❌ Failed startup
✅ Successful startup

Growth Cave: Bootstrapping a $5,000/month Marketing Agency in College

Lucas is a 20-years-old student who has founded Growth Cave, an agency that helps businesses get new clients through Facebook ads and an online training center, focused on paid advertising. Using UpWork and through word of mouth, Lucas has been able to get lots of clients and is now making $5k/month.

United States
Agency
Up to 50K

Lucas Lee-Tyson

March 5, 2019

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Hi Lucas! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hey Failory! Thanks for having me. My name’s Lucas Lee-Tyson. I’m a 20-year-old college student at Babson College.

I’m currently the founder/CEO of Growth Cave, where I help businesses grow online by providing 1:1 consulting and an extensive online training center primarily focused on paid advertising. We work with digital entrepreneurs and marketers to help them acquire new leads and customers with smart Facebook Advertising.

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

I’ve been in the ‘Internet Marketing space’ since I was 15 years old when I first stumbled on the forum BlackHatWorld. I had always been a nerdy kid and immediately fell in the love with the idea of being able to get rich online building websites.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. I took me 3 months to even make my first dollar online. But after that point, I was hooked. Since then I’ve had a wide variety of Internet-based ‘side hustles’ you could call them. I had an affiliate blog for a while called StreetSumo, which helped people in the streetwear/sneaker space find cheap alternatives to popular trends, which drove over $85,000 in revenue to the Amazon Affiliate program.

StreetSumo

Last summer, I was working a marketing internship at a tech company that was doing very well. They were spending roughly $250,000/month in paid traffic (AdWords/Facebook) and were paying an agency 8% to manage it. It completely blew my mind that we were paying a company the equivalent of a $240,000 annual salary ($20,000/month * 12). So I started to look into digital agencies and their business models.

I had previously tried to start a lead generation agency in my Spring semester of 2018, but failed, mostly due to my complete lack of sales skills. I was terrified of getting on the phone and speaking with clients and it reflected in my wavering tone. That business died in 2 months, after never getting a single client.

How did you build Growth Cave?

So I knew I wanted to do something related to paid advertising. I decided I would try Upwork (despite what a lot of people say about it) since I didn’t know where else to go. I figured with my experience at my internship, combined with some YouTube videos and the resources Facebook and Google provided would be enough knowledge to start.

So I got my very first few clients through Upwork. I marketed myself as a PPC (pay-per-click) consultant. Going through a ‘gig’ hiring site like Upwork reduced a lot of my anxiety, as it was a lot easier compared to cold calling people and trying to sell them right away. And while I started out at a paid traffic ‘generalist’, I quickly niched down my services to focus on Facebook Ads, just because 75%+ of the inquiries I had were related to Facebook Ads rather than Google AdWords or others.

GrowthCave Upwork

It was tough to fit in hours to work on Growth Cave while working my internship. Since I was just getting started (on my business), a large number of my working hours were spent on the phone with prospective clients, trying to determine if we were a good fit. So I was scheduling them during my lunch break, immediately after I got home from work, and even a few before work that had different time zones. It was tough.

I actually registered the Growth Cave domain as soon as I had the idea, but never got it set up. For the first 3 months or so, my Upwork profile was literally the only online profile I had related to my work. And even then, I didn’t put as much focus on it as I do now.

While in my first month I only made around $400, in my second month I made over $3,000. After I had gained an initial footing and had some positive reviews on my profile, people were inviting me to their jobs rather than having me to apply to them. I was starting to be able to pick and choose who I wanted to work with rather than anyone who would hire me.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

Upwork as a platform is kind of like a mix of LinkedIn and Instagram. They give you a long bio section to introduce yourself, state your expertise, etc. but also a ‘Portfolio’ section where you can showcase relevant work. As I started to do work for clients, I would add their campaign results into the ‘Portfolio’ section. This got amazing results, both for getting more people to contact me and also for more easily closing the sale.

Growth Cave Ads

No longer was I just talking myself up, the results spoke for themselves. There were some clients who I would immediately get on the phone with and I would never take about myself once. They’d tell me about their business and then ask my rate right away. It was an amazing feeling, to say the least.

Additionally, I also began to see referrals start to trickle in. Business owners would tell their friends/family who also had businesses and I had a few clients come in that way. To date, I have never landed a client from cold calling/cold emailing, but I’m much happier with my current system, as well as the one I’m building through partnerships. Essentially, the strategy is to find businesses or personalities who have audiences I think would be a good fit (the marketing industry, mainly) and providing some sort of content for them. This could be in the form of a guest post on their blog, being on their podcast, doing a live workshop/webinar with them, etc. I only just started this system in late December and so far it is has been going great.

What are your goals for the future?

So like I mentioned, my business model is built on inbound leads, getting people to see me as an ‘expert’ and come to me rather than me chasing after them. My goal is to continue this forward by building a central website outside of Upwork, Growth Cave. I’ve been writing case studies and guest posting like crazy and my goal is to publish a new article every week, either on my own blog or someone else’s as a guest post.

Growth Cave Landing Page

My main growth metric is my email subscribers. The more people I have on my email list, the more potential clients and customers I have access to. I’m at about 250 now after about 1 month of starting it and my goal is to hit 1,000 by March 1st.

Additionally, to complement this business model, I’m working on an online course to teach entrepreneurs and marketers on how to run Facebook Ad campaigns themselves. My goal is to do at least $10,000 in revenue when it launches, likely in April.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?

The start was definitely the hardest. I was extremely close to quitting and just calling this another failed side project during that first month. The biggest struggle for me, as I mentioned before, was selling. I’m naturally a very introverted person and getting on the phone with people (and facing rejection) 5+ times a day was draining at the start. But I am extremely thankful I pushed through it. I feel much more outgoing and articulate (not just on the phone but in real life too) now that I have the practice and have almost no anxiety getting on the phone now.

In terms of personal life, there were definitely low points. It’s difficult to wake up early, work on your business, go to your day job, and then come home and work on your own business more. Especially when things aren’t going as you planned. And while I can look back now and see a lot of my hard work paid off, it didn’t always feel that way. There were times where I questioned why I was spending all my free time on this when I was still in college. I should be having fun! Relaxing! I think anyone who builds their own side projects knows the feeling. But ultimately you stick with it for the same reason you started: because you enjoy it. I can say with near 100% certainty that I would not give up being an entrepreneur or a business owner for anything else.

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Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?

I, like a lot of other entrepreneurial-minded people, suffer from an inability to delegate. I love learning to do everything myself. I taught myself to build and design websites just so I wouldn’t have to hire someone to do it for me. Unfortunately, this mindset is also limiting in a lot of ways. As a business owner now, I feel like I should be focusing on more high-impact areas of my business rather than spending hours tweaking the CSS on my site. Learning how to delegate and properly hire is definitely an obstacle I still need overcome if I want to grow my business. I’ve turned down projects which in retrospect could have been good gigs just because I felt like I didn’t have time for them. But, if I had hired people to take care of certain aspects of my business (mainly campaign management) I could have easily taken them on as clients.

Speaking about the marketing ‘guru’ market in general, it is extremely easy to fall into the trap of selling a dream rather than selling a tangible strategy. I’m sure everyone at one point has seen a Facebook or YouTube from Tai Lopez or someone similar, promising to teach them the secret to working for yourself and becoming financially independent. It is a very fine line to walk when it comes to creating an online course in the marketing industry, and I never want to cross over to the ‘dark side’ of it that I’ve seen.

If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?

Stop relying on Upwork/referrals earlier. While they’re both great, they are not reliable. If/when I make this full-time I would want to have an extra layer of security rather than ‘hoping’ I get new invites/leads.

When I first started out, I was super scared of not doing a good job for clients. I had ‘some’ experience running Facebook Ad campaigns but was terrified of throwing someone else’s money down the drain. But ultimately this was an unfounded fear. My experience in the digital marketing world helped me immensely and I have (thankfully) never had a case of destroying someone’s ad budget. But at the beginning, I didn’t have this confidence, so I guess I would tell myself to be surer of myself given my experience.

Another thing I realized is that many clients sometimes don’t just want the amazing results. They want to feel listened to and like their input matters. Sales are half the battle as a freelancer and it is something I wish I could have realized sooner.

What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

My favorites books are:

  • Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss: Tons of useful mindset shifts about running a business and not letting it run you. Don’t be put off by the hype-y title (like I was for, for a really long time). I think almost anyone can get something out of this book.
  • The Third Door by Alex Banayan: A super entertaining and inspiring story about an 18-year-old kid who tried to track down Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, and others to learn how they launched their careers. Highly recommended just for fun and for anyone with entrepreneurial ambition.
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear: Great book about the science of building good habits and breaking bad ones. I’ve read a lot of books about habit building/routines and can safely say this is the best one.
  • The Dip by Seth Godin: A very quick read that has invaluable advice about when to stick with ideas/when to move on to something new. Great for people like me who are great at starting businesses but not-so-great at sticking with them :)

As for websites, I enjoy the Reddit entrepreneur community and the internet marketing forum where I got my start, BlackHatWorld.

One of my favorite blogs that sadly isn’t active, but still tons of online business ideas is Gaps.

Ultimately, there are a million tiny ‘subsets’ of entrepreneurial communities online. Find the one that resonates with your personality and goals the most.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can join my newsletter and read most of my content on Growth Cave. I’m also active on Twitter.

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