What started out as a side project for fun has become a flourishing business. Now, with tens of millions of people consuming Nathan’s magazines and his other products, he is working his way towards making Foundr as a household entrepreneur brand that impacts lives and shapes the world.
Nathan started his career doing IT support, but he found that it wasn’t making his heart beat any faster. Rather, his passion lies in marketing, and he wanted to work along those lines. That fixation made him decide to take up a Masters in Marketing degree, so he juggled his studies and work until he graduated. And if he thought that would already clinch him a job in marketing, he was mistaken because no one hired him for a marketing position.
“Because I was also interested in business and entrepreneurship, I thought it would be fun to create a side hobby passion project, which would be a business magazine. And I just kind of fell into it,” Nathan imparts as he recounts the early beginnings of his enterprise.
Since he was still working full-time when he began his magazine, he had to work late nights and early mornings, not getting much sleep, just to be able to produce the monthly issue. Working on his own, Nathan had to invest not only his time but also his resources in this venture. “I started the magazine off the back of my credit card. We are hundred per cent bootstrapped. We have not raised any capital from investors. It cost me $3000 to start the magazine on my credit card. It’s a digital magazine. We do print now, but when we first started, it was a digital magazine in the App store and the Google Play store,” he explains.
Doing it solo was a lonely journey for Nathan. “Not knowing if I’m doing the right thing, not knowing if I’m wasting my time or not,” that bothered him. “Just trying to find product-market fit, just doing it all by myself, not having anyone to have my back. It’s difficult when you’re doing it all on your own. You don’t have anyone else in it with you together,” the young entrepreneur expresses.
He had no background in running a business, with no family business to lay the foundation of the inner works. His mother is a nurse while his father is a teacher. He also had no friends or network who are entrepreneurs. Still, he continued in his entrepreneurial path, despite the unfamiliar surroundings and the obstacles he met along the way.
But it wasn’t just the sacrifices or the lack of experience that he had to surpass during the early stage of his business. His magazine was called something else, not Foundr, at that time when he was starting out. Unexpectedly, Nathan had to hurdle a huge stumbling block just four months into his business. He got into a legal battle with one of the biggest business magazines in the United States. “I was sued for trademark infringement in the first four months. Doing it all by myself, it was incredibly stressful and traumatising. I was lucky that the company that I worked at actually helped me work through the lawsuit,” Nathan shared.
The experience probably shook him, but it didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion. “I just fell in love with the business and in producing entrepreneurial content and just reading and listening and speaking and learning around startups and business. I became so passionate about it that I ended up finding one of my purposes in life.”
Nevertheless, that experience left an important imprint on his mind. He learned to anticipate problems ahead of time. “If you think it might be a bit of a problem, but it will never happen to you, it will. And so, you should always err on the side of caution,” he says.
He has also gained nuggets of wisdom from the various mistakes he has made in his journey. “I’ve had made heaps of different mistakes. I’ve been lucky that Foundr has grown at a reasonably fast rate in the first couple of years,” Nathan remarks. “Sometimes, you start to drink your own Kool-Aid and you start to think you’re invincible and anything that you do would just work. I think, you always have to stay humble. Always remember that what you win so many times, you have to be prepared to lose as well. Always remind yourself where you’ve come from and stay humble. Just remember that you’re not invincible and everything you do won’t be successful.”
Another mistake he has done that taught him a valuable lesson is not doing market research. “We’ve thought we were too smart and we’ve launched products that we haven’t validated correctly. We haven’t done enough customer research and just assumed that people would buy. There is that common philosophy that goes, ‘build and they will come’. It is not the best way to think about things. You have to make sure that you do your market research. Think about the person that you want to market to, and then make sure that you do a lot of research. You validate the product before you sell it, as much as possible.”
The good thing about being employed while he was starting his business was that he also learned from his superiors. The CEO of the company where he used to work also mentored him and taught him about lean startup methodology for validating products. According to Nathan, “One of the best ways to validate a product is to get someone to pay for it. Somebody has a pain that is needed to solve. If they are prepared to pay for it before you can even create it, that means that the pain is deep enough that you can sell it to many other people.”
Other lessons he has picked as he went along his entrepreneurial journey was the significance of having a great and powerful design and aesthetics, especially in creating a consumer-facing brand. Along with it is to get ambassadors for your brand who can influence the marketplace and help build your reputation. And then, the important part is creating value for your business by focusing on the problem that your product or service can solve. “If you create value, people will be prepared to exchange money and buy your products or your services. That’s what you need to obsess about, like how you can create ridiculous amounts of value. That’s something I think about as well,” Nathan reveals.
After a year of doing it on the side, in March 2014, Nathan finally devoted full-time work on Foundr. There were additional realisations as he gained more experience in running a venture. When it comes to building a business, he found that revenue and profit are two totally separate things. “For a long time, I was quite focused heavily on revenue. I still am. But now, I place a lot of emphases on profit versus revenue. Yes, revenue is good. I still am focused on growing revenue. But I also pay a lot of attention on profit margins, as well. I think that’s very important.”
Nathan also gathered a lot of additional knowledge when he joined EO Melbourne. He understood what it takes to scale a company. He also learned about cash flow, managing people, running a business correctly operationally, and hiring key players. “I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons on hiring people. It was when I only joined EO that I started to understand how to structure a team and get them fully aligned,” Nathan maintains. But aside from the learnings, it is the people and the relationships that Nathan finds noteworthy in joining EO.
“I wanted to hang around people that were playing a much bigger game than me. I think that’s one of the best ways to progress when it comes to levelling up as an entrepreneur and developing as a person. So, I wanted to hang out with other people, such as like-minded entrepreneurs, that have much bigger businesses than I do. I’ve also made some incredible friends in my forum. And then also, I enjoyed all the events of getting to know other smart business owners and entrepreneurs, apart from meeting people within my forum. They bring in smart people. It’s just great membership. I made some great friends along the way, too,” Nathan declares.
For the four years since he began his side project hobby and made it into a business, Nathan considers the growing readers as his biggest win. “The fact that millions of people consume our content every month. Probably that one,” he remarks as he thought about his victories.
As the business continues to blossom, Nathan looks at the future with positivity. “I hope that in the next five years I can confidently say that Foundr is a household name entrepreneur brand that impacts tens of millions of people on a weekly and monthly basis. I can confidently say that we’ve shaped the world in some way, shape or form and made it into a much better place.”
Looking back at how he did it and what it took to achieve what he has attained this far, Nathan thoughtfully shared, “The biggest thing would be that you have to be patient. It takes time. It won’t happen overnight. But as long as you push your comfort zone and just start, if you work hard enough, you can make it happen.”
With his eyes set on the prize, Nathan is determined to build his brand, one that is a trusted source and produces amazing content for entrepreneurs and startups founders. And that is the value he wants to impart to millions of his readers.