DW Business Insider Series: Bringing the Idea to Life (with no money)
I’ve always loved building things, problem solving, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with generating something from seemingly nothing. I suppose this is how I wound up in a career of engineering and project management. Breaking down a complex and overwhelming project into its baby steps, executing on each little step, and navigating and solving the inevitable problems that arise along the way is what I’m best at – and it’s taken me some time to become self-aware enough to recognize that. So, figuring out how to build the business step-by-step wasn’t necessarily my biggest concern – there are countless resources for that. We had the idea and the rough workings of a plan from The Four Hour Work Week to bring it to life, but we had no money. This is all too often why most people shy away from attempting a new business endeavor – there is never enough money (or time, but that’s a whole other post) to get started. As an avid Dave Ramsey follower and anti-debt / risk mitigation advocate, I was not about to take out a business loan or borrow money to get Duckworthy off the ground, and neither was my brother. We were willing to funnel some (i.e. very little) personal funds into the company, but even with our personal funds combined it didn’t amount to much. We knew we would need some amount of initial capital to at least get our first product concept (the Migration Duffel) off the ground and into production.
Enter the internet age and all of its incredible playing field levelers – including the freelance platform, Upwork, and the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. Upwork and Kickstarter were game changers for us and they can be to anyone who wants to start a business with little to no money using only a laptop and an internet connection! Here’s why:
By working as a freelancer on Upwork, you can actually generate the extra money you need to fund your new business idea (and learn the meaning of 'side-hustle'). It’s amazing how many types of odd-jobs people need performed on Upwork. You might think you need to be an expert or professional in a certain field or task prior to working as a freelancer on Upwork (or any other freelance platform for that matter). But the reality is, you’re much more capable of performing any number of the available jobs than you think. As an engineer, I originally created a profile around the ability to perform AutoCAD design work, project estimating, and project management type tasks; however, it turned out my best (and most lucrative work) was in blogging for clients that needed home improvement articles for SEO! I truly believe the key to success for freelancing (and most work for that matter) is simply showing up, putting in the hours, and trying not to overthink what you’re “good” at. Do a quick assessment as to where you can start based on your professional skills or background and start searching for jobs with keywords to match. If you’re unsure of yourself in any particular project, pitch yourself to the client openly and offer a crazy cheap price (or even better, offer it free) and then do your absolute best. This is how I landed my home improvement blogging client. I had zero experience blogging, but I knew researching and writing articles wasn’t rocket science. I applied for the project with an honest “cover letter” selling the related skills I did have (a construction and engineering background), offered a free sample article, and bid the rest of the job way low. Sure enough, the client loved my sample article, and future jobs saw my fee increase to a more reasonable level. After landing the first client, the work I completed was perfect for demonstrating my skills to future clients at a higher price. After several weeks of freelancing, I had generated enough money to get started with purchase of our domain, set up e-mail addresses, and even pay other freelancers on Upwork to perform some of the specialty work we needed to get started building our brand and fleshing out our product ideas. Which leads me to...
Upwork is a great way to leverage international exchange rates to have work done for your new business idea with little up front capital. For example, we felt that in order to be taken seriously by potential manufacturers, we needed a professional graphic artist to turn our hand sketched product designs and notes into high-quality graphic art. While local graphic artists would cost us hundreds, the Upwork platform gave us access to endless incredible artists who, with the help of exchange rates and varying costs of living, could provide the quality work we needed for a much lower overall cost. Once our product designs were turned into graphic art, we built technical drawings detailing all of the product concept nuances, including details on material, stitching, hardware, functionality, etc. We effectively created a “blueprint” for the manufacturers we would eventually solicit to build our product prototypes. Once we had a working prototype, we needed a way to mitigate the risk of fronting tens of thousands of dollars for a product we weren't even sure would sell to the masses!
The Kickstarter Platform gives you two huge advantages when it comes to starting a business with little to no money. The first is obvious – with Kickstarter, you can crowdfund your way to the funds you need to move your product idea to production. Surprisingly, when we started out on this journey, we had no preconceived notion to use crowdfunding to fund our initial production run. We knew that the capital necessary to make a minimum order run (usually 100 to 200+) of our product would be substantial and that we didn’t have the money, but we pressed on with the process figuring we’d cross that bridge when we got there. The idea to use the Kickstarter platform was actually suggested by my wife and, not surprisingly, I had never even heard of Kickstarter (I seriously live under a rock). We researched the platform and fell in love with the idea because not only could it generate the funding we needed, but it also could serve to solve another major question we had – is there actually a market for our product?! This is the second, less obvious, benefit of crowdfunding your product idea. It’s an incredible way to test the market with your product or idea in a low-cost, virtually risk-free environment. If the project doesn’t fund, and you don’t get to move on to the next step of production, then you know you’ve got to go back to the drawing board. Crowdfunding can free you from the significant risk involved in dumping a ton of money into an idea or product that may never take off – this is HUGE! All this to say, preparing to crowdfund our product was a major undertaking that required funds to create a video, perform professional photography, and run advertisements. But this cost pales in comparison to the amount necessary for a minimum production run of product. And if you front or borrow the necessary monies for a production run and said product does not sell (i.e. there is no market for it), well, then you’ve got a problem.
There is no doubt that Upwork and Kickstarter were indispensable resources that helped us greatly in getting our brand off the ground with very little risk. In future DWBIS entries, we’ll delve more deeply into our Kickstarter process, and how we ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in our very first attempt (with zero marketing, webpage design, graphic design, or crowdfunding experience)!