There are now 4-5 available jobs for every developer. If you’re a first-time founder it can be difficult to attract an elite developer to work on your project. Smart entrepreneurs are throwing out the “all or nothing” mentality and finding creative ways to build their products. That’s why we sat down with Tyler Newkirk, founder of APlaceCalledHome, to learn how he took his idea to product as a non-technical person with limited resources.
APlaceCalledHome is an online, for-profit crowdfunding service that focuses on families looking to raise money for adoption. We provide premium engagement tools as part of the service, such as high-quality videos, to drive higher success rates of funding for each adoption campaign. We’re working to build a strong community where adoptive families can seek out relevant information, hear from the experiences of others, and locate nearby families that have also adopted.
My own family inspired me. Our family decided to go through with the adoption process, and about a year later we ended up flying down to Bogota, Colombia to adopt Maicol, Sebastian, and Lucy (ages 8, 9, and 11 at the time). They were actually already brothers and sister, so that was pretty cool. Through that experience, not only did I realize how awesome and life-changing the miracle of adoption can be, but also just how expensive it is. After seeing the fruits of adoption first-hand, I hated how money stood in the way of those fruits for many other families and orphans. I wanted to do something about it.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to a place where I sit back, put my arms behind my head, and say, “Boom! Done.” But to your point, it began with research and really trying to understand both my customers (the campaign backers) and my users (adopting families). I talked to as many people as I could in the adoption arena, trying to discover if there is a financial need for many adopting families, and if so, how great that need actually is. The upfront research and market analysis I did was necessary and valuable, but I realized that at some point, I actually had to go out and build the thing.
From there, I had to figure out how to build the site. As a college student, I didn’t (and still don’t) have any funding, so I had to find ways to cut costs. Instead of paying a developer to build out a unique site, I chose to go with a Wordpress.org blog, along with a custom crowdfunding theme called Fundify. The Fundify theme allowed me to successfully implement all the necessary backend functionality for APlaceCalledHome, such as having compatibility with WePay, creating featured campaign badges, utilizing pre-made register/login forms, etc. – all without having to manually implement code. It made things easy. And the few customizations I had to make that Fundify didn’t natively support were easy to accomplish with the thousands of plug-ins available through Wordpress.org.
It was actually one of those things where I really had to step out of my comfort zone and reach out to some people I’d never met before. I’m not super extroverted, so it was challenging. I found a really cool adoption video online one day, and ended up finding the blog of the family in the video and sent them an email with some questions. They actually responded, which eventually led to an hour-long (and somewhat awkward) phone call, after which the wife was willing to connect me with a friend of hers that was also in the adoption process. Her friend turned out to be Tammy Stayton, whose family’s adoption story is now our very first fundraising campaign. You know, I think building connections is one of the best things you can do to increase your success in the early stages of a company, at least it definitely was for me. And like I said, parts of that process were hard and uncomfortable. But as an entrepreneur, I think you’ve got to be willing to, as Jon Acuff says, “punch fear in the face” if you want to win.
I faced technical challenges just about every step of the way. I had to spend many extra hours learning about web hosting, SSL, and API calls. Video tutorials became my best friends for a while! But as I hinted at earlier, it started with the big decisions, like researching the different options of platforms that could support a crowdfunding theme, since I had neither the money nor expertise to build my own site. That turned into understanding the differences between a Wordpress.org and Wordpress.com blog, you know, looking up step-by-step walkthroughs of how to alter code via TextEdit to setup the blog… all of that. And even in the small details I struggled over hurdles, like figuring out how to paste in a meta tag that would verify my site on our Pinterest page. Just lots of things. It really just required me to spend more time understanding how certain things worked. If I would have known all the issues that I’d run into throughout the process at the beginning, it might have dissuaded me, but I guess I can thank my blissful ignorance for that. As it was, sometimes you just have to grind through some of the dirty work before you can see results. I think that even from my limited experience, the people that I’ve seen who are willing to do that are the ones that get ahead. I think being a non-technical person made me a huge proponent of encouraging entrepreneurs to have at least a basic level of technical literacy – it would have made my life a lot easier!
Sure. I’d say that one of the biggest milestones I’m proud of is getting my concept out of the idea stage and actually putting it into the market. Especially from having been in a classroom setting for the past 4 years, it’s easy to sit and just research, project, and pivot over and over again without really knowing how it will work or how the market will respond in actuality. You definitely have to do your due diligence in early market research and learning about your customer, but again, at some point you’ve got to get over the fear of failure and just say “F it, I’m gonna do it.”
From having nothing built to officially launching, I only spent about $550.
I didn’t have any real start-up capital to work with, just some savings that I scrounged together. When it’s like that, bootstrapping or staying lean really isn’t an option – you just have to find a way to make it work. And let me say too, my network played an absolutely critical role in this. I’ve got numerous friends and connections that I want to give a huge thanks to for helping me with various parts of the process, because without them, I’m not sure I would have been able to pull it off. But the real kicker is that the biggest expense is definitely your time. That’s the tradeoff. When you do a cash-strapped startup, you end up doing a lot of the work yourself, that’s the reality of the situation. So although I’m grateful for keeping monetary costs low, my time-related costs were high. You just have to utilize the resources that are most available to you.
Shoot, I realized how little I actually knew! I’d say two things really stick out to me now. One, you have to hustle if you want to win. I realized very quickly that no one was going to do it for me or sit there and make me work when I didn’t want to. And sure, some days it sucked. Some days I didn’t want to sit down and be put on hold with GoDaddy tech support for 2 ½ hours to figure out why my SSL certificate wasn’t being recognized. But I think that’s what real hustle looks like. The motivation has to come from within. And two, your network will play a vital role in your success. My financial costs would have easily been tripled or quadrupled if I didn’t have people in circle willing to do me a favor when the need arose. You know, whether it was legal advice, logo design, or videography work, my network came through. Absolutely, I’ve got to be willing to pay that debt back, but I also had to build the relationships enough on the front end for them to come through when I’m in a jam. I can’t stress that enough, if you genuinely help people, they more often than not eagerly want to repay the favor.
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