Turn Your 'Passionpreneur' Project into a Money Maker. These 4 Entrepreneurs Did Just That.
Turning something close to your heart into something that makes you money may not be as difficult as you think.
Truth be told, ideas and talk are cheap. No one is remembered for a solution he or she never followed through on. Most entrepreneurs who have realized success, in fact, have gone to incredible lengths to turn their big idea into successful businesses.
Fortunately, there are all kinds of ways to get your foot in the door and begin a "passionpreneurial" venture. Here are four entrepreneurs who learned what works and what doesn't the long, hard way, but changed their industry's very outlook in the process.
Sean Casto: Have something to offer other entrepreneurs? Write a book about it.
Transforming your passion project into an income does not always mean coming up with a brand new product. Sometimes, you can just use your expertise to help others grow their own businesses. Consider, for example, of Sean Casto, a Boston- based serial entrepreneur and founder of the premier app-marketing agency, PreApps.
PreApps has apps that have been downloaded millions of times. Three of them -- Flyp, OverKill 2, Gadget Flow -- actually attained million-dollar valuations, while Cheetah Mobile Security Master turned out to be a billion dollar app, with over 550 million downloads!
Casto is also the creator of the App Marketing Academy, an online mobile-app marketing program that promises to teach users "How to Create a Million Dollar App" (without writing a single line of code!).
Today, Casto is an in-demand expert on mobile-app marketing and growth. His clients and associates are spread across 80 countries. He's been a guest speaker at industry conventions for Microsoft and Samsung, lectured at Northeastern and Harvard universities and been featured in articles by the Washington Post, USA Today, the Boston Globe and the Associated Press.
He also recently released his book App Secrets, a how-to on starting a successful app business today. In his book, Casto writes about his own marketing strategies as well as the tricks of the industry for growing apps from hundreds of downloads to millions.
"In my experience," Casto told me by email, "entrepreneurs tend to limit their own growth prospects with their unwillingness to reward users. This is one of the secrets I teach in my book: Always reward your customers by giving them extra incentives, or even loyalty points at the very least."
Wannabe entrepreneur takeaway: Lots of entrepreneurs are avid readers, and many even credit their success to books, courses or mentors that have inspired them. If you yourself have knowledge and wisdom that you want to share, plus a passion for helping others, consider writing a book or teaching an online course.
Such actions can do wonders to increase your credibility and build your reputation for future success.
Charles Weller: Improving on something you use every day is one sure route to entrepreneurship.
Improving on the products that are already out there is a great way to start a new business. If you use a certain product or service every day, you've probably found its pain points and you may have ideas to improve it.
That's exactly what Charles Weller did. Born in New Jersey and raised in San Jose, he moved to San Diego for college and along the way realized his passion for working out and staying fit.
That's what led him, as an attorney and corporate counsel, to advise nutrition and supplement companies. But, Weller told me by email, he found most of them selling unhealthy products and using unsubstantiated marketing hype. The animal-based protein powders and supplements they usually use, Weller said, can cause negative physical results, like slowing users down. That's why, he said, he put his knowledge of natural supplements to use, founding Ground-Based Nutrition, which focuses fully on organic and vegan food supplements.
At the same time he was building a profitable company, Weller was able to apply his love for fitness to helping out his community. Proceeds from Ground-Based's profits go toward the San Diego County Child Obesity Initiative, a public/private partnership aimed at reducing and preventing childhood obesity.
Weller said he works with the initiative to help kids understand the importance of proper nutrition and fitness, and to build a healthy environment for them through change advocacy and family education. "Remember that you have the opportunity to change lives, in whatever small way it might be," Weller wrote.
"You don't need to worry about whether your product or service will make an incremental or dramatic impact. Think of your work like a fitness routine: Just go for it, aim higher and higher, and don't ever quit."
Wannabe entrepreneur takeaway: Think about the products you use on a daily basis. Do you have any ideas for how to make them better? Challenging the status quo by making improvements is one way to turn something you like into something you love, make some money and use that money to reach still higher goals. That's a foolproof way to ensure you never, ever run out of passion.
Brent Weaver: The 12 hard-knock years he spent building one business gave him the idea for an even bigger one.
Brent Weaver is your typical tech startup guy -- someone with entrepreneurship in his DNA. Weaver started his own web design business while still in high school. He then attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, earned a degree in economics in 2000 and moved to nearby Denver in 2005 to focus on growing his (still-running) web agency.
By the time he sold that agency after 12 years, he had made more than 1,000 deals with a wide variety of businesses and non-profit organizations, totaling, at the end, over 300 clients under active management.
Still, even with that kind of experience, Weaver was humble and mindful enough to "know" (as he told me in an email) that he didn't really know how to sell. So, he began hiring sales coaches and consultants, and taking classes.
The result? He went from hustling $2,000 websites to selling six-figure projects. And that kind of success enabled him to build a successful life and pursue passions beyond his entrepreneurial pursuits.
Along the way, Weaver said, he realized he had invested a long period of time, many ups and downs and plenty of money to learn what worked in business and what didn't. So, he took those 12 years of learning and hard knocks and turned them into a 10-week accelerator community that teaches others to crack the realm of entrepreneurial success.
Named UGURUS, Brent's startup community has helped over 1,000 digital agency owners avoid the usual hardships of startup life. UGURUS' defining characteristic is its effort to connect personally with all who enroll, meet them "where they are at," as Weaver said and help them find the right answer for their particular project.
The community also supports and promotes members through the "dark night of the soul" that Weaver says every entrepreneur goes through at least once.
While learning is important, Weaver told me, his accelerator also sees the need for people to be held accountable and to be pushed outside their comfort zone. Every participant is assigned a mentor, eventually developing personal and unique relationships.
"I've experienced failure up to a dozen times in a single day and that can wear on you," Weaver told me of his own experience. "A lot of early-stage digital agency owners are isolated and alone. They work from home and don't have much of a connect with others.
"That can lead to dark places. We give them a lot of connection, encouragement and support that they might not otherwise had. And that alone becomes a huge beacon of hope and force for good."
Clients are grateful for the support, Weaver said: "We get these really cool thank-you letters from our customers, about how our community has helped them make more money, take their first vacations, start families and achieve things they never thought possible. It simply can't get more fulfilling for me."
Wannabe entrepreneur takeaway: Business is a very personal endeavor. But, you have to have support. It's great to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but it's far better when a trusted peer, advisor, mentor or support group can help with that process. There are a lot of great communities out there -- join them, use them, and most importantly, give back more than you get.
Matthew Dutton: Gathering friends and family during a health crisis is the basis of his business.
Growing up in Tallahassee, Fla., Matthew Dutton enjoyed an extended family that redefined "close-knit." Long before social media websites, Dutton told me by email, he and his siblings regularly called up aunts and uncles to update them about their school life, and sent cards and letters to grandparents "just because."
So, when Dutton was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune condition in 2007 and had to spend more than six weeks in the hospital, his family gathered around him to lend support. "My mom and dad took turns spending the night with me, sleeping on a cot next to my hospital bed," Dutton wrote. "Out-of-town relatives took time off work to come and stay for days and weeks. My grandparents -- a breast cancer survivor and a stroke patient --drove six hours through the night just to surprise me on the morning of a big procedure."
In all the time he spent in the hospital, Dutton said, there wasn't a single night he lacked someone there to offer support and strength. "My family and friends continued to stay by my side as I traveled along a long road to recovery," he wrote.
Support is important, of course; but when it comes to health, prevention is critical. So, Dutton decided to create To.bi, a personalized wellness app that helps people live a healthier lifestyle using their personal support systems. Users record all of their healthcare information in one place, such as weight changes, blood pressure, medications and comprehensive reporting on symptoms, medical visits and tests.
Supportive friends and family caregivers get involved in that effort, too: Dutton knew from experience that having a caring helper by your side can make all the difference. That's why he designed Tobi to create a virtual network. Once family members and friends are given access, they can easily check the site to see if a person has taken his or her medication for the day, and to monitor health vitalsand keep track of upcoming appointments -- all in one place.
Wannabe entrepreneur takeaway: Tobi illustrates how an entrepreneurial venture can pinpoint inefficiencies in day-to-day life and find innovative ways to solve them. Turning your passion into a business sounds like an impossible dream that only the truly talented can make into a reality. However, this is by no means true.
Sharing your knowledge and wisdom, using your passion to help others, writing a book or teaching an online course can do wonders for building your credibility and contributing to your business success.
"Entrepreneurship is perhaps the biggest challenge of your life," Dutton told me. "As in every challenge, you shouldn't forget you can always count on family and friends to help you out. VC funding isn't the only option -- the 'angels' are all around you. Just take a look!"