a friend traveling to Paris and I said, ‘Hey, do you mind if I have photographer hang out with you for half an hour to take candid photos?’

‘Sure no problem.’

That was the first test.

Were there any obstacles when founding your company?

When Nicole stepped into entrepreneurship, there wasn’t a roadmap. She’d have to invent it along the way. To help, she kept her job which gave her time to prepare before she made the jump.

“One of the pieces that is important in our team values is what we call candor. It’s important to be honest and direct. If you don’t get straight to the point, then all the passive-aggressive craziness can distract everybody.

You socialize with people whether it’s your friends, your family, and co-workers. So you get a lot of mixed feedback like ‘yeah, that’s a great idea.’

Then there are people who think you’re crazy.

‘Why would you quit your safe, awesome job for something risky?’

The first struggle was just clearing all that conversation clutter to go with my gut. The second thing was I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a photographer. I don’t know a lot about photography either. I didn’t know how to build a website. I didn’t know how to do accounting. There are so many things that I needed to figure out.

It’s hard because you’re trying to figure out everything while you’re working full-time.”

How did you start getting traction for Flytographer?

Sometimes it takes pure hustle to get that first green light. For Nicole, that meant participating on relevant blogs for months. She did that until it earned her the credibility and traffic to turn her corporate office dream into a reality.

“For early marketing, I spent two hours a day dropping comments on relevant blog posts. Then one of my comments was read by a writer at NBC.

She wanted to interview me. The next day, I’m on the homepage of NBC. It was funny because I’m right next to the photos and articles of Prince Harry and Angelina Jolie.

This was only two months into my business.

That gave me a huge boost in confidence which led to social proof and photographers applying.

The problem – the business is seasonal. It was only after six months, did I start seeing customers come back and hearing from them either personally or through referrals.

‘Hey, I heard about it from my friend in Paris last month.’

At that moment, I had the sense that I had picked the right market.

The third thing was feedback from testimonial forms. That was something that I engineered from the start. Just the words they were saying – that’s when I knew we had product-market fit because people were overjoyed with the value that they got from the service.”

How did you build out your team?

For early-stage startups, you have many problems that need to be solved. Nicole realized this and it meant she needed people who could come in and wear multiple hats with an execution mindset.

“I am a marketing and product person. Those are the areas that I am passionate about. I don’t have the technical chops. I knew I needed to bring on a director of engineering to drive the technical side.

I also don’t have the financial chops. I needed someone to help in that capacity. Those are the two key parts. We just started bringing on marketing talent because we realized that we want to scale the business.

I know I’m the product manager that drives the roadmap, but I need to step back and allow other people to drive forward marketing.

The biggest thing about hiring people is finding people who are doers and problem solvers. You don’t have a roadmap on how this works and how their role works. It drives me crazy when someone doesn’t have that as part of their DNA.

That’s why our first five hires were people who could wear many hats. Now that we’re 20 people, we’re focused on getting those seasoned experts on board.

One of the pieces that is most important in our team values is what we call candor. It’s important to be honest and direct. If you don’t get straight to the point, then all the passive-aggressive craziness can distract everybody.

I’m a big fan of being direct.

Everyone’s got each other’s back, but we need to get through the hard conversations.

When building out the team, the hardest step was the first year and a half of my business. I didn’t have a team. I had no developers. The business was on Squarespace. The site was hooked up to a CRM database and some webhooks.

I was this wizard behind the curtain. It helped me understand exactly what I needed to develop in order to service the market. Then I hired a developer and the business took off.”

What marketing strategies worked best?

For Nicole’s business, she found that the idea of finding one growth hack to build your business on wasn’t a realistic expectation. She needed to put in the time and sweat equity with the right mindset.

“There’s no a silver bullet. What I realized is that constant steady growth is testing different channels to see what works. For us, the biggest source of traffic has been organic search. We’ve had a lot of focus on content generation from the start and SEO optimizing content keywords and communicating with the right partners so that we get a lot of deep links to our content.

30% of our business comes every month through organic search. One of the things that a lot of companies don’t do is invest in content marketing early on because they’re short-sighted.

Evergreen content is a low-cost acquisition channel. You’re not interrupting people. They’re coming to you because you’re being helpful. We started creating content early on, making sure all the keywords were in there, and that our content connected to each other.

We’d ask these questions:

‘Do these rank well?’

‘How do we get links to these different content partners?’

Then constantly serve them up.

We have more than a million beautiful photos all over the world of travelers.

There’s nobody else that has anything close to what we have.

We’re across every continent, age, and race. It’s real people with their stories attached to it. Attaching that content to our customer has been a huge part of our growth strategy.

Our North Star metric is the number of shots per day. Every morning we look at traffic, repeat customers, but at the top of the pile is average shoots a month.”

Did you hit any inflection points in your business?

Even if your business has traction, it doesn’t mean it will survive. There are many thousands of problems that can arise. They almost always do when you least expect them. Great founders persevere through these moments.

“We had challenges with people because we were paying photographers via Paypal initially. Then at one point, PayPal shut our account down. We got flagged because we needed the birthday for the customers. It was a weird situation.

I wasn’t going to give them the birthday of our customers. Luckily, I built up enough trust with the photographers over prior years that it gave us time to find another payment provider. It took us three and a half weeks.

I thought this would end my business if I couldn’t figure it out.

I couldn’t contact a customer from a month ago and say,

Hey, I need your birthday.’

I was transparent with my community and said,

‘Hey guys, this is happening. It means you don’t get paid until we figure this out and I hope you’re with me.’

What’s your advice for entrepreneurs just getting started?

Nicole has some real, down-to-earth advice. There’s no sugarcoating here.

“No one knows exactly what they’re doing. Just try to test things, have conversations with your potential target audience, and start to understand the problem that you can solve for them.

The third thing is only doing it if you really love what you’re building because if you don’t really love what you’re building, then there are so many highs and lows of entrepreneurial journey that you won’t make. It’s hard. And I’ve had kids – that’s really hard. This is harder.”

What’s your favorite part about your business?

At the base of any great business is a community. Without community, there’s no momentum, true fans, or people who will have your back when your business takes a bad turn. That’s why Nicole made a community the centerpiece of her business.

Flytographer supports artists around the world. In December, we saw the top 25% of our photographers make over $1,500 a month shooting a couple times a week. Because of our service, they can pay their mortgage and live a better life.

It’s repeatable business for them, too. The community is big, so we’ve been investing in that from the start. We have annual meetups once a year, everyone flies in and hangs out for a week in Paris. We spend time together doing workshops, lecturers, photo ops, and drinking.

During these events, we get a lot of product feedback. It’s also incredible to foster these friendships in person. It’s created this place where we have a friend in every city all around the world. 

Today, we’re working with over 450 photographers. Fun fact, we’ve had over 10,000 apply. We only hire a photographer with a great portfolio and a fantastic personality.

Where’s the next take-off point?

As a bootstrapped entrepreneur, Nicole has put in the years of effort required to build something great from scratch. She’s put herself through countless learnings all because she found a problem worth solving.

She noted that they are trying a couple of innovative next steps to grow their business (soon-to-be-released). To help, she is hiring more of the right people for her team.

Keep in mind, the Flytographer team is still in their early stages.

You could say they haven’t even left the airport in terms of potential.

Stay tuned to see where they fly next.