Andrew Wilkinson is the founder and CEO of MetaLab, a Canadian interface design agency that has worked with everyone from fledgling startups Andrew Wilkinson is the founder and CEO of MetaLab, a Canadian interface design agency that has worked with everyone from fledgling startups to Fortune 500 companies, including Disney and Google. They have also built two successful web apps: Ballpark, an online invoicing system, and Flow, a task management and team collaboration tool.
When we started building Flow, it was to scratch an itch. We were frustrated with having to use three different apps to manage our daily workflow, so we decided to build a solution ourselves.
It took three of us nine months to go from napkin to reality. We were close, efficient, and most importantly, cheap. We epitomized what it means to be bootstrapped and were damn proud of it.
We broke all the rules. We didn’t raise money, worked short days, and even did client work on the side. And yet just three weeks after launching, Flow was turning a profit. One year later, we’re bringing in over $500,000 in recurring revenue and growing like crazy.
Here’s how we took Flow from zero to half-a-million in under a year without a cent of VC money…
We scratched our own itch.
Starting from a personal need meant we had a leg-up from day one. We understood the market, where our product would fit into it, and what features were needed to stand out from the crowd. We didn’t need to pivot: we were tuned-in to what our users wanted because we built it for ourselves.
We grew organically.
Often when startups get a big injection of cash, their first move is to go on a hiring spree. They take on an army of “rockstar” developers, designers, and biz-dev types, and create nonsense titles like “Chief Catalyst.”
We kept our team down to three until right before launch so we could make quick decisions and keep communication straightforward. Once we had some predictable revenue, we brought a few more people onboard.
There are now 10 of us working on Flow full-time, and since we’ve hired organically, our bottom line is growing along with our headcount.
We slept in our beds, not under our desks.
At MetaLab, everyone is responsible for their own schedule. No bunk beds in the office or ramen-fueled overnight programming melees. We usually clock between four and six hours a day, and most of us don’t even get to the office before noon. We believe in working smart, not hard, and having lives outside the office. It might sound wimpy, but it’s working.
Instead of distracting ourselves building pitch decks and flying all over the country, we allocated about 25% of the team’s time to client work and used that money to cover our development costs.
By the time we launched, the pricetag on Flow came in around $300,000. Not only is that way less than your average VC-fueled startup, but by doing it ourselves, we retained 100% of the equity. Plus, if we do choose to take on investors in the future, our predictable growth and recurring revenue will mean we fetch a much higher valuation. Would I have slept better for the past year with $5 million in the bank? Of course. Did not having it stop us from building our product? No way.
There’s nothing wrong with venture capital. Given the right circumstances, it’s rocket fuel that can take your company to the next level. But why not try building the rocket first?
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