Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! my name is Riten, founder of Fueler. We are currently based in Agartala, India, but I’m building Fueler with my team from all over the world. We started last year on 15th May 2021.
Fueler is an online portfolio platform for knowledge workers to showcase, publish and manage their proof of work, aka projects. Fueler helps them land better opportunities with the help of their Proof of Work instead of credentials and certificates.
Millions of skilled individuals around the world miss out on thousands of dollars worth of opportunities every day. This is because they cannot prove themselves or due to a lack of discovery of such highly skilled individuals who can bring immense value working in an organization
So we thought, what if there is a simple and easy-to-use platform that helps skilled individuals prove themselves by showcasing their work? And that’s how we started working on Fueler, a new-age portfolio tool for those who go the extra mile to prove themselves.
It just takes 30 seconds to set up a profile on Fueler, and guess what? It's free.
We have grown to 7000+ members worldwide, mostly through word of mouth, staying fully bootstrapped. Additionally, we have paid out the total amount of $12,000+ to our verified members on Fueler working with our partner brands. We have run an experiment working with partner brands who would hire these talents from Fueler.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m a computer science graduate. I love running, reading, lifting, writing, music, sports, and making new friends.
The Internet has been one of the best things that happened in my life. I got access to the internet in my 9th standard when we had to submit our assignments for different subjects. Surfing the Internet was like magic to me. I was simply amazed by the fact that you can search and learn anything you want in just a few clicks. All I needed was to come up with keywords. It just fueled my curiosity in me. It came naturally to me.
I have been into freelancing for more than 4 years and worked with 70+ brands throughout the world. Freelancing has allowed me to study businesses inside out. It has helped me learn about processes, product/service cycles, team building, operations, and a lot more. I’m passionate about the different industry and their working model, I knew it was through freelancing, that I would be able to get in and learn how it works
I come from an unconventional background trying to do something in the field of entrepreneurship. My life has been highly influenced by the military forces, as I belong to one. Due to this, I was fortunate to travel, meet and live with folks from different cultural backgrounds. It has taught me a lot about leadership, empathy, decision-making, discipline, and sacrifices. All of these have shaped my core values and principle for any kind of endeavor I’m a part of. I try to put my best or else I simply say no.
Working as a freelancer, I realized I had to send multiple links to clients interested in working with me. I have always tried to share a customized set of links to my previous projects instead of the same set of links with every client. A customized portfolio always impresses your clients.
After a certain point in time, it was getting difficult for me to manage, hence we thought of solving this problem. I talked with other freelancers that are experienced, they had the same problem too.
And that was our way to go. We had to develop this simple platform where I can publish all my work and as per requirement, I could share my customized portfolio with my clients.
- Here is my fueler profile link (public profile)
- Here is the link to my work related to social media (customized portfolio)
This way you can create multiple customized portfolios for yourself for your different types of clients in different niches. This is the most loved feature for a lot of the members of our platform.
But it was really hard for us to build Fueler through bootstrapping with no prior experience and $0 savings. We continued working with some of the quality clients while we were building Fueler parallelly. That stream of income through freelancing and consultation with brands has helped us build Fueler as we see it today. We still do it but with our partner brands.
We did it all by dividing our focus and effort between maintaining the cash flow and building Fueler — by never compromising on either of that. Even today. Cashflow ensures that our team can pay their bills. We are bootstrapping because we have no other choice tbh. We want to solve a problem we faced, and this is the way we are pursuing it religiously.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
During our initial days, it was very hard for us to communicate about our product. As the market is flooded with different types of products already, especially in the space we are in, it was super difficult for us to position ourselves.
We have made a lot of iterations to our product landing page copy. Did a lot of A/B testing to see what was working and what was not.
In order to have clarity, we have always sketched on the paper or whiteboard, then on Figma to finalize it. We were building Fueler between pandemics, and the biggest challenge we faced was working remotely even before we were remote-ready. I mean, we were all recent college graduates. We didn't have experience working in a corporate. We were unaware of a lot of processes and manuals. For us, it was like, let’s figure it out all on our own.
Before launching our product, we made sure that our company was registered. We hired a legal firm to help us with the legal procedure to register a company in India. It was a smooth process; it didn't take any longer, so we got registered as a Private Limited company in India. This also helps you connect with companies as they always ask for your legal clearance. It helps you in building trust and reputation.
We also applied for our trademark for our logo “Fueler” and by Aug 2022, we got our logo registered. Fueler is a registered trademark now.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We used Twitter as our medium to communicate about Fueler to our target audience. Previously we struggled with other channels. I feel Twitter is the best place to take feedback if you are building a startup. The startup community is quite helpful and strong.
Joining Twitter was the key turning point of our startup journey. Until today, 80% of traffic comes from Twitter.
But all these don't happen suddenly; you have to befriend them, add value to others, and grow your audience, and that’s when you can ask for help from others. It’s a huge advantage for you if you are someone with massive distribution on social media. It will be very easy for you to reach your end users and, eventually, your customers.
We got our first 1000 members on our platform through DM and word of mouth. Some folks never bothered to reply to us, while some didn't judge us by our low follower count and helped us in any way they could.
“Proof of Work” was something we have been working on. I have found a lot of industry leaders were already talking about “Proof of Work”. Hence we decided to fully leverage it for our platform Fueler.
Until today 80% of traffic comes from Twitter. We have built a collective audience of 20K folks on Twitter. There is no secret sauce you have to look for folks whom you can help, and that's a great way to go about building your audience and eventually promoting your startup.
We have always been a community-driven startup, and that’s how we played along during our initial days to grow on Twitter. Our team went with the “Doing things that don’t scale” approach, which has helped us improve our product better.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In the beginning, it was really hard for us to build trust, but since there is no shortcut, we started taking community-driven activities and helping our audience in whichever way possible. We listened to the community and came up with content ideas to cater to our audience
We hosted challenges that increased the awareness of proof of work. I guess we never really tried to share more about our tool, we instead marketed its benefit of it so that our audience could understand its importance of it.
Like many startups, we started off by cold messaging our potential users to try out Fueler. Some of them didn't reply, while others took an interest and tried our product. It was just the basic layout we had when we started off.
Our goal was to take as much feedback as possible and improvise our product. Joining Twitter was the key turning point of our startup journey. We found our community on Twitter i.e the early adopters. All the other platforms seemed to be noisy for us or may we couldn't leverage it well due to our limited resources. We tried every way possible to humanize our brand pages and grow our personal pages on Twitter.
Some strategies we used to validate our idea:
Use case-driven marketing
I feel product marketing is about the simplification of use cases for your audience. Imagine coming across a product that makes you imagine its potential applications of it.
We have started learning and working toward use cases through storytelling. Storytelling is a powerful tool for a startup.
Why tool? I see it more as a mental model with underlying principles. As we all know, principles are like the formula for anything we do in our life.
Community is considered one of the moats for startups. We are quite new to community building. There is no particular playbook we are following for this.
At the moment, our only goal is the develop a permissionless mindset and help the community in whichever way possible. Twitter is our only active channel for distribution and communication. Personalized help to our community members. Here are some of the kinds of words we have received from the community.
Asking for help
I believe asking for help is always considered a sign of weakness. But isn't it a superpower?
Building a remote infra for an inexperienced young team is quite tough. We are learning this the hard way. We have to be humble, polite, and grateful when we are asking for help.
When we are respecting someone's time, it shows our values and principle in practice. Saying is easy, but implementing it into practice is the real game.
I believe asking for help is a part of building in public. Also, most of the time, it's only inside our mind, we assume a lot by ourselves, resulting in never making the first effort to ask for help. From my personal experience, I have wasted a lot of time by not asking for help, it would have saved me hours of overthinking.
Startups are crazy hard, you have to make the most of what's in your control, and asking for help is one of them.
This month we are going to experiment with "Power Sessions". Power sessions are small sessions for less number of numbers with more actionable approaches. Less talk, more actions.
It will be random, mostly based on requests, as it differs from Chill Sessions. Anyone can make requests and we will try out best to organize them.
This resulted in receiving amazing responses from the community members. We were talking to strangers as we knew each other for a long time.
You can read about our mindset about building and growing Fueler for the last year here. It has documentation of all our strategies and practices month on month.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We currently have crossed 7000+ members on Fueler (fully bootstrapped). It’s time for us to scale Fueler to different communities on the internet, especially that are catering to careers and making money.
Fueler is currently used by creators and knowledge workers to create custom portfolios for their different career needs. They are using Fueler to land different types of opportunities such as full-time jobs, freelancing, internship, and part-time.
It is one of the most loved products in the freelancer communities. Some communities call it the #1 portfolio tool for freelancers. Mostly loved by content writers and marketers.
Fueler is a product that is at the intersection of education and the Future of Work.
An individual from any background can showcase their work on the internet, prioritizing their skills over degrees and certifications.
Due to our current limitation with bootstrapping, we are not able to scale it. The goal is to reach 100K members and eventually 1 million members worldwide. However, we will be getting there very soon.
Fueler has use cases across startups, companies, educational institutions, and cohort-based courses. We have been experimenting with them already, and with enough data and resources, we will launch them in public eventually.
We currently have a community of 10K members. 6K+ in email subscribers. Our MAU has improved to 30% now.
Full looks exciting for us and we are getting ready for it.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
There are a lot of things, I have personally learned building Fueler with my team. I give full credit to the team for all the hard work and passion they have for what we have been trying to solve with Fueler.
I have learned about Community and Audience Building, Product Marketing, Content Marketing, and Product Design.
I feel being honest about asking for help has been the biggest learning for me. I’m now confident to put forward my request shamelessly, asking for feedback, referral, suggestions, or introduction. The day you have an ego, your journey as an entrepreneur is over.
This article from 8 years back has been always my guiding light in bootstrapping our startup till today.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Google Workspace - For all our communication
Notion - Content and marketing collaborations
Calendly - For scheduling our meetings
LiceCap - Creating Gifs for our product
Figma - Fueler runs on Figma
Discord: To build our community
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have always been an avid reader. A few books have helped me gain new perspectives about startups, products,s and life in general.
- Founders at Work
- The Messy Middle
- The Naval Almanack
- Sell Like Crazy
- 46 Rules of Genius
- The India SaaS Story
I love reading the writings of Gaurav Munjal, Seth Godin, Jason Fried, Derek Sivers, Paul Graham, and Sairam Krishnan.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Skin in the Game: A lot of startups die because founders and the team lose motivation. Have your skin in the game. Live what you dream of, and walk on your talk. Give your best every day. No excuses.
- Grow thick skin: The world-be cruel at times. You have to grow a thick skin to tackle all the challenges, and criticism you will face. Because at the end of the day, it’s just you inside your head fighting the unseen battle. Please don’t get demotivated by what others say. Watch who you are listening to.
- Have a needle mindset: You have to be very sharp at execution. Most of the time, we just plan and plan and never work on the plans. Have a needle mindset to pierce through the situations. Improvise and adapt over time. Also having a needle mindset helps you scale. It’s a great framework to have.
- Think Distribution: Most founders make the mistake of not thinking of distribution. I have learned this the very hard way. Distribution doesn’t come easy, you have to build it on your own. You can start by leveraging the distribution of others but if you don’t have a system and processes in place, it would be of no use. Distribution essentially means how your product is going to reach your end user and customer.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Currently, we have no positions available, but one can apply for our ambassador program.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Twitter - I tweet about bootstrapping, community building, and freelancing
- Fueler - All my projects and collaborations in a single place
- Website - Documenting journey building my startup from remote India
- LinkedIn - Milestones and updates about Fueler
- Newsletter - All my learnings and experience as a first-time founder
- Youtube - creating videos on freelancing, books, startups, and learning from my journey building a startup as a first-time founder
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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