What I Learned From Starting Apptopia

It’s coming up on about 1 year since I’ve been a real entrepreneur/founder/business owner, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect and share some of my experiences with you.There are tons of people (TONS) who are more successful and much better known than I am…so why listen to me talk about lessons learned?  You only have so much time each day.

It’s simple. The answer is because I am probably more raw, honest, and uncensored than all of them.  No bullshit.  And if you don’t believe me feel free to ask around.  You will probably hear that I am loud, energetic, swear a lot, but am as real as anyone.

But OK.  Enough of that. Who the hell am I & what is Apptopia?

My name is Jonathan Kay.  A lot of people know me because I was the Ambassador of Buzz at Grasshopper, but today I am the founder of Apptopia.  I built a marketplace that is the first of its kind.  We broker mobile app acquisitions (think like Instagram or SocialCam).  I have raised over $1 million dollars ($1.4 to be exact), and manage a team of 12 people.  I work with a handful of fortune 500 companies, and businesses all across the world; Apptopia is at least 50% international.

Quitting a job that most people would have died for and starting this company has been one of the most insane, unpredictable, and life-altering things I’ve ever done.  Below I want to share a few things I have learned along the way.  My goal is to provide some very raw, unfiltered insights.  My hope is that this helps provide even a moment of guidance or clarity for you along your own journey.

It’s a Life Decision, Not a Career Decision

Starting a company will affect your entire life, every single aspect of it.  It will affect your family, friends, significant other (no matter what stage your relationship’s at), your health (both mentally and physically), everything.  Do not kid yourself for one moment. Seriously…stop thinking it won’t have this affect on you, because it will.  And that is completely okay, it’s just important to be conscious of the decision you are making before you make it.  I was one of the most well balanced people I knew.  I always played equally as hard as I worked and I always made time for friends and family.  There is no balance in being a founder.  None.  Because the second you are comfortable, or have a good work-life balance you will lose to someone who has devoted all of themself to their business.Now let me be super clear, this is not supposed to scare you.  Remember, the whole point of this post is to be raw and real.  Running your own business will take over your life for a period of time.  You will not be able to think about anything else, and when you are out having fun you might even feel bad you are not working.  If you don’t feel this way, you are probably doing it wrong.

It’s About Working Smart, Not Hard

Of course it’s about working hard, so stop thinking “What the hell is this kid talking about?”  But it’s much, much, much, more important to work smart.  I always used to think that I never had to worry about money because my bottom line was that I would just work harder than anyone else.  How could you ever fail, if you were the hardest working person out there?  It turns out that is not entirely true.  Believe it or not a LOT of people work really hard, and the odds are that there is probably someone who is working harder than you.  So if you want to succeed, you need to work smart as well as hard.  In fact, I actually had to let an employee go who was unbelievably hard working, because they didn’t work smart.  Working smart requires a lot of listening, focus, and discipline.

For instance, if you are going to spend time working, make sure you are giving 100%.  If you are only producing 50% of your potential at 11pm at night, don’t stay in the office until 2 am because it seems like the right thing to do.  You will lose half of your next day.  Go to sleep immediately, wake up at 6 or 7am and get cranking again.  Maximize your waking hours where you are at your strongest.  If you work at a startup and there is some low hanging fruit in front of you, don’t spend all day working on a project that could maybe, potentially get you on the front page of TechCrunch. No.  You go get that low hanging fruit and you get as much of it as you can humanly carry because if you don’t, someone else will.

As us cliché entrepreneurs say…fail fast.  Fail as fast as you freaking can.  Because failing actually helps you better understand the right direction to be running in.  And if you aren’t running in the right direction, what the hell are you doing?

If you run a startup (or work at one)…work smart.  No founder, or boss, or investor ever cares, or even really knows how many hours you sit at your desk… They only see the results.  Work smart.

Your Employees Respect Your Actions, Not Your Title

It’s funny. This is actually one of those major differences between a big company and a startup.  If you work at Fidelity and are a Financial Analyst 4…shit, all the financial analyst 1, 2, and 3s have a ton of respect for you.  And can you imagine what would happen if the CEO of Fidelity walked into one of their offices?  I think the entire company would stop working and just stare.  But at a startup, this isn’t the case.  Just because you are the founder, and it’s “your idea,” and you raised the money that pays their salaries… it doesn’t mean you get respect.  In fact not even close.  The “I pay your salary” mentality doesn’t really work at startups because most people who work at a startup company are inherently the “Crème of the crop”; they are the hustlers who rose to the top.  So really, they could get another job in a week no problem.  Hence they are not scared of your monetary or equity based threats.

So then, how do you earn the unwavering respect of your employees?  You work harder than them.  It’s kind of a funny thing because as a founder, your job is to hire the craziest of the crazies.  It’s your job to hire the people who will be in your office at 10:30pm on a Friday just because they love it.  Yet, somehow you need to work harder than they do.  It almost seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.  When your developers are up till 2, 3, or 4 am doing a deployment, you better be right there with them.  Even if you don’t understand anything they are doing.  Pour them a glass of scotch, go buy them a Red Bull, or even just keep them company.  If you want to be the most respected person in the room, you will not do it by dressing nice or having a lot of money. You will earn that respect because you went to battle side by side with them.

In fact, there is a really good article that dives more into this here: “The Unspoken Truth About Managing Geeks.”

I really wanted to take the time to share these few tidbits with you because when I worked at Grasshopper I had a very naïve view of startups.  I thought that if you worked hard, always did the right thing, and just truly, deeply cared about your customers you would succeed (and make good money too).  That’s not the case at all.  In fact, you need to do that stuff just to get a ticket to the game.  Really, owning a business is about having a good idea, getting the right people to back you, putting the right people in the right positions, timing it correctly, and well…creating a little bit of your own luck.

Having said all of that, starting Apptopia is by far, unquestionably, one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.  I wake up each morning with a smile on my face, and I wish the same for all of you.

If you ever have any questions, comments, concerns, or even think I am way off – I am always around.  All my contact information is here: https://www.apptopia.com/meet-the-team.

Enjoy the ride.



This article has 1 comment

  1. Jon Kay! I can’t believe this amazing news! Congratulations to you and everyone at your company! This is HUGE! You have such passion, took a risk, and love what you do. You are truely an inspiration. SO happy for you!

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