How to Go From Startup Idea to $4 Million in Valuation in Less than Two Years While Having a Full Time Job.
“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through”
Are you living your life with intention doing work that truly matters?
Are you stuck in the paralysis of waiting?
Waiting for external validations?
Waiting until you get out of college?
Waiting until you get that promotion?
Waiting until you have enough money saved up?
Waiting until you learn that new skill, read that book?
Waiting for your friends?
And then next thing you know there is no more time to do those things you always wanted to do because you’ve been waiting all your life.
3 years ago, my friend Jahn Karsybaev decided he wasn’t going to wait anymore, refused to settle for mediocrity, and started a side project called Moomkin that allowed him to make an impact aligned with his gifts. I met Jahn in 2011 while still working in corporate America at a prominent bank and from the first moment I saw him I knew he was different. Not because of his race of but because I saw a drive in him that had not seen before from anyone in the company. Jahn and I didn’t become friends until 2 days before his departure from the company where we had to collaborate on a brief project together.
I remember that on that day we sat together and the last thing we did was work on the project. Instead, we spent four hours talking about a side project he had been developing all this time. 10 minutes into our conversation he pulls his iphone and shows me this website called Moomkin and from that moment our conversation went like this:
Me: “So, what is Moomkin?”
Jahn: “Right now it’s just a blog with interviews and tools for young professionals and entrepreneurs, but the vision is to turn it into a social platform for professionals of emerging markets, creating a hybrid between LinkedIn and Yammer.”
Me: “That’s cool, but what does Moomkin mean?”
Jahn: “it’s a word in Kazakh and Hindi languages that means possible and opportunity”
When Jahn told me the definition of what it meant I immediately started thinking in my head about all the possibilities and opportunities that I was leaving behind working from a cubicle and settling for mediocrity; it sparked in my the need to find my true calling so I joined him in his journey to learn as much as I could.
During the 2 years I collaborated with Jahn, I wrote articles, interviewed other startup founders, learned social media marketing, how to pitch your ideas and ask for things you want, how to use WordPress, and I even went on a trip to Canada, London, and his native Kazakhstan (but that’s a story for another day).
After we parted ways following separate journeys, we remained good friends and two weeks ago I had the opportunity to catch up with Jahn and we talked about entrepreneurship, discipline, consistency, life as a married man, and how having a 1-year old truly changes your perspective and priorities.
During our conversation, Jahn shared with me the most important lessons he has learned from taking a startup from scratch all the way to $4 million in valuation.
Start now or you will always be waiting for the right moment
Jahn first got started creating a blog from a WordPress template, writing his own articles, and interviewing other startup founders all while working a 9-5 job that was more of an 8-6. A lot of people complain that their jobs are a limiting factor in accomplishing their dream project because by the time they get out, they feel exhausted. What could you do if you went to bed an hour later? What could you do if you wake up one hour earlier? How much could you accomplish? Jahn had a vision of where he wanted to take Moomkin but he knew he had to get started somehow or he would have never gotten anything done. One thing he mentioned during our conversation is the value of the compound effect and how just getting started isn’t what will bring results but staying consistent every single day towards that vision you have for yourself. Moreover, it is ok to start small and build upon that rather than trying to go after the Goliath from the get-go.
Testing is part of the process
Before turning Moomkin into a social networking platform, Jahn tested his idea using a tool called Ning which is an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks. During this period, he was able to gauge interest and collect feedback data from users. In 3 months, he had about 5000 users registered in the testing platform validating his idea. Using an affordable service like Ning (and there are plenty of others) allowed him to minimize his initial risk, validate the concept and get a head start on the main project.
Learn how to pitch your ideas
Learning how to communicate your ideas to others is probably the most important skill you can develop as an entrepreneur because you need to convince people and make them see your vision. Jahn mentioned how this single skill allowed him to recruit people smarter than him and to convince investors to put their investment in the startup. Successful investors and VCs invest into the founders of the startups in first place, and not into the idea. That is why it is imperative to be able to effectively relay your vision and your drive which would translate into the confidence of others to believe in your vision and get involved.
Assemble a team of people smarter than you
After validating his idea, Jahn quickly realized that he needed to assemble a team of people smarter than him capable of taking Moomkin to new heights. Using his communication and persuasion skills he was able to recruit people with background in business development, law, investments, finance, marketing, operations, management, design, software development, and many other areas relevant to his startup. All of that was done without any resources as you might think that you may need a ton of money upfront to be able to afford a winning team. It is simply as you need to tap into your inner circle of contacts and target the people that you know and trust first. Once the team was assembled, him and his partner Adil Nurgozhin spearheaded the funding efforts arranging meetings with top level executives and angel investors from all over the world, including Kazakhstan, US, and Hungary. At this point, Moomkin is in its final stages of closing its Series A round of $1 million. Last year, Moomkin has attracted approx. $500K in Seed round.
Embrace change and uncertainty
Jahn is now married and father of 1-year old Dylan but his vision of building a platform for professionals of CIS remains unshaken despite these changes in his life. Jahn mentioned how it hasn’t been easy dealing with so many responsibilities and if you don’t have the right mindset, it can definitely overwhelm you, but one smart thing he did was to get his wife involved into his entrepreneurial efforts and the collaboration has actually contributed to make his relationship stronger.
Moomkin has evolved into a social platform for professionals, recruiters and universities of Kazakhstan and entire CIS. The platform focuses on providing innovative solutions for professional growth of people in emerging markets. The company plans to expand its services into Central America and Eastern Europe by 2016.
Stay consistent and have the discipline to do the right things at the right time.
It always pays off in the end.
To Your Success!