Building a company that generates good karma with Foti Panagio (GrowthMentor)

In this episode, Foti Panagio (GrowthMentor) talks about:

  • Hiring freelancers to learn from them as a personal growth hack
  • Why competitors should not deter you from starting your business
  • How to balance bootstrapping with building a great product
  • Starting with a minimum lovable product instead of an MVP
  • Using social proof as a way to kickstart his initial growth
  • Using karma as his north star metric


Podcast information:

About the guest

Foti Panagio is the founder of GrowthMentor, a platform that connects you with growth marketers and leaders from top companies who are ready to help founders grow their businesses. Prior to GrowthMentor, Foti was instrumental to the growth of EuroVPS a hosting business based in Europe.

Find him here:


Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:


Foti Panagio 0:00
So like, we run out of money, and my developers at that point, like, they’re really, really good. I have a good relation with them. But they’re like, dude, like, you have to pay like something. And I was like, I just don’t have any money. I was like, dude, one last thing I want you to do for me. Devs build me the subscription gate, I guarantee you, I will be able to pay basically do one more month of free. And I guarantee you after you do this, I swear to God, like, we’ll start making money, right? Because I just knew that it was going to work because the people were getting ridiculous value out of it. And I was like, just allow me to charge an entrance of $99 per year.

Ricky Willianto 0:36
That’s it, right. This is the life or death moment many founders face in building their startups. Foti Panagio, founder of growth mentor believes that you need to build what he calls a minimum lovable product to attract your initial users before you can even think about monetization. He’s taken this to such an extreme that he could not pay his developers, even though he’s seeing a hockey stick growth in his signup numbers. Listen to this episode, to hear about this pivotal moment in growth, mentors life, and how Foti managed to turn this around and really scale his business.

My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry and the host of the Growth Multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways, startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoyed the show.

I am so excited to be speaking with Foti today. Foti is the founder of growth mentor, which is a platform that helps you connect one on one with growth experts from companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. And I’ve actually been a beneficiary of the platform. I’ve met a lot of amazing people on the platform. And I’m so glad today I get to speak to the founder and learn a little bit more about how he’s actually been able to build the business and he’s started the business. So Foti do you want to start by introducing yourself really quickly and showed us a little bit about growth network?

Foti Panagio 2:10
For sure. First of all, thanks for having me on here. And I’m excited to to kind of share the growth mature story to your to your listeners. So yeah, my name is Foti. And I started GrowthMentor in September of 2018. That’s when we officially sort of like shadow launched, shall you say. But before that, I’ve been working for 10 years in marketing for EuroVPS, which is a managed hosting company based in Europe, my brother older brother actually founded founded that and I was the first non engineer hire at EuroVPS right out of university. So I started finance and graduated in 2007 and bounced around for a year. And then like the crash happened slinger brothers, all that crap. You know, so there was a, it was really hard to find a job and he’s like, yo, you know, just just come join me join shit with me. And at that point, I didn’t really know anything about about marketing and bike, taught myself everything made every single mistake in the book. And you know, through that, through that journey, trying to like just figure stuff out on the fly, I thought of the idea of GrowthMentor, because I learned the best by chatting with other people that were smarter than me and certain things and just kind of seeing how they do stuff. And I just found it really difficult to find other people in growth that were doing cool stuff, that we’re just open to just chatting in a sort of non transactional kind of manner, not your typical users. You can find consultants all day long to $300 an hour but like to actually find somebody in growth that is full stack that’s got you know, that experience wearing too many hats and can’t go to sleep at night because they’re so stressed out about different things. It’s like how do you how do you talk to people like that, like the people in the grind right now your typical consultants? So like what I would do is go on Upwork and just hire people like freelancers to just chat

Ricky Willianto 4:05
to you hire you hire freelancers to chat to not to do work for you.

Foti Panagio 4:09
Yeah, just just to chat to so I just hired them to chat because the again so let me like rewind a little bit. like are we doing this like the whole story of like, how, how Yeah, yeah, lovely

Ricky Willianto 4:22
to hear why it’s GrowthMentor, not finance mentor because you were you were studying finance or marketing mentor, because that’s what you were doing at EuroVPS right. So give us the backstory

Foti Panagio 4:30
that I’ll tell ya. I think the backstory is, I think some people might might resonate with this. So put EuroVPS in when I first joined like the company was doing around 30,000s MRR and it was it was great. It was a good place to join because it was on the open operand like it was 2007 when I first started kind of toying around with the idea of going full time there in 2008. I joined and my older brother was doing everything at that point from business step side and marketing And so on, like, get one guy doing a website that you would pay a freelancer. And yeah, like the tech support and all that he was doing most of it and it was just a really cool company because he put so much passion and heart into it. And just just like the, the, the most genius like sysadmin I’ve ever met in my life. He loves his work. He’s very passionate about it. I was like, Okay, well, this this company here as potential like, I can market this I can market you crystal, you know, I was like your heart and the passion that you have. So I he was my first sort of mentor Really? Because like he would, the guy would work like an animal like, okay, for like, tea would not sleep like anyone ever there was a like with hosting is very high stress sort of business. Like there’s downtime that servers down. Everybody calls they’re all cursing, you know, all caps. I’ll kill you all that’s like, Oh, my God, you know, this

Ricky Willianto 5:52
is something What? Some aggressive clients you guys have?

Unknown Speaker 5:58
Yeah, I mean, when some people are really nasty, like, it’s, it’s and this was back in 2007. Eight ish. Like,

Ricky Willianto 6:05
I mean, I can’t imagine though, right? Like, I think the entire business audience. Yeah. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 6:10
I mean, your your servers down, you’re like, you can’t log in, you can’t get pay, like if you rely on that to put food on the table, right. So you get annoyed. And so it’s like that really high intensity sort of environment that I that I that I started, got my first job at really. And just seeing how he persevered and did all that I was like, well, like that’s that, that that showed me like, what the benchmark of like hard work was set by him. And I was like, Alright, I need to match that. Right. Something I did. I wasn’t an engineer. What could I do? Right? I could do whatever I could in the marketing side and in customer service, and sales. So I really tried to just work I worked my ass off the first couple of years are athletic. And it was hard because I didn’t know anything about any. How long were you there in that company? I’m still there. I still had to grow up. I was a one trick pony. So like I came out of union, I worked there and I stayed there. And I’m still I’m still running and running that there along with growth mentor. But anyway, I don’t want to bore bore anybody with like the specifics of like the first couple of years working in in a role where like, there’s not really a clear defined job description. You know, you’re working with your brother. And it’s like, you’re just expected to just figure stuff out.

Ricky Willianto 7:19
Yeah, that’s what he did. What was what was the lightbulb moment for you to kind of like start growth mentor, because it’s, it’s you started in what? 2018? Right. And you join EuroVPS in 2008. So that’s like, there’s a 10 year gap there.

Foti Panagio 7:33
Yeah, so the the lightbulb moment happened in 2016. Okay, so the first couple of years after the first year of just not really like running up and not really knowing what to do, just figuring stuff out. Like I actually got quite good at marketing long story short, and we had some amazing wins in SEO, just a year and a half after I after I joined we ended up tripling MRR to 90,000 Wow, that was that was really great. And it’s like, awesome, this is this is good, you know, things are working. But then 2012 came along and Penguin and some crazy like Google algorithms, they just decimated us. And then we had Digital Ocean, enter into the into the space and there’s a lot of price pressure from AWS and so on. And I was like shit, you know, we have to be more creative with our with, with what channels with what channels we’re using. We just can’t rely on word of mouth and SEO. So I started getting involved with PPC. And I lost a lot of money in the beginning from newbie mistakes, like just silly stuff, Google ads, and then I hired agencies, and I spent a lot of money on them in the beginning. And what we’re really this all ties together towards like the the spark, right? So like, I was looking at what the work the agencies were doing. And I was because I was like curious, like, Alright, I’m paying you three grand a month for management, like what the hell are you actually doing? So I was looking at and there was no experimentation for like weeks on any of my creatives on any of the targeting. It’s like, not paying you to do what I can do. Like I want you to do what I what I can’t do anything, right. So it’s like, this isn’t really that I just, I just figured like, this isn’t that hard. I can learn this myself. I can do it. Alright, so I fired them. And then instead of hiring freelancers to do it for me again, I that’s going back full story full full circle to like the Upwork story of how I wasn’t hiring, I was just talking, like, I want to learn from the best and just talking to other people and see like how they do it. So like I forced myself to create campaigns, do everything from scratch, myself, and then I just wouldn’t put it live, right? the campaign’s and I would just jump on a call with somebody on Upwork and do a screen share on Skype. We’re like, Yo, this is this is how I’ve set it up so far. Like Am I making a mistake? like is this right general conflict, and they would give me this amazing feedback and it would just really increase improve my confidence to keep forging forwards because I thought I was doing a completely wrong and I had crazy imposter syndrome because I never really worked for another company before and I I never had a last

Ricky Willianto 10:00
phone. So you literally used like freelancers as like a mentor, and you use Upwork as like an MVP of GrowthMentor, essentially. That’s what you did.

Foti Panagio 10:09
concept. Yeah. And concept.

Ricky Willianto 10:11
Got it. Awesome.

Foti Panagio 10:12
Yeah. And that and that, that that for me works really well because I, I was I thought at some point like really self conscious that I was spending too much time reading blog posts and watching courses and like self educating. I like felt good while I was doing it. Like I thought I was learning stuff was like, Yeah, I took this course and you know, you get these feelings like you’re actually doing something when in reality, you’re just like sitting literally looking at a screen doing nothing.

Ricky Willianto 10:34
Yeah, you know, yeah, I get I get that as well, like you can like with all this course online courses, you just, you just stuck in the learning mode, you don’t actually get to the doing mode. You’re just kind of sitting there listening, and you’re like getting impressed. And then you’re getting like overwhelmed. And then when the time comes for you to execute, you just don’t know where to start. Right. So so I didn’t get where coming from?

Unknown Speaker 10:55
Yeah, it’s it’s like an inverse relationship, I think with the amount of content that you consume and your productivity, and especially if you if you listen to really smart people, and then you’d listen to another really smart person who says the exact opposite opinion. Because like, I think that both both, like there’s many cases where you can have completely opposing thoughts and still the Right, right, because like it was your situation that it worked for. It might not work for me, but it worked for you. And you’re super strong about that your opinion. Right? It’s like that’s, anyway, more on that later. Because that is a thread that I kind of want to get into about, like, there is no, so like, you’re listening to me right now. It’s like, I have my thoughts. I’ll tell you something that worked for me, but it’s probably not gonna work. It’s like, it’s 99% not gonna work for you. So if you actually want to get something done, just shut me off and figure out what it is. That’s gonna work for you. But yeah, so that was the really sort of the genesis of the idea is like, hell, you know, this, I’m breaking through learning plateaus, because I’m doing things I’m getting, I’m forcing myself to get stuck. I’m hitting this wall. We’re like, Oh, I can’t move anymore, right? And then it’s like, jump on a call with someone. And there’s like this feeling of like, oh, okay, yeah, I got unstuck. Now, let’s not, let’s get stuck again. And then let’s get unstuck, right. But like, you know, after a while, you get, you get really strong that way. And it’s just like, if you can, like that’s also for me, like a learning method as well, just talking through things like I learned that way. Some people are auditory, some people are visual learners. I’m a conversational type of learner.

Ricky Willianto 12:21
So so let’s talk through I guess, like that cycle of stuck and unstuck, right. So when you started growth mentor, like, what did you do? And at which point in time, did you first feel like you were stuck, you know, in in conceptualising. And bringing that idea to life? From the first moment? I

Unknown Speaker 12:37
thought I was stuck? That’s a great question. So the first thing I did was to kind of valid validated with a silly little HTML type form, sorry, landing page and run some ads to see what would happen. And then after I got some validation, and some people were interested in it, and the concept because I was the same, like,

Ricky Willianto 12:58
Well, how do you know how do you know people? How do you know people were interested? Do you have like a signup form was I like, wait.

Unknown Speaker 13:04
Yeah, there was a there was a signup, there was a signup form on the landing page. And the value prop I remember the h1 header. Exactly. It was like killing decisiveness and increase your confidence with with growth with a growth mentor. That was version one and version two was that its growth mentors for growth addicted founders and marketers, right, so

Ricky Willianto 13:23
Good memory.

Foti Panagio 13:25
There was the very beginning. I’m never gonna get, dude. But yeah, and and like, people resonated with that, because I was super focused on growth marketers, right? Because I was, it was right at that time periods. By the way, this is like, I forgot to mention, right? So like, 2000, you asked me, when did I get the idea? 2016. I started working on GrowthMentor. 2017 and a half, right? So a year and a half. I just sat on it. Because I thought, there’s no way I’m gonna I’m gonna be because after like, so I got I had an idea. I went for a walk. I was like, Oh, you know, he hit me like a lightning bolt after I was watching this documentary about, like, these advertisers aren’t uncommon and, like, somehow just hit me. And I was super excited. And then I saw that there’s this other like, elephant in the room. And I’m like, well,

Ricky Willianto 14:09
so that’s an eye. Let’s double click on that a little bit. Because I think that’s a lot of that’s kind of like, in a way that is one of the biggest walls you encounter. As an entrepreneur. There’s always someone who’s who’s already got the idea who’s already doing something similar to what you’re doing. Your thought of? Yeah, yeah. Why do you go? Why do you go ahead? And why do you go ahead, knowing that this giant player is already in a market, you know, and you’re just starting out?

Foti Panagio 14:32
Well, thank God I read this book when I was in college called Blue Ocean Strategy. And if anyone hasn’t read it, read it, it’s really, really good. So the whole premise of that is like you want to map out what the strengths and the weaknesses are of other people and then kind of like overlay yourself and find Okay, what my strengths are where their weaknesses are, let me focus on that right. So this is classic positioning, right product positioning. So like, I took a look at this like elephant in the room, player, right and I was like, Well, actually, they’re their mere mortals as well. Let’s take a look. First of all on the footer, last updated 2016, it was 2017. So they didn’t bother up. The last blog post they posted was six months ago, they were acquired a couple years earlier. So like, the same sort of visionary is not on board, and they haven’t done anything with products, right. And their pricing is per minute. And it’s on the telephone. So it’s like that almost talking on the phone. So there’s a lot of things that like, I found I, when I really sat to think about, I was like, well, I wouldn’t do it like that, I would do it totally different. Because that’s, that’s not how people in growth operate. Like no one has a phone call and talks about growth, marketing, and just chatted about screen shares. And they talk about like, you know, they share, like their mixpanel data, and they, you know, they, they don’t do the classical sort of way. And that that was, you know, it’s a 2011 12 they started, right, so it’s a little bit outdated. So anyway, I figured I could I could probably pigeonhole myself into the growth kind of sphere, right?

Ricky Willianto 15:59
So let me let me rewind a little bit. So you walk in upon this idea, you went home and checked out this other company, you were intimidated for a minute, and then you’re like, wait, Blue Ocean Strategy says that I just need to reposition it in a different way. And that was a year

Foti Panagio 16:11
and a half. And I was I was intimidated.

Ricky Willianto 16:13
Yeah. Got it. So it was a year and a half. So it wasn’t like just like, a minute or like a day. He was Yeah, you said,

Unknown Speaker 16:21
I can tell you like why I changed like what happens. And like, there’s so I was with Jessica, my wife and co founder and like, we were we were out on a weekend getaway in Patna. We went when we had a and we were having dinner. And we had a lot of beers. And you know, we were a little bit tipsy. And like,

Ricky Willianto 16:38
I get the idea going.

Unknown Speaker 16:40
Yeah. And we I was talking about EuroVPS and product idea, right? Like how I was like, hey, Jessica, you remember that guy Marce that he has this Ruby on Rails Development Agency and Poland’s like, you think like you could control me because I had this idea for the dashboard, like something that we could build to, like, improve the user experience. At the end of the day, I want to get into the details, right? And I was like, yeah, sure, I can hook you up. Right. And I was thinking about that. I was like, Well, if he could do that, then why couldn’t why also talked to him about this idea a year and a half earlier. Right? And then I was like, what about the growth mentor idea. And it came up again, we were chatting about it, and we got really passionate about it. I was like, Yes, we’re gonna do it. And like the whole two and a half hour drive back, we’re just not stop talking about it, blah, blah, blah, what we’re gonna do. And we were like, We can we could probably do this. So we call them up. And we’re like, yo, how much would it cost? Like some really basic like, MVP, and, you know, I had this other platform that I was looking at, which is a completely different industry and the tutoring space, I talk I and you can connect with tutors to learn different languages. And essentially, it’s the same sort of concept, right? It says instead of language, like learning languages, it’s connecting with people that you know, are good at SEO or whatever. I was, like, how much would it cost to make like a really basic iTalki. He’s like, Oh, no, like 10 grand, 15 grand? And I was like, holy shit. This is actually possible to do. Yeah. And yeah, it turned out to be a lot more expensive than that at the end. You know, that things are possible at the beginning and now with no code tools like you could even Yeah,

Ricky Willianto 18:11
nothing right. So Oh, so funny. You brought it up. I just I was just kind of talking to this other guy on your platform growth mentor, I met him Felix Wong, who just ran a workshop for my team about no code. Amazing. Look at land now you bring out no koto? Like you just yeah. So go with you and your mentors,

Unknown Speaker 18:28
that then this didn’t really that no code tools weren’t weren’t that good. Yes. 2000s. Yeah, early 17. Although I did think about share tribe at some point, but then I was like, you know, it’s not enough to have a minimum viable product. You need a minimum lovable product. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, you need to make an impact, right? Like, it has to be something like they look at it. And they’re like, yeah, you know, that. It’s all this like, doesn’t have to be the biggest thing but like, it’s got to be really good at one

Ricky Willianto 18:56
thing. Okay, so So this there’s a very important question. I’m gonna ask you so I had a I Well, I wasn’t having a conversation with Jason freed, but I was listening to him this morning, my time on clubhouse where everyone hangs out nowadays. And he was actually talking exactly about this and I think their principle about building product is the same they are talking about building a product that is ready for customers to love right. And and they also bootstrap right like I think they’re very famous for being a bootstrap company. Now, I think building growth mentor as like someone who is starting up from zero essentially right like growth mentor was zero before you started it and they come with the idea and trying to get to a m l p right most money you know, minimum level of product right? It is kind of counterintuitive to a lot of the like mainstream teachings about building products right, which is just get it out there. Get people to see it, get people to use it, get feedback, right? Like what do you say about you know, like being able to balance that being bootstrapped because obviously you have limited resources in creating this product at the same time, making sure that the first time your product touches and engages with your customers, like there is a high chance that they might love it. Right? So how do you balance those things?

Unknown Speaker 20:06
There’s no, there’s no easy answer for this. There’s no like one answer. How you balance it?

Ricky Willianto 20:11
How do you do it?

Unknown Speaker 20:12
How do you do it? For me? Like, I put a very big emphasis on design of the user experience. Right? So like, I think I was really lucky. I was gonna say, like, be honest here. I like not, not everyone that’s gonna have the luck of having a product designer, as talented as Mr. Alec Manoff, that already works for them at EuroVPS. And he’s just kind of chilling because the workload is really low. And then the boss could be like, yo, here’s some wireframes Can you like just design the scaffold funny on him also, to kind of be your best friend, right?

Ricky Willianto 20:41
If you have to hire as well for for everyone else?

Unknown Speaker 20:45
is he’s actually completely booked for the next 25 years. Oh, man. But, yeah, I mean, I was really lucky with that. So for us, I think the reason why I became minimal lovable is that it just, it looked so good, right? Like, it was just beautiful. And it doesn’t do too much. But it does what it does, it does it well. And, you know, all we wanted was the ability of people to filter based on expertise, and hadn’t really good profile page, that was a big thing for us. Now, it’s coming back to me. So like, what I really wanted to do, where I felt like there was space to differentiate was to add a lot of context on the on the mentor profile pages, right, and give the mentors the ability to kind of show off and be like, look at all the stuff that I know, like, and and whenever they add, like expertise or a tool or whatever, like they have to write the minimum of 150 characters describing why they have that on their profile with some parable from their life, from their career, like what they did with content, or SEO or whatever, right? And the same with the tools like to be able to filter growth mentors, based on what tools they have on their profile, right, like mixpanel, and Google ads and all that. And for us, that was just enough. Right? And from a depth perspective, that’s that costs like nothing extra. It’s just what, how expensive is that? So basically, so it’s nothing right? It was just like it all it all came down to product design, right? And thinking about from a from a user experience perspective, what the mentees gonna think what they’re gonna feel the emotions when they see all this context about their mentor. Right. And for us, that was I think

Ricky Willianto 22:22
so. So how like prior to you launching growth mentor and building this into an MLP, was there any sort of customer interaction at all customer interview testing at all during the development process

Unknown Speaker 22:35
during the development process? Yes. And and prior? Yes. So remember, I told you about that landing page with those two h1 headlines I memorised? Yeah, so that that was the landing page that I was promoting on Google ads, and we got like, 78 leads or something. And then I got on calls with like, 1/3 of them. So I had, I had quite a few people that I spoke to that I didn’t know and then I just my own network people that that I knew in marketing that I was chatting with. And they were like, Oh, my God, this idea is insane. Please build it, please build it. Right. And, and I think he was like, when I when I stumbled on the name growth mentor as well, that was that was also when it gave me a little bit more of a impetus to actually do it. Because before the original name was gonna be online lift dotnet. And I was so close to spending $1,000 to buy So like, lift your business online, like it sounds easy, like it would have never worked. So like, I think the domain is also really, really important has to be memorable has to has to kind of be it’s got to be good, right? But obviously you can get away with if it’s not the best, it’s just a lot harder if you have a shitty domain. But what were we saying?

Ricky Willianto 23:41
You know, you’ve talked about getting from zero to MLP. And now like it’s out in the market, right? What do you do to get your first customers? additionally your marketplace? Right? So like, is again, like chicken and egg problem, right? Like supply versus demand? First, right? How do you solve that problem?

Unknown Speaker 23:54
Yeah, so for us, we started, we focused on the supply side before we launched. So we actually started on the supply side, before we even had anything built really, we just had clickable prototypes. So this is one tip that people can take to the bank, if they’re early stage. And they have and they’re lucky enough to have a good designer, just screen just designed everything high for the full high fidelity and put it in envision app and make a clickable prototype. Right? That’s so good. Because then you can go to anybody to an investor, you can go to a developer you can go prospect, a customer, and you can say here is play with it, right? And it’s like a completely different feel when someone shows you a full clickable prototype or design, and it looks beautiful, versus just like, Oh, I have an idea like here, you know, can you give me 10 minutes? I can pitch it to you like nobody cares. I

Ricky Willianto 24:37
mean, let me let me help you imagine it.

Unknown Speaker 24:40
Yeah, let me help you imagine Yeah, right. Like that’s ever gonna happen. So it’s like you we had we had a clickable prototype. So like I would, I would reach out to people on LinkedIn. And by the way, at that point in time when I like literally just created the LinkedIn like around that time, like I I was completely off the face of the map. I had zero personal Brandon, you know, like I was the most on net like on network person ever like, not at that point.

Ricky Willianto 25:05
Do you at least have Facebook or Twitter.

Unknown Speaker 25:07
I had I really don’t like social media in general like I had Facebook just because like I’m supposed to because my wife wants like social pressure thing. Yeah, like, you know where she can attack so like Twitter I didn’t have a Twitter I didn’t have an Instagram. I just got Instagram like a few months ago. So it’s, you know, I just really was not like I was just a workaholic. Like I was doing my thing, right as I didn’t know anything about the whole marketing like influencer space. So yeah, anyway, so I created that LinkedIn account. And I just started reaching out to people that that I thought were really good, you know, in real life that didn’t have that looks like nice people as well. So like, they didn’t give off that like douche baggy kind of air to them. Because that’s, that’s not really a lot of girlfriends or so. Yeah. And then I would just be like, yo, you know, I’m working on this thing to growth, marketing, mentorship platform look like a really good guy, you know, like playing out their ego a bit, blah, blah, jump on a zoom call and just show them the clickable prototypes. And that’s how I got my first like, 2020 or so mentors on there.

Ricky Willianto 26:09
That’s probably all you need to start, right?

Unknown Speaker 26:11
Yeah, all you all you need is like twice, so like when when the cert when the site was on the staging server, like I would give them the backend, access, staging dot, and then you know, we had HTTP pass in front. So like, not everyone can see it. And then they would, they would so the moment that we launched it, like, there were already like, 2030 different profiles on live ready, fully decked out. So it was, it was pretty cool.

Ricky Willianto 26:32
And then from there, how do you get your customers your like mentees?

Unknown Speaker 26:36
Yeah, so the first thing that I did is I gave the story of how it started on a Facebook group called SaaS growth hacks. And it I got like, 500 signups just from that, from that post.

Ricky Willianto 26:46
Wow, really just one post. I should I should be joining this group.

Unknown Speaker 26:51
It was it was a really a lot of people resonated with it had like, 100 comments on it, right? Like it was it was, it was insane. Like the feedback. And me little naive thought the I was like, Oh my God, we hit it product market fit right. Like,

Ricky Willianto 27:07
you get so excited. We celebrate all the small wins, right? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 27:10
Yeah. But it was it was really exciting, though, to be honest with you like to see all these people just say, Oh, my God, this is a good idea. And anyway, fast forward a little bit. A couple of days. It’s like, Okay, great. We have all these accounts now. But no one’s actually cooking any calls? Like, nothing’s actually happening,

Ricky Willianto 27:28
right? What was it? Was it at that point? Was it already like, like, like, was it a paid product? Or was it like, that’s a trial, I kind of give us a

Unknown Speaker 27:35
little bit of a marketplace? So no scotter option, create a free account, and then all the mentors are paid?

Ricky Willianto 27:41
Got it? Okay.

Unknown Speaker 27:42
Yeah. So the whole concept of like, you could sign up and talk to free mentors did not exist at that point.

Ricky Willianto 27:48
Got it. So the racist words, just what it is, which is kinda like something that you’re doing now. A little bit off.

Unknown Speaker 27:54
Now. Now, it’s, it’s evolved into that, right? So like, yeah, so like, yeah, so So a couple of weeks passed by, and he was like, so we launched in September, on September 14, I think I dropped that post on on on Facebook. And then like, the last week, like, of September, last couple of days, and I’m like, What the hell is going on over here? This is, this is bullshit, nothing’s happening. So what I did is, and this is, this is something that it’s, it was counterintuitive, but I did it anyway, I added friction to the signup form. So instead of allowing people to just create an account with one Look, I said, Alright, put your email address in here to create an account. And then what would happen is, we wouldn’t create an account for them, it would just send them an email saying, Hey, thanks for requesting access, please fill in this form in order to get access to the platform. And within that form, I had a whole bunch of questions, right?

Ricky Willianto 28:42
What was what was your hypothesis as to like, you know, how this might actually help facilitate the process?

Unknown Speaker 28:49
Basically, I had I was complete, I was confused. Like, I had gotten like, why why it wasn’t working because I okay, like any any early stage, how you found her, I thought my you know, my, my product was the shit. Right. You know, they’re, you know, everyone’s gonna book a

Unknown Speaker 29:03
roller coaster is real.

Unknown Speaker 29:04
Yeah. Right. And it’s like, no one’s actually doing anything. So I was like, just really curious. Like, tell me, tell me, tell me who you are kind of thing. Right? So I would get I would get all their I would ask them questions, a lot of multiple choice within mostly like qualitative, like open fields, like what’s your biggest growth challenge? Why did you sign up stuff like that, really, to understand who they are, and what their motive what their motivations are behind joining the platform. And then what I would do is I would reach out to each one individually, and see if I could jump on what I called a matchmaking call, and I wouldn’t talk to them on a zoom call, I would give them as much advice as I possibly could as well on their startups or their whatever if they were marketers and give them recommendations for people to judge you. So that works out quite well. But still, it wasn’t really making any money because we were commissioned based Right and slave, we, I think we had like, like one, one call every other three to every three days or something was being booked at like $50 or like 15 per room, we were making like $100 a month in net profit, right.

Ricky Willianto 30:14
So like, at that point, the suppliers, the mentors are mostly in it because they’re keen to share or they’re looking at this as a viable side gig side hustle. This is

Unknown Speaker 30:24
kind of like, keen to share hate to share because I felt Yeah, that was part of the requirements to join the platform, because I was very keen and aware of that culture and values and that I wanted, I wanted the mentors to, to have as well, right. So like, they actually want to, like want to mentor.

Ricky Willianto 30:40
And when you started kind of collecting this information about the mentees when they sign up, like what kind of people are there like that signing up this interested? You know, on the platform,

Unknown Speaker 30:50
ideal ideal customer persona really like as a founder, start, Oh,

Ricky Willianto 30:55
nice. I like like, align with expectations in terms of your targeting. And like, you know, the price point is all clear. I think like the alignment of the incentive for the mentors are clear as well. Okay, cool. Got it.

Unknown Speaker 31:05
Yeah. And ultimately, like, what I found out from talking to them is that there wasn’t any social proof, right? So like, I’m not gonna, I want to put my credit card in here to talk to this guy, even if it’s just like $10 or $20. Because I don’t know what I’m gonna. I don’t know if Yeah,

Ricky Willianto 31:21
Now that you mentioned it, I think like, because I was I was on it just recently, like, you have like, testimonials everywhere. on your on your platform. Right? I sign up, like, in fact, like, you know, the landing page, I think there’s testimonial, when I signed up next to it, there’s a bunch of testimonial. I think when I work with someone, I think inside the platform itself, there’s also a lot of like, you know, highlights on reviews, number of like conversations or mentorship they’ve done. Like, yeah, so is that is that one of the the like, lightbulb moment as well for you that that was important.

Unknown Speaker 31:50
I mean, for me what that what that told me is that there’s just too much friction right now. And I need to generate some social proof before I can, I can do that. And then at the same time, I was onboarding a lot of mentors, right at the same time, because the people were, because a lot of people were applying at that point. And they were so keen to help people. And like, they’re like, yeah, very gung ho about like, yeah, let’s mentor, let’s help people out and all that. I was like, these people are super into it, right? It’s like, let, let’s wanna, I think that what we should do is allow mentors to put their rate to zero. And the only reason why that was impossible before was a technical reason that my my developers told me was like, well, since we use stripe Connect, you actually can’t pass as zero to stripe Connect, because it doesn’t process like it needs to be the price needs to be equal to or higher than the trend within the minimum transaction fee.

Ricky Willianto 32:42
Got it. Okay,

Unknown Speaker 32:43
so I told the devs Well, can we just like make some conditional if price bypass?

Ricky Willianto 32:50
Basically, yeah,

Unknown Speaker 32:51
exactly. Right. And they’re like, yeah, we could do that.

Ricky Willianto 32:56
I love I love something. I love these conversations with the developers. Not not making fun of developers. But sometimes it’s just kind of like all this, you know, little things that, you know, we need to like, help coach people on and like, you know, they realise Oh, yeah, that’s actually a completely different way of doing this.

Unknown Speaker 33:12
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So you know, it took took like a non non tech to me just to come with yeah. Oh, yeah. Sure. We could do that. Sure. So anyway, we did that. And that was I remember, like yesterday, I think was this December, December 18. We deployed the the update, so that mentors could set their rate to zero. That changed everything. Yeah, that changed everything. So when was this one was this December, December 2018. I think it was December 18. It was like the day before we launched the beta list. So it was we launched in September, so September, October, November. So three, like three, three and a half on four months, of like doing this sort of like paid calls only kind of thing. And then, like, just the obvious thing of like, let’s just bypass the thing, right? Because the all the mentors they they’re totally down for they want to get to action. I just spent 30 minutes filling in my profile. Ryan would give me some calls. So yeah, we did that. And then the just hockey stick, bottom of calls booked right, like, just tsunami wave like, yeah, and the reviews start coming in as well. Because every every Paul is like, you can review it. And yeah, that was really the beginning. Right? I think that’s when when growth mentor really launched and we rode that wave of social proof. And we really promoted all the mentors, the reviews, and with their biggest mascots, across social media. And then people just started noticing that and that’s when the word of mouth came in. Because like, they were like, holy shit. Did you know have you heard this platform growth once or you can sign on for free and talk for free mentors with like heads of growth that these huge companies just like pay nothing. There’s like crazy. So like, the value is insane, because it was totally free. So like at that point in time, we weren’t making anything because 15% commission of $0 is still zero, right? So we were still Like, like, how are we going to pay? and things were breaking? Right? This is the best part, right? So it was at that point now there’s loads. So all the bug reports coming in, right? That’s like, Oh, you know, this doesn’t work doesn’t work. The calendar is the calendar that. So we’re like hitting up our developers and like, fix that fix that builds our rack rate are wrapping up. And I had run, I ran out of money. I’m like I have, I really can’t, I just couldn’t pay my developer. So like, there was basically a three, three month period. So like, December, January, February, and February, we made the dumb decision to go to Startup Grind and exhibit in San Francisco. Because like I was, I just thought that somehow, like, that would be a big growth loop for us to go and, you know, into a conference where there’s 1000s of startups and, you know, anyway,

Ricky Willianto 35:46
we’re thinking we’re looking at customers looking for customers, when you can like, sign up for that? Or was it more of like, I just want to get my name out there, or I’m looking at, you know, potential investors, like, what was the thinking of going there was,

Unknown Speaker 35:57
it wasn’t so much the investor bid, because, but it was a little bit in the back of my head, like, you see, you hear these stories about how the investors calm and you’re writing out some white horse and they’re like, Here’s $10 million, boom, you know, they throw millions in your face. You have that even if you’re a smart person, you can’t help but be a little bit, like, affected by these weird stories. And it turns out to be complete bullshit. I actually, like I have a story about this. Just there were some very, like rude people in San Francisco that talk down to us. Because we were from Europe, and we were coming over there. And he’s like, you think you’re going to come here? You know, take our money. It’s like, Dude, chill. I didn’t even ask you for anything. And anyway, I wanted it for client for like, just to get customers and stuff.

Ricky Willianto 36:40
Were you having like, a lot of customers interest from the US at that point? Or was it kind of like more

Unknown Speaker 36:45
low? All?

Ricky Willianto 36:46
Yeah, do you have a lot of customers that

Unknown Speaker 36:48
law from the States, a lot from a lot from Europe, who is super International. And anyway, we didn’t want to like derail the conversation talking about Startup Grind. But I would like to close the parentheses by saying that, if you don’t have a product market fit, don’t waste $10,000 and fly your whole team to San Francisco and you know, think that anything magical is going to happen. It’s not so yeah, what was I saying? Yeah, so like, we run out of money. And my developers at that point, like, they’re really, really good. I have a good relation with them, the agency, but they’re like, dude, like, you have to pay like something. And I was like, I just don’t have any money. I was like, dude, one last thing I want you to do for me. Devs build me the subscription gate, I guarantee you, I will be able to pay, basically do one more month of free. And I guarantee you after you do this, I swear to God, like we’ll start making money. Right? Because I just knew that it was gonna work because the people were getting ridiculous value out of it, talking to people for free. And I was like, just allow me to charge an entrance of $99 per year. That’s it, right? And they’re like, okay, okay, we believe in you. We trust you that, again, really nice guys. And they built the subscription. And yeah, I was right. So that’s so Moral of the story, I guess, even if you’re not making money in the beginning, if you are generating social proof, and you’re actually solving the problem, and you’re adding the, you’re creating the value that you set forth to create initially, like it works. That’s cool, right? At some point, you’ll figure out how to monetize? Yeah,

Ricky Willianto 38:23
I think that that’s an interesting, like, approach as well. I think a lot of people, oftentimes, I guess, again, this is like the conventional way of doing it, right? Like people plan how you’re going to get your product out to the market, people think very clearly upfront, or they try to at least, like how they’re going to make money from it. But it never really panned out that way, right. I think it’s cool to see that, like you are actually taking the route of, yeah, let’s make it like a product people love. And you actually worry about the money bit, you know, last, but I do have a question about how you come up with the monetization strategy. Because obviously, like, I think you did see some resistance when there was kind like, you know, payment involved, at least on the transactional level, right? So you’ve kind of turned into like, the subscription, all you can eat, you know, like mentorship, you know, for a year $99 like, how do you come up to that conclusion that that is a sensible, you know, pricing strategy for your business.

Foti Panagio 39:16
Well, we just kind of chose a number of just went with it. Okay. Yeah, so like, we were like 99 bucks, you can’t really argue with that. It’s like, $99 a year. It’s like $8 a month one, like if somebody would hire me as a consultants like I would charge $150 an hour right so like, you can literally book unlimited calls with me plus 100 other these people here, pay $99 like, you have to be completely insane to think that’s so expensive. So I was like, let’s just start with this because it’s safe. And then we can always raise the price later, right? I can’t start too high and then lower the price of no demand comes. So we wanted to continue with that same like, disproportionate value offering right so like what we came to this idea in the very beginning that like no matter what, like, we have To be offering 10 times more value than someone’s paying, because I think that’s how you disrupt, right by offering disproportionate value compared to what other alternatives exist, either direct or indirect in the marketplace.

Ricky Willianto 40:15
Yeah. And like, I think in addition to the, to the $99, subscription fee there, was there already, like the option for the mentors to charge, like, you know, like variable prices for the call. There was Yeah. Okay. So they were already like, able to call they say, Okay, the first call is free. And then like, you know, if you want a recurring call or recurring meeting, then it’s gonna be X dollars, there was already that option, that

Unknown Speaker 40:37
recurring thing we didn’t, we still don’t even have that that like concept of like the first one free and then pay. But it was at that point in time, when we started the subscription for a year, full year thereafter. It was literally like, there, if you want, you can charge if you want to be free, you can be free, right? And just happens to be that most of the mentors just went free because they joined growth mentor, not as a side thing, side income thing. They joined it because they legitimately wanted to mentor startups and just chat with cool people.

Ricky Willianto 41:06
When when you say most, how many percent is that? I remember, I think like when I joined, you told me that it was something like 60 70%, I saw that that was true that everyone was basically giving away their time, like, you know, and helping helping startups and helping founders. Right. But like, what’s the situation now? Is it still the same?

Unknown Speaker 41:22
I don’t know. Let me check. I think it’s so 65%. So right now we have 237 mentors, and 148 are free. So 148 divided by 237 62.44% or free?

Ricky Willianto 41:36
Well, now that’s pretty consistent. That’s amazing. And like, what what do you see like this evolve into? Because I think seems This is definitely still like, you know, early days for you guys, right? Like, what do you want to turn this into?

Unknown Speaker 41:50
I want to turn this into the most helpful and giving social network for startup founders and marketers. So I want to I want to kind of not pivot but I want to grow into more of a like more social network field with an activity feed and an app and all that kind of good stuff.

Ricky Willianto 42:06
And why why is that like, you know, a direction that you think, like makes sense for you.

Unknown Speaker 42:12
The reason why I think, is because the mentors on the top that are giving, like their time for free. They’re, they’re setting like this precedent of like giving nature, right, and they’re like, so kind and helpful and all that. And then when you hang out with a lot of givers, like that’s contagious, you also turn into a giver yourself. And you want to help people back it’s called reciprocity, right. And my sort of my hypothesis is that the mentees are like itching for an opportunity to help as well, other people, right, help each other. So it’s just like setting the the mentors have set the example. And I feel like the mentees can kind of just run with that. And if I if I can create a social network that can allow mentees to connect with other mentees and collaborate and find a co founder and you know, to find co marketing opportunities and help each other out. Like that, for me, is really in line with our how we can maximise what our stated Northstar metric was from the very beginning, which I know it sounds kind of corny, but it’s karma, right? Like, from the very beginning, I thought like our Northstar metric isn’t really going to be like MRR or anything like that, or sessions book is going to be karma, like how much goods can this platforms existence bring? Right to community. And by by by enabling all of the actors on the platform, not just the mentors only to also help each other out? I think that’s that’s the next evolution of growth venture. And we’re currently like in the works trying to, you know, building building this out right now. So you’ll you’ll see, you’ll see the early early sort of launches of this in a couple of weeks. Yeah, no, I’m

Ricky Willianto 43:57
excited. I’m always looking for the next new mentors that gets added to the platform, which head of growth from which big tech company bringing into the platform that can talk to for free. That’s amazing. So I guess I think the one thing that I want to talk about as well is bootstrap, right? You know, not many people how to, like see that as a viable path, especially, you know, with the media flooded with a lot of VC funded startups and companies and seems like that’s the only way to grow. Right? So what made you choose that as you know, like principle of building this business,

Unknown Speaker 44:26
less complexity?

Ricky Willianto 44:28
Just in what sense?

Unknown Speaker 44:30
You don’t have somebody else getting, you know, asking questions and telling you, you know, getting too too involved, slick. I just, it’s just so annoying for me, like I just can’t deal with. Like, that was my very, like, I’d rather just use my own money and lose it all and have to deal with some weird VC guy ensued, trying to tell me what to do. You know, I just I just don’t like that.

Ricky Willianto 44:50
And like I was in a very conscious choice from the very beginning.

Unknown Speaker 44:54
And it’s not like I had a choice like I had an investor’s like chasing me. So you know, like, I just I was dealt this cards, I just played it. And that’s that’s not gonna, at some point, we started making money. And I was like, Alright, well, I guess I don’t really mean to get funding now. So it’s cool. Like,

Ricky Willianto 45:13
what would you What would you suggest? Like, you know, like, like a new entrepreneur starting a new a new business got a new idea? Like, how do you help people make that decision? Like, do you think that’s a personal thing? Or do you think that is related to like, what business you’re building as well, you know,

Unknown Speaker 45:27
I don’t really think it’s up. It’s a decision that it’s up to up to the entrepreneur, it’s up to the founder, it’s up to the investors I like, just because you think that Yeah, okay, I want to be VC fund, or I want to be like, get an angel investment doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the investment like, it’s so you need to show traction, you need to show a bunch of different things to investors, because think about it from the investor’s perspective, right? They’re being pitched nonstop, all these different startup ideas. And a lot of these ideas have traction, they have revenue they, so why would they choose choose to invest in you if they have if the opportunity cost for them is is the startup that has monetary traction, right? It just doesn’t make sense. So and I talk to a lot of founders who come in are like, you know, how do I raise funding and all this, like, dude, you have no traction, you just have like this little landing page that looks like us, right? Like, work a little bit harder on it, build it out and get a little bit of traction, show something. And then if you still need, if you still wants to get investment, then, you know, talk to friends and family, right? That’s step number one. And then after you exhaust those options, and then with their money, you’ve got even more traction, then you can maybe look for some institutional sort of investors, but like, you can’t just get VC funding from day one. Like it doesn’t happen in the real world. Unless, of course, like you’re some like, clubhouse type founder who like had this axe this thing before? And then like, yeah, you you’re famous. I still

Ricky Willianto 46:51
I still don’t even know how clubhouses making money. But Sure, let’s not make

Unknown Speaker 46:56
money by taking money. But

Ricky Willianto 46:59
I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 47:02

Ricky Willianto 47:03
Yeah. So cool. Foti, I just want to wrap up, you know, this call, because I know we’ve only booked one hour, but we have, you know, five really short questions, and then we’ll wrap it up. Okay. So this is the quickfire round. So first thing is, what is the one metric that you care most about now? And why? And I think you’ve answered this, but God,

Unknown Speaker 47:19
yeah, I said, karma. But that’s not really a metric per se. But we are thinking of doing some sort of gamification and tying that actually like bringing that metric to life. But for it’s all the same, Mr. It’s simple. It’s fun to look at. And yeah, it’s

Ricky Willianto 47:35
awesome. What’s the one software that you swear by?

Unknown Speaker 47:37
I, if you would have asked me a week ago, I was in type form because I i’ve been using them for a long time. And I really love them. And so what happened to them in the past one week, I found this, I found this new tool, which, which I really liked. And I wanted to give them some love as well, because I’ve been on other podcasts. And I already said typeform before so like, whatever. Okay, linear app.

Ricky Willianto 47:56
Linear. And what’s so good about them?

Unknown Speaker 47:59
It’s like a JIRA replacement. Are we Yeah, we use Pivotal Tracker before and for project for product management for like labs, and you know, backlog. And then so on for product. It’s just incredible. It’s just really, really good. It’s like a Trello. But like, imagine like JIRA meets Trello, although they have met already, they’ve bought them but like it’s just really, really intuitive. Easy to use. super powerful. Yeah.

Ricky Willianto 48:23
Cool. I’ll check it out. Like my developers will hit me if I were to change because of what we used to use Pivotal Tracker. I love it. But my developers don’t like it as much. So we on JIRA, now. I don’t love it, but my developers love it. So So yeah, so that’s kind of

Unknown Speaker 48:39
the way it’s really really good. Okay, I’ll be happy to give you a tour. Absolutely. If you

Ricky Willianto 48:45
got it. Got it. Next thing is what’s your favourite growth tool?

Unknown Speaker 48:50
growth tool,

Ricky Willianto 48:51
it can be a strategy you can be like, you know, something that you do consistently whatever, like, you know, I know you hate the word hack, but can be back you know, yeah,

Unknown Speaker 48:58
yeah, I mean, SEO is really good. But I think like doing the things that don’t scale like building relationships, just like your normal human being and like getting people to like you because you’re actually adding value I’m

Unknown Speaker 49:10
sure people forget that as an option. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 49:12
Yeah. Just like be a nice person. That’s like so underused,

Ricky Willianto 49:17
make sense and Okay, next thing is what’s your favourite go to resources for growth can be a book newsletter website, a person whatever growth was not awesome. I would I would agree. I would agree. Yeah, and I think last question, while last quickfire round question, Who are your growth role models?

Unknown Speaker 49:35
I have 237 of them they’re all the growth mentors. They’re they’re my all of them. And

Ricky Willianto 49:41
you’re not allowed to choose favourite are you?

Unknown Speaker 49:43
I can’t choose my favourite.

Ricky Willianto 49:47
Okay, well, how about let me change the question then, like Who Who Who do you wish is someone who can bring onto growth mentor as a mentor?

Unknown Speaker 49:55
Who that’s a good one.

Ricky Willianto 49:56
Maybe this will convert them into a into a mentor.

Unknown Speaker 50:00
You know, this is such a good question. And I’ve haven’t really thought about that because I don’t do like outbound but I mean, I guess if Sean Ellis is listening, bring bring him in. He’s done some great work, so

Ricky Willianto 50:11
we’ll try our best.

Foti Panagio 50:14
Oh, absolutely. Hiten Shah. I gotta say that he’d been shot.

Ricky Willianto 50:19
Okay, well, we’ll try our best. He just demoed it. Sean Ellis, you might hear this. I’m sorry. And last thing is what’s the best way to find you and to reach you

Foti at or Twitter or LinkedIn now? I know I have them also. Perfect.

Awesome. Well, thanks so much for the for the call. I learned a lot and I love the, I guess the non mainstream way of building a business and building a product. Thanks for sharing.

Foti Panagio 50:47
Awesome, my pleasure. Take care.

Ricky Willianto 50:49
Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more growth stories and hacks from experts who have been there and that that you can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website See you next time.



About Growth Multiplier

The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses. 

In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth. 

Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.

Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.

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