Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Thomas Oppong, an entrepreneur, and a full-time blogger. I am the Founding Editor at Alltopstartups.com where I share resources for starting and growing a startup. I am the Curator at Postanly.com, a weekly digest of the best resources on wealth, health, and happiness. I have also created and maintained two courses: Thinking in Models and Kaizen Habits.
I also maintain an active Medium account where I write about life lessons, personal development, and launching meaningful projects you deeply care about. I have been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, The New York Observer, Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur. I earn about $10K/month from all ongoing writing projects at the moment.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I love exploring new ideas, innovations, and technologies that are changing how we live and work. I started AllTopStartups in 2009 whilst studying software entrepreneurship at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST-Ghana).
AllTopStartups used to be a personal platform where I aggregated some of the best and top technology ideas at the time. To stay informed, I subscribed to TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb now ReadWrite, OnStartups, AngelList, Venture Hacks, and Mixergy. Back then, my focus was on sharing startups I thought were promising. Most of the sites I used to visit were focusing on too many topics. I wanted to write about only the top startups that were growing rapidly, attracting funding, or changing how we live or work on a large scale.
A few years after publishing hundreds of innovative startups, many people were interested in the ideas I wrote about and the startups behind them. My personal quest to find the best technology ideas turned into a startup blog. Today, I work with hundreds of content marketing agencies.
Success is a combination of passion, grit, and the ability to execute.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
AllTopStartups was my first project when I started writing online. WordPress made the setup process easy. I didn’t spend a lot of time on design back then. It was a side project, so I focused on just sharing ideas. I had a lot of inspiration from TechCrunch when I started. The startup cost was low. I bought a domain and that was pretty much it. In the beginning, I focused on startup reviews, and why they were doing well compared to the competition, startups that were winning awards, or those making presentations at Y Combinator, SeedCamp, TechStars, or Founder Institute. I then focused on startup trends and specific resources (links) aspiring entrepreneurs will find useful to attract even more people. I didn't focus on my own opinions in the beginning because I didn’t think of myself as a writer or someone with the knowledge to make predictions about technology or startups. But I kept learning about my industry.
I enjoyed the curation and the review process. But to make writing my full-time income source, I had to diversify. After five years of consistent blogging, I created paid newsletters, courses, wrote a book, and now Medium which is a huge part of my income (I have joined their partnership program). I am still exploring other income sources.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching AllTopStartups happened pretty quickly. At the beginning I was more focused on writing, so I wrote a lot of blog posts. I didn’t have social accounts or an email list. I didn’t even think much about growth. I just shared my thoughts about apps, products, and moved on.
Over the years, what has worked well for me is writing consistently, improving the user interface, and doing more of what works. The blog has yet to reach the standard I expect of it. I am constantly looking for the best ways to grow it. I strive for consistency and quality of work. The commitment to improve the blog’s posts, design, and engagement has kept it relevant.
I still treat every new post as the first. I edit almost every post myself. It’s the only way to get attention in the crowded blogging industry. I have consistently invested in growing the blog’s social audience. I pay other professionals, especially designers to help where I fall short. I created my two courses with Thinkific. The design tools they provided made the process easier without hiring designers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Content. Quality content is still king. What has always worked for me is doing more of what works. Listicles were my most successful posts. So I curated more of them for different topics. I made lists of the best startups in finance, healthcare, mobile, business to consumer, enterprise software, etc. I also put together 19 links to some of the best free ebooks for entrepreneurs. That post (19 Free Ebooks For Entrepreneurs And Startups You Can Download Now) is one of my viewed posts to date. To attract more readers, I created an ebook about the key success factors of the 31 most successful startups at the time. That book attracted a lot of visitors, so I created two more, 50 Founders Reveal Why Their Startups Failed and Learning From 20 Billion Dollar Startups. Today I still do more of what works. Listicles still work for me.
In the last three years, Medium has been one of my most successful platforms. It’s one of the best platforms anyone can leverage to show amazing projects and ideas. My work reaches hundreds of thousands of people on Medium than even my blog every month.
I spent most of my time sharing productivity and career content on Medium than on AllTopStartups or on improving my courses. I maintain an active Twitter account. That has helped over the years. I also share relevant content on LinkedIn to attract new visitors. I have a Facebook account but I don’t share a lot of my posts on Facebook.
I am constantly learning and doing more of what works instead of spreading myself on every social platform. I used to boost my posts on Facebook. That worked to a certain extent. Without it, most posts I share on Facebook don’t do well, so I am focusing more on insightful and quality posts that will do well on Google. That seems to be working well for me.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
AllTopStartups, courses, newsletters, and Medium are doing really well at the moment. Half of my income comes from Medium and another half from AllTopStartups and Postanly (the subscription option). My email lists are growing and am still learning how to convert the thousands of subscribers (over 50K) to paying customers.
All current projects take up a lot of time, so I ten to prioritize a lot. I prefer to write first thing in the morning to most things done. Once the writing part is done, I spend the rest of the day either publishing posts from a lot of sources on the startup blog or finding content for Postanly. It’s insane at the moment, but I am working on outsourcing a lot of things in the future. I am planning on outsourcing the writing and publishing on the blog so I can focus on new projects. I want to launch another course or possibly write another book, and those will take a lot of time. So getting help makes sense for business.
If you have what it takes to get an idea from nothing to a stable and growing business, you will go far on your entrepreneurship journey. Execution is more important than an idea.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Entrepreneurship is hugely about finding yourself and pursuing projects and ideas that make you come alive. If people knew what to focus on in life, choosing entrepreneurship as a career option will come naturally. Purposeful work eases the pain of the long hours that seem to always drag and gives you the rare opportunity to make a dent in the world. To show your work and share your ideas.
On writing, if I were starting over, I will concentrate on just amazing content right from the beginning. And focus on building a personal brand. Quality online assets cannot be overemphasized. I won’t waste time trying to pitch popular online media sites to feature my work. I spent too much time in 2014 pursuing big online media brands to show my work. Today, a lot of them have found my work and have reached out to feature some of my posts.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
These are the most useful tools I use at the moment
- WordPress for hosting the startups blog
- Medium for finding and sharing ideas
- Substack hosts my email lists
- Thinkific for hosting my two online courses
- Simple Goods helps accept payment for paid content publishing
- WP Rocket helps with site performance (speed, optimisations, etc)
- Photoscape X makes editing images easy
- Google Docs handles all my blog post submissions
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The One Thing by Gary Keller is probably one of the best books out there for getting things done. I have consistently written about the importance of single-tasking and he makes an insightful case for doing one thing at a time. The brain doesn’t handle multitasking very well. It takes a while to completely get back to flow mode when you multitask, so I stick to making the most of my brain energy by single-tasking on purpose.
James Clear’sAtomic Habits is also a great read. Zero to One by Peter Thiel is one of the best books on building a business. Ben Horowitz’sThe Hard Thing About Hard Things is another good option for aspiring entrepreneurs. It offers essential advice on building and running a startup.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Success is a combination of passion, grit, and the ability to execute. Every entrepreneur needs that intense, driving, or overmastering feeling of conviction about his or her idea to take it all the way to the top. If you are not deeply passionate about the career choice, you will give up at some point. Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s only those with an insane commitment that can survive.
Grit is passion and perseverance at work. Successful entrepreneurs have the strength to keep going even when they screw up and face obstacles. Even when progress is slow and they run out of steam. If you have what it takes to get an idea from nothing to a stable and growing business, you will go far on your entrepreneurship journey. Execution is more important than an idea. One of my favorite podcasts is Shane Parish’s Knowledge Project. He interviews experts on practical topics that help us succeed in life and business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I will be hiring editors (paid and unpaid) this year to help me manage the startup blog (editing content, publishing, and working with agencies to feature relevant content).
Where can we go to learn more?
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