50 Ways to Found a Company

3 Commonalities in Launch and Growth Strategies
Brett Friedman

Starting your own company is risky, challenging, and scary, but more than anything else, it's a rewarding experience. When times get tough, sometimes you need to rely on a bit of craftiness to make life work. To learn what it takes to get your first business off the ground, we asked fifty founders to tell their stories.

There were three common first steps:

  1. Make a Website
  2. Calculate Costs
  3. Collect Early Client Feedback

Nearly all founders noted website creation as a core piece of their brand launch. Most founders mentioned researching their market, product, industry, equipment, tech, and personnel required to launch their company, what those things would cost, and where they'd get the money from (often citing friends and family as contributors). Finally, every business needs clients. Many founders again turned to friends and family as their first clients, others used SEO, ads, partnerships, and direct outreach. A core thread of many success stories is incorporating the best possible customer service they could muster in addition to listening to feedback for product improvements.

That's all you need to get started: a website, some money, and a customer. For help coming up with your big idea, see our idea generation guide. For help finding your first customers, try multivariate testing with digital ads.

For all fifty founder stories, click sources below.

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Mark Aselstine, Founder, Uncorked Ventures

"So it's fun to look back. God, I knew absolutely nothing lol

In any case, we wrote checks from savings, somehow our wives agreed and then we threw up a bad website and started collecting emails. After that, because we knew nothing, we wrote checks for stuff that didn't matter. Business insurance for our warehouse, which would sit empty for like 6 months while we applied for alcohol permits as one example. Then an ill-fated radio advertising deal, which as you might guess, didn't work.....because how do you sell wine on the radio?

Now? Yeah our growth strategies work better, but they're also cheaper, which is nice."

Shyam K. Iyer, Founder, SKI Charities

"I am the founder of SKI Charities, a 501(c)3 dedicated to empowering the economically excluded. A lifelong goal of mine, I started this enterprise in 2010 in order to demonstrate that finance can be used for good in particular for vulnerable populations in isolated parts of our world.

The start-up challenges during our first year were many. When an entrepreneur faces difficulty in obtaining funding as I did, make the project a reality from scratch by dipping into savings and raising small donations through our website. Through careful financial management and the pro bono work of attorneys and professionals who shared our vision, we survived the first year and have been building upon that foundation.

The key to start-up success is involving like-minded individuals to both finance and operate the organisation. Then I hired and gave increasing responsibility to staff and beneficiaries from the community being served. 10 years later my team and I have empowered hundreds of females and their families in Zimbabwe and southern Chile through microfinance to become independent entrepreneurs."

Zach Hendrix, Co-Founder, GreenPal

"I'm Zach Hendrix Co-founder of GreenPal which is best described as Uber for Lawn Care. Believe it or not a credit card is how we got started. Debt can magnify mistakes however when used wisely it can be a powerful fulcrum. For me it was a credit card that enabled me to get my business started.

When we launched our business two years ago we had no money and no outside capital to get started with. Like most tech start ups we went on the fundraising circuit talking to angel investors and venture capitalists begging for money to get started. However our vision was just too broad in scope and luckily we got turned down and told no over 40 times.

I was fortunate enough to solid business credit card and this enabled my team to tap an unsecured line of credit for $85,000 to get our business started. We went this route versus a credit card because we could only secure $25,000 on a credit card and we needed $80-$90,000 to fund our first six months and get our beta version of our app built .

We paid that off in the first year and this year we're going to surpass $13 million in annual revenue. Good thing early investors told us know because with their capital they would have owned and controlled 30% of our business and because we are self funded my co-founders and I own it all."

Janice Wald, Founder, Mostly Blogging

"I run an online business. Initially, I started my website at I knew nine months after starting my blog that I wanted to monetize but that frowned on monetization to such a degree you could be suspended or shut down. When a friend of mine was shut down for three days, I knew it was time to go to

My growth strategies involve search engine marketing. Basic SEO skills have taken my business far. I'd recommend them for anyone. You need to ensure there is interest in your content. Then, you need to optimize your content for your keyword. I also highly recommend link-building. It boosts your Domain Authority Ranking which Moz says is an indicator of how much quality your website has.

Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today?
No. When I started, I did not realize the importance of SEO. I just hoped for the best and experienced dismal results. I also now realize the necessity of spending the money I've earned. As a result, I outsource. I have a Virtual Assistant as well as a technical helper. I also have a business partner now. We help each other monetize."

Darian Chavez, Founder, DNC Marketing

"To understand how I started my first successful business, we've gotta start with my first failed business.

And that was in soap, handmade, by me, from my house, where my asthmatic husband lived and my toddler. It was not an easy (or smart for a lot of reasons) thing to do. BUT it led me to the most rewarding thing I've ever done.

I've always loved writing, so when others in the handmade community started asking around for help with their copy I raised my hand. And the landslide began. Ever since I've been developing my copywriting agency in various directions, but we always come back to handmade. How we're one of the biggest names associated with copywriting for handmade, maker, and creative brands.

I'm also an educator in the military (yes, we're a busy household), and in 2017 I hired my husband out of his corporate sales job to help me grow the agency."

Ray Merenstein, Founder, RDM Communications

"Before I stepped off the diving board into the consultant’s pool, l utilized any high level contacts I created through my work as a lobbyist and fundraiser. When you want money, ask for advice…when you want advice, ask for money. Sure enough, when I asked folks if they would consider hiring me for communications or fundraising consultation (asking for money), they provided advice…and good advice.

I simply looked, then, for trends in the advice I was given and followed the trends:

Don’t question your decision, just look forward and be passionate. Be flexible in your business model, if you are too stringent at the start you don’t leave room for growth. Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of your old contacts. Build a website. Incorporate, it will add legitimacy to the company. Find a niche, a differentiator, something that makes them choose you over any other consultant.

Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today?
If any advice still sticks, it is reaching out to old contacts. People won’t know to refer your business if you aren’t top of mind. Find reasons to reach out to people that should hear from you. Send them an article that’s pertinent, wish them happy birthday in a more personal way, invite them for “catch up” coffee conversations.

Now I’ve added networking substantially over the past 15 years. I don’t advertise, but rather attend fundraising events, workshops, conferences, etc that will give me an opportunity to engage with others or to discover opportunities."

Sarim Siddiqui, Founder, PACE Management Services

"I started my first business by reaching out to my childhood friend. We sat down and had a long discussion. We then decided to go ahead with it. I had the knowledge and vision, he had the technical skills and creativity. We complimented each other's skillset. We used our savings. We established our corporate identity, reached out to people for promotion and PR. We also offered discounted packages at the start and made sure our interactions with our customers were more than just satisfactory.

Growth strategies evolve over time. Earlier on we would focus on building our following base and take it simple and easy. Right now we're hard hitters. We scaled bit by bit. Once you scale you need to change your growth strategies accordingly. Our creative approach changed a bit, so did our services and packages."

Bashir Khan, Founder, TsMaids

"I was actually not in the same field of cleaning services before I take over this establishment. I was in IT being a sales executive but one of my friends misguided me to buy a cleaning service business which was a very strange call for me.

I've had a limited capital in 2016 at the time I was enforced to quit the job but anyhow as I spent money developing the business, I somehow quit the job and start run this business. I've gone through some really tough and hard times since the start for almost three years and the business never wanted to be on track. I've had my friend as a business partner which was the most ridiculous person to me later on by not spending a penny to grow the business.

After 8 months of worst experience with him I pushed him away with his capital spent at the start and I start shouldering everything on my own. At the start I've had 3 cleaning employees and now I have 20 cleaners and performing well to serve VIP customers from abroad in Dubai. Once I stand up and let the business grow and stand alone the COVID-19 hits it badly and locked it down for almost a month now. My point is when you struggle and never give up you win and get whatever you ask for."

Michael Nemeroff, Founder, RushOrderTees

“My custom t-shirt business was started in my garage with three friends. We were originally using traditional marketing methods, and shipping our products directly from the house. Around this time, the internet was taking off, and I knew my way around computers. I started a website, and we took to the internet to start marketing our products. Fast forward to today, and
we are now operating out of several warehouses, and shipping our custom t-shirts worldwide. I would advise any business owner/entrepreneur to embrace new technologies, rather than fear them.”

Oscar Verduga, Founder, Trusted Realty inspections, Inc.

"I started my first business of home Inspections. The first steps was learning how to set up the business and whether it should be sole proprietorship or corporation. Getting in contact with lawyers and accountants to advise me. Setting up marketing strategies which include things like uniforms and social media platforms. Learning how to market on social media platforms. Finding and targeting potential customers.

At first I was more concerned with getting in front of large numbers of people. Now I choose quality over quantity. I take my time to build relationships and that pays off way better because I'm more likely to get referrals."

Jenna Liu, Founder, Sixx Cool Moms

"Jenna Liu, started a new business within the last year. It's called Sixx Cool Moms and is a networking service for cool moms. She has done everything a new business owner needs to, including trademarking her business name, hiring an accountant and other support staff, and growing the business to a national level in less than a year. In addition to running Sixx Cool Moms, Jenna works full-time in TV advertising in Washington DC."

David Pressler, Founder, Lunar Con

"As a firefighter for Miami Dade County during Hurricane Andrew I saw the need for more safe rooms and stronger construction so designed the portable  tornado proof backyard storage shed called safedome. 10 feet in diameter 9 feet high weighs 8 tons Miami Dade County Florida and Department of Defense certified.  Used everyday for storage, cabin, garage and a place of refuge to save your life!"

Ray McKenzie, Founder, Red Beach Advisors

"I started my technology management consulting firm in 2015. The first steps I took were to originate the business as an entity operationally and financially, develop my website and service offering, and contacted my immediate network to let them know what I was undertaking.

Those first steps essentially morphed and changed over these four years. My website and services offering has changed to be more direct. My immediate network was extremely critical to the growth of my business my first year. However the ongoing growth strategies employed were through direct hunting for new opportunities and partnerships with like firms and companies to work on projects together, receive introductions, or pass business developing a solid relationship. I still utilize my direct network through continuous business development, but my growth strategy has four to five different methods instead of only one."

Willie Greer, Founder, The Product Analyst

"Founding a company isn't easy, but it's doable. Here are the first steps I did:

Find a mentor. There are a lot of questions in the process of being a founder. With a mentor, everything was easier. While some might opt paying for mentorship or business coaching, you can also find mentors in a friend or a partner. In my case, I paid for mentorship programs because I wanted to get expert advice right away. Then again, you don't have to if budget is tight.

Hire a team, or DIY. I knew I needed to get things done, and I don't possess the knowledge for most of them. Some of the things I focused on first was website building and accounting. I knew a few things about building a website, but I also knew I needed help if I wanted to get things right. As for accounting, I had zero knowledge about it, so I needed someone to do it for me. Hiring people may cost you, but it takes away a lot of the guesswork and makes your life so much easier.

Ask a lot of questions, and learn along the way. Even if I labeled myself as a founder, I still had a lot to learn especially during the first years of the company. Asking questions is something that I've done then, and I'm still doing now that we've grown. One of the most important things about being a founder is not that you know everything, but that you know that you don't know everything. So, ask questions so you can always do better tomorrow."

Dana Humphrey, Founder, WhiteGatePR

"I used to work doing in house PR for a pet boutique chain in California . I was working really hard and getting burned out, and for what? I needed a change, so I quit and moved to NYC...

I started my business in San Diego in 2007. I was working full time for a company called Muttropolis and started consulting part time as Whitegate PR. I wanted to move to a city... San Diego was a little too boring for me. My grand plan was to go to San Francisco, but I applied for one job in NYC and got it! Applied, had a phone interview, flew to NYC and moved within ten days. Two months later I was laid off on a Thursday. That Friday, the very next day, the one client I had been consulting for called me and asked that I be available for more hours. I have been running my business full time since that day."

David Pike, Founder, New York Trolley Company

"I started my first business by testing out an idea I had. When I studied abroad in Italy, I noticed certain men's clothing that would sell well with the tourists. I decided to buy 600 items and stuff them in my suitcase when I returned to Chicago. I created a website on Wix and starting running Facebook ads. I had 2 sales the first day. Then I built more structure around the business - creating an LLC, branding, partnerships - before selling the company 7 years later."

Ken Eulo, Founding Partner, Smith & Eulo Law Firm

"I started my firm by taking out a small business loan, and finding a partner that I trusted to be equally as invested in the company as I was. Both my partner and I already had established carriers in the legal sector, so our original growth strategy was simply word-of-mouth and referrals. Now we have moved to a healthy balance of traditional marketing and digital marketing, including PPC and SEO.”

Stephan Logan, Founder, Indigo Instruments

"I had been in high tech sales for 15 years. The last company I worked for had made some serious marketing errors, so I started looking around for ideas to start a business. As chance would have it, a former boss told me of a company that was for sale in the science education business. It was mainly a wholesaler but the owner wanted to retire. Since my wife & I both had science backgrounds, it was a natural.

While the business had existed before we bought it in 1990, it was really a stepping stone. So a founder of one of the first websites in the world.

Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today?

They have changed radically over the years. It became obvious within a few years of buying the company that the wholesale business would be undercut by immigrants from India & China who had connections in their home countries...

Fortunately, the World Wide Web came to life & with my experience selling to professors, I knew they were already the most wired people in the world. Further we live in Waterloo, Ontario which has a well known computer school at the University of Waterloo. I was able to get a grad. student to set us up with our first site in Oct 1994.

Simply being early was enough at the beginning. We had our first call from UC Berkeley 2 weeks later. Since then, the WWW has evolved in ways no one could have expected. For the first 10 years, you could simply put up a page with a picture & a few sentences & get top spot on Alta Vista, Yahoo, Google.

Nowadays, one has to deal with hundreds of factors. Pay per click, social media, mobile compatibility, e-mail campaigns, security, ad nauseum. Where once you could know all there is to know about SEO, today, you're lucky if you have a handle on master 10% of it."

Rizwan Girach, Founder, Chessgammon

"We are one of the largest online retailers of traditional games, specialising in chess and backgammon. These products we have selected to include in our collection have all been inspired by our beginning. We initially started out very much on eBay and sold wooden second hand board games and noticed the demand for good quality chess boards and chess sets along with backgammon sets at reasonable prices. Of course we considered if someone was willing to pay a good sum for a second hand set, why not try selling a brand new set?

Our first steps were to reinvest and funds we would generate from our eBay platform. We then narrowed our niche to just specialise strictly in the in demand products which are chess and backgammon and started to build our vast collection that we have. This was not easy at all but we as a family business are completely against loans, the business has completely been built up on reinvestment and on it’s own without the intervention of share holders.

Our growth strategies today are to compete with the best in this particular niche but we pride ourselves in customer service and response times. Our strategy is to find out what our competitors are doing wrong that we can to right, after all a business that bring up a solution to a problem is usually always a successful one."

Lacey Kaelani, Co-Founder, Casting Depot

"Ever wondered if there was a more efficient way to become famous? Same here. My business partner and I quit our “big-girl” jobs about a year ago to embark on something that would change the casting industry. And voilà! Casting Depot was born.

We’re a female-owned innovative gig subscription service and network for media professionals to source and engage with every type of talent. Think the functionality of meets the social tools of LinkedIn.

Operations are run by my business partner and myself, who have cast and developed for every major network including Netflix, HGTV, Buzzfeed and Hearst Media.

We made a lot of mistakes early on as a small start-up. However, growth strategy was a major priority. We grew our online engagement primarily through social media."

Josh Eberly, Founder, Conklin Media

" 1) Find a partner that is strong in the areas you are weak in.

2) Our growth strategies have evolved from when we started. At first we were trying to do everything ourselves, we quickly realized that delegating and automating repeatable tasks freed us up to focus on high value activities. We now focus more heavily on walking potential customers down a series of marketing steps to convert them versus going straight for the sale when we started."

Ron Stefanski, Founder, Ace Website Development

"When I started my business, I did my best to work on it while I still had a full-time job. I think this was helpful as it didn't put me in desperation mode and allowed me to work on it in my spare time. From there, I did my best to begin outsourcing business activities that would help me increase my revenue. I think the outsourcing was crucial as it would have taken me a lot longer to find success if I did everything myself.

Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today? Generally speaking, I do have the exact same growth strategies but on a much larger scale. Now I have a full team of people that help my media company create content. This has helped me sustain growth over the last five years."

Neal Taparia, Co-Founder, Solitaired

"I started my first business,, in 2001 when I was a high school students. We thought bibliographies were a tedious process, so for two months straight my friend and I worked after school building a website that automated this process.

Initially, I emailed every teacher's email I could find to tell them about the service. I flyered my school bathroom with advertisements (figuring people who have to see them) and went on AOL chatrooms. Eventually I reached out to the Chicago Tribune and the featured as students help students which brought in a ton of traffic. The rest is history, and we grew the business to reach 30M users annually and $20M in revenue.

With my new initiative Solitaired, where we tie brain training to classic games, we're following a similar playbook. We do a ton of outreach and email around partnerships that can drive traffic to our site. However, there are no AOL chatrooms and we can't flyer schools as students."

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder, Mavens & Moguls

"I did not plan on becoming an entrepreneur and never wrote a business plan but I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose so I hung out my shingle by creating a website and making business cards. I had clients right from the start. It is an easy business to set up and being a consultant provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I am able to leverage the contacts and knowledge from my previous jobs. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my clients from the feedback and results. The variety of industries I work in with my clients keeps me interested, engaged and always learning too. I never get bored. Some people join consulting firms right out of school but I became one later in my career once I had expertise in a functional area after decades in business.

My first client came from a talk I gave to a professional networking group. Someone from the audience came up to me after and made an introduction which resulted in my first project a few weeks later. I felt great that my talk was so well received and generated meetings and referrals as follow up, I knew I had a real business. I still give lots of talks and it is a great way to generate leads and business. I think having a good reputation is incredibly important to building a strong business. Here are the best tips.

I can recommend:

*Do great work that people will talk about
* Give lots of talks and use examples from your experience, I do a lot of public speaking which leads to people talking about me online, tweeting, etc.
* Join networking groups to meet people who are the multipliers in your industry, they talk to everybody and know everyone, they have large followings so you need to connect with them online too
* Be active on social media so you can share your talks and content and your followers can help spread the word
* Generate lots of fresh content that will push down any potential bad comments online
* Monitor your online data to shut down trolls and misinformation, there are several online tools to alert you of potential problems (some are free others are for a fee)

To become more well known, social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but you do not have to let it run your life! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths. I am a big fan of Content Marketing and Thought Leadership which are both great ways to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients/customers. Activities like speaking at a conference (when not social distancing), writing articles, hosting webinars and podcasts, building your following on social media all contribute increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of likeminded organizations reaching the same target audience as you.

Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts. Don¹t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. Start small and build as you go.

For me I started speaking at local events and then submitted proposals to speak at industry conferences and trade shows nationally and eventually global events too (before the virus hit). Same advice goes for writing start with small publications then move up the food chain to reach bigger audiences. People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most.

This advice is not fancy and does not require big budgets but it does take time. It is a smart investment to get this right. Authenticity is the key, it has to be and feel real for it to work I think. This has helped me grow my consulting business."

Max Kimmel, Founder, One Shot Finance

"When I started my first business (an Ebay store), I didn't really have a strategy. Most of what I was doing was guesswork, and because of that, the business struggled for a long time.

Slowly, I began to make processes for figuring out what my competitors were doing and how to utilize all the data and information I was amassing. The business eventually grew, and in 2018 revenue was over $800,000.

Now, with my new business (a personal finance website), I took the lessons I learned from the Ebay store and applied them right away. I set targets on where I wanted my metrics to be by specific dates, and started doing TONS of competitor research to try and isolate what matters when growing a website.

This has led to a much quicker start to my current business than I had with my past Ebay business."

Carmen Bergmann, Founder, Carmen Bergmann Studio

"I am Carmen Bergmann and I run a photography business in Munich. My career as an entrepreneur started when I turned... 40. That year, I left Romania to move to Munich, I married the love of my life - after 10 years of crazy being in love with him:) , and I gave birth to my son, Stefan. All of that happened in one single year!:)

I studied photography at university for four years, but I never actually practiced it. My career has been in business development, marketing and sales. I arrived in Germany without knowing one single word of German.

So, after almost 18 years, I decided to put my hand to my camera once again. Whilst re-learning photography, I built my portfolio by running free photo sessions for poor Romanian families in Munich for 12 months.

Today I run an 80sqm studio in the centre of Munich which Google reports as one of the top sales studios specialised in newborn, maternity and family in Munich (on Top 2, I could say:)).

In 2018 I launched my second brand - Donna Bellini - which is active in:
- Munich
- Berlin
- Stuttgart

My strategy is based on:
- promoting my business on Google,
- top location (my studio is on the heart of the city, easy to be reached);
- offering top services to my clients;
- great time-to-yes;
- great brand reputation."

Beatriz Garcia, Founder, Clan Kitchen

"I’ve focused on achieving initial growth through sharing my content with my family and friends. I know this isn’t scalable, but it provides useful feedback to know if I’m on the right track at this initial stage. In the future I will consider social media advertising and SEO."

Brittni Schroeder, Founder, Brittni Schroeder Coaching

"I am the founder of a business and a non-profit. I think one of the first steps every business should take is to create a business plan. It's important to identify obstacles, set goals and create a roadmap. Another important step would be market research. Talk to potential clients and get feedback. When we understand the needs of our ideal clients we are able to market and plan appropriately.

My initial strategies are constantly evolving. We have to be able to embrace failure and adapt. When you run your own business there are several factors that are out of our control and you have to be flexible. We are dealing with this right now with the Covid-19, many businesses are struggling because they can not adapt to the change."

Elandas Miller, Founder, Kicking It Sports

"The first step that I took to start my businesses was to look deep inside and ask myself, What problem am I trying to solve here? I believe that every great business who has survived the test of time solved a problem that needed addressing. Then I asked myself, Why do I feel like I should pursue this business venture? After I was able to understand these two important questions, I was ready to begin the fun part of business. I began identifying my ideal customer. Then I started to listen to business podcasts and reading business books. My favorite podcasts to listen to are: The Tony Robbins Podcast, Create Your Own Life, and Entrepreneurs on Fire. My favorite books have been: Losing my Virginity, Built to Sell, and The 4 Hour Work Week.

After conducting research, I decided to create the very first version of my business. My business is a sports/entertainment business that helps adult tap into their inner child. I first started with inviting friends and family. Then I began creating social media sites for my business so I can spread the word of my business in the digital world. Lastly, as part of the first steps, I decided to ask for help with getting things organized and look for gaps that I may have been missing. One constant in business is not knowing everything. So I knew that I would need opinions of friends, colleagues, and any other person who would offer some constructive feedback on my idea.

Growth is one of the hardest things to accomplish as a founder. My initial growth strategy was social media and word of mouth. Word of mouth is the best growth strategy but it is also the hardest to manifest. In the beginning, and still to this day, I invite friends with a personal message and then ask them to invite their friends. Social media is another great way to grow a business, but this can also be difficult due to the amount of noise on social networking sites. We still use both of these strategies, but we also began leveraging a few new strategies. Now we use email marketing, strategic partnerships, social media advertising, and influencer marketing."

Jessica Santander, Founder, Project Moment Designs

"As the Founder and Designer of my handmade jewelry business, Project Moment Designs, it's always enlightening and a valuable reflection to speak on the first steps taken to launch my business.

I started my business grounded on a deep desire to make an impact within the fashion industry, particularly the jewelry market. The early stages began, out of my living room, working diligently each night after coming home from work on building up my Shopify website to be as user-friendly and eye-catching at first sight. This did require me to invest in a digital camera for my product photos, but other than that, I’ve self-taught myself the ins and outs of growing my eCommerce platform. The beginning stages of launching one’s website and online presence is most definitely an exciting one as you get to see your vision come to life. Hard work certainly pays off when passion leads the way.

My initial growth strategies still continue to be very relevant today- 16 months after launching my business, as word-of-mouth, influencer and content marketing, as well as email marketing all serve as invaluable tools to expand my business' online visibility and social impact within my local community in Tampa Bay."

Andrew Taylor, Founder, Net Lawman

"In the 70s, I built a jewelry manufacturing business - stumbling across the opportunity and finding I have the temperament and eagerness in my youth to throw myself in headfirst to business building.

I invested in several other businesses after that, as well as bringing a few more into fruition. I simply loved the intense period of development back in the day.

In 1991, I founded Net Lawman, which is still in operation today. I would suppose the strategies I used were slightly different because I moved to a completely online system, something very unheard of back in those days."

Cheryl Edwards, Founder, Lamour Et Fleurs

"Here is a short story on how I started my flower shop. First, I had to do research to find out who is my biggest competitors in the flower business and how much capital would I need to compete with them. Since starting a brick and mortar flower business is not the same as starting an online flower shop, I had to change my business model.

In the beginning, I was thinking to open a physical store. However, a few months later, I decided to move forward with an online store because I would need less capital, and my overhead cost would be lower. My growth strategies have changed over time because I decided to focus more on acquiring customers throughout only online marketing channels. Currently, I am running social media ads on Instagram and Facebook, but I am looking into search engine optimization marketing channel as well. Since SEO is becoming one of the best online marketing channels to acquire customers since all people are searching for products on Google."

Dr. Sarah Allen, Founder, The Skin Clique

"Initially, I think you have an idea - something that is all-consuming and that you look forward to working on every day. Without that drive and a good idea, it is hard to see how many businesses ultimately make it. I started by researching as much as I could. I developed patient consents, history, and physical forms and purchased supplies. I focused on education and learning safe injection techniques. I learned about purchasing, inventory, and finances. There is so much to learn when you start a business - you must file for an LLC with the secretary of state, a retail license - all of the logistics while developing a following of patients or customers that believe in you. Your product or service has to be the best.

*Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today?*

No. Initially, my strategy was to build my patient base and deliver the best service and product I could. Without a fabulous product, it is hard to grow. Looking back, although that was a difficult time in my business when I was developing protocols and standards that I wanted to uphold, that was in some ways, an easier time. You have complete control over every aspect. But once I found that there was a need for this service, so much so that I needed to grow, I had to find a way to duplicate that same level of service and medical care. This brought new challenges including developing a rigorous training program for injectors to ensure quality, processes for onboarding and helping and our new team feel supported.

Culture is very important to me and developing a supportive, innovative culture is most important to me. If we are not evolving and listening to our patients - then why are we here? When I started, I listened to the Stanford Start Up Series - lead by Sam Altman. These are free lectures available on Youtube and were invaluable to me in growing the company and learning the basics of a start-up. But, one theory is generalist vs. specialist. I truly believe this.

In the beginning, as a founder, you are a generalist by nature - you HAVE to do everything. There is no one else and if you need to learn how to do social media, then you learn. If you need to learn how to use Excel, then you learn - you need to write a policy, you do it. But, as your company starts to grow, it becomes apparent where your talent is best suited and what cannot thrive without you. You also begin to learn what you may not be best at and hire more resources. For instance, the first investment we made as a company was investing in marketing and rebranding. I know that someone else is better suited for that task and for creating a truly cohesive message."

Milos Djordjevic, Founder, Save My Cent

"The very first step was to calculate all the costs associated with starting the business and saving up a bit of capital to invest. I made sure to aim for a realistic figure, but leaving some slack since there are always unexpected expenses that come up during the start-up phase. This is always important since it's better to have extra cash just in case, instead of having to scramble to get a bank loan with an unfriendly interest rate at the last minute!

*Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today?*

The main growth strategy that has enabled us to scale the business is to try and always hire remote employees. By not being limited to physical office space, we can continue to expand without the financial risks associated with hiring in-house employees. If we ever need to shrink the workforce, it's easier to manage the contracts of freelance employees with more flexible terms.

Standard employment contracts, on the other hand, leave you on the hook for a wide range of expenses such as severance and unclaimed vacation pay to name a few. So by hiring freelancers to complement our core in-house staff, we are able to continue growing the company with less long term financial risks."

Alvin He, Instagram Influencer, Consultant

"When I was in elementary school, I started making origami and selling crafts. I started off:
1. Making origami because it was fun
2. Finding out people really loved them, and wanted them
3. Created all kinds of cool crafts
4. The teacher offered me to teach different classrooms how to make basic origami
5. Made a catalogue of things I could make and priced them
6. Started making money!

I use these same growth strategies in my Consulting Agency today, with these steps I have built up on:
1. Identify where I can offer the most value
2. Found a need
3. Learn, develop, and offer a solution
4. Create credibility, personal branding
5. Network network network
6. Deliver results

Through all these years, it is incredible to see the parallels and similarities in starting a business, and I encourage everyone to embrace opportunities, don't fear failure, and take that first step forwards."

Thomas Allen, Founder, The AI Journal

"I started this company less than six months ago which is now getting website traffic of over 10,000 monthly viewers and has media partnerships with conferences across the U.K. and USA.

My initial step was to create collaborative content. We still use this method now and will continue to over the years. When you get people writing and commenting on your articles of some significance, 9/10 they will share it with their network and it gets you growth quickly and for no cost but your time. Because you get traffic to your website, Google ranks you higher for those keywords and has a snowball effect where you automatically rank higher when you post new content.

I would suggest every business owner focuses less on paid ads which take testing and optimising and focus on collaborative content with points on questions they want answering.

I’m excited to see where we will be in six month’s time."

Jason Davis, CEO, Inspire360

"Aside from making sure there was a product/market fit when starting my business, the two things I focused on initially were our company branding and initial clients. I invested in a branding expert to get the brand looking great (specifically our logo, mission, and website). Many people comment on how good our branding looks and I believe it's one of the most important things I did to help our business grow from the beginning. The other strategy I implemented was signing on initial clients early on by giving them a great deal. Once we had clients, we were able to put them on our website, get feedback from them on how to make the product even better, and get the social proof we needed for others to feel comfortable buying from us."

Stacy Caprio, Founder, Deals Scoop

"I started my first business, a swimming lesson instruction business, during the summers while in college. I already had 14 years of competitive swimming experience and Red Cross and WSI certifications, so the next steps I took were to set up a website, start making it more visible online with SEO techniques, register my business on Google's local business listings, and hang up flyers at my old elementary school. I still create websites and use SEO today, as well as register on Google Business, however I no longer do physical marketing such as hanging up flyers."

Michael Levin, Founder, Custom Solutions Inc.

"I have started many businesses including two as a youth. My first “adult” business I was 17 and opened a teenage discotheque in Livermore, California in 1978 that affected the politics in the city for decades to come. What I learned most about that one was about capitalizing properly. I tell someone “When you open a business, put together a solid financial plan, have it scrutinized by others you respect and understand a P&L, then double it and hope it’s enough”. The problem is we plan for success. We don’t plan for failures. And things will go sideways and we need to have the financial wherewithal to recover."

Marie Gettel-Gilmartin, Founder, Fertile Ground Communications

"I'm a new entrepreneur, just founded my business last year. I'm an LLC consulting business, and I set up my business on my own. I achieved certification as a Women Business Enterprise, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, and Emerging Small Business in December 2019.

What I've already learned is that I need to be focusing my energies online, developing valuable content on my website and working on offering virtual courses. I was already headed that way before COVID-19 hit, but now my approach is even more critical.

Initially I spent a lot of time reaching out to my contacts, letting them know I was open for business. I got some work that way, but that type of traditional approach has slowed way down during the pandemic. Now I'm building up online."

Georgette Blau, Founder, On Location Tours

"The first business I started, On Location Tours, was launched in 1999. The first step that I did was to get my New York City tour guide license, and my second step to develop the tours, including routes and scripts. I do a lot of the same things now that I did back then, including reaching out to PR with new tour launches and large business developments. However, now I couple that with social media and other online platforms."

Kush Kapila, Founder, Sterlings Mobile

"I was probably the last person on the planet to start a mobile barbershop. As a high tech professional I knew very little about barbering but it was a chance encounter one Saturday morning back in 2012 when I came up with the idea. I went to a chain salon and waited 45 minutes to get a trim and ended up with a buzz cut. Frustrated with the experience I was driving home and passed a food truck – another embodiment of the value of mobile services – and the STERLINGS concept was born.

My first step was to search on the web if anyone had done this idea before. It turns out I wasn't the first to think of this idea and many people had tried launching this concept but most didn't get off the ground or were out of business within 3 months. Turns out there were two reasons they weren't successful. The first is they would use an ugly white truck which is fine for a food truck but when it comes to fashion the appearance really matters. We ended up choosing the iconic Airstream which conveyed a premium service. The second reason is these mobile salons would treat their business like a food truck, parking on the side of the road waiting for clients. We flipped the model on its head and started partnering with Fortune 500 companies and bringing our services onsite where the busy professional can go online and book a cut, color, shave, blowout or other convenient service.

Our growth strategies of going to companies on a regular schedule are still the same but we have branched out to do promotional tours across the US and have partnered with The Art of Shaving to expand our core business outside of San Diego to other cities such as Orange County and San Francisco."

Brian Robben, CEO, Robben Media

"I started a blog in my college bedroom as my first business. I attracted customers using content marketing and SEO, mainly writing 2,000 word blog posts on specific keywords. Then I monetized by selling books, 1-on-1 coaching, and an informational product. Best part is, the business became successful with nothing more than me emptying out what I already knew. Later on, the website generated millions of page views, three Amazon bestselling books, and was acquired for five figures. Then I started a digital marketing agency using the same content marketing and SEO strategies to drive new customers. It's amazing the foundation a first business can provide for ventures years later."

Tammy Hunyh, Founder, The Creative Folks

"Research and Analytics — The first thing I did when starting was research. On a variety of levels — website hosting (pros and cons), market research (defining audiences and goals), defining if I’m brand building or trying to sell a product (even though both go hand in hand but they individually take time).

After I did my share of research, it never ends. As of today and I can forsee onward, we will still continuously do research. To understand better tools, better direction, redefining our product/brand/market etc.

On top of this I love to preach about patience and understanding your current circumstances. I don’t believe in starting a business with 0$ it’s just a matter of how long you go before you have to spend a dime on something! Additionally, I worked a full time knowing that business will cost me in months to come and it definitely paid off to have stable income grow while the business was still developing.

The very first thing I invested in was a website. I was patient for 3 years before buying a full theme and development tools/plugins. Before then I used free themes, free plugins, and free youtube tutorials until I felt like full customization was needed. However I knew that I had to invest into a wordpress.ORG in order to reach that customization I did want.

One of the best investments was because I’ve experienced all other platforms and I’m really happy with this one. A lot of creators like me who do creative work also feel like they have to have the best tools and gear before they begin, I beg to differ.

I think its more important to test the field, trial different alternative tools first and see how far it takes you. Get some clients under your belt during the time and then, you should invest in the tools to scale your business further. I still do that today as well.

For example, we tracked everything in Google Drive. We still use it today but we realized our team needed interactiveness because they’re visual workers. We trial Asana for some time so the we can implement that into our workflow. This will take course for about 3-6 months on Asana’s free platform until we have fully transitioned from Google Drive to Asana."

David Walter, Founder, Electrician Mentor

"The way that I started my first small business is that I worked my tail off in my chosen niche (electricity) eventually achieving the accomplishment of Master Electrician. That took quite a bit of time. After that, I felt a need to share my knowledge with others so they could succeed in their dream of becoming an excellent electrician. Along those lines, I launched the website Electrician Mentor in the recent past, and I have used that portal to share my knowledge and experience.

My initial growth strategies basically involved posting relevant content, and once that took off to an extent, I've pivoted over to social media to an extent as well as a few other resources in order to continue to grow my business. I'm rather new to the small business game, but I feel that I've done an excellent job in the first phase of things - launching a value-driven blog, and I'm working hard towards making the next step as effective as it can be - social media marketing."

Brandon Amoroso, Founder, electrIQ marketing

"I started by spending most of my last 2 semesters at USC working on developing my business, gaining clients and figuring out what direction I wanted to head in with digital marketing. I figured out that bootstrapping was the best way to go for me, since it would allow my company to be self sufficient. From there I started creating relationships with clients, hiring my first employee, and expanding the company.

Were your initial growth strategies the same ones you use today? I gained experience with platforms such as Amazon, Google, Facebook & Instagram so SEO became my main focus. Strategies I continue to use include creating innovative content campaigns, and generating national media buzz to providing insights through Google Analytics and target ad buy campaigns.
Additionally we also do cold outreach which has actually helped garner attention from various potential clients."

Dr. Anissa Jones, Founder, Total Health Chiropractic Center, Pink Chief Boutique, and Pink Confetti Rentals

"I think back on the journey from when I started my first business in 2000. My main concern was “where was I going to get some money from.” Now back then, the word “crowd funding” was not mainstream like it is today, but that is what I did. I asked family and friends. I quickly learned how to budget, kept my overhead down and was highly creative. I set goals, created a business name, and filed my business legally. I wrote out my business plan, opened a business banking account, set out to find a location and contacted vendors. I was a team of one.

Now the hard part, getting the client. The first thing I learned was that rejection is real, and it does not feel good. I being to attend events in the community. I sponsored little league and did health fairs and festivals. I called all my friends and family and begged them to be my clients, because honestly, I needed the money. After about six months of my family and friends coming to see me, they began to tell others, and then they told others and we took off. Entrepreneurship is not easy. It is not for the faint at heart. You must be in it to win it. My mantra is to “Fail forward and fail fast.” Lastly, your mindset must stay positive and you must make the choice to not be afraid.”

Kean Graham, Founder, Monetize More

"I originally fell in love with the online industry when working for a large online classified network. The job was an immense learning experience but once the recession hit, the company decided to lay off the marketing department. I lost the best job I ever had but I was determined to turn the bad into something great.

Five days later, I'm on a plane to South America to go on a life changing trip. Four months into my backpacking trip I was on a four-day trek through the incredible Inca trail towards Machu Picchu. By the end of it, I was sitting on top of Wayna Picchu reflecting on my experiences throughout my trip. I have had the most fulfilling time of my life and it finally clicked:

I will work and travel when I want, where I want.

I have to start a digital business to enable this autonomous lifestyle. Seven months later I started the digital business called MonetizeMore which now offers this autonomous lifestyle to every member of our team.

The initial growth strategy to get leads is similar to today as we still focus on a high quality content. We get over 90% of our leads from inbound and the strategy still works well for MonetizeMore."

Dylan Gallagher, Founder, White Wolf Tours

"My name is Dylan and I started a tour company in San Francisco called White Wolf Private Tours. We show high-end travelers how to experience Yosemite the right way.

The way we began our company was to accomplish one baby step at a time. First, we needed the knowledge and equipment to be able to operate a tour smoothly (one which receives 5-stars from a guest). Then, we put the legalities and permits in place. Finally, our job was to sell --so we created a website, brochures and content to convince potential guests to trust us for our services.

Each one of these steps took time and money, and we stuck with it because we knew we could provide a better tour for the customers in our niche than what the competition offered.

Now that we have our base, we continue with growth with more content and providing a service customers trust.

It works and we haven't looked back since."

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