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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Imaginovation: A 100% Organically Bootstrapped Business Making 7 Figures

Michael Georgiou
Michael Georgiou
October 3, 2019
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Imaginovation: A 100% Organically Bootstrapped Business Making 7 Figures

Michael Georgiou
Michael Georgiou
October 3, 2019
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

Michael Georgiou and Pete Peranzo developed Imaginovation, a technology company helping other businesses with their websites and applications, out of their desire for something bigger. They started with nothing and now are a 7 figure earning business with goals to continue to grow.



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

Hello! My name is Michael Georgiou, and I am a Co-Founder and CMO at Imaginovation. We are an award-winning technology and app development company based out of Raleigh, NC. 

Imaginovation Team

At Imaginovation, we provide custom enterprise-grade technology solutions to a variety of businesses in any industry, from funded startups to Fortune 500 companies. Our services include building custom web applications, mobile apps, and emerging technologies such as AI development, IoT development, AR & VR app development, and blockchain development. 

Currently, I look after and manage all the marketing and branding initiatives of our company, including digital and offline marketing. The majority of my time goes into creating marketing and sales strategies, meeting with potential clients, developing partnership programs and lead our digital marketing team. 

Imaginovation Founders

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

It all started back in 2011. I had finished my Master's degree in Australia and came back to the US. But, I didn't have a job as the Great Recession of 2008 had just ended, and the economy was still in bad shape. 

My business partner and CEO of Imaginovation, Pete Peranzo was working at SAS, at that time, but he wanted to do something bigger, and build something of his own.

Pete and I met through one of our mutual friends years before, but little did we know that we would become such great friends and then 50/50 business partners.  

Pete knew that there's a hidden entrepreneur inside me. One day, very randomly though, Pete called me and asked if I want to start a company. "Wait. What?" I was both excited, confused and very anxious to know his idea. 

I always had this dream of starting my own business, and put my marketing and creative skills to work. So I was more than excited to implement Pete’s idea, but there was a hitch. None of us knew how to build a business. 

Pete and I were determined to start a technology company helping other businesses with their websites and applications. Some of Pete's friends, who were software developers and web developers, and also jobless at that time, were happy to join us. They were ready to work for free for a few months until we were able to close some business. 

We came together and decided to set up a full-service web and mobile app development company to help businesses achieve their true potential through innovative technology as well as solve their internal pain points. 

We started mulling over the company name, and I thought a great slogan for our company would be "Imagination turns innovation," and the name "Imaginovation" quickly popped in our mind. In fact, it was a dream I had the night before, so it felt like fate, to be honest. 

This is how Imaginovation came to existence. 

How did you build Imaginovation?

We started our company from NOTHING. Yes, Imaginovation is a 100% organically bootstrapped company that started with a simple Craigslist ad. We built Imaginovation through hard work and dedication. 

Imaginovation Offices

Since we didn’t have any funds in the beginning, we would often post on Craigslist and try different types of free advertising to promote our business. It helped us get a few leads but that wasn't enough. 

We were still struggling very hard to keep our business up and running. Pete had to continue working and hustling at two jobs (Imaginovation and SAS) for almost five years since the inception of the company.   

We didn't have the funds to hire people too. So, it was a continuous process to learn and improve things on our own and handle many aspects of the company such as sales, marketing, project management, account management, finance, design, and more. 

I still remember how we would often take crazy initiative, learn, and do things. We have spent several sleepless nights with our team to meet our clients' expectations and meet very tight project deadlines, in addition to working incredibly hard (10-15 hours a day) trying to grow and scale the company on many fronts. 

As we started to grow in revenue, we took the smallest salaries possible and poured everything back into the business to scale up the operations, increase the team size and promote our services more heavily. 

I would say one of the best things we did to grow Imaginovation on a revenue perspective was to drastically improve and execute our digital marketing strategies such as SEO, social media, and content marketing, along with attending networking events and tapping into our referral networks (friends, family, etc.). The second best thing we did was get very hungry, passionate, and aggressive on the sales side which allowed us to close several small and large deals. 

In addition to all those things, Pete and I worked very hard to improve our tech talent which enabled us to perform and produce for our clients, gain positive reviews, and grow our portfolio as well as our credibility in the market over time.

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

Since the very beginning, our aim is to build and improve our brand value and recognition. As stated earlier, we aggressively promoted our services through Craigslist ads and other free business directories at the start. 

We would also reach out to hundreds of people every day through emails, and as time went one, we started getting some qualified leads that lead to clients. Those were the leads that helped us kick-start and essentially grow our business. 

We would brainstorm and figure out ways to provide value to all the leads in order to grow our portfolio, clientele, and trust and credibility in this over-saturated market. 

We also attended many local events in Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte, and Durham to connect with potential leads and prospects. Reaching out to local businesses digitally and in-person helped us build momentum, give us a face, and build a presence around our local area. 

When we had a handful of projects after the first six months, we decided to drastically enhance our website and start marketing it across North Carolina. We developed our website, setup the social channels, and started posting helpful and insightful blogs every week, and socializing them. 

Our primary focus was building an SEO-optimized website that would help us establish a valuable and credible online presence. I used to research, read, and chat for several hours with my friends and online marketing experts, trying to understand SEO, PPC, content marketing, social media ads, and whatnot. I have also spent countless hours learning Google algorithms, Google trends, and analyzing top service providers and competitors in our domain. 

The learning and analysis allowed us to create SEO-friendly content for our website and improve competitive Google rankings organically over time. Eventually, with our combined SEO strategies, our website began ranking on the top of Google in North Carolina and even nationwide for many competitive keywords. This generated thousands of unique visitors per month to the website, which translated into leads, and eventually clients.

Google Analytics

Over the past eight years, we have generated our leads and clients from the following marketing and sales channels (%):

  • Google Organic (SEO) - ~80%
  • Referrals and account management - ~10%
  • Strategic Partnerships - ~2%
  • Events/Networking - ~3%
  • Paid Advertising - ~2%
  • Social Media - ~3%

Being an entrepreneur is not easy. You have to make a lot of sacrifices and fight your way through some of the toughest obstacles in order to see your business flourish. We didn't know much about entrepreneurship when we started, but we learned things through tons of trial and error and consistent hard work.

What are your goals for the future?

Currently, we are a seven-figure business (yearly), but we aim to make Imaginovation worth $5-7 million by 2022. And I know that we can definitely achieve this goal as we are continuously expanding our services, client-base, and growing our boutique brand in the tech market. 

At the moment, we are a team of 35+ people and we aim to add more developers, designers and project managers in the next 6 to 12 months.  

In addition, we aim to continue working with growing small businesses, funded startups, and large enterprise brands to develop innovative applications that will help them internally as well as their customers. 

Eventually, we would like to niche out to a certain target audience, industry, and maybe a type of technology. However, at the moment we essentially can work on projects that fit the type of client we want to work with on a personality level and who meets our budget expectations. 

From a product perspective, we do have plans to build our own SaaS products that incorporate a mobile/web app with artificial intelligence that help solve a problem or pain point. Many times in the past, we’ve already got into developing our own products to sell, but unfortunately had to put them on hold because client work took priority. 

For my personal business goals, I plan on building a personal brand with business storytelling along with also growing my podcast called Tales from the PROS. This is a storytelling podcast in which I personally interview business and thought leaders around the world sharing their stories of success, struggle, and obstacles they overcame.

Imaginovation Podcast

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

Being an entrepreneur is not easy. You have to make a lot of sacrifices and fight your way through some of the toughest obstacles in order to see your business flourish. We didn't know much about entrepreneurship when we started, but we learned things through tons of trial and error and consistent hard work.

Not knowing anything about how to build a business was the biggest challenge for us. But, as I look back now, I must say that it was actually a blessing in disguise.

Pete and I literally put our sweat, blood, and tears into growing the company, and I mean “literally”. The emotional, physical, and mental struggles that we faced were imperative to our success, but we persevered and never gave up. 

A good example was Pete losing his firstborn child, who was a beautiful premie baby that couldn’t hold on any longer after about seven weeks or so. During that time it was incredibly challenging because Pete had to step away from his traditional work hours, and I had to step in and take on a lot of that workload. 

The lack of sleep and stress during the years caused us to get sick continuously while also working because we had no choice but to continue to work, taking a very little vacation, and times of heavy anxiety were frequent during the mountains of challenges that were in front of us. 

However, as business partners and brothers-in-law, we balanced out each other, picked one another up when the other was down on the ground, worked together, stayed positive, trusted, and made big things happen.

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

Some of the biggest mistakes/poor decisions we made are the following:

  1. Not taking our time, patience, and process to hire correctly. We hired way too quickly sometimes.
  2. Taking too long to let employees go that were harming our business or weren’t a good fit.
  3. We hired new employees based on the assumption that new sales and revenue was going to be generated in the near future. Do not play “the role of God” and assume new deals will close, and allowing yourself to go on a hiring spree. Only hire based on your current financial situation, comfort level, and monthly cash flow. Project cash flow is good to be mindful of, but it shouldn’t be used to determine when to hire new people.
  4. We kept working with clients that were harmful to our business because of financial desperation sometimes but hurt us in the long-run. Sometimes you have to let your clients go and part ways, it will benefit both parties.
  5. When times were great financially, from time to time we neglected the smaller potential clients. Sometimes these smaller clients are your bread and butter, this is something to really be aware of. 
  6. In the later years, we scaled too quickly regarding the size of our team and newly incurred expenses, and sales were difficult to catch up. 
  7. We let our emotions take over, stress us out, and not make the best business decisions. It’s important to not be emotionless, but in a sense not let your emotions and personal feelings dictate your business decisions.
  8. At times we tried to focus on too many different things, trying to do too much, which tends to clutter up the organization of other effective strategies, processes, and tasks at hand. Stay focused and don’t try to take on more than you can handle, as it can negatively impact your growth and create confusion within the company, and ultimately cause delays in achieving your goals. 

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

If I get a chance to meet my former self before Imaginovation, I would say this:

Make sure your idea and concept is something that reflects what you are really good at, such as your skillset, capabilities, and strengths. Most importantly it needs to reflect your life’s purpose, and in my personal opinion, your purpose should be driven and derived by your passion. 

Be prepared for a huge task list, of course, this should come after you have created a well thought out business plan, and ensure you complete and execute one task at a time. 

As entrepreneurs, you would want to get a thousand things done at once, and many times it becomes so overwhelming that you see an Mt. Everest of issues and tasks to complete, which becomes incredibly stressful. 

So, to unclutter your mind, and take it one task at a time, and one day at a time. Make sure you set goals for you and your team to achieve and create weekly tasks that are realistic to be completed. 

As you start to see progress internally, you will start to see progress externally such as generating new leads, closing new deals, building long-term relationships, and scaling your business.

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

Honestly, I don't really read that many books, but I love reading digital content every now and then. I receive inspiration from business blogs, videos, and podcasts. Gary Vaynerchuk, Tony Robbins, and Neil Patel are some of my favorite mentors. 

As I mentioned before that I host a business storytelling podcast called Tales from the PROS, where I interview top business and thought leaders around the world sharing their stories of inspiration, success, and struggles. Some of the amazing leaders I have interviewed are Neil Patel, Chris Do, Hashem Al-Gaili, Michaela Alexis, Evan Carmichael, Jay Baer, and many more. 

Where can we go to learn more?

Check out our corporate website to know more about what we do and our journey so far. 

You can also watch our story in the video below:

Don’t forget to check out my podcast website and listen to the success stories of entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders around the world.

Finally, you can connect us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.


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