by Evan Varsamis, Founder/CEO at Gadget Flow Inc.
Myself and my co-founders were just a bunch of young upstarts with a big idea. We envisioned a platform where you could discover and buy incredible gadgets. Instead of raising money we found another way to achieve exponential growth. We were in the middle of the economic crisis and didn’t take on any outside capital. Myself and the other founders managed to develop our company and generate more than 200,000,000 visits, hire 22 people, get 3,000+ customers, and promote products for the likes of Creative Labs, Polaroid, and Sony.
In this article I will describe how we got to where we are today.
Myself, Cassie Ousta, and Mike Chliounakis met in college. It was 2009. Not the optimal year for starting a business. However, we didn’t let this discourage us. Things began to get serious in an apartment in 2012. Not a garage like many startups stories but then this is no ordinary company. My good friends and I, all aged 21, were working on a design inspiration blog and curating content for designers and artists. We were publishing new content almost every day and the blog was generating a few thousand dollars every month just from sponsored posts and banner advertising. It was a way for us to stay creative and it also brought in some revenue. The idea of Gadget Flow was, and still is, to simplify online product exploration by introducing fresh, new content daily.
The culture for startups and new business has moved more towards raising capital and fueling growth this way. In times of uncertainty capital becomes scarce. Which was the case in 2012. It could prove to be the case in Britain if the fears about Brexit are realised. Ultimately things are a little uncertain but that shouldn’t impact you. I faced similar issues when we launched Gadget Flow. I didn’t let this deter me at all from my goal.
We were spending a couple hours every day generating content for the Gadget Flow site. The site wasn’t paying the bills yet. Myself and Cassie were also working part-time at a shipping company. I learnt a lot of valuable lessons which working here. Most importantly it the job brought in some much needed capital. In early 2013, the team and I opened a media agency to help companies with their digital advertising goals, web development needs, and social media strategies. The other key reason for launching the agency was to fund further development of Gadget Flow. The capital earned in the agency was used to bootstrap the progression of the key business we wanted to launch. I always encourage entrepreneurs to get creative with sourcing finance. If you’re an entrepreneur like me who will have skills you can sell to generate income.
Growth is key and something many entrepreneurs struggle with. It must be managed carefully. When you can raise outside capital it is a little simpler. It is tough when you can’t. When you are bootstrapping cash flow is king. You need to manage your cash very carefully. Cash keeps the lungs of your business full. No cash means no air. That spells disaster.
Come early 2014, myself and the team at Gadget Flow had been trying to cope with the website’s demanding tasks. In order to keep up with the growth, I spent weeks looking for the right people. I hired our first editor as well as a couple blog authors to help us generate content faster. Next, we added an iOS developer and an Android developer to the team. As I mentioned before with a startup, cash is king and therefore you have to be careful about who you hire and why you are hiring them. I always hired a new team member when we were at the edge of a burn-out. I had to be sure that we really needed one more member and weren’t just wasting our money. I applied this method to every single one of our hires and today our team consists of 22 people from United States, India, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Greece and the Philippines.
The key takeaways here are how careful you need to be about hiring. As a small business you can’t afford to make errors here. It can be very costly. Secondly you have to be at your absolute limit and about to burst before you invest in hiring that next team member.
Communication with your staff and customer is key for sustaining and augmenting growth. The key strategy to keep your team close is weekly meetings with every single team member. Talk about their tasks, resolve issues, enhance their workflow, and keep them posted about company goals and achievements. I found this engagement with the team to be absolutely vital. The benefits were even extended to the end user and it certainly paid off. Don’t hide too much of the negative from your employees. They are in this with you. Transparency will pay off. Even in the challenging times.
Myself and the Gadget Flow team accomplished this at a time when the odds were against us – in the middle of the economic crisis. Seeing hundreds of local businesses closing and people protesting for their jobs and rights is quite challenging. I was scared with what was happening in Greece but myself and the team were determined to build our brand. After putting in 18-19 hours a day to get things perfect, we managed to build something that we are all passionate about, something we believe in.
This is how a lot of business owners are currently feeling. Don’t let the negativity surrounding Brexit distract you from building a great business.
Evan Varsamis is an entrepreneur, Founder/CEO at Gadget Flow Inc. and Marketing Advisor at Qrator Ltd, Comet Core Inc and Contributor at American Express Essentials. His work has been featured on Mashable, The Next Web, PCMag, Fortune, Product Hunt, and Huffington Post.