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Intro: Welcome to the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast with JP Stonestreet, can you believe this is episode #25!
JP: In today’s episode, Amanda Codina joins us from Visjou.com and she is a true web startup entrepreneur following in my footsteps. I really enjoyed talking to Amanda during this interview, but before I introduce Amanda, I would like to tell you about an amazing seminar that I hosted last night. It was the New Business Energizer seminar, it’s about an hour long and I thoroughly enjoyed giving it and it seemed that the people who attended really enjoyed hearing it. So, I encourage you to check out my website JPStonestreet.com and look for the next event that I am hosting and you can come to it in case you missed this one. All right, so without further ado, let’s introduce Amanda. She is a fascinating woman and I am really impressed with the web startup that she started Visjou.com. It stands for Visual Journey, it’s a social website. It’s focused on travel and fashion, specifically what to pack and wear while traveling to destinations around the world. It’s a really neat website. I will put a link to it on the show notes page. So, go there and check it out. It’s Visjou.com, fantastic website, really easy to use. It’s kind of like a cross between Pinterest and Facebook and a travel site. So, it’s a great, great tool. So, go check it out. All right, without further ado, let’s introduce Amanda Codina.
Welcome Amanda to this episode of the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast. How is your day going?
Amanda: It’s going well. How about yours?
JP: It’s fantastic. I just finished another fantastic podcast interview with Faith Young and I am really looking forward to this one with you.
Amanda: Thank you for having me today. I am looking forward to as well.
JP: Awesome. Okay, so your company is called Visjou which stands for Visual Journey, but before we talk about that, I want to talk about your background. So, why don’t you tell us about yourself and how you came to start a true web startup?
Amanda: Honestly, the path that led us to this point today, has – it’s been a while in the making just meaning that both myself and my business partner always knew we wanted to start and run our own business one day. We were just really waiting for that idea or concept to resonate with both of us. As far as my professional background, I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After I graduated, I have worked in multiple business disciplines, everything from property management sales to medical office management in different disciplines within human resources. So, like I said it was a matter of just finding that idea and both of us being in agreeance on that concept and then jumping in.
JP: Awesome and so, why did you decide to do a true web startup as opposed to – I don’t know, a service business or brick and mortar?
Amanda: Initially the thought process behind that was just it’s where we are today, it’s – with society, everything is, I feel very much they are revolved around the internet. You really can’t get away from it. Also, the amount of funding as far as compared to having a brick and mortar upfront we thought it would be more cost effective to do something that was web based and also the amount of people we would be able to reach having an internet business versus a brick and mortar was also very appealing to us.
JP: Awesome. Okay, I have lots of questions about all of that, but before we do that, let’s talk about what Visjou is. So, give us your elevator pitch or tell us about what your website does.
Amanda: Sure, as you said Visjou which does stand for Visual Journey is a free membership social based website that is focused on travel and fashion, specifically what to pack and wear while traveling to destinations across the globe. Members of Visjou connect, create, and share their travel experiences through their Visjou Lookbooks on our visual and social platform.
JP: Awesome. So, the way it works it’s a little bit like a cross between – I don’t know, Facebook and Pinterest.
Amanda: There is a little bit, I guess yes you could say that, it has obviously the very social aspects of Facebook and it has the visual interest of Pinterest. I would say that given both Facebook and Pinterest are very wide-spread, they reach into multiple areas of interest whereas we have really, really tried to focus on a niche in the market which is travel and fashion specifically again what to pack and wear when traveling to destinations.
JP: Yes, I love that you focused on such a small niche. It’s so important to do that, especially in this age. You can still launch things like Facebook that appeal to the broad audience, but I think that those are real value to choosing a niche like you have done. I think you have done a great job, your website is beautiful.
Amanda: Thank you very much. It has been launched into public beta and this is our first best foot forward. There is still a lot of functionality that we want to add into this site, but I think we have a pretty good start. Thank you for mentioning that as well.
JP: Yes, you do. It’s definitely a great start. So, let’s talk about that. How did you get your website built? Did you hire somebody or…?
Amanda: Yes, actually Visjou is myself and my business partner, we both have like I had mentioned previously about myself experiencing multiple disciplines within business and even my business partner has an engineering background to add to know his MBA was Finance, but neither of us had any experience in web application, so this was completely new territory for the both of us, but we knew what we wanted to do. This was the platform we needed to do it on.
JP: So, you didn’t have any prior experience with building websites before?
Amanda: No, we didn’t. So, we have actually had to contract that workout for all of our web development and design and that actually has been probably one of the challenges which I am sure will probably get into the discussion later on, but understanding the tech requirement to make a vision a reality.
JP: Yes, exactly. That is the hard part – how to make the vision a reality?
JP: Okay, you did have – I am guessing that you have travel experience though.
Amanda: Yes, both my business partner and I enjoy to travel. It is something that we are passionate about and it’s actually where the inspiration for the website came from. It was out of our own personal needs. What happened was a few years back we were planning to take our first trip abroad, specifically we had planned a 60th birthday trip for my mother over in Ireland and while we were in that trip planning process, I had gotten online to see if there was anything out there that would mention what would be efficient and stylish to pack based on the destination that we chose and the season that we were going to be traveling and I didn’t find anything out there at that time and I thought that that was very interesting and that kind of stayed with me and then what happened was about a year after that once again we were going over to Europe to a different destination and I got back online and once again found nothing that was out there that was encompassing. You might have a blog hit here and there that mentioned “Oh! I recommend taking this for a weekend trip or going down to Mexico,” but there was not a one-stop shop that was a visual and social platform that specifically addressed the need of what to pack and wear when traveling to destinations.
JP: That’s exactly what Visjou that’s the niche that you feel. Basically what – explain how the site works. You were talking about Lookbook. Explain what a Lookbook is.
Amanda: Sure. So, the way the website works is guests and members alike, and membership to our site is free, can come to the site and they can browse these Lookbooks in which members have created. The way that Lookbooks are created is we have a bookmarklet that you install on your computer, it’s called actually our “Pack It” button and what that allows you to do is to go out to any website and grab images or specific items from retailers and then you go into our Lookbook editor which we have templates and you place those images. So, you can do it based on events like let’s say you are going to Paris and you are going to spend a day at the Musée d’Orsay and you want to specifically show and after that you felt was appropriate and efficient to pack then within that Lookbook you can create a page of that look and again these are images that you go out and you grab and pack from the web and they come into your parking lot in Visjou which then you put into the editor. So, there is a whole creative expression to the site as well, we feel like there is two subsets of the market, people who love to travel and people who have an appreciation for fashion are creative and like to express that and like to share that and thus that is the platform that we have built.
JP: Yes and that’s so true because I love to scuba dive. So, we scuba divers we all talk about gear and everything and this is for travelers and I love the way it works because different travelers like to talk about their trips and share, especially women I will say, like to talk about what they wore and what they took with them and it is so important. I know that when I travel, the first thing I do is look at the weather to see what the weather is going to be like and then from that I try to discern what I should pack, what kind of clothes I should wear while I am there, but what your site does is it kind of takes that guess work out, it’s more than just a weather report, it’s basically “These are things that you can wear in this location.”
Amanda: Right and I think you can figure out that the obvious target most people would say would be women, but I feel like this addresses the need for men as well because as any woman knows who has been out there and has been planning a trip, what’s the first question your significant other or a family member or a friend ask. At somewhere along in that trip planning process, they say “What should I pack?” Their motivation might be efficiency reason, baggy tees now-a-days are absurd, so may be it’s because you want to be efficient, but I think a lot of people do care how they present themselves when they are traveling abroad, they don’t want to stick out like the tourist. So, I do think that this addresses a need and it has a market for both the women and male travelers out there.
JP: I totally agree with that, yes.
Amanda: Like you said scuba diving, we have had people mentioned to us “Well, I am really into fly fishing today, but different flies up there and gear and stuff like that.” Absolutely that’s one of the most exciting parts about starting your own business is obviously we developed it with the thought and mind of how the site will be utilized, but once members are actually in there and really start using the site, we are very excited to see how that unfolds.
JP: Yes, how they use it. That’s the same thing with Twitter. Twitter never started with hashtags. Hashtags were invented by the people who used Twitter and it’s the same thing. They never envisioned Twitter being used the way it’s being used today, but the user determines how systems are used.
JP: It’s nice that your system is flexible enough to allow that.
Amanda: Yes, I do think that is one nice thing is our system and also I think the scalability for our site as far as different directions and growth opportunities, is definitely very appealing and I know from my business partner and I as well with this concept is, there is a lot of different ways it could go, we are very excited to go along for that ride.
JP: Yes, it is neat and one thing I can see people really liking about the way your site works is that I can see people that – like people that go to Wiki or Wikipedia. That’s maintained purely by volunteers. People go there and they want to share their knowledge through Wikipedia entries and then it is volunteers that maintain that. I can see something very similar happening on your website where people would go and be like the fashion expert, may be for a specific area or may be several different areas that they have been to and they create their Lookbooks and they put a lot of energy and thought into it and they have lot of Lookbooks for different things and I can just see how people are going to love that to be able to express themselves that way.
Amanda: I absolutely agree and one nice thing is too, as I know there are people out there I know, I have siblings that have said “I can put an outfit together to save my life” and so I love the idea that I can go there and look and someone’s put together an outfit and I should mention the search criteria, you can search based of off gender, of off age range, of off how you associate your style, region of travel, season of travel, so you can really kind of hone in onto others that are likeminded to yourself and then if you see something you like, we have the click-through ability. So, the images that you have packed to the site and put in your Lookbook, if you like it, you can click on it and it will take you directly to that retailer site to purchase that item as well.
JP: That is awesome, I love it. Okay, so are you doing – how are you monetizing that? Are you doing like Pinterest is using Skimlinks or is that a plan for the future?
Amanda: As far as monetization, that’s all plans for the future. Yes, we have a lot of different ways that we are planning on monetizing the site, but that would definitely be one of them is to put into that an association like with Skimlinks or something like that as well, yes.
JP: Okay and for you listeners, Skimlinks is an affiliate program that will replace links on your site with affiliate links and it allows you to monetize those links. So, it’s a very powerful tool. It’s what Pinterest uses to monetize all of those images that you put on those, on your pinboards.
JP: So, that’s a great way to do that. Okay, so let’s talk about the development. Let’s circle back around, talk more about the development. How did you decide what features to put in your first release and which features to leave out?
Amanda: Yes, that’s very interesting that you would address that and I think it is an important question to address because going into this, finally obviously we thought that we had an idea everything we wanted to do, but then when you are actually sitting down with a web development and design company and when you are self funding everything, that is a very big key point there. There are parts that you have to decide that are the most important when you put out your first version and other things that can perhaps wait till other versions and for us, it was really important that we provided a very clean and efficient site, something that functioned very well, we don’t want a glitchy site as well and so we put a lot of effort into those areas with designing our site as far as with our first version and the beta version getting it out there. That was a hard concept for me to grasp because I am definitely one of those people that is – I would say I used to identify myself as a perfectionist. I am learning now as you get older. That’s not a standard any of us can really live up to. So, you have to let go of a few things, but especially with putting the site out there, I had to kind of learn that you need to decide what’s most important and then know a way what you can utilize in future versions as you release them. So, it was a lot of – with my business partner and myself and then the development team that we had, kind of going back and forth and just trying to decide what we could afford and release with the best quality possible out there. So, that’s really how we decided what functionality to put into the first beta version that was released to the public.
JP: Yes, it’s the hardest part of development because everything seems like a necessity and especially if you are a perfectionist and I know that you and I both have those tendencies. It is hard to figure out what gets to stay and what has to go at least for the first phase, but it’s so important to realize that the website is a living, breathing entity that does grow and change over time, but only if it gets launched at some point. You have to get the thing launched if you ever want to get forward motion and forward momentum and get to that second release and the third release. So, I applaud you for finally getting it out there. I know I have been on you for a while to get this thing launched because it’s so fantastic and I hate to see you lose the edge of first to market on this because I think it’s got huge potential.
Amanda: Yes, I agree and thank you for saying so, but yes, you are absolutely right, it was a hard point to get to, to decide okay we are finally ready to pull off the password protection, for those who don’t know what that means, the private version and release it to the public, put it out there so it’s searchable and see how it goes, but I think that – I must say I think we did a pretty good job with this first version that’s out there. Obviously, I am pretty critical of our baby, so to speak, but I know that there is a lot more functionality that we will be building into it and we will just keep adding on.
JP: Yes, and some of that functionality is going to be determined by your users. As you have more users, they are going to request things and that’s going to help you decide what goes into the second release.
Amanda: Right and it’s kind of like how we just talked about before when we said we had an idea in mind with how we created the site and that was one of the things that was brought to our attention is “Yes, you have this idea in your mind, but you don’t need to put it all out there because you need to wait and see how it’s actually going to be used. So, why pay for all these functionality right now in this first beta version when you don’t even know if that part of the site is going to be used.” So, get out there what you think is essential and see how the users end up actually using the site.
JP: Yes, that’s great advice. We call that a minimum viable product. What is the bare bones necessity that your users need to have in order to use the site and get a feel for what its capabilities are and then get that launched and go from there.
Amanda: That’s absolutely right. Thank you for that terminology. It was a [inaudible] but that’s exactly that I was looking for, minimal viable site, yes.
JP: A minimum viable product.
JP: MVP, that’s what we call it and it’s a term that’s become – it used to used in a different industry, product based industry, but we use it in web design now too. The minimum viable product is so important to get that website launched as quickly as possible. All right, so looking back now from where you are because you and I met with your business partner, I think it was almost two years ago, the first time when you were just really thinking about doing this, I don’t think you had even started development yet.
Amanda: No, we hadn’t. I had actually reached out through SCORE and that’s how you and I were connected and then you had some website design and experience in your background and thought to partner us up and yes, when we first met and we had just had the idea and decided that we are going to move on it and just kind of wanted to bounce it off of someone who had some experience in the industry. So, that’s how our relationship came to be about.
JP: Yes, and I have enjoyed watching you go through this process, although we go for long periods of time without checking in, but when we do I get to see how much you have done since the last time met and it’s fascinating to see the growth and the evolution of your website.
Amanda: Thank you for saying so.
JP: Yes, it’s fun. So, what’s the most difficult challenge that you faced so far and how did you overcome it?
Amanda: There has been a couple of big challenges and I briefly touched on the one, I am a little bit earlier within the conversation and that was again the technology behind it when you don’t have the experience in web application, there is a learning curve to that experience, but also I think the fact that both my business partner and I would agree that if we had to do anything differently, we would make sure we had some coding experience within our realm. If not, make sure we partner with someone who does because that is definitely very, very helpful within the application that we were trying to launch in the business that we have created. The second thing is kind of we are approaching it right now and it’s a future hurdle that I see coming up which is driving traffic to our website, really how do you get your site in front of the masses so that you can grow the membership and you can grow the usership. So, those are really the two most difficult challenges we have had thus far with Visjou.
JP: Yes, I am going to comment on each of those. The first one, I just watched The Lost Interview with Steve Jobs from 1995 I think, a year before he went back to Apple. They had lost this interview in transit and it basically got lost in the mail. This guy was cleaning out his garage and found a VHS copy of the interview, just like a couple of years ago, and so I watched this. It’s on Netflix, it’s called the Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, highly recommend watching that and one of the things that stood out on that interview, he talked about was that he thought everybody should learn how to program because it changes the way you think and see the world because it trains you to think in a specific way. I could not agree more. I have a programming background, that’s how I got my start in the web business is that I wrote software and I have to agree that and may be I gravitate toward that because that’s the way I think naturally, but it did change the way that I looked at the world. So, I completely agree with your comment that you wish you had some programming background before and that’s one of the things you would have done differently and it’s really, you don’t have to be an expert programmer, but even if you just pick up a book or go to a class and learn some basic programming either HTML or SeaSharp or something, I think it would greatly benefit anybody that’s thinking about doing a web-based business. So, that was my first comment. The second one is that I try and focus these podcasts on marketing and so I hope that you are listening to these, I know they are long. I recommend listening to them in the car or on the treadmill or when you are walking or doing something like that, but I try and focus these podcasts on marketing because it is the single largest challenge faced by especially online businesses is driving traffic to your website. It is hard; it is very, very hard. That’s why I am doing podcasting. My traffic to my website has tripled since I started podcasting in November. It’s a great traffic driving source. Also, the way you use social media, there are ways to use it that will drive traffic to your website and then there is the way most people use it. There are two different ways – the right way and the ineffective way. I just had a podcast interview with Faith Young and she went into detail about how to use Facebook and in ways I had never even conceived of and I have never heard anybody else talk about and she is fantastic on Facebook. So, make sure and listen to that interview, it will be the one that comes out right before yours in a couple of weeks, probably two to three weeks. So, that one is going to help. There are ways to drive traffic that are inexpensive. You can also use media. Get media attention, especially local media. Did you listen to the interview with Randy Valentine?
Amanda: I don’t believe I listened to that one. I listened to a couple of different ones yesterday, but I don’t believe I have gotten to his as of yet.
JP: You got to listen to that one. That is a great one. That will help you get some free media publicity and I honestly think that your website will be of interest to the media and so, listen to that interview and read the show notes page. I have put some steps that he talks about on the show notes page at JPStonestreet.com/podcasts and then look for Randy Valentine’s podcast interview. He gives a lot, his expertise is all in marketing and especially publicity and he gives a lot of great advice on how to get free publicity and I think those are the avenues that you are going to have to go through without a huge marketing budget and to be honest, I don’t know that a huge marketing budget helps that much more. It’s really about getting your website out in front of people, in front of the masses and getting that momentum until you can reach critical mass and you just have to work at it. There are lots of little tricks to do, but that’s my advice to the listeners of those podcasts, that will help.
Amanda: Well, thank you. That’s appreciated, always open to any suggestion, so I will definitely – I have made some notes here and I will look into those.
JP: And also what you are doing right now, this is great. I would encourage you to find other podcasts that talk to entrepreneurs. This is the year of the podcast. They have already dubbed it “The Year of the Podcast.” Luckily, I launched mine in December, so I was ahead of the curve.
Amanda: I was just happy when you said that, I am like “Oh! At least I am in the now right now, I am obliviously doing what’s trending.” So, that’s good.
JP: Exactly, yes. I think a podcast will be fantastic for you. It’s something I think you should consider doing. You could do a travel based podcast and use that to drive traffic back to your website and you can interview travel experts, you could just talk, you and your business partner could co-host and just talk about travel. There are all things you could do and I know there are travel podcasts out there, I would recommend researching those and find a format that works for you, but it’s a fantastic way to drive traffic to your website and also just being interviewed on other people’s podcast and you can contact them and ask them. Just say “Hey, I have this new website, I would love to talk to you about it on your podcast.” That’s a great way to get your message out because they are going to broadcast that out to their market, all of their followers and some of them are huge. Some of them have thousands and thousands of subscribers to their podcasts and you are getting your message in your website in front of all those people. That’s exactly what we are doing here. I am going to broadcast this out to my followers, hopefully we will get hundreds of download from this and all of those people will go check out your website. So, you may see a bump in your traffic on the day this gets published because I broadcast this out especially on the day when I publish it, but then I schedule social media post to go out for 3 to 5 days afterwards and you will get messages from those too, but I advertise this usually over the course of a week and so everyday different people are going to be seeing it for that week. There are all kinds of ways. I am talking; I am doing a lot of talking. I am supposed to be asking you questions, but I am so passionate about this topic of advertising because it is the deal breaker. It makes or breaks a website and I want yours to be phenomenally successful.
Amanda: I appreciate that and I absolutely agree with the importance of the marketing and advertising for any company that you have.
JP: Yes definitely. So, what have you done so far from a marketing perspective?
Amanda: As of right now, we launched into public beta the end of July of last year and as you know, we have gone through some recent changes with our web development and design company. So, we are having to – we had to kind of start a new in-source, a new team to back us up with that. So, given that, we were in that situation and have a team behind us to help with any kind of bugs or patches, security updates. There are a couple more things as far as functionality we wanted to build in, we have not as of yet been super aggressive in that area, I will admit to that. So, as far as what our plan thus far has been, it has been trying to utilize different social media outlets whatever it has been. There hasn’t been a cost associated because we have put so much as far as our own money into building the site and the functionality and the aesthetics of the site.
JP: Yes, that’s what happens especially with online business a lot of the time is that we build it and we honestly believe people will just come. I have to say I believed that about every website I have launched and I am like “This is the best thing since sliced bread, I am not even going to have to market it because it’s so great, people are just going to flock to it” – that never happens. It doesn’t. You have to have some sort of a connection, somebody to champion your cause to get the word out there and you may have to go find that person and I am really hoping that I can help with that. That’s why I am doing this podcast. I want to help everybody I interview. I want to help them grow their business through the podcast and this is like a big free marketing tool for you. You can use it in all of your stuffs to talk about your business and show how awesome it is and how awesome you and your business partner are. So, it’s a great tool for that, but it’s marketing is key, it’s critical, you can’t underestimate the expense of it, especially in terms of time, and that’s the hardest part, especially when you are still working your day job.
JP: Yes. So, what – let me see. I am trying to figure out what I should ask. We have gone all over the place so far. So, owning a business is stressful. As an entrepreneur, you know it’s a rollercoaster. There are lots of ups and downs. So, how do you cope with the stress of owning your own business?
Amanda: There is a few different ways that I have personally found that I cope with the stress and that helped me deal with that. First of all, I am very fortunate that I have a business partner for which I can bounce that off of. I have somebody that understands what I am going through. I am not a sole entrepreneur in this case and that has been helpful at times when you feel overwhelmed to have someone to lean on in that situation. So, that’s one way. The second is I have always been very physically active and you really can’t underestimate the benefits of a great workout at times when you feel like you are dealing with high stress and that just kind of makes me little bit more clear-headed, I feel energized and it helps me push through. Finally, I would say I have really come to appreciate a good cocktail a lot more than they ever used to. I won’t recommend that for everyone. So, let’s just say that when the weekend rolls around, it helps.
JP: It does. What’s your cocktail of choice?
Amanda: Both my partner and I have really gotten into vodka. We are vodka aficionados I must say. Its funny growing up in the Midwest where it was really beer or you have a lot of – and being in the business where a lot of people drink wine, we’ve both gravitated towards vodka.
JP: What’s your favorite vodka?
Amanda: I have a couple, Grey Goose is just amazing, it’s very, very smooth and then just recently I tried Stoli Elit and that was very, very smooth as well and then Ketel One is always a great vodka to have and it’s a great price point as well. So, those are probably the top three for sure.
JP: I love Grey Goose; I can drink that straight on the rocks. Stoli, I love in a Dirty Martini. If I have a Dirty Martini, it’s got to have Stoli in it for some reason, I just love the way that taste. I love vodka myself.
Amanda: Have you done Stoli Elit or just Stoli though?
JP: Just Stoli. I have tried the Elit.
Amanda: Oh! The Elit is amazing. It’s a luxury I will say that; it’s something that if you buy it, you are going to want to savor it for just special occasions, but all of those vodkas I mentioned to you are ones that I could drink on the rocks as well, but that was amazing. Both my partner and I tried that over the Christmas holidays and we were like “Wow!” It’s a good product, I will say that.
JP: Awesome. I am going to put the links to those on the show notes page.
JP: Awesome. I love it. I do love wine, I am a big wine drinker, but vodka is one of my vices too.
Amanda: Okay, good. I am glad to hear it. That’s nice to know there is a community of us out there.
JP: I know, we should definitely form that. May be we should have a vodka Lookbook.
Amanda: Hey! I am all about it. Like I said you could definitely grab those images and put them through and then purchase them from the retailers on our site. So, go for it.
JP: I think that’s awesome. This is the vodka to have at your next dinner party.
Amanda: Yes, absolutely.
JP: I love it. See, you can use this website for anything and Visual Journey does not necessarily mean travel, it’s a Visual Journey could mean anything. So, I love it.
Amanda: Thank you.
JP: Awesome. So, we talked about your business partner helping you. Do you have a mentor or a coach?
Amanda: I wouldn’t say we specifically have a mentor or a coach. Obviously, we have found some things after you which have been helpful along in the process, but I wouldn’t say we have anybody that we regularly engage with and that would obviously be very beneficial, but we just haven’t really connected with someone to develop that kind of relationship. I would highly encourage it to anybody out there who has the opportunity to do so, to take advantage of that because I do think that that would be beneficial any time you can get some outside input and from someone who has experience, it is very beneficial to anyone in any type of or I should say at any phase within their entrepreneurial journey.
JP: I totally agree. I ask that question to everybody that I interview and almost all of them have a professional coach if not a mentor and some of them have both, some of them also belong to a mastermind. It’s so important to have that outside – not only the outside perspective, which is extremely valuable, but also the connections that people bring especially if you get the right kind of coach that’s related to your business, they can literally be the difference between success and failure just with their connections that they have and that’s – have you heard of the website Reddit.
Amanda: I have heard of that.
JP: Yes, they call it the homepage of the internet. The reason why that website was successful is because it was championed by Paul Graham who is the founder of Y Combinator and he kind of took the guys that founded that under his wing and promoted it through his network and he had thousands of people following him and they have more traffic on their website before it even launched than I get in a month on my website.
Amanda: I absolutely agree with the importance of networks, and connections, and mentorships and coaches, and the value that they can bring.
JP: Yes, it’s so important and I would highly recommend that you start seeking a coach, a business coach of some sort that they can maybe help you with those connections. SCORE is a great resource up to a point. It’s a great mentoring organization. You get a lot of general business advice. Mine advice through SCORE is a little bit more specific than most. Most of the SCORE mentors are in their 60s and older and you get a lot of really good general business advice, but as far as web-based business, you are not going to find a lot of SCORE mentors that have a lot of experience with web-based business and it’s just a very specific skill set that the older generation typically doesn’t have.
JP: And the younger generation doesn’t mentor at SCORE.
Amanda: Yes, and I would say too I know as I briefly mentioned before, we were kind of right now in the process of starting some different web development design firms and this is experience, this is based off experience in something we didn’t know the first time around, but one of the intangibles that we have been looking for when we are going out to hire a new boutique firm is do they have the startup experience, how are they in the startup community, do they have contacts, have they launched the business of their own, do they have clients that have been through that process? Those intangibles you don’t really know to look for in the beginning and they can be so beneficial to you and just the contacts that you make and it’s a very different machine working in a startup than it is in established brick and mortar or even an established services business, it’s a very unique setting that you are in and if you can put people around you who understand it, have experience and contacts within that community, it’s like I said it’s an invaluable asset.
JP: I love that you said that you are looking for web designers with the past experience and you are very specific about that. Now, did you learn that through may be a painful lesson with your old designer or how did you come to that conclusion that you needed that laundry list of requirements for your design team?
Amanda: The first development team we worked with, I really can’t say anything bad about them. They had been out there in the community, they had a lot of WordPress, I believe we were one of their first custom sites, so that was new, but they had specifically catered towards like startups or that community and like I just said on going through you realize that it is a whole different machine that you are operating here and if you can surround yourself with people who have that experience who are known in the community, who can put you in contacts with others in the community, again like you said you never know who could advocate for you, right? Just by getting out there and that’s one of those intangibles that is very, very beneficial and I would suggest highly to anybody that if they find themselves in a similar position, that’s one of the qualities that they look for when they are surrounding themselves with partners.
JP: Yes, it’s great advice. Also, just not even partners, just people in general. Find people that are doing what you are doing, obviously not the same thing, you are not going to find anybody else doing what you are doing probably, but you can find other people, local communities that are for web startups like here we – have you been to the Innovation Pavilion?
Amanda: I have not, no.
JP: I would recommend checking that out. They have some events there, some speakers that come in, they have mentors, they have collaborative work spaces. It’s an environment of startup people and you can go network with these people and they may – you can help each other through this process and you can give them your advice based on your experience, they can give you some of their advice. There is another one downtown called Galvanize.
JP: Yes, and we have – there are several of those and most cities have those types of incubators and accelerators. That’s one place. You can go to Meetup to find people that do startups and just go hangout with those people. The more people you surround yourself with that are doing – that have similar mindsets and doing similar things that the better it is for everybody.
Amanda: I agree wholeheartedly.
JP: Do you have someone who inspires you or a hero? Do you have a hero Amanda?
Amanda: Sure. Honestly as far as a person, I have never really looked outside of myself for inspiration. I have always kind of felt like there was something more out there in this life for me. I am very driven and very self-motivated and determined, so I have always kind of relied on that within myself as far as a person of inspiration. I just, I kind of – it’s just internal within me and I kind of just have that drive myself.
JP: Yes, I can definitely see that. Meeting with you and talking with you, it’s easy to see your passion and your drive for success and for doing what you do.
Amanda: Yes, it’s like I said, I just feel like that’s always been there and I feel as far as with starting my own company with my partner, I really feel like this is kind of that path to what I just hit on as far as there is something more out there and it’s something that I need to go after and experience and I love the process of learning and being challenged and you get all of that within this environment.
JP: You do, it is really rewarding. In fact, that’s the question I wanted to ask you. What is your most favorite aspect of doing this, of starting your own business?
Amanda: There are a few aspects I have really hit on as far as I appreciate them coming as a result of taking this path and that is first of all freedom and freedom can be interpreted in number of different ways, but the freedom to create and build something is very exciting. It’s not just going in, punching the clock, being told what to do, here is your set of role of responsibilities, punch out and that’s where you are going to be reviewed upon. No, it really can become anything you wanted to be and that’s exciting. I think also opportunity to learn new things as I just said, I love the fact that – yes we don’t, as I mentioned, we didn’t have experience in web application, but I am learning a ton about it and that’s good and that’s exciting and that’s something that I otherwise probably won’t have been exposed to if I had stayed in my specific roles in corporate America and then also variety. Everyday is different; it’s not the same job everyday. You are wearing a number of different hats and you wear them all at the same time sometimes. So, I love all of that about owning and starting your own business.
JP: Yes, I love the way you put that too. The freedom is why I do it. I love my freedom, but it is also the variety. You are not stuck putting a peg in a hole all day long. That might be one of your responsibilities, but you probably have a whole list of other ones. You got to break up your day and my only complaint really is that time goes way too fast.
Amanda: It does not seem like there are enough hours in a day and it just, like you said, it goes really fast, especially it has been a whirlwind thus far.
JP: I remember I worked in a shipping department, I worked at a grocery store, I worked at JCPenney when I was in college and I just remember looking at the clock all the time and the time could not go fast enough because I was bored. It was boring. When you are an entrepreneur, if you are bored, you are doing something wrong.
Amanda: Right, right.
JP: You are not doing what you are meant to be doing.
Amanda: Exactly, I can’t agree more of that.
JP: Yes, it is a lot of fun. Do you have a book that you would recommend? One that may be has influenced you or it could be more than one book if you could pick a favorite.
Amanda: Sure. With that question if I had to say right now, probably one of the business books that I can recall that did have an impact on myself, resonated with myself, it’s called Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose and that’s by Tony Hsieh who is the founder of Zappos.
Amanda: I loved reading that book because first of all he has been extremely successful at a very young age with his first company that he sold, I believe it was to Microsoft, and then the launch of Zappos, but he doesn’t just talk about successes. He mentions his failures and then he digs into the corporate culture that they have built there at Zappos which really resonated with me being that I have worked in large and small companies alike, one of the things I think is very amiss in corporate America today is the importance put on employee morale and not just hiring someone for a specific discipline, but also listening to what it is that they are passionate about and engaging them on that level as well because I think you get so much more out of someone when you do so, when you don’t just specifically make a set role, their purpose in the environment and I think that Zappos has really done a great job with that and they have created a really great corporate culture where they really honor the employee not just as employee but a person.
JP: Yes, that’s great. I have – one of my other podcast interviewee has recommended that book as well. I think I am going to have to read it; two means I read it.
Amanda: It’s an easy read and like I said it starts out from like his young days as being an entrepreneur and it goes into successes and failures and then just about the culture that they have built there and what they look for and he has obviously done a lot, not just within the business community, but in Las Vegas as well and so, it’s really interesting to hear from him what it is that he values.
JP: Yes, I love to model my behaviors after successful people. So, I read lots of books written by successful people. In fact, that’s my favorite type of book is a biography or autobiography because why try and reinvent the wheel, just look at people who have done it successfully and just mimic them, imitated. Imitation – best form of flattery.
JP: So, that’s a great book, I will put the links to that book on the show notes page as well as all the other stuffs we have talked about.
Amanda: I believe they even have a website that’s dedicated specifically just to delivering happiness as well and so that might be something that’s worthwhile for yourself or the listeners to check out if they are interested.
JP: Okay, I will find that and put the link for that up as well.
JP: Okay, Amanda, parting question. What is the most important piece of advice that you can give to people who want to start a business?
Amanda: Perseverance. I think that there are going to be high’s, that there are going to be very high, they are going to be low’s or very low, but if you believe in what you are doing whether that’s an idea, a concept, a product and you just have to push through and you just have to keep going. A lot of things aren’t going to happen like you think they are going to happen or in a way that you expected them to happen, but you just got to keep pushing through and you might find too I think that there might be a lot of naysayers or you might not get the support that you expected from your circle of family, friends, network contacts; as long as you believe in what you are doing, you can shut that out. If there is something deeper within yourself, just keep pushing forward.
JP: That’s fantastic advice. The most important characteristic of an entrepreneur is perseverance.
Amanda: Yes, I have definitely learned that and I appreciate that and that’s a word that I repeat often in my head. It’s kind of a mantra right now – perseverance, perseverance, perseverance.
JP: Yes, mine is “Never give up, never surrender.”
Amanda: There you go.
JP: Have you seen that movie Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen?
Amanda: I might have, but probably a long time ago.
JP: Yes, it’s hilarious, but that’s his saying in there “Never give up, never surrender.” For some reason, that sticks in my head and that’s what I say all the time to myself “Never give up, never surrender.”
Amanda: No, I absolutely agree with that statement as well.
JP: Awesome. Amanda, this has been a fantastic interview. I loved to hear your story about Visjou which you can find at Visjou.com. Go there, check it out right now, sign up, create your first Lookbook and start sharing it with the world and make me and Amanda very happy.
Amanda: Yes, very much so. You are more than welcome and we would appreciate all of you coming, checking it out and have fun with the site and share your wisdom, that’s what it’s there for.
JP: Awesome, thank you so much Amanda. I really appreciate it.
Amanda: Thank you for your time as well. You have a great day.
JP: Thanks to you too.
It’s so exciting to talk to a true web startup entrepreneur. Let’s help Amanda out. I am really excited for Amanda and I want her site to be successful. So, let’s help her out. Go to her website, Visjou.com and tell your friends about it and start using it to plan your trips and then the wardrobe that you are going to take and wear. The more people know about this, the better this website is going to be. So, share with your friends and let’s start the buzz, all right? You can help create a brand new web startup entrepreneur. All right, I think that’s it for this episode. I am so happy that you made it all the way to the end. Last night at the seminar that I taught the New Business Energizer intro, I found out that one of my listeners is an avid listener. She has listened to all of my podcasts and some of them more than once and she gave me a whole list of reasons why she likes the podcast. So, thank you Kathy, I am going to give you a plug Kathy Janak, JanakJewelry.com, go check her website out too. She is an amazing jewelry designer and she is an avid listener of the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast. All right until next time, can’t wait to see you again. This is JP Stonestreet with the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast.