Over the last eighteen months, I have been tracking Detroit-native and University of Michigan alumn, Brian L. Clark, on his entrepreneurial journey.
I’ve interviewed him a couple of times on his journey from college graduate, to corporate employee, to entrepreneur.
A brief summary, post graduation, Clark had an excellent job in corporate out of college. However, he decided to abruptly quit his job and move to San Francisco to pursue his entrepreneurial dream.
Clark has experienced the highs and lows of starting a business in the technology space. He has funded his business by winning Hack-a-Thons but has had to overcome significant challenges and make difficult decisions in order to continue to grow and hopefully, thrive and one of them was to close down VUE, a technology-based business.
The following provides you with where Clark is along his journey and whether or not this experience has been worth it.
Lee: Ok. What’s new since the last time we talked?
Clark: A lot has changed! I’ve had to for a second time in the last year and a half shut down my business, tell all my customers we didn’t make it to our next milestones, and move on to something else. For those of you that haven’t read before I was building VUE, a mobile analytics product to help app developers know how many users they had and what those users were doing so they could improve their app based on what was and wasn’t working. We unfortunately had a few team issues and didn’t find a specific niche in the market that gave us a competitive advantage over our competitors.
Along the way I had built a side product with my roommate called LinkTexting (https://www.linktexting.com). It is a super simple tool that allows companies to place a text-to-download widget on their website. Text to download is the easiest way to go from a laptop visitor looking at a website promoting a mobile app, and getting the download link for that app to their phone.
I had initially built this product as another marketing channel that mobile app developers would be attracted to and then try and up-sell them to my main product VUE. The developers still never really took to VUE, but LinkTexting has kept growing! We’ve had over 500 mobile app developers use our product and we have a good amount of those paying us. This now generates enough income to cover most of my monthly expenses with only a couple hours of work a week to support the product.
It goes to show sometimes you never know what is and isn’t going to work for your business.
Lee: I recall you were winning Hack-a-Thons and that was sustaining you in San Francisco. What happened?
Clark: I haven’t done a hackathon since I won the last one hosted by Salesforce, but that money has been able to tide me over for the 6 months and allowed me to learn that VUE wasn’t working, switch my focus to growing to LinkTexting, and now have enough income being generated to explore growing that further, or new ideas.
On another exciting note the team that I won the Salesforce hackathon with has continued working on the project and I’ve been helping them in an advisory capacity. They’ve made great progress and tackling a huge problem for many sales reps that use Salesforce and are launching in the coming weeks. Look for big things coming from that team!
Lee: It’s my understanding you have changed direction from your original business concept, VUE, and have moved into a different direction. Why?
Clark: For a start-up to work out right a lot of things have to go right and there were a number of decisions made early on that really hurt us. The most noticeable one was a bad co-founder working relationship. It wasn’t that we didn’t work well together but I was full time and my co-founder was part time. Life got in the way and we weren’t able to move close to fast enough on product development to get meaningful customers fast enough. As well secondly on that note, some of my initial assumptions on why users would use my product versus the competitors were wrong. They liked some features of our product but not enough to pay for our service over another. If we would have been able to move faster on the product we may have been able to learn this sooner and build in a different direction, but we weren’t able to and decided to shut down the business. It also helped that I already had a working and profitable side project in LinkTexting giving me something to immediately work on and grow!
Lee: What were your key learnings from VUE and how will you use these in your new business? In other words, what will you do differently?
Find a pain your customers have, hone in on this so acutely that you understand it and can solve it better than anyone else.
The pain point you find must be great enough for your customers to either pay you for the improvement in a B2B business, or be so heavily useful they come back every time they need that problem solved in B2C.
Make sure all of your core team members have the same commitment level. If you’re both part time, you have income while you validate the idea, but you move slower. If you’re both full time you may run out of money but you can move fast. When you have a mix you have differing priorities and it becomes quite a problem.
Lee: Any thought about going back to corporate or is your mind made up in the entrepreneurial space?
Clark: The only reason I would ever work in a corporate environment would be to hone in on a specific problem I’d want to solve so I could go out and tackle it afterwards on my own.
Lee: You’re 25. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs whether straight out of college or for those further along in their entrepreneurial journey?
Clark: Test your assumptions, build product quickly, and test again. Customers may say they love this great new feature about your product but when you launch it no one uses it or pays for it. Was there a way you could have tested this before spending a couple months building? Always keep an eye out for ways you can do this faster.
A good example of this is a friend of mine was building a marketplace product. He had spent about 2 months thus far building out the marketplace platform. He had talked to customers but he had already spent 2 months and didn’t have any business transactions to show for it. I told him he should build a website that allows you to choose if you were the supplier or consumer, then leave your email address. That can be built in about 3 hours. You can then find early adopters of your target market, have them sign up, then manually match suppliers with consumers, and see if there is a real business need for your product. You can do all of this in days and have revenues to show instead of spending months building a product.
Lee: Other thoughts?
Clark: You have to just keep going. It can take a solid 2 years before things really start sticking with entrepreneurial ventures, just don’t give up before you get there!