Many entrepreneurs would be a lot happier (and probably more successful) if they aspired to be more like Peter Baumgartner than Richard Branson. A great job, a great team, excited to work in morning, able to put in a sane 40 hours and still spend time with the family – this desirable reality is as rare as the fame and fortune of a few headline-stealing names on the startup scene. Yet, that’s what Baumgartner has earned.
As the founder of Ginger, a communication platform, Baumgartner strives to realize his visions while creating a space for his employees at Lincoln Loop to do the same. While managing to live in a beach town in Mexico. And he can tell you why lack of funding is an asset. This is an attractive, attainable business model. Here’s how Baumgartner made it happen:
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I sort of stumbled into it, to be honest. I worked as an IT consultant, and lots of my clients were telling me horror stories about the people they’d hired to build their websites. I started building websites under the umbrella of the company I was working for, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the future of the business. After some negotiation, I bought the client list and took the business in my own direction. Overnight, I went from having a dead-end job to being a business owner. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
What inspired your current startup?
As a “virtual” team spread across multiple time zones, we quickly realized that communication would make or break us. We tried lots of different tools, from chat to email to Basecamp, and even the short-lived Google Wave, but they all fell short in one way or another. We took our five years of experience working remotely and built the ideal communication platform for teams like ours. Our current startup, Ginger, scratches that itch for us.
What makes your startup so killer? How is it different from the competition?
So much of the competition is focused on solving a million different problems. They have discussions, calendars, to-do lists, documents, etc. Rather than getting best-of-breed solutions, it felt like we were working in “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” platforms. Ginger is focused on one thing and doing that one thing extremely well: enabling discussions for distributed teams.
Our experience with other services taught us what worked and what didn’t. We also saw a few common frustrations that none of the other tools solved for us.
Ginger makes it easy to:
● get consensus,
● encourage brainstorming without disrupting the conversation, and
● contribute anytime, even days after a discussion started, while maintaining readability.
How do you motivate yourself and your team?
I have a vision of what life looks like when we achieve our goals, and I’m hungry to realize that vision. I do my best to plant that seed in everyone I work with. Instead of trying to push my own dreams, I encourage people to build their own and help make sure everyone’s individual goals are aligned with our “big picture” goals.
I also try very hard to make sure Lincoln Loop is a great place to work. We don’t subscribe to the school of thought that, to be successful as a startup, you have to work 80-hour weeks and pull all-nighters. We give our people a lot of trust and freedom to do things their own way. As a result, we have people who are not only loyal and happy, but truly excited about our success.
If the Internet didn’t exist, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be building something. Maybe I’d be a carpenter? I enjoy building custom bikes and have always thought I’d enjoy shaping surfboards. It’s a similar concept to what I’m doing on the Internet: building something that scratches an itch, then iterating on it and tweaking it to get things just right. In the end, I get to use what I created for my own enjoyment.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their businesses off the ground?
If you haven’t already, go back and validate your big assumptions to ensure they are true. Talk to potential customers and learn what they want. Don’t be afraid to adjust your path based on what you learn. Read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries for more details on customer development.
If you’ve already validated your idea, make sure you’re focusing on the things that will give you the most bang for your buck. At a startup, everything starts off rough around the edges; it’s easy to spend days sanding one tiny thing to a fine polish, while ignoring massive problems elsewhere. Early on, you should be focusing on the things that will make the biggest changes to the bottom line with the least amount of effort.
Finally, it’s important to remember that most “overnight” successes were actually a few years (and failures) in the making. Stick with it and try to keep making forward progress every day.
What has been the biggest startup surprise for you (good or bad)? Have you had any incredible /funny / challenging experiences that you can share with us?
The biggest surprise for me has been how clueless we were on everything that needs to happen after launching. As web developers, we’re really good at building great apps, but we had no experience with marketing. While I felt like I had a lot of the knowledge I needed, when it came time to actually do it, I was completely overwhelmed. We didn’t know where to start and, as a result, we flailed around for a bit.
Just recently, we started measuring the effects of our changes on conversions and engagement. Before that, we just guessed and pushed changes live without any feedback as to whether they were actually working. By contrast, a few weeks ago, we loaded up and tested three different landing pages. By tracking the conversions for each one, we were able to make an informed decision on how to proceed, nearly doubling our signup rate.
How do you handle frustration or disappointment?
It’s part of the game of being an entrepreneur. You can’t let it get to you; otherwise, it will sabotage not only you, but also your business and your personal relationships. I’ve learned to accept it as it comes, but not dwell on it or carry it around for days.
Having a life outside of work is crucial. When work is all you have, it’s easy to be personally swayed by the ups and downs of the business. If you have friends, family, and hobbies outside of work, it’s easier to take the bad news with a grain of salt.
What are the top 3 online tools / websites / devices that you couldn’t live without? (And why?)
I all but gave up on tech gadgets a few years ago. I’m down to just my Apple MacBook Pro now, and it handles all my day-to-day needs. I’m a big user of online services, though. A few of my favorites:
GitHub has revolutionized the code sharing and collaboration landscape for developers. It’s easier than ever for developers to release open source code and contribute to the open source libraries of others. We happily pay to use their service for our private repositories.
2. Visual Website Optimizer
As I noted above, testing and measuring changes we make to our website (A/B testing) has had a profound impact on how we manage our product. Having hard data to help push you in the right direction (instead of taking stabs in the dark) makes marketing so much simpler.
It’s our own tool, but seriously, our team couldn’t live without it. It’s where we brainstorm and discuss. Going back to email would be a massive blow to the level and clarity of communication we’ve grown accustomed to.
If you had $1 million and one year off, what would you do? (Other than work on your current startup)
I’d spend a ton of time with my family. Beyond that, I would focus on my outdoor hobbies (surfing, skiing, mountain biking, kayaking) and travel the world to visit a few of the world-class spots for each one (with my family, of course).
How do you maintain work / life balance?
I’m pretty committed to a 40-hour (or less) workweek. Any more than that, and work starts to consume me. Even the hours I’m not working will be spent thinking about work. I have a great family that keeps me honest and lets me know if I’m slipping too far in one direction.
How has being an entrepreneur changed you for the better? How has it enriched your life?
It’s been amazing! The freedom of being able to work where, when, and how I want is incredible. I’ve been feeling productive at night lately, so I decided I’d put in some hours after the family goes to sleep and take an extra day off each week. I’m able to make those kinds of decisions immediately, instead of trying to convince some pointy-haired boss it’s a good idea.
Since becoming an entrepreneur, I’m usually excited to start work in the morning. On the days I’m dreading work, I look at the reason and figure out how to change them. I’m in total control of my well-being in the workplace. That’s tough to beat.
What is the tech scene like where you live?
My business is location-neutral, so at the moment, I’m living in a beach town in Mexico. The tech scene is almost completely nonexistent, aside from a couple of other ex-pats like me. I attend a few tech conferences a year to get my fill, but otherwise, I enjoy living outside of the bubble.
Where can our readers find you?
How can the KillerStartups community help YOU?
I’d love to talk more about this in the comments section! I’m looking forward to engaging with the KillerStartups community there.
What is it like bootstrapping your own startup? What sort of challenges have you encountered?
Ginger’s development has been funded by our consulting work at Lincoln Loop. It’s great because we maintain total control over the project and spend our time improving it, instead of trying to appease investors. At the same time, there have been a few challenges.
Compared to a VC-funded company with millions of dollars in the bank on day one, we’ve had tighter constraints on the amount of time we can invest in Ginger. Even though we have a long list of things we’d like to work on, we have to pick and choose things based on the time we have available.
Due to those constraints, we had to release early without much more than a minimum viable product. It was hard at first because we knew we could do better, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Many of the problems we wanted to solve upfront turned out to not be problems at all, and things we didn’t think of turned out to be high-priority issues. Our lack of funding upfront actually prevented us from building what would have been a more bloated product.