How to Succeed in the Startup World

Written by  Ivan Spasojevic / 08 January 2017

How to Succeed in the Startup World
It is a well-known and much quoted fact that 9 out of 10 startups fail. There are tons of articles out there pointing out what factors contributed to the downfall of all those companies and they can be very educational. On the other hand, we want to show you the brighter side of that fast-paced and growth-oriented world.

We are not offering any shortcuts and cheat codes, because there aren’t any. Behind every success story, there are hard-working people who believed in their vision. That’s why we give you real people’s stories about their motivation, drive and the turning points in their careers.
Gregory Koldirkaev

Gregory Koldirkaev


My name is Gregory Koldirkaev and I am the founder and CEO of Helprace, a SaaS customer service software.

How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

It all started with an idea to develop a document management application that could help businesses organize their literature more easily. By the time we were nearing the end of development, it morphed into a type of self-service software. Still, we didn’t set our expectations high. We offered a simple database for organizing articles and we thought we’d leave it at that.

The more I studied the market, the more I realized just how fragmented the customer service software market was. I thought it was a great idea to complement our self-service software with feedback and discussion application.

At the time, many of our competitors already offered an email support system (also known as a help desk), self-service system and some sort of a feedback tab. So, we basically took what we had created and added a missing link: an email support system.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career and what were your ups and downs?

Of course, there were many challenges and booby traps along the way.

While there will be ups and downs in any business, I've never considered development-related obstacles as downs. As a small business with a mountain of tasks to complete at any given time, we rely on prioritization. So, when we have two developers working on feature x that’s been in the pipeline for a few weeks, they can’t work on a more important, customer-requested feature y. You may have a good grasp of the difference between development and opportunity cost – but it’s nearly impossible to predict how well this could sit with your user base.
It could definitely go either way.

There was one moment that made me keep pushing. It was when a customer said our solution was exactly what he was looking for – going as far as naming our competitors and pointing out their shortcomings. In a way, this transformed our growth strategy and made us really listen to customer feedback before making crucial decisions.

Now, I like to set aside time to talk to customers. It’s something that I’ve grown to enjoy doing because each customer can bring a torrent of valuable information to the table.

Besides, it looks good on us when we practice what we preach. We use our own application for all of our customer service needs, including ticketing, feedback prioritization, documentation storage and customer development. Today, Helprace offers an email support system, feedback tab, self-service and a full-fledged discussion application.

Bio: Gregory Koldirkaev is a marketing manager at help desk software Helprace. He's been into customer service and customer engagement ever since he founded a small construction company five years ago. Vitaliy holds a BA degree from Ryerson University.


Lori Cheek

Lori Cheek


I’m Lori Cheek, an NYC-based architect turned entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Cheekd, a hyper-speed Bluetooth mobile dating app that removes the “missed” from “missed connections”. After working in architecture, furniture and design for 15 years, I came up with an idea that led me into the NYC world of technology and dating. I completely threw away my design career and I'm no longer building structures, I'm now building relationships.

I’ve been coined ‘the Digital Dating Disruptor’, listed as one of 12 Inspirational Women in Tech to Follow: LINK, and as one of AlleyWatch’s 20 most awesome people to know in the NYC tech scene: LINK.

How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

Cheekd was born because of a lucky pickup. Eight years ago, I was out to dinner with a friend & architectural colleague and I had excused myself from the table. When I returned, my handsome friend had scribbled “want to have dinner?” on the back of his business card. As we were leaving the restaurant, he slid that card to an attractive woman at a nearby table. He left with a pending date. I left with an idea… that I couldn’t stop thinking about. In May of 2010, I launched my dating site, cheekd.com, which was soon coined by The New York Times as “the next generation of online dating.”

Cheekd users would use a set of clever cards to introduce themselves to individuals who sparked their interest in the offline world. If the interest was mutual, the card recipients used the card’s unique code to reconnect easily with the person via a private online profile viewable on the Cheekd website. It was like online dating, but backwards.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career and what were your ups and downs?

The financial struggles have definitely been the most challenging aspect of my entrepreneurial life. Coming from a career of making nearly $120K a year, living a pretty fabulous life traveling, dining out and shopping like it was my job in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I came up with that idea that I had to bring to life. After finishing off my savings from my 15-year career in architecture, I had to get extremely creative to continue funding my business and this is where the financial sacrifices began… I made nearly $75,000 by selling my designer clothes at consignment shops and on eBay, doing focus groups, secret shopping, app testing, dog walking, house sitting, watering plants and by selling my electronics and other odds and ends around my apartment on Craigslist that all went straight back into my business. The biggest chunk of cash came from renting out my West Village Studio in NYC on AirBnB, while I couch surfed for 14 months, nearly got evicted and ultimately lost my lease of 5 years in my gorgeous apartment.

Bio: Lori Cheek - Architect turned Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Cheekd - a hyper-speed mobile dating app that makes missed connections obsolete. Lori, a Shark Tank Veteran, has recently been listed as "the Digital Dating Disruptor" and "One of the Top 10 CEOs to Watch.”


Bret Bonnet

Bret Bonnet


How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

I've been involved in the promotional products industry since an early age (16). One day, a customer stopped into the Best Buy where I was working and asked me to join his promotional products company. I always enjoyed sales, and promotional products seemed lucrative (high % of profit paid as commission). It definitely beat the pants off the $6.50 an hour Best Buy was paying me!

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career?

The industry has been very good to me. I had the house, the cars, and toys - all before I was of legal drinking age. By the time I was a freshman in college, the company I worked for began to make some poor financial decisions, and my termination was sudden and unexpected. Heck, it took place the same month I closed on my first home! I was more or less forced to set out on my own in order to maintain my quality of life. This was a defining moment in my promotional products career because it was the time for me to take what I learned and venture into running my own business.

I immediately started to lean on my network of friends. In particular, I leaned on my good friend from North Central College, Michael Wenger. Armed with a refurbished laptop, Internet connection, and a cell phone, he and I set out to create a promotional products company like no one had seen before.

Fast forward 13 years later and Quality Logo Products is going strong and does sixteen times the annual revenue of my previous company!

What were your ups and downs?

Being that we operate exclusively online - our search engine traffic or rankings are very important to Quality Logo Products. This is a SCARY predicament to be in because things can change at any moment. One day you'll be cooking with fire, the next day a Google update might come along. For better or worse, you're in panic mode trying to figure out what happened, why, and how we can recover. It's scary not having control over such a large portion of our business. I might wake up tomorrow and discover Google is now entering the promotional products business. When they do - game over!

I will say the COST of online advertising has increased exponentially, and as a result, we've been forced to make some tough decisions. Efficiency is the name of the game, and the investments we've been making into technology should help us remain profitable despite skyrocketing CPA costs (cost per acquisition).

What do you see as your unique value proposition?

In order to continue standing out in the industry, we're launching a brand new website featuring our trademarked and patented No Surprise Pricing tool.. Quality Logo Products is the first and only promotional products company to feature No Surprise Pricing. The concept is super simple - what you see is what you pay. No hidden fees. No surprises. We give your order total and a guaranteed delivery date upfront. The concept is super obvious, but over 95% of the top 100 promotional products distributors (based on total sales per Promotional Marketing Magazine 2016) don't even bother giving you a shipping estimate at checkout. In our analysis, the price customers see during checkout vs. what they actually paid increased by almost 40% on average! No one besides Quality Logo Products gives the customers all the information they need up front.

To put it simply, Quality Logo Products' goal with No Surprise Pricing is to do for the promotional products industry what Southwest Airlines did do the aviation industry with their Transfarency initiative.

The concept of no surprise pricing is best demonstrated by this quick video.

What is your proudest achievement?

I'd say my proudest achievement is watching Quality Logo Products grow from nothing into what it is today. If you would have asked me 13 years ago if I expected Quality Logo Products to be as successful or as large as it is today, I would have laughed in your face and said ‘I wish’. Quality Logo Products is truly blessed, and it's thanks to the hardworking people who show up and give 110% each and every day.

Bio: Bret Bonnet is the President and Co-Founder of Chicagoland-based Quality Logo Products, a privately held, online promotional products retailer selling more than 26,000 items that can be imprinted with logos and customized messaging. Since 2009, Quality Logo Products has continuously ranked among Inc. magazine The Inc. 5000 that ranks the top 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States.


John Paul Aguiar

John Paul Aguiar


How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

I started online because at that time I had a kidney transplant, and for the first year you are not supposed to be around many people for fear of infection. I decide to come online and try to make money.
I did a few things, MLM, ebay selling and affiliate marketing and within 6 months I had good success, to the point I was able to stop receiving my disability check.
From that success I decided to launch a blog JohnPaulAguiar.com, a place for me to share with people how I was making money online.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career?

I think when I started to use Twitter for marketing, I started to see real success. Quickly reaching 100,000 followers and my blog posts started to see 50, 100, 200 retweets. My influence was growing which brought attention, and my client base started to grow nicely.

Initially my problem was not having money to do any marketing or advertising. I made money, but it paid my bills, I was basically growing a blog with no money, just hard work, and trial and error.
Luckily the time I spent on Social Media and Twitter really started to pay off, bring me more traffic to my blog, more subscribers and more clients and customers.

What do you see as your unique value proposition and what is your proudest achievement?

I think my writing style is unique, and people feel my honesty and no BS attitude through my writing. They know they can trust my advice, they know I am there to help them first, and make money is secondary goal.
I would also say my consistency. I have been here for 10 years and I can proudly say every piece of content I have created has been helpful and actionable.
Over the past 8 years from using my blog and Twitter, I have grown my influence nicely.
Here are a few lists I have been lucky enough to be on.

  • #6 Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers 2013/14

  • #2 100 Top Marketing Influencers 2016 - BuzzSumo

  • #19 100 Top Social Media Marketing Influencers - BuzzSumo


Bio: John Paul Aguiar helps Bloggers, Entrepreneur and Small Business Owners how to use a blog and social media to grow their business. Follow him on twitter @JohnAguiar


Cynthia Johnson

Cynthia Johnson


How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

I started by trying and quitting jobs left and right. I always knew I would never work in a job I hated, and I was never afraid to quit. So when I found a job I liked, it was over. I think what attracted me to this profession was freedom. I had the freedom to choose who I worked with and why I worked with them, and I can work anywhere.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career and what were your ups and downs?

The moment I started speaking at events. This was a game changer. I realized how much there was to offer in the little things and how much there was still left to learn...for everyone. It made me fearless and driven to learn and to teach.

What do you see as your unique value proposition?

My unique value is my transparency, I don't pretend like I have some secret sauce, education, or worldliness that others lack. Instead, I talk about the happy accidents, the work, and explain in detail how others can achieve the same. People like to learn from and work with people that keep it real.

What is your proudest achievement?

I think it was the day I quit my corporate job and trusted myself to make it happen. It was a great day.

Bio: Cynthia Johnson is an entrepreneur, marketing professional, author and keynote speaker. She is Co-Founder at Ipseity Media, a personal brand development and management agency in Los Angeles. Cynthia was listed as top 20 Digital Marketing people to follow by Inc. Magazine, top 50 marketers on SnapChat by Mashable, top 12 Female Entrepreneurs that Inspire by Darling Magazine, and top 20 people in SEO by Guardian. Follow her on Twitter.


Steve Benson

Steve Benson


How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

My career has been spent in field sales, and so I understood the challenges faced by field sales people firsthand. When I was working on the Google Maps team, I got to know firsthand how powerful mobile mapping was, and what mobile was capable of doing. Because of this background, I was well positioned to launch Badger Maps to solve the problems of field sales based on a mobile mapping platform.

I love that running my own business gives me the opportunity to create something. Every day, you get to talk to people whose lives are different and better because of the product that you envisioned and led the team to build. Entrepreneurship is the only thing that I can think of where you can see a problem and create a business model around fixing it. I also love the challenge - when you start a company, it feels like your job is to take off in an airplane, except you are standing at the beginning of the runway with nothing, you have to find the parts and put them together to make a plane that can take off while you're running down the runway. When it works, there is no feeling like it - it’s hard for me to imagine a greater level of responsibility and accountability in a career than running your own business.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career and what were your ups and downs?

The biggest game-changing moment in my career came in a discussion during business school with a close friend. I was trying to figure out what the best career path was for me, and I didn't feel like I would enjoy a lot of the paths that my classmates were excited about, like consulting and finance. Gavin told me that I should go into Sales and Business Leadership, and the reason is that you should do what is the best fit for you. I define career fit to be the degree to which you enjoy the activities and are good at the activities associated with a particular role. Before that conversation, I felt like I was a square peg and looking at a bunch of round holes - and that conversation helped me think through what activities I would enjoy and be successful at. Then I was able to focus on a career path that was the right fit for me.

There have definitely been ups and downs in my career. I have had great years and bad years from a sales perspective. As I look back, starting a company was definitely the hardest thing I had done, but also the most rewarding in so many ways. There were times a few years ago when I didn't think we were going to make it. And there were times over the last couple of years that felt like the greatest accomplishments of my career so far. The wins are so much more meaningful when it's your kid playing on the soccer field - it can make a kiddie league game as exciting as the World Cup.

What do you see as your unique value proposition and what is your proudest achievement?

I believe that although I am a businessperson, I behave more like a teacher and mentor. I've always focused on making the people around me more successful and truly doing my best to enable them along their path on their project, in their role, or in their life. They in turn have made me successful. In my experience, success is a team sport. I have always looked for ways I can help bosses, coworkers, employees, customers, etc. be more successful. Even when it doesn't appear that it would help me at all, and sometimes it does not - I look to make others successful, and some percentage of the time, that helps me and the organizations that I'm a part of perform at their best.

I think that my proudest achievement is the team I've grown. I say grown and not built, and that is part of the reason that it's such a big deal to me. When I was at Google, we could build a team - we had the money to hire people who had demonstrated in the past that they were great at what they did, and they wanted to work for us. On the other hand, at Badger, I couldn't afford to hire people that had displayed greatness in the past, as then the market demand would have been too great for them to be attracted to working for my crappy little company where the product didn't work. Instead, I hired (and still hire) people that I believe will be great if they're given the opportunity. Some of the earlier people on the team have grown in their career at the company and are now running teams and leading different parts of the organization. Working with the team and seeing them achieve what they have over the last five years is my proudest achievement.

Bio: Steve Benson is the Founder and CEO of Badger Maps. After receiving his MBA from Stanford, Steve worked in Sales at IBM, HP and Google, where he worked in the enterprise sales group. Steve was Google Enterprise's Top Sales Executive in 2009. In 2012, Steve founded Badger Maps, the #1 Sales App in the Apple App Store, which helps Field Sales People be more successful.


Jeff Kear

Jeff Kear


My name is Jeff Kear, and I am the founder and head of marketing and sales for an online startup called Planning Pod which provides Web-based event management software for event professionals, businesses and nonprofits. I am a serial entrepreneur by heart (this is my 4th business, 3 of which were successful), and here is my story.

How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

My life as an entrepreneur started almost casually one day over lunch with a friend. At the time, I was working for an ad agency and I was not happy with the company or my role in it. My friend was a design freelancer and asked me if I had ever considered going out on my own, and my first thought was ‘Heck, I can do better work and serve people better than my current employer’. He looked at me and said ‘So you want to start a business together?’ and the rest is history.

Since then I have been supportive of entrepreneurs of all walks of life and have encouraged many of my friends to try their hand at building their own business. Some people come to entrepreneurship because they have always wanted to run their own company, but others are different in that they need to see the context and purpose of what they can do as an entrepreneur before they start getting excited about it. I was of the latter, but now that I've been bitten by the bug, I can't imagine not running my own businesses for the rest of my life.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career and what were your ups and downs?

I had two experiences that really helped shape my experience as an entrepreneur, one positive and one negative.

The positive experience was when we landed our first Fortune 1000 company as a client at my marketing agency. We had been around for about 2 years and the business was very much hand-to-mouth regarding the revenues we brought in. But it wasn't the size of the client or the significant revenue bump that made this so memorable. It was the person who hired us. After working with her for several months, I got up the courage to ask her why she hired us. She simply said ‘Well, I liked you, and you had lots of energy and ideas, and I thought you deserved this chance’.

It made me realize that there are people in this world who will take the time to listen to what you are doing, engage with you and take the chance on using your service or buying your product. All you need to do is put yourself out there and eventually good things happen if you are diligent, listen to your audience and adapt to their needs.

The negative experience was when I was having a major difference of opinion with a former business partner, and I felt I was at risk of losing the business I had put so much time and energy and passion into. One night after a particularly excruciating day at the office, when I felt all was lost, I took a long walk and thought deeply about what I was so fearful of. It finally occurred to me that I was obsessing over the short term issue of transitioning to something else and I wasn't ready to do something else. But I also realized that I was confident enough to start another business, make it just as successful as my current one and that I had the strength and dedication to do it. On that day, I realized I had the confidence and the ability to take the entrepreneurial plunge over and over again, and that is an important step for any entrepreneur. There are many issues and problems in this world to solve, so pick one that is close to your heart and start working on the problem.

What do you see as your unique value proposition and what is your proudest achievement?

As far as my personal unique value proposition, I feel like my hunger to learn new things and to spread my knowledge across many disciplines has given me a wide range of skills that have helped my businesses succeed. Most entrepreneurs I know are more jacks-of-all-trades, and it serves you well in the nascent years of your business.

As far as the unique value proposition for Planning Pod (the current online startup of which I am a founder), it provides anyone planning an event with all the tools they need to stay organized and manage their event in one convenient place. I am particularly proud of the fact that we built this tool to simplify people's lives when they are planning events and that has been used by 25,000 people over the last few years to plan successful events for millions of attendees.

The events industry is one of the oldest in existence, and events shape our lives every day, so being a part of so many people's lives and helping them connect in such meaningful ways is what I am proudest of. We may only provide the software that enables people to meet and connect through events planned by our customers and users, but for me, the success of any event happens behind-the-scenes, and I am humbled that I can play such an integral role for our customers and their attendees.

Bio: Jeff Kear is founder of Planning Pod - the easy-to-use online event registration and management software for event professionals, businesses and non-profits.


Aleksandar Bibovski

Aleksandar Bibovski


How did you start and what attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

I started when I was 18 years old and when I realized I wanted to lead people to make some changes. It was very hard for my family to understand that I’m leaving the University because I wanted to lead a business, especially because there were a few failures (to be more precise: 7 failed startups). I didn’t even know what a startup was back then, I had just started my first online business, solving a huge gap in the Real Estate industry and sold the website in less than one year (MyHome MyEnergy - Feng-shui community). After that, I failed a couple of times, but I enjoyed learning a lot about business, people and life. That’s the main reason why I’m so attracted to the idea of being a leader and starting and investing in new businesses.

What was the biggest game-changing moment in your career?

The moment I realized what it means to be an employee or self-employed and what it means to be a leader. That was the moment when I wrote down new life goals and started moving in that direction.

What were your ups and downs?

Let’s start with a list of downs:

7 failed startups (DAMN, it hurt then)
A few zero account moments
Disagreement with family members / Misunderstanding family values
Bad cofounder choice
Bad investors choice
A lot of accounting mistakes
Partner fights
Insomnia

Now, let’s go with the ups:

Hockey-stick learning curve
A bunch of money in good moments
Financial management lessons
Life lessons
Good mentors
Good investor choice
Network
People management lessons
Company culture lessons
Scaling lessons

What do you see as your unique value proposition and what is your proudest achievement?

At the moment, my unique value proposition is that I can get up quickly after I fail and the moment between the fail and getting up is just getting quicker as I fail more.

The proudest achievement is that I worked with a lot of talented people, and that helped me learn so many lessons about all startup fields

Bio: The Founder of KickAssGrowth, Ex-Founder of Book A Boat, Ex-Founder of MyHome MyEnergy, Mentor at the Founder Institute and Eleven Accelerator.


Now let all these success stories sink in and think about what you can learn from them. We would love to hear from you, so feel free to share your thoughts and experience.
What inspired you the most? What were your ups and downs and how did you overcome them? Are you running your own business or are you just thinking about it?
Come chat with us in the comment section. :)
#NOTE

Besides delivering valuable content on various subjects, Ucraft is primarily a drag and drop website builder. Our goal is to bring you an easy-to-use solution that will enable you to create beautiful websites, regardless of your previous experience.

Creating Your Website.

Knowledge base