A Builder's 2021 in Review: How I validate new ideas & generate paying customers
Breakdown on the Processes, Frameworks & Templates
In this post, I will share my reflection notes, processes, and frameworks—how I rapidly test new ideas, generate paying customers, and optimize daily performance. Let’s find out:
1. Global paying customers 🌍
“If your customers are international you are an international company.” — Andreas Klinger
My biggest milestone in 2021 is building an international business with global paying customers. Today, my customers are mainly from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Germany.
I’m in the digital business and I offer products for tech entrepreneurship, such as:
How did I get here?
I transitioned out of my marketing work and got into MVP creations in 2019.
I launched apps, featured globally, and ended up working with remote teams from North America/Japan where I helped build and advise in products and GTM (while being in SEA).
I experimented with digital business models and built a portfolio of side projects.
I turned them into profitable businesses through building in public, content marketing, SEO inbound traffic, and personal branding.
How to go global as an entrepreneur?
Pick any industry which access to your offering and distribution has no geographical limitation. For example: SaaS, digital products, content, online education, paid online community.
Create products for the global target audiences. Think about how you can provide values for people who operate remote-first, or those who rely on digital tools/resources.
Match your product with the right distribution. My marketing channels include: Twitter, Medium, Substack, and LinkedIn. Find your winning channel — you don’t need to do be on *every* social media platform.
Scale your personal brand. Create once, distribute forever, compound repetitively. Create evergreen content that has long-term value. The websites I built two years ago and the blog posts I wrote three years ago are still generating sales for my business.
Tools to run a remote business. I use Gumroad and Stripe (payment), Carrd and Webflow (website), Namecheap (domain), Notion (project management & documentation), Airtable (database), Calendly (meeting & consultation).
2. On Deck Founder Fellowship (ODF) 🤝
After launching multiple profitable projects, I decided to discontinue consulting work to explore something new. As a builder, I always wanted to build something that has future valuation. I was at the intersection of media and tech entrepreneurship. But I couldn’t solidify my vision.
One day, On Deck’s candidate team reached out for an interview. I’ve heard strong testimonials from my friends who joined ODF. “Standford for the Internet”, “Builders build together” and “Silicon Valley in the cloud” was my first impressions about On Deck. Needless to say, I said yes.
I went through the interview call and got accepted in Founder Fellowship 10 in June. At that time, it was a 10-week remote program for $2950 USD (now they are part of ODX).
My experience in ODF
A few months after the program, I’m confident to say ODF was time+money well spent. It was a forcing function for building my next thing. My first week at ODF was all about the introduction and getting to know other founders:
The rest of my experience as an alum during my cohort:
Vetted professional network: I met ex-founders who’ve sold their startups, talented product minds who’ve worked at top tech companies, speakers from Coinbase and Facebook, etc. You’re in the right place when you’re not the smartest people in the room.
Spirits of service: You’re one Slack DM away from your next intros, connections, opportunities, perspectives, knowledge, expertise, etc. ODF community felt special because people tend to seek to provide values first, before being the receiver.
Diversity in the journey: I met people who’re going through fundraising, pitch meeting, incorporating as a remote company, looking for co-founders, hiring potential talents, and exploring new startup ideas.
Founders’ activities: I’d schedule multiple 1:1 calls till 3 AM, offer my product expertise, and make new connections. We’d attend rapid-fire pitches, venture meals, masterminds, accountability, virtual co-working, hackathons, weekly social, etc.
Resources: Lifetime access, fundraising program, partner offers, freelance gigs, office hours, recorded workshops, directory, talent hubs, etc.
Notes for ODF newcomers:
ODF is for you if you’re committed to starting something new as an explorer of new ideas — or a founder who is already working on MVP and want to move to the next stage (i.e. funding, pitching, hiring, customers).
Align your goals with the community activities you want to pursue. Have a plan on what/who you’re looking for: expertise, industry, sector, business goals, personal interests, support, etc. Use Notion CRM or Airtable to keep track of your connections, follow up, or stay in touch.
Allocate a time that works for you. There are fellows who commit 5hr/week and those who do 20hr/week. Participate at your own pace and adjust when necessary.
Joining outside of U.S. timezone. You can catch up on recorded Zoom sessions. Since I prefer live interactions, I adapted to the Pacific Time from my SEA timezone (Sleep: 4 am; Wake: 12:30 pm).
Your ODF experience is shaped by how much value you put into the community.
3. Profitable new startup 🚀
ODF has helped me tremendously. Specifically, the 1:1 founder conversations, perspectives from others, and the mastermind sessions.
After building multiple projects, I came to a point where I needed to find something that helps me to stay intellectually curious around innovation and media.
Therefore, I founded Venturescale, an online publication that covers consumer tech and Internet platforms. The goal is to help entrepreneurs understand how to build the future.
Here’s my founder’s thesis:
Media companies are valuable. Business Insider acquired Morning Brew, a newsletter company for $75M. HubSpot acquired Trends by The Hustle. As long as people are searching for information, new kinds of media companies will continue to form.
Why you? Most tech analyses are written by management consultants, journalists, and researchers. Venturescale is done through the lens of a product builder, thinker, and practitioner.
How I built & validated a media startup
Minimum viable prototype. The best way to indicate a validation — get people to pay for it. I wrote and published my first paid version of the venture report and shared it with my email subscribers.
Proof of concept. Over the next 7 days, I received hundreds in revenue. As of today, Venturescale has become profitable. That’s when I decided to pursue this idea.
Lessons. Sell first, before you build anything. You can create the distribution (i.e. the audience, email list, followers) before you create the product or startup. You can create a prototype (and sell it), before worrying about the company logo, incorporation, web design, and social media.
Framework for finding your next thing
Finding what to build next is always hard. Therefore, I figured out a structured framework for myself. Your “next thing” could be something that intersects at:
Domain (where do you want to be): Innovation, startups, and tech entrepreneurship
Personal moat (why it’s hard for people to replicate you): being the builder, seller, and storyteller at the same time.
Skillet (what’s in your toolbox): offer my consulting, strategic, and product thinking skills
Operation (how do you want to run your day-to-day): bootstrap the revenue as a media startup then expand the platform to be tech-enabled
Creation (what do you want to create): tech analysis, market deep-dive, and strategy in consumer tech
Connection (who do you want to connect as a result of this project): intellectually curious minds
4. International feature 🥳
I have no idea how much impact I’ve created through my work until I found out I was mentioned all over the places on the Internet. I’m grateful for people who go the extra mile and appreciate my work in public. Thanks for the generosity!
Product Hunt Community Member of The Year
Medium Top Writer in Venture Capital, Startups & Entrepreneurship
Hacker Noon’s Noonies 2021 Nomination in 6 categories
Top 10 Career Influencers for early-professionals
Inspiring No-Code Leaders 2021 by We Love No Code
How I built an international personal brand?
Document your process. I prefer heads-down building time instead of constantly posting on social media. Therefore, I approached branding through documentation. I started by solving my own problems with tech, building MVPs/side projects, sharing my processes, amplifying through content, and using distribution channels to get discovered.
Provide massive values. Share what you know: insights, mistakes, dos and don'ts, lessons, tools, mindsets. Don’t be that person who is afraid of sharing because someone “will steal my idea”. If you don’t get it out there, you will never know if it’s going to work.
Proof of work (not in the blockchain context). People trust people who “build” things, not “talk about” things. Create a body of work that verifies your expertise and skillset. It can be creating a personal website, portfolio page, video series, podcasts, blog posts, newsletters, etc.
5. Personal growth 💪
This year, I spent a great deal of time on “biohacking” experiments. The goal was to achieve holistic health, increase my “brain RAM”, and long-lasting physical energy. Some notes on 2021:
Business revenue and profit growth 📈
Biohacking (micronutrients, circadian rhythm, holistic mindfulness) 🥦
Read 16 books | target 25/year 📚 (mostly on tech & entrepreneurship)
Meditate 209 hours in total | target 60 min/day (I use Meditation Timer & Log, mostly silent meditation) 🧘🏻
Medium followers hit 3,000 | target 4,500 🎉
Lack of expressing my thoughts on social 💭
Phone screen time/day~2 hr (target 1 hr/day) 📲
Daily movement 135 min/week (target 300 min/week) 🏃♂️