“Where is the sun?” asked Tristan as we arrived in a park for our third founders session. Of course, Tristan was trying to plan out the best places and angles around the park that would make for the most intriguing shots, but I laughed at the question because it’s one I ask myself in Amsterdam quite frequently. We pointed to what seemed to be a slightly brighter section of cloud and safely assumed the sun was tucked behind it.
Tell us about your company
Then I have to either complete the course for five people or refund them and then move on. Yeah. Luckily it got to the homepage of Hacker News on the first day. So that was nice. I got a few people buying it and saying they can't wait for the next chapters. So this is when I started knowing, okay, I need to work more on it.
And it was also super-nice to work on it. Then around six months later, the course was completed and I started working on the React Course. And then I had a lot of people saying, "I liked the structure of the course, but what is the function?" They were way beginners. So I created a course for them, which was Learning Programming.
So tell us about the whole product suite now. What have you got available?
That's great. You mentioned beginners were the first people that came along. Tell me more about your early users, and how they've changed in the last two years?
How do students go on to apply what they've learned?
There are projects. There'll be short lessons and then they answer the challenges. And then the goal is to put together what they learned in projects. They aren't necessarily long, guided projects. They are short projects. And the React course, the goal of the whole course is to build a supermarket app. It's called SuperM. It also comes with a Stripe integration. So you choose the products, you click pay, you checkout, and then you pay with Stripe.
Hacker News seemed to help a lot, but how else do you attract learners to your product?
I don't really like ads because ads are fake. And also the target audience that I'm catering for ignores ads and has ad-blockers turned on. So it doesn't make sense to advertise to them.
What have you learned about people as you've been supporting them in a learning journey?
I've learned that they want to have something that takes them step-by-step because a lot of programming tutorials are written as if you know everything already. I think it's a bit about empathy, but it's really hard to put yourself in other people's shoes. I still struggle with that every day when writing chapters. It’s tough to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
What are the most valuable things that you've learned as a founder in this two-year journey?
This may be controversial, but you don't need investors. It's maybe also a good idea to keep them out. In some cases, not all cases. Another point is to rethink the marketing strategy. Traditionally, companies cared about Facebook ads, Google ads, and so on but I realised that you get way more loyalty from organic traffic. It's also tougher to get. But I've had way more success with organic than paid, but I'm also terrible at paid, but I kind of want to stay terrible at paid because organic is better.
Tell us about your plans for the future. What can we look forward to next?
Tell me about being a solo founder. What's the best bit about being a solo founder?
I want to start by recommending a book. It's called a Company of One by Paul Jarvis. It's one of the best books that I have read. The great benefit of being a solo founder is that you are answering the support questions, you're doing the product development and everything, which is actually great because you are integrating actual feedback from students into the app.
Whereas, if you hire someone for answering the support and then you make a summary of that, and it goes through another team, it kind of goes through — in French, it's called Téléphone Cassé — broken telephone, which means if I whisper something in your ear and you whisper to someone else, the last message will be completely different.
What's the worst part of being a solo founder?
Accounting! Haha. Oh, it’s so complicated. There are so many VAT rules. And I'm following the simplified rules, but it's so complicated, but I'm not sure if it has to do with being a solo founder or not.
Another challenge for solo founders is prioritisation. There is a benefit of having this challenge though because you don't end up working on things you shouldn't because time is so scarce. And a lot of the time I'm spending maybe 30-minutes fixing invoices. And then I wonder, "Can I use my time in a better way?" I know that's true, but I see it as a problem that can be solved. For example, you can end up automating some accounting with some scripts.
I want to ask you about Amsterdam. How long have you been here?
Ik ben hier bijna 3 jaar geleden naartoe verhuisd! So I've moved here almost three years now.
What does it mean to you as a founder to be based here? What are the benefits, and what do you enjoy the most about the city?
It's hard to talk about the benefits now during Corona, but pre-Corona I used to love working at a co-working space and there would be other developers, other designers. And also as a solo founder, you could co-workers in the co-working space, but without them actually being your co-workers in the same company, and that's kind of the best of both worlds. But, nowadays things are quite different.
You've given a great book recommendation, but if you had a piece of advice or wisdom to share with other solo founders or would-be entrepreneurs, what would it be?
I can tell you from talking to my friends, it's so hard for people to launch an MVP because they keep thinking, "Oh yeah, but it's missing these features", but they should just launch and get feedback. Back when I launched, I thought the feedback that I was going to get would be in a certain direction, but I ended up getting the exact opposite.
So the earlier you get this feedback — it sounds like canned advice — but it's so true. And yeah, I don't know, lately, almost everyone sounds like a perfectionist, like "We're going to launch with four apps, desktop, mobile, android, iPad optimized app, etc.". It's like, "No you shouldn't!"
That's really great advice, Jad. Thanks for sharing and good luck!
The Amsterdam Founder Series is a Troopl initiative with the goal of shining a light on entrepreneurs in Amsterdam and how they are unlocking growth in their companies. If you are, or know of, a founder in Amsterdam who would like to participate, please get in touch with us.
Each interview is combined with a portrait photography session conducted by Tristan and Benjamin, co-founders of Troopl. Portraits are made available to participants free of charge.