By Patricia Dao (Co-Founder, VoxBloc) Sitting in a 200-person lecture halls in college gave me opportunities to sit in the back of class and daydream all day. Although I was an Economics major aiming to pursue a career in the corporate world of finance, I always dreamed about becoming an entrepreneur.
Ten years later, after working at corporations and startups, I’m happy to say I took the plunge and am now living out my dream.
Taking the leap of faith
My background in the music industry, combined with my curiosity for what was at the time a small startup called Myspace and social networking in general, led me to jump-start the entertainment-focused business development efforts for an emerging social network. After that company was acquired, I joined Mozes as their Director of Business Development to help drive adoption for the company in the entertainment space.
At this point, it was apparently my "niche" within the startup scene was driving business for startups and introducing new products into the market place. I absolutely loved my job and whole-heartedly respect and admire the company’s founders and their vision for the company.
So why did I leave to lead a life of no paychecks, sleepless nights, and way too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? The answer was simple; there was an itch that started 10 years ago that I needed to scratch and time was ticking.
I saw the need for turnkey social reward programs in the marketplace, had industry relationships that would easily test it out, and had two friends who were seasoned technical and business executives ready to jump on board with me full-time to build VoxBloc from the ground up.
Getting VoxBloc in the hands of customers
VoxBloc started as a website designed to give brands, businesses and artists a way to reward their fans for engaging with them across major social networks. Within 6 months, the company has morphed into a full self-serve platform that enables any marketer to launch a social rewards loyalty program and integrate it into Facebook pages within a few minutes.
After building our product and hitting the streets for months, my co-founders and I have brought on customers such as The Emmys, Universal Music, CBS, Alternative Press, Airwalk shoes and major and independent music labels. To date, our platform has generated more then 250 MM social impressions across all of these programs launched on our network.
Most businesses will not reinvent their marketing wheel to conform to your platform, nor even take the time to figure it out. Our job as a startup was not only to build an amazing product, and sell the product, but to also help strategize and implement the product in a simple way to businesses.
The art of bootstrapping
I learned quickly that every entrepreneur has to start somewhere and have to play with the cards that are dealt to you. It was important that we built a fantastic product (not just prototype), drive business and let the company speak for itself.
Bootstrapping has become the mantra I now live by -- a state of mind on how to operate vs. an indication of cash in your bank account. Bootstrapping made the team and me stay extremely focused on the milestones we needed to achieve. I know it can be extremely easy to get distracted in experimenting with various initiatives from marketing, sales, product and everything in between. I call it “doing a lot, but accomplishing very little".
Looking back on the decisions we've made, I'm glad we were put in the bootstrapping position, because it forced us to keep our eyes on the prize. I'm very confident when we raise our next round of funding that we will still very much stay true to the art of bootstrapping.
Here are the top 5 lessons I learned
Lesson #1: Design. Design. Design.
Never underestimate the value of a great design. People DO judge books by their covers (at least for tech startups). Your product can have the best technical foundation, but if customers cannot understand how to navigate through your product or understand what your company does from the homepage, you won't achieve the traction your platform deserves.
Lesson #2: Pick your team wisely.
You will spend many days, nights, and weekends with your team. Make sure your vision for the company is aligned from the start and everyone has carved out responsibilities on what they need to deliver based on their skill sets. Excellent execution and communication with your team members will be your greatest asset.
Lesson #3: Persistent pays off.
If you hit a wall, don't stop for a second. Find a way to jump, climb or run around that wall as fast as you can. Every "startup" day is extremely valuable; don't let any obstacles drag you down for too long. Learn from it and move on.
Lesson #4: Data is your best friend.
If you have the resources, don't wait too long to start A/B testing your product to the public. Part of being an entrepreneur is sticking to your guns about your product, but if you're seeing poor conversions or low traffic, don't expect marketing dollars to fix it. Find out why your users aren't sticking and adjust your product accordingly. Stay nimble.
Lesson #5: Befriend other startups.
All startup founders are in the same boat and typically want to help each other out (for the most part). Building your network of startup friends can lead to strategic partnerships, integrations that could save you time and money vs. building on your own, and future introductions. At the very least, sharing startup war stories with folks that have gone through the same things, always serves as a great conversation/therapy session.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Patricia Dao is the Co-Founder of VoxBloc, a social loyalty and rewards platform that gives businesses a simple way to launch powerful and effective social reward programs to keep their online customers engaged across the social graph. Patricia is a lover of all things digital and formally held businesses develop positions as startups such as Flux(Viacom) and Mozes Mobile. Patricia works and lives in Downtown Los Angeles and loves Kid Robot toys. Follow her on Twitter at @pattydao and her startup at @voxbloc.