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THIS IS MY STORY

The short version:

I am an entrepreneur and SAAS marketing consultant. I work with software startups to help them identify their best growth channels and scale up in a data-driven and systematic manner. Previously, I was the VP of Growth at Thinkific, an online course platform.

I’m also not fond of writing about myself in the third person.

The long version:

This story is going to sound familiar, so I’ll skim through it. I used to work a well-paid, corporate job as a management consultant at Deloitte, one of the top firms in the business. I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do, despite making some amazing friends at the company and getting paid really well. So I quit and left the comfort of my home in Canada to explore the world and figure out what I wanted to do.

Pretty standard so far, right? At this point, you probably expect that I went to Thailand and then wrote a blog about starting a lifestyle business with pictures of myself living the life on some beach. Well, that’s not quite what happened. Oh, there are beaches involved, but not until much later.

My first stop after quitting was Chile with my friends and business partners. The government of Chile had started a program called Startup Chile, where they invited entrepreneurs to move there to start a business with $40,000 in funding. Our fledgling travel startup idea was picked amongst thousands of others, largely due to this epic promo video.

Fun fact: I still use the same MacBook you see in the video, but now it’s littered with dozens of other stickers, besides the Lean Startup Machine sticker you see there.

As you can see from the video, we were trying to build a social network for travelers. We eventually realized that it was a lot more complicated than we initially estimated, and building a social network from scratch with a distributed team across 3 continents wasn’t possible with the resources we had. That meant pivoting.

Failures: 1. Successes: 0.

Being in South America, we could see that most small tour operators over there struggled with bringing in new customers. Many of them offered excellent adventures, but they didn’t have a website, and if they did they didn’t know how to market it.

So we partnered with a select group of tour operators across Chile and launched a site that listed their tours. The idea was to market the site to travelers, allow them to book tours on the site, and then take a cut off the top while letting the tour operators handle the execution.

That’s my co-founder talking about the idea, while I stood by. I’m pretty sure I had a few words to say too but they seem to have been edited out!

While it was a solid idea, and it solved a real problem, it still didn’t take off. The small margins meant that we didn’t have the runway needed to generate enough revenue to sustain ourselves without funding.

Failures: 2. Successes: 0.

So to augment my income, I started freelancing. Chile is not a cheap place, and I found myself spending more time freelancing than working on the startup to continue paying rent. I call this the bootstrapper’s bind.

Inevitably, as our work permits in Chile approached expiry, my partners and I decided to shut down operations and go our own ways. I hadn’t let go of the dream of building a successful company, so I applied to the Startup Leadership Program in Singapore and moved there to give my travel idea another shot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to secure a long-term visa, and so I had to leave after 3 months.

Failures: 3. Successes: 0.

Thailand had always been on my mind, not for the beaches but for the Muay Thai camps, and that became my next logical destination. At this point, I was making enough money from freelancing that I could afford a few months to focus on traveling and trying new things.

The 3 months I spent in Phuket, learning martial arts and becoming fitter than I’d ever dreamt of, were some of my best days. I’d spend all day training, and all evening freelancing, and when the time came to leave I had come to believe that I could achieve anything.

Tiger muay thai in Phuket

The guy at the top-left corner was my trainer.

I also tried starting a protein bar business in Thailand, servicing all the Muay Thai camps and their customers. There was a market there, but importing the bars from the USA took a long time and cut my margins a lot. To scale it up, I’d have to import in bulk which meant getting a business license, something I wasn’t eligible for on account of not being a citizen.

Failures: 4. Successes: 0.

I then moved on to Vietnam, where I met other entrepreneurs who were creating businesses online. Play time was over and, with their help, I started to focus on my freelancing and business ideas. I cut down my service offerings, started to specialize in content marketing, and increased my prices, while experimenting with other revenue models, like eCommerce.

This time, I started a motivational poster business selling posters in bulk to gyms around the world. I made a few big sales and I could probably have expanded that more and made a decent living from it. After all, you only need to make a couple of thousand dollars each month to live like a king in Vietnam.

However, my heart wasn’t in it, and I felt the tug of home after two years on the road. I was doing well as a freelance marketer but I knew if I wanted to build a real startup, and not just a lifestyle business, I needed more experience. So I shut the poster store down and returned to my home in Canada.

Failures: 5. Successes: 0.

Back in Canada, I focused on attracting more clients for my freelance marketing business. The combination of being in the same time zone as my clients, along with a refined sales process and my past experiences lead me to land some interesting new clients, including a promising Vancouver-based eCommerce platform startup called LemonStand.

lemonstand office

After a successful project, I was invited to join the LemonStand team full-time as the first marketer. Through content marketing and experiments in other growth channels, I helped quadruple the customer base over a year.

Failures: 5. Successes: 1.

During my year at LemonStand, I continued to freelance and also created an online course showing people how to build their own successful freelance blogging business the way I had done. I launched the course on Udemy and made enough sales to validate it as a business idea.

The problem with Udemy is that it’s a marketplace and they control everything, including the prices and how much you get paid out. Still, I knew that if I sold the course under my own branded site, I’d be able to exponentially increase my earnings from it.

Failures: 5. Successes: 2.

This lead to me searching for an online course platform and I found two startups, Thinkific and a Berlin-based platform. The Berlin-based one hired me as a consultant, and I helped them develop a marketing strategy. Leveraging this experience, and my expanding knowledge of the online course space, I approached Thinkific, who also happened to be based in Vancouver.

What was initially meant to be an attempt at landing a new consulting client eventually became a job offer. Thinkific was in a rapidly growing industry and market share was up for grabs. They had a small team of 8 highly passionate people. It was an exciting time to be in the space, and I decided to come on as the VP of Growth.

thinkific team

Failures: 5. Successes: 3.

My role as VP of Growth was to help the company accelerate. They had product-market fit, they had early traction, and now they wanted to pour fuel on the fire. I applied my experiences and expertise at finding new growth channels to the company and things took off immediately.

As we found channels that worked, like paid, partnerships and content, we started hiring for them. The company grew in size as did the marketing team. At the end of my first year, there were around 40 people in the company and our revenues had grown 10 times!

Over time, my role changed. I gradually moved into a leadership role as my marketing team grew. I built processes and systems, and helped level up our junior employees. I also started doing more media appearances for the company, such as getting interviewed on podcasts, summits, webinars, and speaking on stage.

This helped me develop as a leader and communicator. More importantly, it taught me the skills that I’d always wanted to learn after my initial failure in Chile.

In late 2017, after almost two years at the company, I felt it was time for me to step back into entrepreneurship. We were at almost 80 people, revenues were up 20X since I started, and we had come from behind to beat the most established companies in the industry.

It was a tough decision to make. We’d built an amazing team, and I’d played a part in hiring many of them, so it was like leaving my family. But the company was at a good place and there was no better time for me to strike out again.

 

Failures: 5. Successes: 4.

And that’s where things stand right now. It’s been a couple of months since I left Thinkific. Right now I’m working with a few SAAS companies to help them grow the same way I grew Thinkific and LemonStand. I take these companies through a step-by-step process to help them identify growth channels and scale up profitably. Have a look at my services to learn more about what I offer.

I’m also building an affiliate marketing software for SAAS companies that automates the painful process of calculating commissions and paying out affiliates on a recurring basis. Learn more here – www.afffluent.com

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