VO: Get ready for your semi-regular dose of random ideas from the guys at Codelation. We like to talk about big ideas companies that are winning, and those that aren't along with current events in our crazy world of software startups. So come along with Eric and Josh, who challenge you to think big, start small and turn your ideas into something on this episode of, from idea to done.
Josh: Hey everyone, I'm Josh.
Erick: and I'm Erick. And in this episode from idea to done, we have a special guest, Mr. Gordon Miller Gordon. Could you tell the audience just a little bit about yourself.
Gordon Miller: Sure guys. Thanks. Uh, I started my first company when I was 28, about a week before my 29th birthday. And that company has been going now for 26 years. I just turned 55 here, back in November. So, uh, in that time I have started a number of other companies. I started my second company and, um, in 1999 and my third and 2004 fourth in 2005. So just continued to do that. We've done several companies now and also contributed to the success of several others, uh, as well. So, and, um, I, you know, I, uh, I learned a lot over the last 25 or 30 years and, uh, now in, uh, offering to help the next generation of entrepreneurs make good decisions and adapt and thrive, uh, in the current markets.
Gordon Miller: Uh it's uh, I, I think what you guys is doing is what you guys are doing is valuable. And I think that, uh, it's a great service for folks who really do want to find the best strategy to get to where they want to go.
Erick: Good answer.
Josh: All summed up and, uh, you know, it lasts 30 years, your overnight success. Right?
Gordon Miller: Exactly. You know, it's funny, the way I love to tell the story was I, uh, I actually, uh, gave away most of our, most of the money that I could have left them. The, you know, talking about leaving money on the table, uh, you know, I didn't make a profit for the first two years and I had a mentor of mine, you know, approach me and he's like, uh, Hey look, uh, you know, you're not making any money and I go, yeah, I know, but my clients love me.
Gordon Miller: And you know, what if, if your clients love you, then do, if you love them, do them, do a favor, do them a favor and make a profit because you know, they're going to want you around for the next 10 years or 20 years or things like that. And one of our longest running clients now we're celebrating our 21st year with them. So, uh, you know, it's just amazing. And, uh, you know, we've in, in that time, we've made millions of dollars with them. And, uh, you know, it's one of those kinds of things where, uh, you know, we lost some money with them along the way, and it, at least in the first year, I think, but he knows one of those kinds of things where we considered it always considered an investment. So I think that, uh, you know, we, we, didn't when we stopped losing money on every project.
Gordon Miller: So we, uh, we would actually make a profit, but, uh, so, um, so yeah, I mean, it's just important, you know, I think businesses are in business to make a profit. And anytime somebody is like, well, you know, I want to, I to like, you know, end war and solve world hunger and things like that. And I'm like, well, you know, that's great. Uh, go make a billion dollars and then spend a whole bunch of that great money where, you know, trying to solve the world's problems, but don't, don't lose money on everything you do, just so you can feel good about saving the planet. The planet needs you. So, you know, go out there and make, you know, a metric ton of money and spend it on whatever you want.
Erick: A metric ton.
Gordon Miller: That's it. That's my favorite phrase, trademark, that, you know, when, when somebody asked me how much money I've made over the years, I always like to tell them I made a metric ton.
Josh: I can see the t-shirts now. Yep, exactly. Well, you know, the main reason we're talking today is, you know, we want to get your take on, you know, launching a new app, validating a product, you know, over the course of your career. Um, how have you seen that done poorly? How have you seen it done? Well, just, you know, really anything around that, that subject of, uh, to market strategies and, uh, you know, really idea validation,
Gordon Miller: you know, I appreciate the, uh, the question, cause I think it's a really important one. The, um, so we have contributed to over 200 projects in the last 26 years. And of those, I guess maybe more than a dozen, I would say probably between 12 and 20 have had some kind of mobile component. And, uh, so I think that with any opportunity that's out there, uh, I think the real serious problem is that they don't know enough about what problem it is they're trying to solve.
Gordon Miller: Uh, and then so they end up building an app that actually solves another problem, which is a problem that we wanted to solve. And then, uh, they also never managed to monetize it. You know, they don't, you know, they're just like, oh, well, you know, if I, if I charge a dollar for my app and I get a million downloads, I just made a million dollars and actually you make about 700,000, Apple's going to take the first thing, you know, you know, the bastards at apple. But the, um, the reality though is, is that, you know, if it were that easy, having everybody would make an app and sell a million copies and, you know, call it a day. So I think that the biggest two, the two biggest problems that you run into is people end up building the wrong thing. Uh, and the app comes to market and, um, you know, everybody goes, wow, you know, it's a shame if it did this, I would be really interested in it, but it doesn't do that.
Gordon Miller: So, oh well. And, uh, and then they fail to monetize it effectively either. You know, they think it's going to be a million. People are going to pay a dollar a month to subscribe to it, or they're going to pay a dollar once in a million people are going to download it, whatever. But that model, unfortunately it doesn't work. I mean, it, it works, you know, in the early days, but it doesn't work all the time. Doesn't work now.
Josh: Yeah. It's really easy to do a top-down valuation of your market. And just say, if I had a million people giving me a buck, each I'm going to be, you know, be a millionaire, obviously. Um, but it's, it's so easy to step over the target market problem. As you'd said, you build a solution that's in search of a problem now, and it's just, that's a tough place to be in.
Gordon Miller: It is. And, and the, uh, you know, it's, it's difficult too because, uh, we've done a bunch of speculative work over the years, including building apps for people and things like that. And, you know, the, the, the way the pitch always goes is it's like, you know, oh, well, you know, if, uh, if we could just raise the 200,000 to build the app with, or a hundred thousand or whatever, and even though apple is going to take 300,000, they'll still make like five or 600,000, you know, and as long as it's with somebody else's money. And so, you know, the, uh, trying to find somebody to, you know, to pay for development ahead of you proving your idea's worth anything is pretty, you know, pretty ridiculous. I mean, at this point, um, I'm, I'm, I've been an angel investor with, uh, the new dominion angels here in Richmond.
Gordon Miller: And, uh, there's a DC group as well, as well as the Virginia tech angel group, uh, out of, um, out of Blackford Virginia. And so, you know, w and I've also reviewed 10,000, you know, pitch deck submissions, and in ideas, submissions from off a cora.com, uh, where I have 147,000 followers and 138 million views. But the, uh, having reviewed all those pitch decks, the, you know, the, the number one resonating thing is that, you know, they there's, there's no proof that their idea has any real value. And if it doesn't have any real value people aren't really going to put any real money into it. And, uh, I think that's the biggest problem. I like to tell people when they say, well, you know, how much traction do I need? And I said, well, you know, typically at least in some of the deals that I've done, I'd like to see at least 10,000 paid members that paid at least a dollar.
Gordon Miller: You know what I mean? And I'd like to see a hundred thousand people, uh, who are subscribed by name and email address and phone number and things like that who get paid zero. And so you can't organically get the product to market. And then whether that's partnering with somebody and doing it for equity, or, you know, convincing your college roommate that, you know, who's a, in computer science that, you know, you're the perfect guy to be in business with, and you're the sales guy, and you're going to go out there and sell this great thing. He's going to work his off for, you know, six to eight months on for free and hope that, you know, 50, 50 split is equitable for him. And, uh, so, you know, I think it's just a matter of trying to come up with the right strategy to get, bring the app to market, but you gotta be sure that this thing is really going to be what everybody needs and the market's pretty full out there that
Erick: Brings us actually as the sales and marketing guy for correlation, that really kind of segues nicely into our next question. And so how would you like market an app in 2020 with no audience?
Gordon Miller: Yeah, the best way depends on what the app is. I mean, it depends on what the purpose of the app is, and my answers could be a little controversial, but, uh, there was an article that I read about this the other day. So it's timely. Uh, the, the founders of Tinder are up in arms because they're because of what they refer to as off-label uses for their platform. You know, there's people out there pitching products and trying to do some kind of everything from, you know, trying to go for, uh, angel investor dollars to pitching their, their makeup and, uh, in their pharm, their nutraceuticals, or a whole bunch of other stuff like that, you know, and, you know, the founders of Tinder, like, dude, this is for hooking up, you know, what are you guys doing? You know what I mean? And so, you know, the, and it's exact same problem that I ran into with the people from, uh, LinkedIn, you know, I have, uh, almost 9,000 followers now on, on LinkedIn and like in my network and my professional network, again, you know, I got to actually got a call or first, and then I asked the guy to call me from LinkedIn and he's like, good, dude, what are you doing?
Gordon Miller: And I go, what do you mean, what am I doing? I'm building out my network. And he's like, dude, you can't do it. This is not the way this works. You know, this is about building a value chain and vouching for people I'm like, look a vouch for anybody screw it. I'm just gonna build the biggest network I can yeah. Business professionals to keep track of them for the next 20 years. And, uh, so, you know, who are you to say that, you know, just cause you guys envisioned the platform and brought it to market and spent billions of dollars that, you know, trying to make it what it is, you know, it's like, you know, I think people forget that, uh, people will use platforms, however, best suits their needs and, uh, platforms will adapt and, and survive in different ways. I mean, you know, who would've thought when Lincoln first got started, that it would become like, you know, the place to stick your resume.
Gordon Miller: Uh, you know, but the reality is, is that, uh, as Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, right now, LinkedIn is one of the most undervalued, uh, you know, places for attention you can possibly find. Uh, in fact, when I launched my own website, gordonmiller.com, I, uh, I get a full 13 to 15% on any given week where the traffic just from LinkedIn and, uh, you know, I've been mentoring entrepreneurs and things like that. And it's been great. It's been a lot of fun. I mean, you know, working with these, the next generation of kids, I mean, most of the people that I mentor between 25 and 35 and, uh, you know, it's been a, it's been tremendous. I love it. But, you know, getting back to the, the app issue though, uh, and how to market it, the real opportunity is just, uh, be out there on every channel.
Gordon Miller: And I did this for a while. I mean, I was on Quora and a lot of people are on medium or Reddit or stuff like that and build up some credibility. But, um, and I think Quora is probably how you guys found me, but, uh, the, um, you know, I, I, I took about six months or, or more, and kind of just hit YouTube, uh, you know, hit, uh, hit LinkedIn, uh, hit, um, Instagram, hit, Snapchat, hit a bunch of stuff and just to kind of get a feel for what it's like. And I think he just tried to hit them all. I mean, I think you have to use it, you know, the people you're trying to reach or out there in so many different ways. And, and I mean, I'm not gonna, you know, I'm not going to be on Tinder, but, you know, if, if I was female between 18 and 29 and I had a product that I was going to promote for sure I'd be promoting it in my Tinder profile.
Gordon Miller: And I would be living simultaneously in like eight different cities, all with a half a million people or more.
Josh: Sure. Yeah, we absolutely, uh, you know, I CA I came across you on Quora and I thought it was just a, kind of a breath of fresh air that where it's not just, you know, a business person trying to do business people, stuff. I, I enjoyed the posts around, you know, the, the thoughts on cars and obviously the business stuff. And it just, it was, it was nice to see someone just out there and just, you know, willing to kind of take every angle of a personal life. And so that's definitely, I think, a, a humanizing factor of a platform like Quora, lets you do that.
Gordon Miller: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. No, I, I, I stuck to business related stuff for a while. I mean, I have almost 11,000 answers now. Uh, and, uh, so, but you know, I'm actually a top contributor, top 10 contributor to 134 categories. And, uh, one of the things that I learned along the way, I mean, I I've, I've become, uh, you know, I was already a really good writer, uh, thanks to my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Smith, uh, who insisted that I wasn't going to graduate, uh, you know, 11th grade English, unless I really became the much better writer that I was capable of. And so, yeah, that's right, exactly. I mean, I have a video, I have a video on my YouTube channel that talks about it too, but it's, it's great. Cause it's like, you know, he gave me a D and told me that the key to writing was rewriting and I was going to rewrite stuff until he told me to stop for the entire semester.
Gordon Miller: And if I did that, I would get, I would earn an a and honestly it's the first AI I ever really earned in school. School was pretty easy for me. I've had it reported. I have a very high IQ, so I barely studied, but I, I got great grades and stuff like that, but, you know, he was the first one to really challenged me and, uh, writing core everyday has helped me increase that. And, and along the way, I learned that, um, that there are other important factors to business success. Uh, I happened to think that, uh, there, there are two factors in business. Success is how you do in the boardroom and frankly how you do in the bedroom and, uh, your, your personal relationships have a huge impact on whether or not your business is going to be successful or not. And if people are willing, if people are going to go balls to the wall, pun intended, I guess, uh, on, in their business and devote 16, 18, 20 hours a day to it, it's at the expense of their personal relationships and things like that.
Gordon Miller: And you know, if that's a factor, you know, it can, it can be to your detriment, especially if you have investor money and your investors want to see you change, you're desperate 20 hours a day, but you know, it's important that, you know, so I began writing on those topics and helping people understand the role that a good solid relationship plays in your overall success, at least your long-term success.
Josh: Awesome. Well, one, one other question I had is, you know, you talked about doing some angel investing and how, you know, a idea really doesn't, um, doesn't have an uptick in the investor world at this point, if someone came to you and you, you said that you wanted to show traction around, you know, a certain number of users and paid users, how would you, how would you coach somebody with that idea to move to the next step?
Gordon Miller: Well, so I think that, um, in terms of, uh, being able to get to the next level, you're writing an idea itself when I started reviewing, when I started asking for ideas, submissions, and I stuck an email out there, I'm not going to mention the email cause I don't answer them anymore, but the, but I, you know, I haven't gotten 10,000 emails in the first year, uh, you know, year and a half or so the, um, you know, out of those 10,000, only 200 of them were even properly formatted. So there was a lot, there were a lot of people who had a passion or an interest in something, but they had not really invested the time and how to organize that information into something that an investor would take seriously. And, um, of those 200, about 50 of them were actually really pretty compelling.
Gordon Miller: I think that, um, I would really, you know, uh, I think that they would have a chance to get investment and some things didn't meet my investment profiles and things were real estate deals, which I don't like and things like that. But, uh, uh, of the 50, 20 of them were actually really pretty amazing. And I worked with those 20 over a two year period to try to develop and bring those to market. And so I think that, you know, entrepreneurs have to partner with somebody like me, who's willing to, you know, make the time or, or even make the investment, uh, whether that's, you know, me helping them develop the software or having a software development partner or having somebody on the team. I think the biggest problem is, is that somebody has what they believe is a great idea. And it may be a fantastic idea, but you know, they don't have any sales or business background.
Gordon Miller: They have no idea how to monetize it. They don't have their college roommate from four years ago. Who's a computer science guy and he was willing to spend all of his weekends coding this thing for the next year. So, you know, it's a little difficult kind of situation. So I think that it's, uh, you know, I, I think the whole opportunity is you have to find the right partners, whether that's the right financial partner or the right technology partner. And, um, and I, I even still use that same thing today. I mean, today for me, I, I continue to put people together because my network is so vast and have lots of, uh, a wide reach. Um, you know, I even did a deal today where, uh, I have somebody who needed products and I had somebody who helped people bring products to market and physical products.
Gordon Miller: And I put those two people together and now they have a seemingly endless pipeline of products that they want to put through a new platform. So there you go. Very good. And, you know, I, I get a percentage, so it's great. So, and so, but you know, I, I get to make money while I'm sitting on the beach, but, uh, you know, it's, uh, it's one of those kinds of things where, um, you know, it takes finding the right people. And, uh, I think that, uh, ultimately, uh, I started helping people build apps and bring stuff to market because, um, if they were going to raise $200,000, let's say, and spend at least a hundred thousand in development, uh, you know, that the development costs might only cost like 50 grand, uh, in, in some case. So, you know, I figured, well, if I were participating in something like that, and I was able to reduce the cost and not charge full freight for development, then I could lower the barrier to entry. So now they're looking for 150 or even a hundred. And by doing that, then more deals get funded and more deals be brought to market a higher chance that they'll.
Josh: Yep, absolutely. Yeah. Well, Gordon, I really appreciate you taking a few minutes out of your day to sit down and chat with us about, you know, uh, app ideas business the whole, the whole nine here. So thank you very much.
Josh: Sure, guys. Thanks.
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