Chatting with Arvid Kahl is like getting a bootstrapping startup lesson. Arvid is a seasoned pro when it comes to bootstrapping startups. He created Feedback Panda and one year later grew it to $55,000 MRR. He then sold it two years later for an amount of money that was life changing. He then launched Bootstrapped Founder where he writes about Bootstrapping, startups, engineering and mental health. He’s also written a couple of guides, one of which is Zero to Sold that is meant to guide software engineers who want to become entrepreneurs.
Arvid and I discuss:
If you are wanting to get ideas on how to bootstrap a business and make it viable, this episode is for you.
Hey, you're listening to innovators can laugh. The fun startup podcast. I'm your host, Eric on ICO. We interview an innovative entrepreneur in the European tech startup scene. Every week, Michael is to have my guests share their wisdom or having a little fun in the process. Now let's talk. Hey ICO fans today, we're chatting with the bootstrap founder.
Arvik call Arvid is a Jack of all trades, a speaker, a writer, software engineer, course creator, and the creator of feedback Pinda, which he was able to get to $55,000 in MRR. And just under two years shortly. He sowed his startup for what he calls life-changing money. If you're winning ideas on how to bootstrap a startup, this episode is for you.
Let's dive in , you're a Jack of all trades, a speaker, a writer, a software engineer course creator, but you really started your career as a software developer from 2011 to 2018. You had a full-time gigs. You were also an entrepreneur. Can you paint us a picture of what your life was like during that. Very chaotic, trying to say, like my here's one thing about my life it's full of random choices that make a lot of sense in retrospect, but not much sense at the moment where I'm making them.
So I, I always wanted to be in computers. That thing that has always been true, but the way I approached it, initially it was to go to university and study computer science. I know he quickly phoned him. That's really not for me. It's way too theoretical. It's way too abstract. And I would have built stuff.
And then I kinda got a job at a web agency and that got me into make, making some money and also world of Warcraft happens. So I spent a lot of time not going to university, but playing a lot of games. So that kind of stopped money. My academic track record right there. And then you know going to university in Germany, you only get subsidized.
The couple of years, and if you don't finish what you started, then you can really continue doing it anymore. So I switched majors pretty much and started studying political science and philosophy because I thought, Hey, let's take the complete opposite of computer science and take something with people, you know, like something where you learn and understand how people work, how societies work, how history works and all that stuff.
And got to say, now that I'm around. Understanding complex systems and boiling them down into easy to understand models and stuff that really helps. But yeah, I did that for a couple of years and a world of Warcraft was still happening. So I didn't go to university that much, either around the time.
And then I got a job in San Francisco, which was really nice a company that had just been VC funded. Invited me over because I had been using the same tech stack that they had been using back in 2013. I must have been around at the time and they said, Hey, cool. We saw you get up. And we really like it.
Do you want to work for us? And then it kind of worked for them all of a sudden, they out of not even having a degree in anything, but having lots of cool projects out there that got me my foot in the door. And worked there for a bit. That's a burnout. So I kind of stopped working that, that was my first clash with mental health and the potential of overworking yourself for for how many hours.
Well, it was like five days a week, like 10 ish hours a day. And then the weekend was also mostly talking about work. Like we, we kinda, the times I was there, w we lived above the place where we work. There was a, it was like a garage, essentially. It was this. You know, starting a little startup in the garage.
And that was whether it was, it was really cool. It was super exciting back in the day because we build like a cloud IDE where people could code in the cloud, which is now getting more and more normal, but it was not. So that was really cool. And, but also a lot of work and a lot of, not much else and work.
So, you know, that's, that's what I figured. Okay. Life can just be working for somebody else. Then back back in Germany, after I quit that job, because it was too much for me, I freelanced a lot and I consulted because I had some knowledge at that point, then I found a job through friends. I co-funded a couple of businesses that failed horribly.
It was a lot of fun. And got a job, did that job for a couple of years. And then I was already dating Danielle, my, my girlfriends with whom I live in Canada now. And she she wasn't on nine teacher. She had a problem. I built a solution and all of a sudden we had a business and then B we ran that business suffers the service business.
We grew it to must have been $55,000 a month in recurring revenue and 600 K. And then we sold it to a private equity company within two years of founding it for what I am allowed to say is a life-changing amount of money. And ever since then do know that life has been changed and I've been writing a lot.
I've been sharing a lot. I've been trying to empower people because now I am the person that gets to do that. Now I get to help. Now I get to teach where before I was the student, I was the one being held. You know, it's like paying taxes, you help those who need help. And I love it because it makes me get out of bed.
It makes me turn on my camera, turn on my microphone and just help, like present people with something that they could use. That's what I do every day. I wrote a couple books. I made a course and now was just really talking into this microphone and looking into my camera all the time. But it's fun. That is so much in just would you just share there, so if we can go back for a second, you said you had two phones.
Spectacular failures. I think that's what you said. Why were these spectacular? I mean, if you can go back and do things differently, what did you learn from those two failures? What were they? What type of businesses where they work and what, what happened? Well, the first one was friends, a couple of friends and I, we got together and founded a company and we try to build a local food marketplace in Berlin because Berlin, Germany is where we lived at that point.
And, but then it's a city full of hipsters, full of people who are like really good. But it's a big city and you know, they don't grow food in the city, but they do outside of the city. And we tried to connect those farmers just around the city to be able to sell their product, to like weekend markets, a little local local farmer's markets and stuff in the city.
We wanted to build a marketplace, a digital marketplace for people to, to coordinate. And we, we set out to build, if you rented an office, we got computers, we hired a couple of people. And then we built something for like six months without asking anybody what they needed. It was horrible. Like we did the no validation.
We had this grandiose idea of totally understanding both sides of the. Which is already fairly ambitious to even do with validation. Right. And we didn't talk to farmers enough to figure out what they needed. We didn't talk to the foodies enough to figure out how they wanted to purchase these things. We just thought we knew exactly what should be done.
And obviously we launched a thing and crickets, nothing happened because the. Mocker place on the, on the consumer side, we didn't have any kind of digital payment. So people would have to pay in cash on delivery, which they didn't want because I was unable to integrate PayPal for some reason. And on the PR on the producer side, we had built this complicated web application for people who didn't even have a computer.
We did not validate it. It was horrible. So the project has since switched over to something else. I left the company. I'm out of there. Dave now built a little food just kind of boxes these, these you know, a way to have like fresh vegetables, veggies, veggie boxes that are delivered on a monthly basis.
That's happening there would that business, but our grandiose initial idea, flopped, and we spent a lot of our money. A lot of our time. I spent two days a week working on that while I was consulting. We even had EU funding at some point to be able to hire a couple People to, to help us out and do stuff to deliver things.
It was, it was nice. It was fun, but it was stupid. Tell you that because we, we just, we thought we knew, and that was one of the biggest learnings from that thing is like, you need to validate every single assumption. Like, if, even if you think you got it right, and you're the first customer of your business, doesn't that probably you're the only customer of your business.
And then you're running into this issue that you extrapolate your thoughts without ever checking in with. That is the very first biggest bootstrap slash self-funded business that I co-founded, and that just uploaded as a, it's a great learning, but it's an expensive one too. Yeah. Are you still friends with the the ex co-founder there?
Well, one of them is my best friend and the other one, I'm still a really good service with, because there wasn't a. Any negativity towards any, any kind of internal dynamic? Like we all thought this was the way it worked and we were all equally disappointed. So at that one guy was driving it. And the other words it's like playing.
No, that was a collective failure that we all owned up. And we each grew out of it in a good way. My friend is a designer. He used it as a portfolio for his next project. For example, after the other guy who was the CEO and the idea person, while he keeps running it. And he has the connections that he made throughout all these things with all local farmers and local foods.
Distribution systems and restaurants, he has this still and he uses it for stuff he's doing now. And I have a nice story to tell, so we all would, right. Yeah. Yeah. You can't be a true entrepreneur unless you have at least one failure to talk about. Right. So what would it, what was the second, the second startup that didn't go so well, similarly I, but other friends, I co-founded a business.
That was the idea was there's a lot of embedded photographers out there who are in war zones, who are like taking pictures of current. And they're usually in areas where the internet connectivity, particularly back in 2015 was not too good. So what a, what a photographer like this is doing, they take pictures and then they have a satellite phone or something like it that connects to the internet through which they upload these files into the, and here you come see a, a decades old technology, unsecured, FTP server.
Of picture agencies like news agencies, essentially they have just open flood gates where every photographer that works for them or wants to work for them, just ups, upload, stiff photos, I'm ass. They've just reading your upload them. You're labeled them. You put in there what your name is and how much it costs for them to use them on an FTP server.
Like literally just throwing files into an unsecured system. And they do that to these photographers, with all the agencies that they want to send the pictures to. Right? So you send one to writers, you send one to that, the APA or whatever, these different than New York times and whatnot, what that means for somebody who's sitting somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan at the time.
And they have a really, really limited bandwidth on their phone that takes hours. And that takes hours to, if they need to sit in front of computer, instead of being able to document what they're doing. So what we built was a, you sent us your files once and we multiplex, we distributed them to all of these agencies and each agency has their naming convention.
So you figure this out and you upload it. It was a cool idea that I still believe it is, but I was not a. My other friend who also built the thing with me was not a photographer. The guy who had the idea was a photographer or an ex photographer, but he was also mostly working for a design agency at the time.
So our time budget was really small. And again, nobody talked to other photographers, we built the thing. We even have paid customers. And then for some reason, we our CEO and we all kind of thought, Hey, this is not enough. Without ever thinking of doing marketing yet, we did see your marketing. You would have the most like thoughtless ways of building a business.
Hey, rebuilt this, where are they? I thought it was, if you build it, they will come. And that's kind of, that's the approach that we took there, which taught me once. That was kind of, we closed that down because it wasn't worth our time because we didn't have any money. Not knowing that, you know, marketing would have helped.
What I've learned is if you don't tell people, not just that you're there, but also how you can help them and show them and direct them towards you. If you don't attract people for whatever means your business has no value, it might be the most exciting piece of technology to, to build. And it might be a revelation for the people that finally ended up using it, because in our case, like if you sent your data to 50 agencies at the same time, Now all of a sudden, instead of using four hours, oh God, I should've taken a better example for math.
It's over in five minutes, kind of. Right. And that is three hours and 55 minutes that you get to make more money by taking more pictures. That then makes immediate sense and feed back into the business that I built later with Danielle for online teaching was exactly the same. We took a two hour task, reduced it to two minutes to five minutes, sometimes two, depending on how quick people can kick and.
What's the value of the business. I'd be communicated that clearly we communicated that insight, the community, that Danielle was a part of and the people in the community communicated it to each other. Cause it was easy to communicate and we headed business. So marketing, however right. Paid ads and not paid ads, word of mouth, whatever it is, you, you just have to do it.
You know, you have to actually do it to make a sale. That's what I learned from that. Okay. Feedback, Panda this application, I think right now it's a, it's an application that people globally can use. But at that time, was it specifically a Germany or was it also globally at that time? So one of the benefits of having an English speaking girlfriend as a German is that you immediately, you get exposed to a global scale or scope, I guess, of problems and businesses and all that stuff.
Right? Because she was teaching English as a second line. To a Chinese or through a Chinese company that connected her with Chinese children who wanted to learn English or rather, I guess the company connected her with the parents of those. Who paid the company to then pay the, to teach the kids. You know, it's a, it's an online school essentially.
So she was, she, she needed a job to do from home. And Danielle is a trained opera singer, but she, she had a leg injury at the time, 2016 ish around that time. So she needed to find something to do from home. And it's kind of hard to sing. From home, right? It's not an opera, it's a hole. So you can't really have people over and then sing super loudly in a, you know, apartment.
They bored. So she needed another job. She found that job teaching English online and she really enjoyed it. It was awesome. Thank you. Connected, connected with all these cute Chinese kids who don't speak a word of English. So you have to be super animated and you have to sing and dance. It's really enjoyable to teach, but.
What was not as enjoyable was that she needed to file student feedbacks for the parents to read, because we are talking about China, Chinese parents are very, very focused on making their kids be as good as they can be. You know, like the whole competition with the tests that they have to for university entrance and stuff.
They want their kids to learn as much as possible. So they are very, very closely observing anything that has. Okay. You, you need to write a lot of texts. If you want to tell a parents in detail what the kid learned. Right. And that, that time that she spent on that for every half hour lesson, she needed to write like 10 minutes worth of text.
That was unpaid. Yeah. She wouldn't be paid for the time, but if she didn't file the student feedback, they would not even pay her for two. That's how important that was. So she had her own little system, she had worked documents and like an Excel sheet somewhere and some handwritten notes and she would just pull it all together, type it out as quickly.
Copy paste, whatever, take like a couple of minutes per student and do that all take her two hours sometimes an hour. If she was. Obviously for a software engineer, anything that is texts substitution and using fragments here and just changing the name, that's just yells for a software solution. So she told me what she needed.
I built a prototype for her, and it was nothing about German at all. Like I've been in the software industry for a while, so I am. But the language should I speak most of my day, at least my professional day is English. As you might be able to tell, right, you have to expose yourself to the language and you have to learn it.
And you have to, to, to think in it, if you are a coder, because most coding program programming languages are in itself variations of, to English, English language. So that was very easy. I built a system for her English speaking, obviously, and I had. Knowledge and experience in building software as a service businesses that are platforms that are from the start.
I built it. So it was multitenant. So many people could log into it and have their own little database and get, you know, I have their own little as selection of feedback templates if they wanted to. And she used it for a while. We ironed out the kinks and then I just opened up the flood gates. She posted about it in the Facebook group that she was part of with all these other thousands of teachers.
And since that day, we didn't have to do any pet market. Because the product was so clear and so helpful that we've had almost exclusively where the front was marketing, just bringing in 20, 30, new teachers every day I would have, which 40, some percent would convert into paying users. So we started in 2017 with a zero money, zero users.
Within a couple months, we had hundreds of users and in. 19, when we sold middle of the year, just under two years after we started, we had five and a half thousand paying users using our product. Wow. Well, so right off the bat, did you have a free plan and a paid plan? We just give like a seven day, a seven day free trial.
I read, I read a book hooked by NIR Eyal and in this, he writes about the hook cycle, which is very interesting just for anybody building products that they want people to habitualize to use an average away. And he talks about the fact that if you want to have it to start existing, it needs some time and seven days may not be enough.
So we gave people a 30 day trial, mostly out of there's this kind of calculation that these people get paid on a monthly base. So I want them to be able to see, you know, they get paid before they use it and they get paid while they use it. And where the difference is we want the people to, habitualize not only using the product, but also see the immediate.
And the more people put their feedback templates and defeat that bender the easier or quicker they would be able to use them. So by giving people this long time to use it for free, they will notice, oh, wow, this is actually way faster. Now that I've been here investing my templates into this because I still have to type them in, but only once instead of every time.
Right. So they noticed this is extremely fast. Not that I've been using it for a couple. I guess I can pay 10 bucks a month, you know, because we argued and that was a price model. And because we knew they didn't have much money for many of these teachers, that was the second or third job that they did in addition to actually teaching at a school, it was bizarre.
It was a whole situation. So yeah, we gave a free trial and then initially we had two plans, a five bucks a month, and the 10 bucks a month, we could be scrapped at five bucks a month because it just had the limit to the amount of students and another amount of feedback, but we didn't really need that. It was.
Every single person using it at a later point, we Increase that to 15 bucks a month, like a year into, it gave people the opportunity to lock in their 10 bucks a month price if they bought a yearly subscription. So that was a nice influx of cash. At that point. At the same point, we introduced a referral system, which we wouldn't really have needed because people refer it as anyway, but we continue to incentivize them even more, you know, like a, you get a free free couple months or a free month if you invite a couple people and so on.
So it was repeating. Oh, wow. Where are you getting a lot of requests for like any, any changes or any just any customer feedback during this time too? Oh, we got a lot of customer feedback. If, if teachers are one thing, then they are good communicators and they know what they want and they will tell you what they want, because that is I'm teaching works.
Right. You tell somebody what you want them to do, and then you kind of get them to do it. So I Daniella and I, we both were equal partners and customers. Yeah. Obviously, cause we were the only people in the business we never hired until we sold tuber to Tacony the co-founders for the business that were really employees of the business.
And after a while, most of the things that came through the conversations were technical in nature. People have data problems. One this doesn't work the way they want it. So I've had most of these things on my plate. And then y'all took the ones that were for her like product design and stuff, but yes, we got a lot of feedback and it was extremely helpful, like in two ways, first off, it's really nice to get people to talk about their problems while they use the product.
And we had a product that was used multiple times a day. It was every, every half an hour, essentially. Every single one of these teachers would want to create a feedback quickly, so they wouldn't have to do it after. Right. So we'll do it and we'll use it. And if there was a problem, they will tell me right then, and then half an hour later, they might have the same problem.
The second part is as the software engineer of the business, I had the amazing opportunity to hear about a problem. At one point and then 30 minutes later, I would already have developed and deployed the fixed it. And that it blew people's minds, this immediate impact of a complaint or of a wish or of a bug report or whatever it was on.
The product is something that most of these. Who were severely underserved to begin with because who makes stuff for teachers? Right? There is no money in teaching or education. So nobody builds for teachers. They love that. And that was to fuel that, that we, that we didn't even need to pour in because people did it themselves into the marketing efforts that they then did for us.
They went to. You won't believe what happened? I told them this little work and then I refresh 10 minutes later and it work. They did that for me. This is a great product. You'd have to try it out. Here's my referral link. It was awesome. That was the best kind of marketing could have wished for, because it was honest.
All right. So I have a theory here, because earlier in the conversation you were saying that one of your first jobs was that was that a startup in San Francisco? It was pretty cool. It was the startup you're, you know, you're you're with these tech guys you're above a garage. And you're getting this new experience.
It's in a new city, but then your mental health, you got burned out right here. You are the sole engineer, the primary person that's developing a product. You've got no other employees. You haven't really invested a lot of money or maybe you did, but not like your other, your other startups that, you know, like the grocery one where you guys had an office and you hired employees.
Right. But the way you're telling this story, You're smiling, you're enthusiastic. And you're probably putting in the same amount of hours, maybe even more because you're the only person as you're building, you know, feedback Panda. So my theory is is that there is no such thing as burnout when you've got a product that you like and other people, like, what do you think.
Well, I would, I would both agree and disagree because at the end of that journey, just shortly before we sold, I was getting closer to that point again. And that was not because the product itself was bad or I did it for somebody else and didn't retain ownership. Cause I think that's one of the reasons why burnout is hitting.
And an employee's situation's quite alive just for the state create. They produce, they produce, they, they sacrifice. And then that has showed the value, but they are not shareholders, you know? And that's the disparity between the value you create and the value you ever take. If you have a startup, if you have your own business, then everything you do to grow to startup also grows the wealth.
And that is one of the reasons that we sold, because of course, there's always many, many reasons. There are many, many reasons out there for. Y you end such a journey. Why are you saying like never changed your winning team kind of thing, right? You have things that, if it goes, well, why not continue? Well, all know wealth was locked in that business.
Like we had built something amazing, like a thing worth millions at that point and both Indiana and I didn't have most, any savings really, really at that point, at least we were just living paycheck to paycheck. Like most people, you know, so by having a business like this, we noticed this is super valuable.
We bet on. Because if this just implodes, because you know, there's some technological problem, or we really burn out that we can't handle it anymore. Then we have built all of this for nothing. There's no value for us in it anymore. So we decided let's look into selling and that was after people have approached us to want to, to acquire a business.
So we built it as a sellable business from the start because I've got the book built to sell. And if you reach on Warren Lewis book, you will learn that if you build a settlement, It's going to be a great business. You don't have to sell it, but if it's great, then it's sellable. And if it's sellable, then it's great.
So you might just as well build it so you can remove yourself easily. And then, you know, you have a business that you can quickly sell if you want to or improve and increase grow whatever. If you choose that path. But for me, I really wanted out at this point because solo tech, founder, any technical problems that would come away, either on the service side, like some kind of infrastructure problem or the internet was messed up again.
And AWS had a problem because, you know, somebody pulled the cable in the ocean and now I had to deal with this. I want to find integrations would fail. So all of our customers who use the integration, there were thousands of people would all notice that it didn't work at the same time and then just walk our customer service chat.
And that was just a lot of pressure on me as a person that was both there to reply to customer service messages and to fix the problem that I told these people somebody would fix. So, you know, and it was, it was like wearing two hats at the same time and it was impossible to deal with. And then the. No matter when the problem happened, I needed to get up and do it the afternoon, morning, midnight doesn't matter.
I was the only person who could solve it. So I hadn't hired, which is probably one of my stupidest decision decisions and that business, because I thought we will only hire when does 40 hours of work for the. Well, I guess I have it. That makes sense though. I mean, I mean, that makes sense if you're a first time founder and you're growing and you think, okay.
You know, but looking back in hindsight, when would you show or would, should have you heard. Well, first off, I should have hired somebody to replace me as the first person to talk to customers and get a customer service agent as a barrier against the avalanche, the onslaught of messages at any given.
Because it is a whole different experience. If you see a hundred messages come in and you get the notifications on your phone, or if somebody sends you one message saying, Hey, we've got 50 messages over the last five minutes, something is wrong with this in that particular thing. So the first line of defense that would have the first hire, the second hire would have been a software engineer of a skill level that could solve technical problems that could come up in a business like this on retainer.
So, you know, like be there. 10 hours a month. Here's your monthly you pay. And if we need you, we don't, we need you. And if we don't need you, that's wonderful. Should have done that just as a security option. If I was not available, we had a couple of transatlantic flights because again, Germany, Canada, right?
Danielle was from Canada. We often visited our family here and we went back and forth from Germany to Canada. So I was out for eight hours plus. Right. And if anything happened during this time, nobody could. With somebody on retainer, somebody would have been able to fix it. And my mind would have been at ease and I wouldn't have tried to check the uptime of my business.
The minute the plane would land and all these people who get up instead of the aisle, trying to get out of the, of the plane. Nowhere that touches on the ground. I was the person on that. Scrolling through my server logs the first time I would get connectivity. Yeah. That was my priority. At that point, not even get out, getting out, just understanding if everything's fine with my business.
And that puts pressure on you that creates this kind of you, you don't sleep deeply anymore because you want to be able to wake up at any moment if you need you and you. You don't have the kind of focus on building stable pieces of software. If you also need to be on the lookout for customers reaching out to you, there's just a lot of pressure on me doing multiple things at the same time that are hard to do simultaneous.
Yeah. And my inability to understand that hiring a part-time employee is a possibility in today's world. That. Cost me against the Danielle's bet on all the ships. She tried to convince me, you should hire. And I was like, man, I can handle it. Don't you see, I handle it. So that was my ego, my startup founder ego.
I could do everything. It was horrible because I I think I developed several physical symptoms of, of Yeah, that I had to deal with for years and still in dealing with like it's it's sometimes I get PTSD from the little, the sound of the Intercom chat bubble that you see on websites in the bottom right corner.
Like when that opens up, honestly like that opens up. I a, that that's a moment that, because I think, oh God, but some part of our system just crash, even though I don't own a business. Haven't owned the business for now. What is three years? I still feel like I need to check our servers now because that is to create a self conditioning then I did.
And it was horrible. So that is, that is for me, at least the main reason why we sold obviously a life-changing amount of money changes. Hopefully for the better did for us. And it allowed me to find something that is way less stressful and way more enjoyable. And that is teaching founders. What I don't, I, it is so much easier to write a book than it is to run a software business info product, sell themselves.
All I need to do is share with people what I know on Twitter, and that's what I spend most of my. Right now as being on Twitter, helping people so that they eventually maybe find my work and maybe purchase it. So all I need to do, if they talk about it to their friends, that's all I want. I don't need anything at this point, but I want to help.
So that's definitely the more enjoyable and less burnout prone activity, but needed need to get into the space to understand how damaging. And it also needed the opportunity of somebody reaching out to us to acquire us for me to understand that's my way out, because let's just keep it cause you know, because it was growing.
That was great. Yeah. Yeah. We're going to get into some of the the books that you've read into the courses that you teach in just a second. When when you exited though, I'm very curious here, because this is the first time that you sold a company for a considerable amount of money. I'm just wondering, did you negotiate?
You know, because you're, you're teaching other, other startup founders, everything from the beginning to the end, you know how to create a business, how to manage it, you know, and how to, how to get it prepared for acquisition. So if you go back right now, do you feel like, Hey, I think I did. Okay. Or did you feel like, wait a minute, I probably could have gotten more money or something else.
Ah, it's such a nice question because in retrospect, you know, you always wonder what if, you know, what if we had doubled that or what if we had like plate this game where you act like there's more interest and stuff, but no, we, we had a fairly straight. Exchange with our acquirer. It was, it was kind of easy the whole process because everybody, we talked to both the people that they told us to talk to and the people that we found, we wanted to talk to had dealings with chefs with capital that's that's, the PE company we sold to everybody was a friendly person that was community minded that was active in the community like Tyler trainers or more housing.
Her, both of them are founders that have. Huge following on Twitter, or they've been around for decades at this point. These were people that you already had some trust within the community. So we talked to them and they said, yeah, everything was fine. There was no. You know, backstabbing or anything I could, it was just a fair and very transparent business transaction.
We did negotiate. And by we, I mean then yeah, because I am a people pleaser. I have problems with negotiations because I cannot act like I'm tough because I'm not, I'm just afraid I'm trying to be frenzy at least. And that kind of person. I gave them y'all who is she's coming from I'm from a family of farmers of business.
People like she understands negotiation and she has no problem doing it. She's really good at it. She's good at a lot of things, but this was in particularly her doing so. No, I did not negotiate, but yes, we certainly did negotiate. And again, it gave us we, we, we arrived at a price that we all found to be very fair and But it does allow us, the outcome does allow us to live the life that we always wanted to live.
I live, I live in my basement and I couldn't be happier. You know, that's kind of where I am right now. And well, that's really what it is because we got to a financial situation where somebody wants to describe that as a, what is it? A post. Economic state of mind. Yeah. That's the phrase. So you have this kind of, you don't need to think about the red payment for next month or the mortgage or whatever you don't need to think about.
How am I going to make this? You will make it. So the choices that you make are not about today this week or this month, they are about what am I going to invest in for the next. Yeah, that's the thinking that we're now allowed to do from this position. And that makes a whole lot of difference. And it's also making me much calmer.
I may be excited right now because I just love sharing the story. But in general, I'm a very cold person. And that level of anxiety that I had with Rita kinda running it, keeping it alone, keeping it running really, that is now dispersed because we diversified in many, many different ways. And that is kind of what I think.
What most founders actually want. They don't want the big exit. The big exit is a vehicle to get to this point of inner peace, really stability, financial stability, and security. And that comes in many different shapes, not just a lot of money, but it's certainly negotiation was a big part of it. And we didn't need to do any tricks because we had fair people on the other end.
And that was because we vetted them and they had been doing that 30 different. Other transactions before us. And we had a lot of people to talk to. Okay. That's good to hear. I bet a common question that you get is like, Hey, what's the first thing you purchased. But instead, what I'm guessing is that it didn't even, wasn't even a purchase.
It was the fact that you didn't have to check your phone. Every artist, see if you had customer inquiries coming in or something that needed to be fixed that gave you happiness. Yeah. That is exactly what it is. I purchased my, my time back. Like my, my, I literally. Base sign shift, and my anxiety with this took a couple of days for it to sink in.
But yeah, we had a little, you know, this moment when you, when you see it on your accounts, you open your champagne bottle and you do a little dose, and then you notice nothing is different because this is still the same person. You still have to make all these choices in your life. I could, and then we transitioned the business over fairly quickly, because that was really not too complicated.
Having built a sellable business. And I want us to essentially hand over the whole business within like an hour. We didn't need to do more because we did hire and train people. But yeah, let's talk about that. So you're saying it was very easy to hand this over. What, what books or references do you to other people like.
Before you actually start, you know, building or whatever. If you're trying to build something that you want to sellable, here's something that you should read or here's something that you need to do. Can you, can you touch up on that? Absolutely. So I guess I already mentioned one of built to sell, built to sell by John Moreno is a seminal book for me because it made this thing click in my mind that if I wanted to build, like I said, a great.
I needed to build a sellable business. And if I wanted to eventually sell a business, I needed to build a great business cause only great businesses get acquired. So it's essentially to say, and what makes a sellable business sellable is that it's highly automated. It's well-documented, it's essentially a franchise.
You hand over the keys to make a McDonald's right. If you want to build a McDonald's or if you want to franchise that, McDonald's you go to the McDonald's headquarters. You don't literally go there, but you know, you become a franchisee. They give you the big handbook, the McDonald's tutorial. They also rent to the space and they tell you exactly where to put what that, how to hire people.
Everything is codifying. And if you can do that at a much smaller scale with your software as a service business, you have this manual, the business manual do operating manual, which we had, and we had all the SOP is I'll send an operating procedures. Like what happens if the server is down or how do you deploy a new.
Oh, step-by-step with, where's the password for this account? How do you log into this? I had written that all done because I'm German and we love documenting. So that was how that happens. Right. And we had a really thorough op operated operation manual. We had all these SVPs codifies. We had highly automated everything about the business.
We had made sure that all our accounts. Not personal but business, right? Oh, emails where business emails are logins for business log-ins there was no personal money involved. It was all in a bank account for the company. So all of this was clearly separated and that's what built a self taught me, built us out as really clear about this general Reno has since written another book like two years ago, which is called the art of selling a business.
And that is the second. Yeah, that I would recommend, let me check. I might mispronounce it. It could also be like the, the art of selling you're missing. So that's what it is. So I have all these books right here because I regularly referenced them. And that explains to you how the sale happens. And it also goes into detail.
What do you need for a business to be sellable beyond what built to sell already had? Because John Moreno has a podcast and he has now over 200 episodes. So of people who sold their businesses, talking about that, Super helpful. That's what I did before we sold. When we were in this process of negotiating, I listened to 150 or so episodes of that podcast, back-to-back at regular speed.
It took me two weeks to listen to the whole thing. But then I had like hundreds of opinions about how an acquisition went, what their red flags were, what the problems were and how they dealt with it. So I went into this negotiation, knowing exactly what I was. And what to look out for. And John has kind of turned us into a book that you can get for like $25.
So that's the second book that I've ever recommend. Finally, third one is the E-Myth or I guess the E-Myth revisited is the current name by Michael EG river, which is the east end for entrepreneurial. And that book talks about the. That you only need to be a good technician to build a business, right? If I know how to build a good program, if I know how to code, I can build a software business, or I know how to, I don't know, make a leather wallet.
I can build wallet. Nope, you cannot, you still need an entrepreneurial approach. You need a managerial approach. You need to have a structured business. You have to structure your plans. You have to have a vision and you need to manage it. And that's what that book tells you in really clear detail. Very actionably one of the exercises we did from that book then yellow night before we even, yeah.
Before we, I think before we launched the business, but while we already were building it, because we understood that this is going to be something because there was some resonance from the committee. They have an exercise in the book. Dover has an exercise where you take a big. And you put your name, the owner of the business on top of your draw, a line under it.
And then you write CEO and then you write CTO, CFO, CEO, all these C levels, VP of product, VP of finance, VP of design, VP of customer service that you have the little roles beneath that you built an essentially a corporate. Of a business that does not exist, but of the business that you think that your business could turn into in five or 10 years.
So you have all the roles, software engineer back at the junior front, that the engineer database administrator from the designer, all these little things, and you have that for all these things. So you have it for finance, where you have accounts payable, accounts receivable, and your SEO specialists, your Facebook marketing lead, put them all there.
We had 50 different places. In our co corporate hierarchy that we had on the white board. And then you're only the couple of co-founders at the point, right? You don't even have business yet. Then you put your names under each of these position. Danielle was the CEO. I was the CTO and CFO. She wants to see a demo and see how all that stuff.
And then one level down, I was a software engineer. I was the back end engineer. I was the front engineer. Of course I was all of these things because I was the only technical person, but she was the product designer. She was the customer success manager. And so on. We were a 50, 50. Among these positions.
And we knew exactly where we were. We knew exactly who had authority over which field and who was responsible for making choices. And we had in super easy time hiring for those positions because we knew exactly what kind of people we would need. What is the most high impact thing we don't like to do right now, but somebody else would love to do well.
I guess writing blog posts for a blog is something we could pay somebody to do, like once a week or so. So we had like a contract with summer writing doc post. 'cause we had blog post writer on our chart. It was extremely helpful. And those are the kinds of exercises you find in this book, which is why.
Oh, yeah. And that's like dozens more like I have a a gigantic list of books that I would recommend every founder to read that if you follow the list, you won't start a business for a couple of months. So let's keep it a, let's talk about your book. You've you've got a couple, one is zero to sewed. And for somebody who is interested in being a solo preneur, what can they expect from reading this book?
What are, what are they gonna do? So the CEO to soul has an interesting origin story because initially I did not realize that I was writing. When we sold the business, we immediately took a vacation because we hadn't been on a vacation for a while. And it was one of these things that might be the thing that'd be bought.
That's that's, you know, it wasn't a Lamborghini. It wasn't a, a big old, whatever. It was a trip to South Africa to look at lines. It's essentially what we, because we had just been watching the lion king and we really wanted to see it. So, you know, work. And when we came back from the vacation, I. In my soul, that my purpose that I had with the business prior, which was like helping teachers be better at their job and be able to spend more time.
But. That purpose was God, but this, we had just sold it, right. Somebody else was doing this, I couldn't do it anymore. So I needed to find something to fill that void that was surrounding me, that void of purpose, void of, of any, any kind of meaningful work that I was supposed to do. Cause there was nothing I needed to do.
And I thought, let me share what I know. And I said, this. I turned this kind of thing around, but I've have been standing on shoulders of giants for the longest time. Now let me enable other people to stand on my much lower, but still kind of elevated shoulders. You know, that was what I was thinking. Let me be the teacher.
So I thought, Hmm, how can I do this? Let me start a blog because old and all the shit I got, I got most different blogs. So I thought let's start. The boots found it. That's what my blog is called. And I wrote a couple blogs. And I started posting them every week. And I started on Twitter at the same time. I had a couple hundred followers from 10 years of not doing much on Twitter.
And yeah, I started using those was putting my content on Twitter and getting people excited about it being part of the committee. And enriching people's lives with the knowledge shit I could already bring on Twitter. Every week I posted something and then, because I'm a very lazy person, I needed some kind of accountability regimen.
So I started a newsletter and the moment I had my first subscriber was like, okay, I better start writing something every week because they expect that. And then all of this is there was a foreigner. The content that I write every week is now a podcast episode, a new an episode, and a blog posts at the same time, because I reuse my content to make it.
The other, most people able to consume it in whatever way they like, and those blog posts added up. At some point I noticed it was maybe I know, maybe 12, 14 weeks in, okay. These things could be put an order. They would be a good guy, good guy to bootstrapping. And I put a free guide called, see, what's sold on my website.
It's still there. Which was just links to the bulk books really. And before every link, I just wrote one paragraph of what. W what people would find in the article. And then I thought that's a couple of the topics that I would like to write about. And I wrote a little paragraph about the future article I was going to write, but hadn't Brittany yet.
And I put them in there and that turned out to be a 20 some thousand words, compendia, really just little fragments and links to things that I had written. And then Andrew. The great Andrew has reached out to me on Twitter. Like he is the founder of micro acquire, which is a big player in the acquisition marketplace right now.
I still have this tweet. I should frame it really. And he said, I would, pre-order this book. And I'm like, At book a, like I never thought about the fact that this could actually be an info-product. I thought this was my blog in a slightly different shape. So, I mean, somebody else said, I would pay you $10 for a print out of this right now.
I was like, Hmm, I don't need that money. I would like it. So how can we do it? So. I started writing the rest of the articles. I started consolidating it into a book. I gave that book to an editor. They looked at me and cut out a hundred pages because it was 600 pages long. And then throwing a very interesting experiment, the process with several editors, proofreaders and and stuff.
I, it turned out to be a book 500 pages. And it's everything I know about bootstrapping really about anything that I learned in my many years of building my own businesses. Coming up with ideas, understanding your prospective audience, understanding their problems, building a solution, building a product, or envisioning a solution and turning that into a product to customer service.
How to automate this, how to hire, because we learn how to hire, wait till late, but at least. What mental health problems are happening along the way, how exits work, how, what red flags are, what green flecks are. If you can also keep your business growing all these little things that I had an opinion on acknowledge off, I put into individual chapters and consolidate it into a book.
And that's where see results. It was just all came from. So I didn't even intend to write a book, but it just happened because I had so many topics that I wanted to write about that once I put them all into like a, an actual. It turned out to be a table of contents. It's a bizarre story, but it's, it's one of the luckiest moments.
I think the luckiest moment of my life is meeting Danielle, obviously, because without her, where would I be? But the second luckiest moment is probably that the revelation that I had, something that could be my calling card for the future. Yeah. Yeah, many dozen of some of, so I'll get that book every single day and its shapes many shapes as a book, as a print book, as an audio book, whatever every single day people buy this and read this and then tell me that.
And that is the most gratifying thing I've ever written. Obviously that's the second book as well, but that was the big, sorry. Yeah. Yeah. Chase. Yeah. Awesome. Now also a couple of months ago you launched a course find your following. It's a four-hour Twitter audience building course. You build a following of more than 50,000 followers on Twitter in two years' time.
No growth hacks. No flashy boy. What was your approach? I mean, what was your main, your main strategy? Because you said that you were on Twitter for 10 years, didn't really do nothing. You only have like a hundred or so followers, and then you just started, I don't know, just being more active, but then when did you realize, like, Hey, wait a minute, you know, there's a community here, there's engagement.
And then when, when did that shift your idea of, okay, let me be more focused on. So it is again, one of these stories about standing on the shoulders of giant. Because if you analyze what people who are successful on Twitter, do you will quickly find out that you can easily do this as well. You know, it's like learning by observing the field that you're in.
So one of the people that I have an enormous amount of respect for is Daniel Vassallo, who also has a Twitter course out there because he. Built a large audience by just being an active community member on Twitter. And one of the things that I, that I've really, really liked that he was always doing was just engaging with people.
No matter how many followers they had. Like, to me, that was, that was one of those moments where oh, So you don't have to be a snob, right? So you don't have to act like you're better than these people, just because they have 20 followers and you have a couple of hundred. No, you can treat them like, you know, human beings and have an engaged conversation with them and join them in the ongoing conversations that they already having.
You don't have to force, feed them new stuff. Be helpful right there. And then, and I codify that into my own approach, which is engagement, empowerment, and valuable content engagement really means go to where people are having a conversation like swallow your pride and don't make it about you, but make it about them, help them be supportive.
Right. Give them. If they ask for help, help them right there don't expect anything of them will pluck your product. Just help them make, build a human relationship. And they will find what you have to offer. If you're interesting enough, right? If you want people to be interested in you, you have to be interesting.
So be that in front. And then empowerment is the thing that I really enjoy because like helping other people makes me feel good because I see them improve. So retreating people's stuff, without asking for things inviting people into a conversation that you know, could help these people that is empowerment at scale.
Right? You could do this in front of any size audience. If you have 10 people in an audience or thousands, it doesn't matter anything that you amplify, any voice, any message that you amplify, you never know who's out there who might help. Who might read this, who might see this? So if you don't do it, you're kinda precluding the potential of this situation.
So that is, that is what I see as empowerment. Something that I love doing. I, I think I retweet around 50%. No, it was, I think it was 50% of what I do is for playing and of the remaining 50%, 80% is retreating. Original tweets really is just like 10% of what I do because I care more, I guess, about being vibing with the community than having people think.
I don't really need this. Right. I don't want to become a guru. That's one of my fears is that people consider me one of these people. You know, I'm a dude in his basement telling people his experience. That is who I am. And I don't want to glorify anything about this. It's fun, but you know, there are limits.
So that's, that's what I do. And then that's content, right? That's that's the other thing that it's just building a repertoire of really helpful content that people can find if the. You don't have to be flashy. Doesn't have to be viral. It just have to be there. You have to be consistent show up every day, provide meaningful things for people.
And over time, your long tail of content will lead people to you. That's what Seth Godin says. And I trust that guy because, you know, he has a lot of interesting ideas that are very much true. And so it's the whole lung test situation. So that's a really, I engage more than I tweet. I mean, there's still tweets, but there would applying.
Amplifying it ongoing conversation. I help people get more views and I helped them everyday. That's good advice. I'm trying to grow my following. And just like you I've been on Twitter for over 10 years. Not much, not much of engagement, but this year, once I started engaging with people, it became a lot more fun.
I actually developed a lot of new friendships. Just by doing that and it's been, been fantastic. So before I let you go a couple of funny questions quirky questions. So that way people get to know your personality a little bit Arvin. First, first question for you. Okay. What is the most death defined act that you've ever done before the most death defying act?
Did you go in gentlemen guard? I think, oh no, we already talked about the safari earlier. Right? So I'm going out there in a Jeep sitting, just a couple meters of waiting from what I can only describe as a ferocious cat. There was a, there was a couple leopard stare it. What are these things called? Yeah, I think so.
Yeah, that birds. And one of them really didn't like our Jeep and I was just sitting there, the guy in front of me on the Jeep and we're safari, like it's it's middle of the day, the cat just had. You know, be trying to hunt, but had no success. And the guy in front of me with his camera's just kick, kick, kick, kick, and knowing this cat.
And I could see this I don't know, like it must've been a hundred pounds worth of Jaguar looking at us and realizing that we're food. It's a Jaguar. Where's it stay? I don't know. Yeah. Katie and the moment I saw this hunger in the eye of this cat was probably the scariest I've ever been in. That's that's and thankfully the guy in the car realized this started the engine and kind of skirt the cutaway, but we were seconds away from being mauled by a very hungry, very pissed off gas.
So they, okay. Did you guys have at least a weapon with you in the Jeep or no, just to just the camera. I, our guide had a. But what are you going to do? Like shoot into the ground of people that is currently being molded by a cat. Usually you start driving and then the thing jumps off. Like they had that this before and it usually doesn't kill you.
It just scratches you a little bit. It was a leopard just recommended a recall now, but yeah, that, that was okay. Second question for you. Here we go. Okay. Finish this or filler the Blake. Blake is a favorite TV show that I can watch again.
That would be star Trek, Voyager. I'm a, I'm a huge Trekkie, like I've watched Voyager and next generation and these ways nine and all of them many, many times, but there's something about Voyager that keeps me coming back, probably because I grew up around that time that wasn't TV in Germany, but star Trek, Voyager, highly recommended.
It's a wonderful scifi show. And. Again, and again, fantastic. Arvin. Thank you so much for being on innovators. Co-op this was a pleasure. Thanks for coming on. Absolutely. That was a lot of fun. So thank you for doing this. What an amazing conversation with Arvin as someone who's been there, there's really a lot to learn from Arvin.
What I really enjoyed about my chat with him is that many of us, including myself, have dived headfirst into projects or businesses that didn't end well, but don't let that keep you from building and starting something new. If you keep your eyes open, you may just see an opportunity to build a solution for many people who have a problem that you.
The other thing that I loved hearing Arvid share was that looking back, he should have looked after his mental health, even when he could have and should have hired somebody to oversee various aspects of the business. He just didn't. And I think many of us fall into this trap, our ambition and work, the work ethic gets the best of us.
And in the long run, it's more harmful than good. This can lead to mental breakdowns and getting. So keep an eye on that. I've included links from this show on the ICO website and newsletter. It's number 48. If you forgot, and if you enjoy this topic, feel free to give us a firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash ICL as always.
Thanks for listening. Keep hustling out there. This is Eric signing off.
Thanks for listening to the show. If you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate it. If you could give us a review and star rating, also, don't forget to sign up for the ICO email@example.com, where you can get the bio and details of each guests. Thanks.