I Created $48K/Year Software Marketplace From My Garage
Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
My name is Alexandru Stan. I am the CEO and Co-founder at Cogneve, INC. The purpose of the company is to help people and companies choose the right software for their business.
Tekpon is our main project. Our customers are people interested in buying software but so are software companies.
We are now making around $4000/month. We just sold a six-figure tech company and created a new one. Moreover, we are working towards becoming a unicorn in the next 36 months.
What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
I am a serial entrepreneur and tech investor, and husband. Moreover, I am always happy to help other people.
I’ve built over 20 startups amongst which are Extremoo, EvoNews, and EvoWebs. My focus throughout the year has somewhat been on lead generation and this time I decided to take it a step further. Also, it’s something I strongly believe I will do my entire life.
Your customer’s feedback is very important because you are building something for them, not for you.
The idea for Tekpon.com came after I realized that most people buy software and never use it. To be more specific, it’s a $30b/year problem only in the US. So, our goal is to fix this issue.
I am experienced in this kind of business. Before Tekpon, we did some great exits, and we’ve now found a bigger problem to solve.
We all use software, and yes, we have experience in this industry; I am also an angel investor in some SaaS businesses in the US, some of them perform fantastically.
I validated the business idea after my network started calling me to say: Alex, thank you very much for what you are doing. This is success for me, to do something other people love.
Currently, I am the CEO at Cogneve, INC., and I have over 50 investments in total. I am not the kind of person interested in NET WORTH and how much money I have, but I think I have enough money to survive my entire life.
Take us through the process of designing your software marketplace.
Our first MVP was a premium WordPress theme; without a unique design, we analyzed the market and the opportunity, and we decided to invest more to create a unique product based on what we learned with the MVP.
The MVP was good, but what we have today is something different. Today we serve people with love. Not so many founders talk about love in business. But we put a lot of effort, passion, and love into Tekpon.com.
We started by offering our product free, and after a while, we had the first company interested in our marketplace, after that a new one, and a new one...and we became from the idea, a real business.
After my last exit, I decided to put around $50k to create the MVP, and the total cost was around $70k. With money, you can save time. So, it was a great idea to do it.
We were in a garage, for real. I know it’s like a ‘’good story,’’ but we start from a garage. I had a SPA before the Pandemic. Now it’s closed, and my full focus is only on Tekpon and Cogneve. So when the lockdown began, I decided to use the garage to create a new tech company.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We manage one of the largest Facebook groups for founders: Entrepreneurs and Startups, and it was easy for us to get traction. We already had 20.000+ active members every day from a total of 137.000+, so we’ve seen results from day one.
The purpose of the group was to help startups, entrepreneurs, investors, and media come together and help each other. The group is focused on helping people and we don’t allow promotions, that is also one of the reasons why it’s so active. We make sure the members get relevant information and they aren’t overwhelmed with commercials on the group. If there is a new technology or a new product one of the members would like to promote or beta test on the group we are more than happy to support them.
We invested in salaries, hosting, and the small office. Nothing more. But we worked for six months only to create the MVP, so the total cost was around 40.000$. After that period, we launch the new version, and we continue to invest. We spend around $70k before we raise capital from a private angel investor and 2 VCs
Raising capital through an angel becomes fairly intuitive after you go through the process of growing your appeal as an entrepreneur. This becomes easier once you have successfully managed to build some successful companies and sell them.
VC and angel investors take less risk when investing in entrepreneurs with experience and track records. Regarding the angel investor, in our case, it is a person very familiar with what we do and who wants a larger stake in the project.
Our focus when this happened were VCs to be fair but we considered the angel an important asset to the project so we accepted the investment.
Our principle is to accept only smart money. This is by far one of the best investment advice for a startup: don't focus only on the money, focus on all the extra value and how the investor can help your project get to the next level.
You need to be visible! If people hear about you or your company, they will use your product if you have something good. Invest in MARKETING!!!
The biggest lesson was that we don’t know everything. Therefore, we must listen and hire people better than us.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Creating a great product is about listening to feedback: positive, negative. Your customer’s feedback is very important because you are building something for them, not for you. Happy to be in a position with a lot of happy customers.
We work a lot on content. Quality content. For example, quality content can not be written in a few hours when it comes to complex products such as SaaS and software. Our approach is to write an objective and well-documented material based on what customers search for when looking for a particular tool.
Quality means objective, meaning that if you build a brand you need to be honest and be aware of the fact that it is impossible to have a perfect product. Be honest and humble with your customers; this will differentiate you. Remember that at the end of the day people remember how you made them feel. So, our strategy is to spend time on research and build reviews and content that brings value to the user by understanding beforehand what the user wants.
It is essential that once they reach your website they find relevant information otherwise they leave. How much time people spend on your website and bounce rate is what tells you if you are or aren’t doing a good job.
Information for other people based on our research. And today, we had more than 7000 unique visitors/month with a crazy monthly growth (200%+).
We found the best affiliate platform, which is Partnerstack, and we joined their program. It is something that we truly recommend. Everything ran smoothly from the beginning with them from their implementation team that was patient and explained every detail to us that it was impossible not to understand. They have a constructive attitude and an easy-to-use product from both ends.
They make it easy for us to help our partners, which is crucial. Moreover, there wasn’t much convincing to be done as we were fortunate enough to use their product as a partner as well and we know how user-friendly it is. A con would be that they are slightly more expensive than others, but this is the price you have to pay if you want responsiveness & a good product experience.
Our customers' come back on Tekpon alone without effort, with no remarketing or retargeting with big budgets. As a result, they realize the product is great, and they can benefit.
We were also in the press. Here are some examples: Hackernoon, Thriveglobal, Yahoo, Techtime with a Press Release from Cision, we also recommend it.
How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?
We are not profitable yet because we want to scale everything, and our focus is on the team, the product, and marketing. In addition, we are working to be one of the main marketplaces for software, which needs incredible efforts. This also requires patience and the ability to give before we ask back. This project is a challenge for us as it represents entering a new niche and learning a whole new industry.
At this moment, we are a few steps away from scaling, so all our campaigns are only in ‘’test mode’’. For us to be coherent in our strategy, we need to understand what the users want. Doing that involves a lot of trial and error.
In terms of operations due to all that is happening all around the world, we decided that the best strategy we can have is to adapt to the current situation and encourage remote work.
We decided to work with a lot of freelancers for example and focus on the quality of the work they deliver rather than how much time they spend at work. We believe that this is the way right now.
Social media is crucial in our strategy. We believe that this is the way we reach the young target group which we would like to appeal to. We see the young generation as more open towards new technologies and are faster at adapting new things. We want to speak to them therefore expect to see more from us on social media platforms in the future. We are working on something worth watching.
Furthermore, our time on site depends on customers and it oscillates between 1 minute to 30 minutes on reviews of more complex software products.
My wife is our COO, one of my best friends is our CTO, and we have an amazing CMO, head of content, head of product and strategy, really amazing advisors, and we also have two small dogs to maintain the energy at the office every single day.
We also spend time managing one of the largest founders' communities: Entrepreneurs and Startups. As you can see, we had over 65000+ active members in the last 60 days.
In the short term, we enjoy every day at the office, and in the long run, we want to be one of the main marketplaces for software Worldwide.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In the beginning, we had nothing—only money after my last exit. But no office manager, HR department, no legal department, only four people in a garage. And I learned that you can lose everything in one moment, so you need to enjoy every single day.
Our strategy to get investment from GrowthBox and Seed-Stake was great. They are VCs but with experience exactly in what we are doing. Therefore the best thing for us was to get smart money, not just ‘’an investment’’.
As mentioned earlier, being an entrepreneur with experience is what was in my favor. Why? Well because in the years you built a business you had the time to build a network. Your network is essential for raising money in my opinion, it's your legacy. People that vouch for you.
In conclusion, this was something that helped me raise capital other than being coherent about the project and knowing what we do. Moreover, the whole process of raising capital took about 6 months. I think this is what is realistic to be fair, probably the average it takes to raise capital.
However, if I were to begin my journey right now I would focus on building a network. Meaning that at first you need to give to receive back and I always volume beats variation. Don’t give up, fight for your project and if you send enough applications, meet enough people you will get that investment. Last, don’t be scared of failure, that is the way you learn and become better at what you are doing.
Work from home was great for us, not the Pandemic, but more and more people buy and use software for their business.
In my opinion, the most important skill an entrepreneur needs is the ability to adapt. And I am happy to manage a team that plays like the largest football teams out there.
Furthermore, one of the mistakes I have made early in my entrepreneurial journey was to be ahead of the trend. For example, I decided to make an online television back in 2008. It was a failure not because it wasn’t a good project but because I was too early in the market.
Another mistake I had a lot to learn from was never to put all your eggs in one basket. For example, I made the mistake of relying solely on Google. One more important aspect I've learned is that no matter what happens you need to have your team secured for a couple of months. For example, that will buy you time to regroup and solve the problem or do something else.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite tool for our business is Partnerstack. Because we can easily manage all our partners in one place without a headache, we also use Asana, Hubspot, and other great tools, but these are the main ones.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
A podcast with Joe Foster, founder of Rebook, was a great lesson for me. After $4b exited, he told me that his company was spreading love, not shoes.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Don’t give up. Work until it’s done. You will love yourself for this decision.
I realize that people create great products; however, if they don’t invest enough in marketing, they think there’s something wrong with their product.
You need to be visible! If people hear about you or your company, they will use your product if you have something good. Invest in MARKETING!!!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking to hire great developers, affiliate managers, sales directors, website managers, social media specialists, and more, all of them full time. So, join a crazy talented team! You just need to be a kind-hearted person and crazy. The work is important, but we are still learning, so are you. And you need to love dogs. Or cats, or both.
People can contact me at [email protected] or [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Guys, we have only one life! So do good, be good and make something people love!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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