11 months ago
Meet the One-Person Businesses Earning Millions in Sales from Solo Founders
I've spent over 50 hours researching one-person firms, which interest me. I've found countless one-person enterprises that made millions on the founder's determination and perseverance.
Throughout my investigation, I found three of the most outstanding one-person enterprises. These enterprises show that people who work hard and dedicate themselves to their ideas may succeed.
Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe) created Stardew Valley in 2011 to better his job prospects. Eric loved making the game, in which players inherit a farm, grow crops, raise livestock, make friends with the villagers, and form a family.
Eric handled complete game production, including 3D graphics, animations, and music, to maintain creative control. He stopped job hunting and worked 8-15 hours a day on the game.
Eric developed a Stardew Valley website and subreddit to engage with gamers and get feedback. Eric's devoted community helped him meet Steam's minimum vote requirement for single creators.
Stardew Valley sold 1 million copies in two months after Eric launched it for $15 in 2016. The game has sold 20 million copies and made $300 million.
The game's inexpensive price, outsourcing of PR, marketing, and publication, and loyal player base helped it succeed. Eric has turned down million-dollar proposals from Sony and Nintendo to sell the game and instead updates and improves it. Haunted Chocolatier is Eric's new game.
Is farming not profitable? Ask Stardew Valley creator Eric Barone.
Gary Brewer established BuiltWith to assist users find website technologies and services. BuiltWith boasts 3000 paying customers and $14 million in yearly revenue, making it a significant resource for businesses wishing to generate leads, do customer analytics, obtain business insight, compare websites, or search websites by keyword.
BuiltWith has one full-time employee, Gary, and one or two part-time contractors that help with the blog. Gary handles sales, customer service, and other company functions alone.
BuiltWith acquired popularity through blog promotions and a top Digg ranking. About Us, a domain directory, connected to BuiltWith on every domain page, boosting it. Gary introduced $295–$995 monthly subscriptions to search technology, keywords, and potential consumers in response to customer demand.
Gary uses numerous methods to manage a firm without staff. He spends one to two hours every day answering user queries, most of which are handled quickly by linking to BuiltWiths knowledge store. Gary creates step-by-step essays or videos for complex problems. Gary can focus on providing new features based on customer comments and requests since he makes it easy to unsubscribe.
BuiltWith is entirely automated and successful due to its unique approach and useful offerings. It works for Google, Meta, Amazon, and Twitter.
Digital Inspiration develops Google Documents, Sheets, and Slides plugins. Digital Inspiration, founded by Amit Agarwal, receives 5 million monthly visits and earns $10 million. 40 million individuals have downloaded Digital Inspirations plugins.
Amit started Digital Inspiration by advertising his blog at tech events and getting Indian filter blogs and other newspapers to promote his articles. Amit built plugins and promoted them on the blog once the blog acquired popularity, using ideas from comments, friends, and Reddit. Digital Inspiration has over 20 free and premium plugins.
Mail Merge, Notifications for Google Forms, YouTube Uploader, and Document Studio are some of Digital Inspiration's most popular plugins. Mail Merge allows users to send personalized emails in bulk and track email opens and clicks.
Since Amits manages Digital Inspiration alone, his success is astounding. Amit developed a successful company via hard work and creativity, despite platform dependence. His tale inspires entrepreneurs.
11 months ago
How to Produce Enough for People to Not Neglect You
Internet's fantastic, right?
We've never had a better way to share our creativity.
I can now draw on my iPad and tweet or Instagram it to thousands. I may get some likes.
With such a great, free tool, you're not alone.
Millions more bright-eyed artists are sharing their work online.
The issue is getting innovative work noticed, not sharing it.
In a world where creators want attention, attention is valuable.
We build for attention.
Attention helps us establish a following, make money, get notoriety, and make a difference.
Most of us require attention to stay sane while creating wonderful things.
I know how hard it is to work hard and receive little views.
How do we receive more attention, more often, in a sea of talent?
Advertising and celebrity endorsements are options. These may work temporarily.
To attract true, organic, and long-term attention, you must create in high quality, high volume, and consistency.
Adapting Steve Martin's Be so amazing, they can't ignore you (with a mention to Dan Norris in his great book Create or Hate for the reminder)
Create a lot.
Eventually, your effort will gain traction.
Traction shows your work's influence.
Traction is when your product sells more. Traction is exponential user growth. Your work is shared more.
No matter how good your work is, it will always have minimal impact on the world.
Your work can eventually dent or puncture. Daily, people work to dent.
To achieve this tipping point, you must consistently produce exceptional work.
Expect traction after hundreds of outputs.
Dilbert creator Scott Adams says repetition persuades. If you don't stop, you can persuade practically anyone with anything.
Volume lends believability. So make more.
I worked as an illustrator for at least a year and a half without any recognition. After 150 illustrations on iStockphoto, my work started selling.
With 350 illustrations on iStock, I started getting decent client commissions.
Producing often will improve your craft and draw attention.
It's the only way to succeed. More creation means better results and greater attention.
Austin Kleon says you can improve your skill in relative anonymity before you become famous. Before obtaining traction, generate a lot and become excellent.
Most artists, even excellent ones, don't create consistently enough to get traction.
It may hurt. For makers who don't love and flow with their work, it's extremely difficult.
Your work must bring you to life.
To generate so much that others can't ignore you, decide what you'll accomplish every day (or most days).
Commit and be patient.
Prepare for zero-traction.
Anticipating this will help you persevere and create.
My online guru Grant Cardone says: Anything worth doing is worth doing every day.
Aaron Dinin, PhD
11 months ago
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Investors Sign Your NDA
Startup entrepreneurs assume what risks when pitching?
Last week I signed four NDAs.
NDA stands for non-disclosure agreement. A legal document given to someone receiving confidential information. By signing, the person pledges not to share the information for a certain time. If they do, they may be in breach of contract and face legal action.
Companies use NDAs to protect trade secrets and confidential internal information from employees and contractors. Appropriate. If you manage a huge, successful firm, you don't want your employees selling their information to your competitors. To be true, business NDAs don't always prevent corporate espionage, but they usually make employees and contractors think twice before sharing.
I understand employee and contractor NDAs, but I wasn't asked to sign one. I counsel entrepreneurs, thus the NDAs I signed last week were from startups that wanted my feedback on their concepts.
I’m not a startup investor. I give startup guidance online. Despite that, four entrepreneurs thought their company ideas were so important they wanted me to sign a generically written legal form they probably acquired from a shady, spam-filled legal templates website before we could chat.
False. One company tried to get me to sign their NDA a few days after our conversation. I gently rejected, but their tenacity encouraged me. I considered sending retroactive NDAs to everyone I've ever talked to about one of my startups in case they establish a successful company based on something I said.
Two of the other three NDAs were from nearly identical companies. Good thing I didn't sign an NDA for the first one, else they may have sued me for talking to the second one as though I control the firms people pitch me.
I wasn't talking to the fourth NDA company. Instead, I received an unsolicited email from someone who wanted comments on their fundraising pitch deck but required me to sign an NDA before sending it.
That's right, before I could read a random Internet stranger's unsolicited pitch deck, I had to sign his NDA, potentially limiting my ability to discuss what was in it.
You should understand. Advisors, mentors, investors, etc. talk to hundreds of businesses each year. They cannot manage all the companies they deal with, thus they cannot risk legal trouble by talking to someone. Well, if I signed NDAs for all the startups I spoke with, half of the 300+ articles I've written on Medium over the past several years could get me sued into the next century because I've undoubtedly addressed topics in my articles that I discussed with them.
The four NDAs I received last week are part of a recent trend of entrepreneurs sending out NDAs before meetings, despite the practical and legal issues. They act like asking someone to sign away their right to talk about all they see and hear in a day is as straightforward as asking for a glass of water.
Given this inflow of NDAs, I wanted to briefly remind entrepreneurs reading this blog about the merits and cons of requesting investors (or others in the startup ecosystem) to sign your NDA.
Benefits of having investors sign your NDA include:
None. Zero. Nothing.
Disadvantages of requesting investor NDAs:
You'll come off as an amateur who has no idea what it takes to launch a successful firm.
Investors won't trust you with their money since you appear to be a complete amateur.
Printing NDAs will be a waste of paper because no genuine entrepreneur will ever sign one.
I apologize for missing any cons. Please leave your remarks.
Aaron Dinin, PhD
1 year ago
Are You Unintentionally Creating the Second Difficult Startup Type?
Most don't understand the issue until it's too late.
My first startup was what entrepreneurs call the hardest. A two-sided marketplace.
Two-sided marketplaces are the hardest startups because founders must solve the chicken or the egg conundrum.
A two-sided marketplace needs suppliers and buyers. Without suppliers, buyers won't come. Without buyers, suppliers won't come. An empty marketplace and a founder striving to gain momentum result.
My first venture made me a struggling founder seeking to achieve traction for a two-sided marketplace. The company failed, and I vowed never to start another like it.
I didn’t. Unfortunately, my second venture was almost as hard. It failed like the second-hardest startup.
What kind of startup is the second-hardest?
The second-hardest startup, which is almost as hard to develop, is rarely discussed in the startup community. Because of this, I predict more founders fail each year trying to develop the second-toughest startup than the hardest.
Fairly, I have no proof. I see many startups, so I have enough of firsthand experience. From what I've seen, for every entrepreneur developing a two-sided marketplace, I'll meet at least 10 building this other challenging startup.
I'll describe a startup I just met with its two co-founders to explain the second hardest sort of startup and why it's so hard. They created a financial literacy software for parents of high schoolers.
The issue appears plausible. Children struggle with money. Parents must teach financial responsibility. Problems?
Buyers and users are different.
The financial literacy app I described above targets parents. The parent doesn't utilize the app. Child is end-user. That may not seem like much, but it makes customer and user acquisition and onboarding difficult for founders.
The difficulty of a buyer-user imbalance
The company developing a product faces a substantial operational burden when the buyer and end customer are different. Consider classic firms where the buyer is the end user to appreciate that responsibility.
Entrepreneurs selling directly to end users must educate them about the product's benefits and use. Each demands a lot of time, effort, and resources.
Imagine selling a financial literacy app where the buyer and user are different. To make the first sale, the entrepreneur must establish all the items I mentioned above. After selling, the entrepreneur must supply a fresh set of resources to teach, educate, or train end-users.
Thus, a startup with a buyer-user mismatch must market, sell, and train two organizations at once, requiring twice the work with the same resources.
The second hardest startup is hard for reasons other than the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. It takes a lot of creativity and luck to solve the chicken-or-egg conundrum.
The buyer-user mismatch problem cannot be overcome by innovation or luck. Buyer-user mismatches must be solved by force. Simply said, when a product buyer is different from an end-user, founders have a lot more work. If they can't work extra, their companies fail.
1 year ago
Using Ruby code, a programmer created a $48,000,000,000 product that Elon Musk admired.
Shopify CEO and co-founder Tobias Lutke. Shopify is worth $48 billion.
World-renowned entrepreneur Tobi
Tobi never expected his first online snowboard business to become a multimillion-dollar software corporation.
Tobi founded Shopify to establish a 20-person company.
The publicly traded corporation employs over 10,000 people.
Here's Tobi Lutke's incredible story.
Elon Musk tweeted his admiration for the Shopify creator.
Musk praised Shopify founder Tobi Lutke on Twitter.
Explore this programmer's journey.
What difficulties did Tobi experience as a young child?
Germany raised Tobi.
Tobi's parents realized he was smart but had trouble learning as a toddler.
Tobi was learning disabled.
Tobi struggled with school tests.
Tobi's learning impairments were undiagnosed.
Tobi struggled to read as a dyslexic.
Tobi also found school boring.
Germany's curriculum didn't inspire Tobi's curiosity.
“The curriculum in Germany was taught like here are all the solutions you might find useful later in life, spending very little time talking about the problem…If I don’t understand the problem I’m trying to solve, it’s very hard for me to learn about a solution to a problem.”
Studying computer programming
After tenth grade, Tobi decided school wasn't for him and joined a German apprenticeship program.
This curriculum taught Tobi software engineering.
He was an apprentice in a small Siemens subsidiary team.
Tobi worked with rebellious Siemens employees.
Team members impressed Tobi.
Tobi joined the team for this reason.
Tobi was pleased to get paid to write programming all day.
His life could not have been better.
Devoted to snowboarding
Tobi loved snowboarding.
He drove 5 hours to ski at his folks' house.
His friends traveled to the US to snowboard when he was older.
However, the cheap dollar conversion rate led them to Canada.
Tobi originally decided to snowboard instead than ski.
Snowboarding captivated him in Canada.
On the trip to Canada, Tobi encounters his wife.
Tobi meets his wife Fiona McKean on his first Canadian ski trip.
They maintained in touch after the trip.
Fiona moved to Germany after graduating.
Tobi was a startup coder.
Fiona found work in Germany.
Her work included editing, writing, and academics.
“We lived together for 10 months and then she told me that she need to go back for the master's program.”
With Fiona, Tobi immigrated to Canada.
Fiona invites Tobi.
Tobi agreed to move to Canada.
Programming helped Tobi move in with his girlfriend.
Tobi was an excellent programmer, therefore what he did in Germany could be done anywhere.
He worked remotely for his German employer in Canada.
Tobi struggled with remote work.
Due to poor communication.
No slack, so he used email.
Programmers had trouble emailing.
Tobi's startup was developing a browser.
After the dot-com crash, individuals left that startup.
Tobi didn't intend to work for any major corporations.
Tobi left his startup.
He believed he had important skills for any huge corporation.
He refused to join a huge corporation.
Because of Siemens.
Tobi learned to write professional code and about himself while working at Siemens in Germany.
Siemens culture was odd.
Employees were distrustful.
Siemens' rigorous dress code implies that the corporation doesn't trust employees' attire.
It wasn't Tobi's place.
“There was so much bad with it that it just felt wrong…20-year-old Tobi would not have a career there.”
Focused only on snowboarding
Tobi lived in Ottawa with his girlfriend.
Canada is frigid in winter.
Ottawa's winters last.
Almost half a year.
Tobi wanted to do something worthwhile now.
So he snowboarded.
Tobi began snowboarding seriously.
He sought every snowboarding knowledge.
He researched the greatest snowboarding gear first.
He created big spreadsheets for snowboard-making technologies.
Tobi grew interested in selling snowboards while researching.
He intended to sell snowboards online.
He had no choice but to start his own company.
A small local company offered Tobi a job.
He must sign papers to join the local company.
He needed a work permit when he signed the documents.
Tobi had no work permit.
He was allowed to stay in Canada while applying for permanent residency.
“I wasn’t illegal in the country, but my state didn’t give me a work permit. I talked to a lawyer and he told me it’s going to take a while until I get a permanent residency.”
Tobi's lawyer told him he cannot get a work visa without permanent residence.
His lawyer said something else intriguing.
Tobis lawyer advised him to start a business.
Tobi declined this local company's job offer because of this.
Tobi considered opening an internet store with his technical skills.
He sold snowboards online.
“I was thinking of setting up an online store software because I figured that would exist and use it as a way to sell snowboards…make money while snowboarding and hopefully have a good life.”
What brought Tobi and his co-founder together, and how did he support Tobi?
Tobi lived with his girlfriend's parents.
In Ottawa, Tobi encounters Scott Lake.
Scott was Tobis girlfriend's family friend and worked for Tobi's future employer.
Scott and Tobi snowboarded.
Tobi pitched Scott his snowboard sales software idea.
Scott liked the idea.
They planned a business together.
“I was looking after the technology and Scott was dealing with the business side…It was Scott who ended up developing relationships with vendors and doing all the business set-up.”
Issues they ran into when attempting to launch their business online
Neither could afford a long-term lease.
That prompted their online business idea.
They would open a store.
Tobi anticipated opening an internet store in a week.
Tobi seeks open-source software.
Most existing software was pricey.
Tobi and Scott couldn't afford pricey software.
“In 2004, I was sitting in front of my computer absolutely stunned realising that we hadn’t figured out how to create software for online stores.”
They required software to:
to upload snowboard images to the website.
people to look up the types of snowboards that were offered on the website. There must be a search feature in the software.
Online users transmit payments, and the merchant must receive them.
notifying vendors of the recently received order.
No online selling software existed at the time.
Online credit card payments were difficult.
How did they advance the software while keeping expenses down?
Tobi and Scott needed money to start selling snowboards.
Tobi and Scott funded their firm with savings.
“We both put money into the company…I think the capital we had was around CAD 20,000(Canadian Dollars).”
Despite investing their savings.
They minimized costs.
They tried to conserve.
No office rental.
They worked in several coffee shops.
Tobi lived rent-free at his girlfriend's parents.
He installed software in coffee cafes.
How were the software issues handled?
Tobi found no online snowboard sales software.
Two choices remained:
Change your mind and try something else.
Use his programming expertise to produce something that will aid in the expansion of this company.
Tobi knew he was the sole programmer working on such a project from the start.
“I had this realisation that I’m going to be the only programmer who has ever worked on this, so I don’t have to choose something that lots of people know. I can choose just the best tool for the job…There is been this programming language called Ruby which I just absolutely loved ”
Ruby was open-source and only had Japanese documentation.
Latin is the source code.
Tobi used Ruby twice.
He assumed he could pick the tool this time.
Why not build with Ruby?
How did they find their first time operating a business?
Tobi writes applications in Ruby.
He wrote the initial software version in 2.5 months.
Tobi and Scott founded Snowdevil to sell snowboards.
Tobi coded for 16 hours a day.
His lifestyle was unhealthy.
He enjoyed pizza and coke.
“I would never recommend this to anyone, but at the time there was nothing more interesting to me in the world.”
Their initial purchase and encounter with it
Tobi worked in cafes then.
“I was working in a coffee shop at this time and I remember everything about that day…At some time, while I was writing the software, I had to type the email that the software would send to tell me about the order.”
Tobi recalls everything.
He checked the order on his laptop at the coffee shop.
Pennsylvanian ordered snowboard.
Tobi walked home and called Scott. Tobi told Scott their first order.
They loved the order.
How were people made aware about Snowdevil?
2004 was very different.
Tobi and Scott attempted simple website advertising.
Google AdWords was new.
Ad clicks cost 20 cents.
Online snowboard stores were scarce at the time.
Google ads propelled the snowdevil brand.
They swiftly recouped their original investment in the snowboard business because to its high profit margin.
Tobi and Scott struggled with inventories.
“Snowboards had really good profit margins…Our biggest problem was keeping inventory and getting it back…We were out of stock all the time.”
Selling snowboards returned their investment and saved them money.
They did not appoint a business manager.
They accomplished everything alone.
Sales dipped in the spring, but something magical happened.
Spring sales plummeted.
They considered stocking different boards.
They naturally wanted to add boards and grow the business.
However, magic occurred.
Tobi coded and improved software while running Snowdevil.
He modified software constantly. He wanted speedier software.
He experimented to make the software more resilient.
Tobi received emails requesting the Snowdevil license.
They intended to create something similar.
“I didn’t stop programming, I was just like Ok now let me try things, let me make it faster and try different approaches…Increasingly I got people sending me emails and asking me If I would like to licence snowdevil to them. People wanted to start something similar.”
Software or skateboards, your choice
Scott and Tobi had to choose a hobby in 2005.
They might sell alternative boards or use software.
The software was a no-brainer from demand.
Daniel Weinand is invited to join Tobi's business.
Tobis German best friend is Daniel.
Tobi and Scott chose to use the software.
Tobi and Scott kept the software service.
Tobi called Daniel to invite him to Canada to collaborate.
Scott and Tobi had quit snowboarding until then.
How was Shopify launched, and whence did the name come from?
The three chose Shopify.
Named from two words.
Shopify's crew has always had one goal:
creating software that would make it simple and easy for people to launch online storefronts.
Launched Shopify after raising money for the first time.
Shopify began fundraising in 2005.
First, they borrowed from family and friends.
They needed roughly $200k to run the company efficiently.
$200k was a lot then.
When questioned why they require so much money. Tobi told them to trust him with their goals. The team raised seed money from family and friends.
Shopify.com has a landing page. A demo of their goal was on the landing page.
In 2006, Shopify had about 4,000 emails.
Shopify rented an Ottawa office.
“We sent a blast of emails…Some people signed up just to try it out, which was exciting.”
How things developed after Scott left the company
Shopify co-founder Scott Lake left in 2008.
Scott was CEO.
“He(Scott) realized at some point that where the software industry was going, most of the people who were the CEOs were actually the highly technical person on the founding team.”
Scott leaving the company worried Tobi.
Tobis worried about finding a new CEO.
A great VC will have the network to identify the perfect CEO for your firm.
Tobi started visiting Silicon Valley to meet with venture capitalists to recruit a CEO.
Initially visiting Silicon Valley
Tobi came to Silicon Valley to start a 20-person company.
This company creates eCommerce store software.
Tobi never wanted a big corporation. He desired a fulfilling existence.
“I stayed in a hostel in the Bay Area. I had one roommate who was also a computer programmer. I bought a bicycle on Craiglist. I was there for a week, but ended up staying two and a half weeks.”
Tobi arrived unprepared.
When venture capitalists asked him business questions.
He answered few queries.
Tobi didn't comprehend VC meetings' terminology.
He wrote the terms down and looked them up.
Some were fascinated after he couldn't answer all these queries.
“I ended up getting the kind of term sheets people dream about…All the offers were conditional on moving our company to Silicon Valley.”
Canada received Tobi.
He wanted to consult his team before deciding. Shopify had five employees at the time.
A global recession greeted Tobi in Canada. The recession hurt the market.
His term sheets were useless.
The economic downturn in the world provided Shopify with a fantastic opportunity.
The global recession caused significant job losses.
Fired employees had several ideas.
They wanted online stores.
Entrepreneurship was desired. They wanted to quit work.
People took risks and tried new things during the global slump.
Shopify subscribers skyrocketed during the recession.
“In 2009, the company reached neutral cash flow for the first time…We were in a position to think about long-term investments, such as infrastructure projects.”
Then, Tobi Lutke became CEO.
How did Tobi perform as the company's CEO?
“I wasn’t good. My team was very patient with me, but I had a lot to learn…It’s a very subtle job.”
Tobi limited the company's potential.
He deliberately restrained company growth.
Tobi had one costly problem:
Whether Shopify is a venture or a lifestyle business.
The company's annual revenue approached $1 million.
Tobi battled with the firm and himself despite good revenue.
His wife was supportive, but the responsibility was crushing him.
“It’s a crushing responsibility…People had families and kids…I just couldn’t believe what was going on…My father-in-law gave me money to cover the payroll and it was his life-saving.”
Throughout this trip, everyone supported Tobi.
They believed it.
$7 million in donations received
Tobi couldn't decide if this was a lifestyle or a business.
Shopify struggled with marketing then.
Later, Tobi tried 5 marketing methods.
He told himself that if any marketing method greatly increased their growth, he would call it a venture, otherwise a lifestyle.
The Shopify crew brainstormed and voted on marketing concepts.
“Every single idea worked…We did Adwords, published a book on the concept, sponsored a podcast and all the ones we tracked worked.”
To Silicon Valley once more
Shopify marketing concepts worked once.
Tobi returned to Silicon Valley to pitch investors.
He raised $7 million, valuing Shopify at $25 million.
All investors had board seats.
“I find it very helpful…I always had a fantastic relationship with everyone who’s invested in my company…I told them straight that I am not going to pretend I know things, I want you to help me.”
Tobi developed skills via running Shopify.
Shopify had 20 employees.
Leaving his wife's parents' home
Tobi left his wife's parents in 2014.
Tobi had a child.
Shopify has 80,000 customers and 300 staff in 2013.
Public offering in 2015
Shopify investors went public in 2015.
Shopify powers 4.1 million e-Commerce sites.
Shopify stores are 65% US-based.
It is currently valued at $48 billion.