- Just Ship It
- My first $1 online
My first $1 online
Making $55,000/month was easier than making $1 online. What I would tell myself if I had to restart again.
Although I earn $55,000/month as a solopreneur, I’ll never forget how much I struggled to make $1.
It took 2 years of chaos and mistakes. Here’s what I would tell myself if I had to start again.
Estimated reading time: 6 min 14 sec
I graduated from Computer Science in 2016. My friends applied for a job in Paris but it didn’t feel right to me. My exchange semester in Hong Kong in 2015 transformed me. I didn’t know what I wanted—I just didn’t want that.
On a regular hangover Sunday morning (2 pm) I watched The Social Network movie and had an epiphany: I will be the next Mark Zuckerberg.
My secret unicorn idea? Tinder for sports lovers. I spent an entire year:
Learning to code because I was partying instead of studying at the university
Asking people to sign an NDA to listen to my idea
Designing a logo and business cards
I was making $10/hour and believed I was Mark Zuckerberg
To pay the bills, I was a waiter in a restaurant in Paris. During my shift, a customer mentioned a new school to learn entrepreneurship.
I was lonely so I registered. The teacher asked how my startup would make money. I froze. How come I didn’t think about it after a year of work?
My app was a disaster. Users couldn’t even sign up. And I was the only user. My relationship with my girlfriend wasn’t working either.
On March 10th, 2017, I quit everything. The next week, my parents drove me to the airport. I cried in the car.
My friend, Sacha, was waiting for me in Seoul, South Korea. We raised $100,000 from angel investors and built an AI startup with 2 employees.
10% real work — 90% pretending
We were trying to reverse engineer flight ticket pricing to predict their future prices. 9 months later, we had a bad product, no income, and I was wearing a shirt every day. So I quit, again.
In December 2017, I was broke, in a foreign country, and had zero self-confidence. I started to smoke again (I smoked for 7 years in university and stopped when I arrived in Korea).
After reflection, a pattern started to emerge: Big goals, big failures.
I saw an ad on Facebook selling gloves for couples (1 big mitten to hold hands together). I decided to copy and sell them on Facebook for Koreans.
As a product-obsessed engineer, I didn’t think about dropshipping. I had to build the product. A lovely Korean grandma knitted 50 Glovers:
Gloves for Lovers (I was quite proud of the name).
It took a month and a half to knit 50 Govers
My new Korean girlfriend helped with the translation. I burned all of my savings on Facebook Ads (a few hundred dollars) with this video. I made 0 sales.
In January 2018, my 8-square-meter bedroom was filled with Glovers, but my bank account was empty. At $20 per piece, I had to sell them to pay the rent. My girlfriend and I went down the street every night to sell them.
To brave the minus 15 degrees Korean winter, we had to drink 1 liter of beer before standing in the street for 2 hours. We would sell 2 gloves per day. I would wake up sick and coughing.
What the fuck I am doing with my life?
She said “Yes”
In April 2018, I was more broke than ever, out of shape and unhealthy. I needed a big change.
I applied for a second role acting to pay the bills. I would get a call once or twice a week and get paid $200 per gig. Then I started to work out every 2 days for clarity of mind—20 minutes of intense jumping rope. I got shredded in 1 month.
Finally, I set a simple goal: Make $1 online with code.
To avoid another failure, I focused on problems, not products. Every business wants to grow. So I decided to build a gamified marketing tool for escape rooms.
At a startup event, I met Andrey, a talented marketer who became my friend. He said: Why don’t you sell it before you make it?
I’m an engineer, I love building. Marketing? Not at all. But I failed for 2 years so I decided to listen. He taught me the foundation of marketing. After a few cold emails, Daniela from Time's Up Escape Rooms in Australia wanted to learn more about the product over a quick call.
On Friday 13th, 2018, I was in Osaka, Japan for a 3-day visa run. I just had a bad night of sleep in the cheapest guest house I could afford. 9 am. I was in the common area, it was hot, and the wifi was bad. The call started.
There are no words to describe how cringe I was. So here’s the intro of the sales pitch. After 42 minutes, she said “yes”. By the of the day, she subscribed to the $99 monthly plan. YES!
I went back to Korea and built the product. That call started a SaaS business called VirallyBot. It made $70,000 and it’s still paying the bills ($600/month in 2023).
1 call paid the bills for 5 years
What I would tell myself if I had to restart again
Forget big startups, try making $1 online first. Movies and media make unicorn founders famous. But making a living with your craft is the deepest source of happiness.
Listen to relevant persons. I didn’t question my friend Andrey about marketing. I applied everything he taught me.
Hard times build strong relationships. My Korean girlfriend with the gloves project is now my wife and my best friend.
Success happens much more quickly than expected. Make a radical U-turn, throw away the past, and restart.
Eat healthy, work out, and sleep well. It impacts all your decisions.
Don’t fall in love with your product. Ship fast and launch fast. One feature with a buy button is enough. Your customers will shape the rest of your product.
Wherever you are right now, I root for you.