Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

From Meeting on Tinder to Building a Designers Marketplace

Roman Sevastyanov
Roman Sevastyanov
May 18, 2021
Category of startup
Design
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
No Data
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

From Meeting on Tinder to Building a Designers Marketplace

Roman Sevastyanov
Roman Sevastyanov
May 18, 2021
Category of startup
Design
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

Roman and Stacy founded Awesomic, an app that matches design tasks with the best-fit designer. They currently have 27 designers and last year they closed over 2,000 design tasks for 250+ companies worldwide.

Ad

Headway Logo

Give your startup a competitive advantage. We’ve seen countless startups fail because founders didn’t have the right mindset. Learn the common mistakes we see and how you can give your startup a greater chance for success. Get free access to The Founder's Mindset →

Hi! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

Hi there! We're Roman and Stacy - founders of Awesomic, an app that automatically matches design tasks with the best-fit designer. I run the company as a CEO, and Stacy operates as a COO and CMO.

To launch Awesomic, we applied the shared economy principle to creative high-end design. This helped us bring together businesses and professional designers to save the time of busy founders and cover all their design needs in one app. And we've got some great feedback from our clients!

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Before we met, Roman had been working as a software engineer for global startups for over 8 years. 

Stacy worked in marketing and communications. She's built her career from a PR manager of an Olympic champion to a CMO of an E-commerce company selling goods in 100+ countries worldwide. 

It might sound funny, but we owe Tinder for our meeting - 5 years ago, its algorithms matched us together. That’s how the Awesomic story began. 

After two years of relationships, we started thinking of a common business - we were simply cut out for this. We still laugh, saying that it was a perfect match not only for us but for many people eventually.

Our first project was creating different apps for Shopify. We didn't have enough experience and any step-by-step plan, which we quickly realized and quit after releasing two plug-ins. 

At that time, we also graduated from the Y-Combinator startup school, which was one of the key milestones in our development. It helped us understand where we'd like to move next and how to work on our mistakes.

While carrying out our first project, we found out that a good developer was a rare bird on the Ukrainian market. Using Romans' experience, we decided to launch an online school for developers - Doge Codes.

Doge Codes Landing Page

It was going pretty well. In 2 years, we had 200+ graduates and became the first Github representatives in СIS countries. Our concept was "learning by doing" - the students were mastering development while creating a real app.

Yet, there was one big disadvantage - Doge Codes was a local project. And however happy we were to see our student's progress, we still wanted to work for the international market. 

So here is our first insight - if you want to create something global, think on a large scale from day one because later, it might be impossible to make a big chair out of a small piece of wood.

One day, we found out that we were almost out of budget, and Roman was even going to find a "proper" job if we didn't come up with a new business idea. 

At the last moment, it hit us: design subscription - that's what everyone needs. 

You know, small businesses and startups like Doge Codes often face the same problem when it comes to design. They don't have enough tasks to hire a full-time designer but still need marketing visuals and website-related graphics. Mostly, they choose to work with freelancers who are sometimes unreliable and don’t live up to the expectations. 

We did quick research, didn't find any existing models, and decided to give it a try. And that turned out to be an Awesomic idea.

Ad

Headway Logo

Give your startup a competitive advantage. We’ve seen countless startups fail because founders didn’t have the right mindset. Learn the common mistakes we see and how you can give your startup a greater chance for success. Get free access to The Founder's Mindset →

How did you go from idea to product?

We've been working non-stop. After 10 days of hard work, we had a business model and two designers ready to start as soon as we find customers. Unexpectedly, our acquaintance Tilek asked us for help with startup branding. He became our first client. 

After getting the initial proof that our concept makes sense, we decided to test it in a coworking space we were renting at that time. 

We had no website at first because we wanted to validate the idea with at least 5-10 successful cases before any development. That was exactly what Roman said: "I won't write a single line of code before we understand that it's worth it."

For 2 months, we were working with clients via email. Eventually, it became unbearable to handle the whole process without a platform, so we were on to it. Roman went into a hackathon mode with energy drinks and food delivery, and the web app was ready in 3 days.

Awesomic Landing Page

So this will be our second insight - always test your ideas, observe them, and don't be afraid to make amends or even abandon some concepts if they don't work out.

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

Speaking of testing ideas. This rule works perfectly well when it comes to marketing, too.

We started off by validating the Awesomic business concept in our local community close to our target audience. That's why, probably, the word of mouth and referrals worked pretty well for us since the beginning.

Our favorite and most effective advertisement, though, was a simple napkin. There was a big conference in our coworking space one day, and many projects pinned their well-designed business cards to the board in the elevator. So what could get more attention than a usual napkin with a poorly written website address and the words "design from $399"?

This simple move helped us attract first clients, and no other marketing activity could beat it in the amount of feedback we got.

To be honest, we had a great advantage over other projects. Our initial name was Pizdata, which is "f**king awesome" in Ukrainian. This helped us get media coverage, hype, and go viral in CIS countries. People became interested in what we did, and it gave us extra motivation.

To increase brand awareness, we also worked with different media, attended TV shows, and gave interviews. But our breakout point was getting on Product Hunt since we finally reached the global market. It was unforgettable! 

Recently, we've merged our Marketing and Sales department into one Growth team. This helps us see the whole funnel at once and complement each other's activities. 

So here is our third insight - run a list of hypotheses and keep testing them regularly. This way, you will find your product-market fit and never miss a chance to improve your project.

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

We're doing just fine. Getting new clients, hiring designers, growing steadily. At this very moment, we have 20 designers and 7 other specialists aboard - overall, 27 inspired professionals :) 

Last year alone, we closed over 2,000 design tasks for 250+ companies worldwide. These include Reface, Outtalent, People.ai, SilviaTerra, Redtrack, Snov.io, MN2S. We are happy to work with such inspiring startups and agencies that grow fast and bring real value.

In 2020, we also raised a round of investments from several angels that support us in different ways. All of them have extensive experience in launching and managing businesses, so it's been a beneficial collaboration.

By the end of 2021, we want to expand our team and add up to 100 designers working daily through our app. We are also planning to launch a dedicated design community for European specialists, but let's keep it low key for now :)

As for long-term goals, our global mission is to transform the design freelance and outsourcing industry into a new lifestyle beneficial for creatives and businesses around the world.

Since starting Awesomic, what have been your main lessons?

The greatest lesson we learned along the way was essentialism - staying focused and working as a team towards one primary goal. 

What you need to do is focus on the main task until it's completed. Then switch to another one. Don't try to focus on multiple goals at once, or nothing will work properly. 

Other lessons we've already mentioned before are testing different hypotheses and scaling from day one. Think big but don't be afraid of failures! 

And last but not least, find the right community that will contribute to your growth and development.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

What we understood was that you always need to be ready to overcome challenges. 

In our case, there was a big chance of failure due to our relationships - it's always hard to run a company with your life partner. When you launch a business with equal partnership, conflicts are almost inevitable as there are two leaders and two opinions. 

Sometimes, this can cause a deadlock, but luckily, we've found a solution. From the start, we decided to divide our spheres of influence. Besides, as a CEO, Roman has veto power, makes the final decision, and takes responsibility for it. 

We've learned to plan everything from the very beginning, analyze our progress, and count risks. Because success won't happen if you back away when facing challenges.

What tools & resources do you recommend?

We've tried so many things so far! Some of them worked, some - didn't. So we'll recommend only those that worked for us when building Awesomic.

1) Y-Combinator starter course. It's a must for any startup founder as you'll find all you need to know there. And the best part is that Y-Combinator also has a YouTube channel with free resources that can also come in handy.

2) SaaStr University course. This one was also a blast! Great scaling strategies that can be applied to most startup concepts nowadays.

3) Salto Growth Camp. Top professional entrepreneurs from different industries share experience and help you learn from their mistakes. Sounds good, right? In our case, it also helped us find our first angel investors.

And there are many more, including some podcasts, articles, and newsletters. We keep learning every day to keep up with the market, develop ourselves, and Awesomic.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can visit our website to find out more about Awesomic. We'll be happy to help you cover all your design needs at a fixed monthly fee.

The All-In-One Newsletter for Startup Founders

Every week, I’ll send you Failory’s latest interviews and articles, curated resources for founders, and updates on how I’m growing the site to $10k/mo. Join other +7,000 startup founders!