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As noted in Real Entrepreneurs Are Never Stuck, startups often have to hustle to gain traction before they capture the attention of sophisticated investors. Sometimes this requires entrepreneurs to pursue side projects that are orthogonal to the venture’s core mission, but are necessary to survive.
One such wily entrepreneur is Shiv Kodak. Not one to wait, Shiv graduated from UCLA at age 19, earned his MBA by 21, and completed a Masters in Technology Management from UC Santa Barbara by age 22.
To put Shiv’s impressive academic career in its proper perspective, it’s important to know that he was 18 when he graduated from High School. If you’re curious why Shiv earned three degrees before launching his first venture, he’ll tell you in this short video.
What Would Elon Musk Do?
Shiv’s latest project is Snipgram, a podcast app that enables listeners to listen, capture, and share podcast moments. The company’s mission is to improve podcast discovery and listener engagement by allowing listeners to “snip” up to 2 minutes from any of the 500,000+ podcasts on the platform. During the company’s early stages, while conducting market validation and seeking product/market fit, Shiv needed to creatively keep his company funded.
As Shiv tells the story, “I kept telling Joseph (Fajnor, Snipgram’s lead designer) to read the Elon Musk bibliography, but he didn’t for months. So I just summarized few points for him and he decided to create a quick poster out as a side project. There are posters of this style all over Reddit. (Even so) a few of our tech buddies and engineering friends asked if they could have a poster, after seeing it in our office, also known as my living room. So we launched a Kickstarter campaign.”
The trend with many crowdfunding campaigns is to validate the offering with a relatively small goal on a respected platform, such as Indiegogo or Kickstarter, declare victory and then direct traffic to the company’s site. Although you lose some of the capabilities offered by a sophisticated crowd funding platform, your margins are substantially increased, by eliminating the platform fees.
This is a similar approach taken by John Stump, inventor of Go Chair, which folds down to the size of a water bottle. After generating more than $1.5M in sales via Indiegogo, the company’s marketing messages now encourage customers to purchase Go Chairs directly on the company’s site.
Shiv wisely took a similar approach, “We used Kickstarter in a very limited way. As soon as the campaign was 100% funded, all of the ads, Facebook, Reddit, etc., were redirected to our own eCommerce checkout. Having a Kickstarter with ‘100% funded’ works great for marketing social proof.
The money was nice, but the main goal of this project was to learn how to effectively use paid marketing channels to get conversions.” The company ultimately sold about $2k of Elon posters on Kickstarter and another $18k directly.
Great side projects support not only the company’s balance sheet, but also its core mission, as was the case with the What Would Elon Musk Do? project. According to Shiv, “The poster is about snip moments out of an individual’s life. We called the poster project ‘Snip Moments,’ with the tagline, ‘Moments that Inspire.’ Similarly, Snipgram helps you capture great moments out of podcasts.”
In its early days, Airbnb infamously created Obama and McCain themed cereals. More specifically, they designed the artwork, which they glued, by hand, onto 500 Cheerios and Captain Crunch boxes, respectively.
Their initial idea was to mail them to bloggers, in the hopes they would write about their fledgling business. However, the reaction was so strong that they began selling the cereal for $40 a box. The resulting $30,000 was enough to pull the company out of debt.
The Airbnb Founders also credit the faux cereal with landing their first investor, who reportedly said, “If you can convince people to pay $40 for a box of cereal, you can probably convince them to pay to sleep on each other’s air mattresses.”
The next time you think you’re stuck… think again.
March 6, 2019 at 12:55PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs