As a young, hungry entrepreneur, I love watching interviews and learning from other entrepreneurs who are a bit farther along in the process. Hearing their stories helps remind me that the road is long, obstacles are inevitable, and sometimes the strangest ideas end up being catalysts for the one that takes you to the top.
I was recently poking around Startup Grind and came across an interview with the founders of Kajabi, a sales platform that allows you to "sell what you know." For those that don't know, in the world of online courses, Kajabi is one of the go-to platforms. They have been pivotal in helping usher in a whole new career path for digital entrepreneurs who want to monetize off "what they know" in the form of, say, online courses.
The interview though was both everything I expected and nothing like I expected.
The founders of Kajabi are Travis Rosser and Kenny Rueter. And just like most entrepreneurs, they did not walk into the game with a perfectly sound idea.
Rosser grew up on a small farm in central California, and as he told it, had no plans of ever moving to LA. In fact, he was much more settled on the idea of being a farmer. However, he ended up moving to the area for college, where he then met Kajabi co-founder, Rueter, who is from Orange County.
Rueter majored in computer science, and in his humble but reassuring words, he said, "At the time, I didn't really know what I wanted to do."
This, in itself, speaks to so many people -- entrepreneurs or not. It's difficult to know what your "life path" should be. But take solace in those who didn't know either, took a chance, and ended up building something of value.
Since launching in 2010, Kajabi has helped customers who use the platform to sell their knowledge generate over $400M in total revenue.
The "Pivot" Moment
Every entrepreneur can look back and remember the moment everything started to come together. For Rosser and Rueter, it took getting through a handful of far less promising ideas. Things like an online tuxedo shop, to a sprinkler system made out of PVC pipe.
Funny enough, this was actually the very idea that inspired Kajabi.
So Rueter, who has three young boys, had made this sprinkler system that would hook up to a garden hose and spray water out of these PVC pipes, sort of like a mini car wash. His boys and their friends would ride their bikes through the sprinkler system, having fun, and neighbors would come up and ask where they could get one as well.
So one day at lunch, Rueter brought the idea to Rosser and said, "Let's build a business around this." Again, one of their many wild ideas.
Their plan, though, was to sell these PVC pipe sprinkler systems. But when they started to actually think through how long it would take to cut all the pieces, package it, build an online store, ship it, etc., they decided it was another bust. Too much work for too little payoff.
So what did they do?
They decided to make a video of themselves building the sprinkler system, and then sell the plans to people who wanted to build it for themselves. Online.
Validating The Idea
As Rosser and Rueter started to dive in, they spent a considerable amount of time researching all the different people selling information online. They found people who were selling knowledge on how to make money on eBay, how to make money off Google ads, etc. Very quickly, they realized there was a demand for knowledge online. People were willing to pay to learn, especially from credible individuals.
However, when Rosser and Rueter started to build their own site using tools like Wordpress and different plug-ins, they found the whole process to be extremely time consuming. Certain plug-ins didn't work the way they had wanted. Some tools didn't integrate with each other. So they thought to themselves, "Why don't we build a platform that allows us to sell these sprinkler plans the way we want to?"
Little did they know what they were about to build would soon have nothing to do with sprinkler systems at all.
Bringing The Idea To Life
In October, 2010, Kajabi launched as a company. And just like most entrepreneurial ventures, it did not go as planned.
As they shared in the interview, they were using an off-shore development team in the Philippines to help build out their platform. The team was great, however what Rosser and Rueter failed to remember was the time difference between there and the US.
When Kajabi opened its doors and thousands of customers started pouring onto the platform, it was a quiet Saturday morning in the Philippines. No one was available to handle the inevitable bugs that come with a software launch.
In a matter of hours, there were over 1,000 tickets in queue for things that needed to be fixed on the site. Rosser and Rueter frantically started recruiting family members and friends to man computers and help work through bugs on the site. Even Rueter's father-in-law stepped in to help, and ended up really enjoying the process. He's been with the company every since.
Building Something Valuable (And Bootstrapping It On The Way There)
One of the most impressive things about the Kajabi story is the fact that they never raised any money for the company. It was entirely bootstrapped, and they always relied on cash within the company to continue reinvesting in new features, products, etc.
It reminds me of a story I read on Mailchimp in the New York Times. At the time, the piece stated that Mailchimp was on track to do $400M in 2016. To achieve that sort of scale without giving up any of your company is astonishing.
Aspiring entrepreneurs with big dreams and shiny ideas are always so quick to try to raise money and skip to the end. But stories like Mailchimp and Kajabi should serve as reminders that the biggest payoffs (and the ones that retain the most freedom in the process) require patience. Sure, some companies require outside funding in order to get started or scale appropriately. But if you can avoid it by just keeping your nose to the grindstone for a bit longer than you'd prefer, then do it.
You'll thank yourself in the end.