Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is George El-Hage, and I’m pretty much a finance grad turned “bootstrapper.” For those new to the game, here’s the definition.
What I’ve realized as a bootstrapped entrepreneur is that scrappy, cheap, and imperfect is good.
After my finance degree, I completed an MBA in investment management, and worked in banking until… I spoke to EVERY entrepreneur I know about how they launched their business.
The #1 feedback I received was “take a sales role.” So, I did exactly that. I left banking and took an account executive position selling software to financial advisors. I did pretty well and later managed their growth initiatives.
Having experience in sales and marketing, I realized that there was a huge time sink in our operations… Our sales team wasted countless hours trying to manage and follow up with the new contacts they met at events.
They would have to riffle through their LinkedIn account, email draft, contact book, and paper business cards to identify potential opportunities. They then would need to follow up. That’s if they could even recall the conversation they had.
Lastly, imagine the horrific scene of hoping they would update their CRM. Every lead that isn't in our CRM is a missed opportunity.
So, I left my job after asking for a raise and getting denied. When s*** like that happens, don’t fret. Only good comes from rejection…most of the time.
I then started building Wave Connect to solve the sales and marketing issues mentioned above. Wave helps professionals build and launch personal business profiles that can be shared via an NFC product or QR code.
The Wave profile lets you exchange contact info with a potential customer in seconds. Once the exchange is complete, Wave takes care of the contact management, follow-up, and manual CRM data entry.
Imagine a personal networking assistant at your fingertips helping you focus on closing deals, instead of doing the “boring” work. That’s Wave. As of today, we’re selling our tech to sales & marketing teams across North America and have monthly revenues of $25K per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As a first-time founder, my instinct when launching Wave was to dive right in and start building, putting my money where my mouth is. I either crash and burn or somehow land on my feet. Regardless, it’s a learning lesson…I knew there was a problem in that space. My experience in sales and marketing helped me come up with the idea.
Too many sales opportunities are slipping through the cracks, translating into to less leads, pipelines, and closed deals. Not to mention, as marketing professionals, we send our sales teams to tradeshows and conferences but have an EXTREMELY hard time figuring out the ROI for each event. How many leads did we collect? Was it worth it? Should we go next year?
Enter, the dive. AKA the “let’s just do it” moment.
I found a small dev shop in Montreal to start building the MVP. I had saved $10,000 to get this done, though we got it complete with $5000. The MVP was EXTREMELY simple. Tap an NFC card to the phone, click “exchange contact”, and voila the Wave user and potential lead have each other's contact. THAT’S IT.
Below is a video of the first MVP we built in March of 2021.
But the most important part comes next.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Before continuing to build further, I made sure to validate the idea in some way or form. That was my cue to leverage organic social to get free eyeballs on our product.
Enter, TikTok. In 2021, the algo was broken.
At the time, I decided to take my girlfriend's phone and recorded myself tapping the MVP of what we call a digital business card. I posted variations of the same motion…tapping the card to a phone and exchanging contact info around 15 times.
My low-quality videos amassed over 100,000 impressions and 10,000 likes. Here is a video of what I use to post on TikTok.
Before posting these videos, I made sure to spend $30 on Mailchimp to create an extremely simple waitlist landing page. I put that link in our TikTok bio, told people to sign up to test the card, and had 1,000 people sign up with their info. I’m embarrassed by this landing page, but damn did it work well.
I then reached out to the 1000 people via email and asked them to pre-order the product. The condition was that once they received the card, they would provide us with in-depth feedback which I collected using Survey Monkey.
We received around 400 pre-orders at $15 making us $6000 before officially launching. Even though only 200 customers gave feedback on their digital business cards, that was enough to build the next stage of our product. Here’s me writing letters and mailing out our Wave cards via mail… scrappy.
Those pre-orders were the validation I needed.
Fun Fact: My Twitter handle is GeorgeTheQrius because I used tools branded by monkeys to launch my business. I find that hilarious. I’m also not active on that platform yet (now named X) you can find me here on LinkedIn.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Now that I had customers, it was time I fulfilled the orders, built a website, and improved the product. What I’ve realized as a bootstrapped entrepreneur is that scrappy, cheap, and imperfect is good.
I spoke to our supplier, which at the time was in the United Kingdom, and had them ship us 300 “Gray Wave Smart Cards.” Gray was the initial color for our NFC business cards. Today, I discontinued that color. I thought they would sell out, but I was wrong. Not a lot of people like gray. I guess you can say they are “limited edition.”
The next step was to build a website, nothing crazy, just $29 per month for the Shopify store with a $250 one-time purchase template.
I then used some of the $6000 to continue building the product and to run ads. The latter was a disaster, I highly recommend that you DO NOT run ads at an early stage. I quickly shifted strategy and built a personal brand on LinkedIn. That strategy allowed me to get free traffic, build a brand, and scale to $300,000 in revenue.
P.S. I continued to reinvest the revenue generated by our customers to improve our product and find quirky ways to go to market.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, put in the effort to gather the necessary information to take the leap.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In my opinion, the ONLY thing a founder should be focused on is selling. My advice, if you aren’t sitting on a pile of VC funding because you’ve built an AI wrapper (that is a joke), be extremely careful about how you spend your hard-earned cash.
Focus on one channel, The question you should be asking yourself is “What is the cheapest acquisition channel that will get me loyal customers using our product?” If you do not know, you need to experiment to find out.
I do not know your business model, but I can tell you what I’ve tried and what I’m currently testing.
I ran ads on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google, and LinkedIn. I tried a lot. The problem I found is CPC in my category was very high, competition was fierce, and our NFC cards only cost customers $29.99.
That means our ads had to convert or our ROAS (return on ad spend) would be significantly less than 1, and you do not want that. A ROAS less than 1 means every $1 you spend on ads returns less than $1. In some business models, such as SaaS (which we’ve pivoted to), having a ROAS of < 1 makes sense if you are acquiring a customer with a long average tenure.
Let’s say you pay $50 to acquire a customer who pays $40 for a yearly subscription. Your ROAS is 0.8, but if that customer renews next year, they have effectively paid you $80. That customer has added positive value to your business. If they churn and leave in year one, you’ve effectively lost value.
With a freemium model, it gets tricky, you’ll need to add your free to paid conversion rates into the equation.
If you are going to run ads, for the love of God, please make sure you have some tracking implemented on your website such as Google Analytics and Facebook pixels.
Currently, we started working on SEO initiatives to gain more organic traffic. I can go in-depth on this but I’d rather you learn yourself by purchasing a book called SEO 2023 by Adam Clarke. In summary, focus on providing Google with relevant content via blogs and dedicated website pages.
Then focus on being listed on guest blogs, blogs written by other people with high traffic that mention your product. Lastly, get a backlink campaign started. In short, backlinks are links to your website that are posted on other websites, they help tell Google you are trustworthy.
P.S. The above is a f------ grind. It takes consistent outreach, a lot of blog writing, and is extremely time-consuming.
This last one is underrated, post consistently on a social media platform of your choice. Most of our 12,000 customers were acquired organically on LinkedIn. By simply posting daily about the journey, I’ve had the opportunity to amass a following interested in learning more about what we do and how we do it. I recommend you start posting on one channel first, build a system, set the habit, and then move to the next platform. Every LinkedIn “guru” will tell you the same thing, so I’ll sum it up below.
1) Post consistently.
2) Don’t overthink it.
3) Post about your niche and your journey.
4) Get involved and comment on posts by creators in your category.
5) Optimize your profile with a great profile image, description, and link in the bio.
6) Make sure to have a clear CTA on your profile. Where do you want your potential customer to go after following you?
Now go out there and start testing.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We initially started Wave by selling “infinite” digital business cards with no subscription service, which isn’t a very sustainable business model. We then pivoted to building Wave for Teams, a SaaS, helping sales & marketing teams to create digital business cards for their team at scale, track analytics, and build integrations with their CRM.
That part of the business is now our focus, though we do continue to sell DTC through our Shopify store and Amazon.
The future looks harder than ever, building a startup never gets easier. Being bootstrapped, we always need to maintain a reasonable cash burn, make sure our operations are profitable, and continue to focus on building long-term equity in the business. If we run out of cash, we close shop.
We are currently searching for the answer to two questions.
1) What is our ideal customer profile?
2) What is the best way to reach them?
Once we have the answer, and we are close, we’ll know where to spend our hard-earned cash to scale faster.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Here’s a list of things I’ve learned while building Wave:
- You get 100 no’s for every yes.
- You lose 100 times to get 1 win.
- Building a startup is harder than you think.
- Luck = Opportunity + Preparation
- Put yourself out there to increase your chance of luck occurring.
- At the start of the startup journey say yes more than you say no.
- As you grow your company learn to say no and delegate.
- Study the books you read.
- No one cares whether you win or lose.
- No one will remember your social media post tomorrow.
- No one knows your business more than you do.
- Everyone has an opinion.
- Listen more than you speak.
- Give more than you take.
- Make consequential decisions.
- Making no decision is a decision.
- Your inability to make a decision is due to the fact you lack information.
- Have confidence, not an ego.
- Team is the most important factor for a successful startup.
- Always speak to your customers.
- The odds are always against you.
- Ignore the odds.
- Build for the long term.
- You’ll want to quit many times.
- There is more pain than joy.
- Consistency beats motivation.
- Have conviction.
- Be polarizing.
- You will never have enough resources.
- Happiness isn’t a destination it’s a journey.
Oh, and grayscale is a productivity cheat code.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Here are the tools I use:
- ClickUp: Team productivity and tasking.
- Jira: Developer tracking and organization.
- Zoho: CRM capabilities.
- Apollo.io: Sales engagement, cold outreach, and prospecting.
- Sendgrid: Email delivery, email tracking, marketing automation.
- Wave Connect: Lead capture and contact management.
- Forest: Pomodoro timer.
- Evernote: Note-taking.
- Slack: Chat.
- Whatsapp: Chat.
- OpenAI: Productivity.
- Frase: SEO tool.
- BrowserStack: Developer testing tool.
- Ahrefs: SEO tool.
- Zapier: Build workflows.
- Splice: Video editing.
- Grammarly: Copywriting and editing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- The Lean Startup: Helped me understand how to build a scalable and profitable startup.
- Venture Deals; Helped me understand how venture capital works.
- SEO 2023: Helped me get a better understanding of how Google runs its algo.
- Product Led Growth: Helped me understand how to build a SaaS that sells itself.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Ideas are worthless. Execution is all that matters. There is a reason why you don’t find marketplaces where people buy and sell startup ideas.
Understand that your inability or inaction to get started is due to your lack of information. You’ve been taught in school to plan, but you’ve rarely been taught how to execute. To get started you need to shed light on the unknown, Here’s how you can do it.
1) Find mentors in your industry who are open to sharing their stories and giving feedback.
2) This process of self-development can often feel like going down an endless rabbit hole. As an aspiring entrepreneur, put in the effort to gather the necessary information to take the leap.
3) Improve your skills by reading books, watching videos, asking questions, and implementing what you’ve learned. I started building Wave after reading The Lean Startup and getting sales experience.
Make sure you do not overthink your idea, just get started, and you will most likely pivot down the road.
Where can we go to learn more?
Here is my digital business card if you’d like to reach out for help, guidance, or partnerships.
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