Jim Belosic loves design, user experience, Facebook development, and problem solving. He uses those skills everyday as the CEO for ShortStack.com. With ShortStack you can create custom Facebook Pages, easily add contests, sweepstakes, video, custom forms, and more. ShortStack is used in over 184 countries worldwide and serves more than 450 million fans on Facebook.
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- Your Big Idea: Successful Entrepreneurs have One Big Idea. Follow JLD’s FREE training & you’ll discover Your Big Idea in less than an hour!
- “Jump off the cliff, and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury
- Jim was trying to please five huge clients, each of whom took up way too large a percent of his overall profits. Listen to how he broke away from these Goliaths and now serves 170,000+ Davids.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Let’s make a product simple and awesome enough that everyone will understand how it works, and love it. Voilà! The ShortStack app was born.
- Jim is loving the present and refuses to plan for the future, as he realizes how quickly things change these days. I wish I could live like that!
Small Business Resource
- MailChimp: Online email marketing solution to manage contacts, send emails and track results.
Best Business Book
- Rework by Jason Fried
- Socialized! by Mark Fidelman
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John Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply elated to introduce my guest today, Jim Belosic. Jim, are you prepared to ignite?
Jim Belosic: You bet I am.
John Lee Dumas: Alright! Jim loves design, user experience, Facebook development and problem solving. He uses those skills every day as CEO for ShortStack.com. With ShortStack, you can create custom Facebook pages, easily add contest sweepstakes, video, custom forums and much more. ShortStack is used in over 168 countries worldwide and serves more than 450 million fans on Facebook. Wow!
I’ve given Fire Nation a little overview, Jim, but why don’t you take it from here and tell us who you are and what you do?
Jim Belosic: I’m basically just a graphic artist, but I kind of turned into the CEO role/developer/janitor/everything else when you’re running a company. I’m just really blessed to be part of an awesome team and I was smart enough to hire people smarter than me. With ShortStack and Pancake Labs, we’ve really taken off, so day-to-day is there’s always something new and exciting and work is definitely my favorite thing to do, which not a lot of people can say.
John Lee Dumas: Definitely not, and I love that you were just talking about your team already because I love when we really can delve into an entrepreneur that’s built the team around him because that is so important. I have done it here at EntrepreneurOnFire. You’ve obviously done it in ShortStack. I look forward to delving into that later in the interview. But let’s transition now to our first topic, which is our success quote.
EntrepreneurOnFire is really about getting the motivational ball rolling, giving our listeners some exciting content right at the beginning so they can be pumped for your content for the rest of the interview. So Jim, what do you have for us today?
Jim Belosic: My absolute favorite quote, and it’s driven me since the day that I left my paying job and went out on my own. It’s actually by Ray Bradbury and it’s “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” I think if that doesn’t sum up entrepreneurship, I don’t know what does.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! That’s a scary visual, but I like it and I get it. So why don’t you just kind of take that right now? Bring it down to the ground level and tell us how you’ve actually applied the realness of it to your business.
Jim Belosic: Everyone has an idea of how to do something better and they want to go out on their own or they want to start their own business or consultation business or they have a product that they want to do. But I think people get stuck in the details and they get stuck trying to emulate successful companies. Just recently, I was working with a friend of mine and he wanted to go out on his own and he was so mired in all these little things that really don’t matter. Like he said, “Oh, I need to have an office in this particular location of town. My business cards need to look a certain way. My website needs to do certain things. I can’t get started until I have all these stuff.” And I told him, “Dude, just jump and jump in with both feet, man. You’re going to be fine. You’ll figure it out as you go.” What we do, the way that we use the quote “jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down” is get started with something and work on it as it’s in progress because things change so rapidly that if you have an idea and you plan, and then you jump off the cliff, those wings may not work. So if you build them on the way down, I guarantee you’re going to say, “Oh, okay. This is starting to float me or this one is starting to work a little bit better than that one. Let’s make some changes.” So being able to constantly adapt and make things better is super important, and then also, sometimes it’s better to be first than to be the best. If you don’t get started today, you may never get started.
John Lee Dumas: I love that. On some levels, there is something to be said for having a platform of some sort, but how I would equate that to this scenario is you don’t want to jump off a cliff not knowing what you’re going to do. You want to jump off the cliff knowing you’re going to build wings. And that’s all you need to know. You don’t need to have the wings built or know how you’re going to build them. Just know that you’re going to build wings on your way down. That speaks a lot to Eric Ries’s book of The Lean Startup, which is really get out there, create that minimally viable product as soon as possible, get it out to your customers, get it out to your target market because the sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can actually create something that’s wanted and not just something that’s inside your head. Have you had success with that at ShortStack?
Jim Belosic: Yes. 100%. And we had to because we’re 100% bootstrapped. To a lot of people, bootstrapped means oh, they took out a second mortgage or they had some money in savings or whatever. Like we were super, super bootstrapped [Laughs]. We didn’t have enough boots. We were like “sockstrapped” or whatever you want to call it.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Jim Belosic: We had to get a product out there and start taking money as early as possible just so we could survive, but we knew that we had a good idea and we did launch with a minimum viable product. I’m glad that we did because it steered us in directions that we never would have got ourselves, and your clients or your customers or your colleagues will crowdsource everything for you basically as you go. So as long as you can listen to that, everything’s going to be okay.
John Lee Dumas: Nope. I totally agree with you. To kind of equate that to EntrepreneurOnFire, I was just ready to launch. I had the interviews queued up. I had my website up and live and I’m like, “I’m just going to do it,” and people were like, “No. Just wait a couple of weeks. Get a better product for people to subscribe to your email list and what have you.” But I’m like, “You know what? That will come.” And so I just launched two weeks early on September 21st, and then two weeks later, I’m sitting there and I’m looking at my stats and I’m like, “Wow! I have 30,000 downloads.” Now if I had waited those two weeks, that’s 30,000 potential downloadees that I would never have reached or that I just wouldn’t have had at that point. So I got out there. I got some great feedback from that initial thrust and was really able to even make a better product because of that. So I completely agree. I’m really running EntrepreneurOnFire with the same principles and guidelines that you’re running ShortStack, and I just love it. So thank you for sharing that, Jim.
Jim Belosic: Yes. No problem.
John Lee Dumas: So we’re going to transition now to our next topic, which is failure. EntrepreneurOnFire is about the journey, and Jim, you’re our spotlighted entrepreneur so this is about your journey, your story. Obviously as an entrepreneur, you’ve faced failure or challenges or obstacles that you’ve had to overcome, however you want to define it. Can you share with Fire Nation a challenge that you’ve faced and what you did to overcome this?
Jim Belosic: It was all three. It was a challenge, it was an obstacle, and it was a failure. The biggest issue that we’ve had in our history is we used to be basically a white label developer. So application developers and agency or a large client would come to us and say, “Hey, look, this is what we want. Can you build it for us? Can you make it work? Can you maintain it?” So we had a handful of this type of clients and those clients are great. They pay extremely well and they help us put a roof over our head. However, when you have 5 clients or 10 clients or whatever, if you lose one, that can be 20% or 25% of your business so you constantly have to jump when they say jump, you have to be at their beck and call, you have to take phone calls in the middle of the night when the site goes down or who knows what. The money is good, but then the problem is that they stifled the innovation. You’re so busy working on this one thing, you have no opportunity to expand and develop new products.
So we knew that we had to get away from these people, but the failure was that we didn’t do it fast enough. It was just too scary to turn down $50,000 or $100,000 for a project and tell them no. So I blame myself for not jumping on it earlier and kind of living by my own words of screw it, let’s see what happens. Finally, we did it. It just became too painful. They became too demanding and we said, “You know what? We’re done with this model. We’re going to go to a self-service model and instead of having 10 clients, have 100,000 and let’s see what happens.” Luckily, we overcame it, and here we are today. So we’re pretty happy.
John Lee Dumas: Have you read the book “Rework” by Jason Fried?
Jim Belosic: I have. I’ve read it probably 15 or 16 times because I have major ADD so I can only read like two pages at a time and then I forget what I read. But I love that book and I’m trying to read it at least once a week.
John Lee Dumas: He talks about 37signals and just how they really decided early on that they weren’t going to cater to those big clients because exactly of what you said, that those big clients stifle innovation. They want to cater to the masses and the people who they can serve on a quantity level using quality products. They have that mantra. They go forward with that. And it’s really exciting to know that ShortStack does as well. I didn’t know that, but I’m really excited to hear that you do.
Jim Belosic: Yes. One of the common requests that we have, we have many large brands and large agencies and Fortune 500 companies on our platform and we’re constantly bombarded with, “Hey, we will pay you guys more if you do these type of services or if you can do X, Y or Z,” and it’s usually something very specific to that enterprise level stuff. We try and incorporate those features in whenever possible if it is applicable to our entire user base, but as far as having like dedicated account reps and stuff like that like flying out to New York constantly for meetings, it just doesn’t scale well for us. We love to give all of our clients quality service. So we turn down the money, but in the end, I think they respect us for it and they continue to use the platform. That’s why we have partners that we work with who can handle that service side, but for us, we love to focus on the product and do basically what we’re good at as opposed to flying around and shaking hands and stuff.
John Lee Dumas: I love that because in this day and age, you truly can provide quantity and quality. It’s very possible.
Jim Belosic: Yes. It’s true. Again, just listening to user feedback allows you to take your quality level up 100% almost on a daily basis. One of the things that we do here, every single member of the team is also a customer support agent. So if you send in a support ticket because you have a question or a problem, the likelihood of that being answered by a dedicated agent or the CEO of the company is just about the same. So we all kind of keep our ear to the ground and make sure that we know exactly what’s going on in the frontlines, and then we try and improve the product accordingly.
John Lee Dumas: So pull a major lesson that you learned from this failure of just trying to cater to the big boys.
Jim Belosic: I think the lesson is if you let someone have too much control, then you’re not going to progress. You’re not going to move forward at the rate that you would like. So whether that’s control with money or it’s control with votes or it’s control with exposure, too much control in the hands of too few is bad. I’m sure there’s a billion quotes throughout our history from generals about that same thing.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. Let’s use that to move to our next topic, which is the other end of the spectrum, Jim. This is your aha moment. You’ve obviously had so many aha moments in your life – small ones every single day with ShortStack. I have no doubt. You alluded to an aha moment already where you’re not going to any longer work just for the big guys. That was an absolute aha moment. But go back in your journey. Give us a moment where this light bulb just came on and share that story with Fire Nation.
Jim Belosic: The biggest aha moment? I’ve had many, like you said, throughout my entrepreneurship career, which basically started when I was 12, mowing lawns, and I realized, “Hey, I can either work at the corner store or I can mow lawns on my own time.” That was a pretty big aha moment, but the most important one for where we’re at today and the type of models we use was realizing, hey, we really can scale this. We can replicate it time and time again without too much invested effort, and if it’s repeatable, then we can just focus on making it better and make it more repeatable.
So the way that worked is when we did have these agency clients, we were doing the same thing over and over. The same type of apps, the same type of projects. So what we did in order to just speed up our own development internally is we made some tools. We made some software tools that sped up things. They were ugly at first and most of them were just like these giant PHP arrays that I can still barely understand. But as we worked on that internally so that our developers didn’t have to do boring stuff each day, it became more and more polished.
So at one point, I’m looking at this thing and I just realized, wow! If we added a couple of buttons instead of lines of code and if we added a couple more features and created a more graphic user interface, they don’t need us. We can just release this thing and people can use it themselves. That was a huge turning point. It was like, hey, I’m going to fire our whole service sector and we’re just going to make this thing self-service. It was really scary, but at the same time, it seemed like that’s where things were trending. Nowadays, we see more and more of the self-service apps popping.
John Lee Dumas: Jim, would you say that you’ve had an I’ve made it moment?
Jim Belosic: Yes. Definitely. I could probably figure out the date too if I looked on Facebook and all the pictures of champagne.
John Lee Dumas: Well, share that with us because we want to see inside your journey, see your story.
Jim Belosic: The I have made it moment was the moment when our products made us more money than our service side did. That’s when we knew that we made the right decision to basically fire all of our clients. It was really scary, but when we were able to sit down and go, “Oh my gosh! This month with this tiny team, we made X, and that’s the same amount that we made the month previous when we had all of these individual really demanding clients that were hard to serve and we were always worried about losing them. When we realized, okay, we can still put a roof over our head, but we’re actually enjoying our work and we’re not completely stressed out, that’s when we were like, “Oh my God! We made it! This is working. I can’t believe it! Let’s pop a cork!”
John Lee Dumas: Well, I love the fact that you actually have that visual that you’re sharing with us of popping champagne. It’s kind of funny because I just had a conversation with an entrepreneur earlier today and I asked her if she had had an I’ve made it moment, and I specifically said for the first time ever, did you pop any champagne, kind of jokingly, and of course she said, “No, no. Like my husband and I went out to dinner,” and I thought that was great. But then my very next interview, the interviewee – you, Jim – said I popped champagne. So I love that. I feel like I said it and you did it. So that’s great. I love that visual. It’s so important, Jim, to have those moments where you’re just really appreciating your achievements and looking at your accomplishments and taking note because it’s so easy as an entrepreneur to just put your head down and drive forward to your goal, and then set that next goal immediately, but EntrepreneurOnFire is about the journey. You’re obviously enjoying your journey and I definitely commend you for that.
Jim Belosic: Well, thanks. The popping champagne or whatever, keep in mind, it’s super, super cheap disgusting champagne that we usually have to cut with orange juice. The thing about that too is as a founder or a CEO or whatever, you can celebrate with your cofounders or your board members or whatever, but the champagne is really about the team. It’s a celebration. When you hit milestones, whether it’s revenue or it’s usership or downloads or whatever, when you can share that with the team and not just internally – you don’t just say, “Oh well, now I can buy a Ferrari” or whatever. If you let everyone take part in that, the camaraderie just goes through the roof, the loyalty. They’ve worked hard. They get to share in it too. We usually try and keep at least 10 bottles of champagne in the fridge at any time just in case we hit a milestone or whatever. We do it as regularly as we can. A, because we’re all kind of pseudo-alcoholics, but B, it’s because it doesn’t have to be something huge. It can be little things like, “Oh my God, thank God we took over this other office space so now we don’t have to share a bathroom with that guy upstairs.”
John Lee Dumas: Pop the champagne! Jim, I love it, and I love the fact that you’re being humble, but let’s be honest with Fire Nation. I was on your Facebook page earlier. I could have sworn I saw Cristal somewhere in some picture.
Jim Belosic: [Laughs] No. I’ve actually never had it. I heard it’s really sweet, but I haven’t come down to it yet. Someday.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Alright, Jim. We’re going to move forward now into your current business. You have a lot of exciting things that are going on with products and the such. Such a reach, 250 million Facebook pages you’re talking about. What’s one thing that’s really exciting you about your business right now?
Jim Belosic: I’m super glad that I don’t have to just do the same thing over and over. The biggest thing to me is the whole industry, the whole social media field, the whole entrepreneurship field is shifting on a day-by-day basis. So I’m constantly excited to jump in and see what’s new, see what’s going on. Is there a new technology that’s out? Is there a new coding language? Is there a new type of funding? What’s going on out there? I don’t know how you couldn’t be excited about that because it’s definitely not boring.
John Lee Dumas: What is your vision for the future?
Jim Belosic: I don’t know. It could be anything. That’s what’s really cool, is I don’t have a vision for the future because it’s shifted so differently than when we just started a year, a year-and-a-half ago or two years ago. If I told you what the future was going to be like in two years, it might be like that in two months. So I don’t really have a vision. The only thing that I know is that if we can adapt to trends as quickly as we have, then we’re going to be successful and continue to offer really great products. I think that’s kind of a cop-out answer, I guess.
John Lee Dumas: It’s not a cop-out, Jim, because it really goes with your mentality. Your mentality is we’re going to launch before we’re ready. We’re not just going to just sit here and plan and plan and plan, and then come out with this, what we think is a perfect product. Just like you’re saying we’re not going to sit around and envision this future and plan for this future that may not even happen. So just like when you launch a product, you launch as quick as possible to get feedback. Just like with you living in the present, it gives you the flexibility to move and adjust to whatever is happening, social media-wise.
Jim Belosic: I agree. I agree 100%.
John Lee Dumas: So Jim, we’ve now reached my favorite part of the show. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round. This is where I provide you with a series of questions and you come back at Fire Nation with amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Jim Belosic: I’ll do my best.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] What was the number one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Jim Belosic: The security. I had a steady girlfriend at the time, I needed a steady job, and walking away from a paycheck is definitely something tough to do.
John Lee Dumas: Are you saying you had to wine and dine this girl to keep her happy?
Jim Belosic: No. I ended up marrying her, and I can say she is pretty high maintenance, but I mean it in a good way.
John Lee Dumas: But you love her.
Jim Belosic: Of course, of course. And she’s put up with me through the dark days and the good days so she deserves everything she gets.
John Lee Dumas: Oh, she’s earned it. What’s the best business advice you ever received?
Jim Belosic: One of my buddies told me to quit the job that I was working at. That same one. He said, “You’re better than this. Leave. You can do better.”
John Lee Dumas: This is just a random question, but how did you come up with the pancake theme?
Jim Belosic: [Laughs] I could attribute that to my daughter. She was about two-and-a-half at the time and I decided, hey, I’m going to make her some Mickey Mouse pancakes because that’s what my dad made me when I was growing up and I thought it was the coolest thing. But obviously, I don’t know little girls because she said she wanted a princess.
John Lee Dumas: I love the simplicity of this, Jim. Especially these days, it seems that people try to be too clever. I hark back to my military days when one of our major acronyms was “KISS” – Keep It Simple, Stupid. People can relate to pancakes. People can relate to breakfast. It’s a happy time. I had a great breakfast this morning of omelets and toast and a cinnamon bun, and it was a happy time for me. So I think of ShortStack, I think of pancakes, and I think of happiness. I love the simplicity of it, so I’m behind you.
Jim Belosic: Yes, yes. One thing led to another, and then I became kind of known as Jim the Pancake Guy around the office, and when it came time to name a new product, it really stuck.
John Lee Dumas: What’s something that’s working for you or your business right now?
Jim Belosic: I think I already touched on it, but I would say constant change, and I think the ADD is kind of a secret weapon that we have right now because we can work on 50 different things at the same time. So continually throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks works great for us.
John Lee Dumas: Do you have an Internet resource like an Evernote that you’re just in love with right now that you can share with Fire Nation?
Jim Belosic: I absolutely love MailChimp. They are an amazing team, they’re an amazing product. It makes our email marketing super easy, but I really love those guys even more for their user experience and their interface and kind of the whole personality behind the product. I think that’s even more important than the product itself.
John Lee Dumas: Okay. We’re going to have to battle here. I am an AWeber guy through and through, but that’s fine. I love it.
Jim Belosic: No worries. No. I mean again, great product, but when it comes down to personality of the brand – and maybe it’s because I know the MailChimp guys so well, but I think they do a great job.
John Lee Dumas: I love their brand. Straight confession, I actually had my website designer model EntrepreneurOnFire.com after the MailChimp website because I loved it so much.
Jim Belosic: Awesome, awesome!
John Lee Dumas: What’s your favorite business book?
Jim Belosic: Rework, it’s got to be. I don’t read a whole lot. I’m more of a visual guy. I actually really prefer magazines for whatever reason. But Rework I could really get my head around because – well, A, because there’s a picture on almost every page [Laughs]. But then it is the chapters are basically one or two pages and they just kind of drive home one idea and it’s easy to latch on to. It seems like common sense, but when you apply, you go, “God, these guys are brilliant because they made me apply some common sense.”
John Lee Dumas: Awesome stuff. So Jim, this last question, it’s a tough one. I’ve kind of reworked it in just the last couple of days because I wasn’t happy with the answer that I was getting. So just do your best, take your time, and then come back with an answer. If you woke up tomorrow morning in a completely new world, but it was identical to earth, but you knew nobody. All of your food and shelter was taken care of and you still had all of the experience and knowledge that you currently have right now, but only $500 in your pocket and a computer with Internet access. What would you do in the next seven days?
Jim Belosic: Build a minimum viable product. If you go to this new world, even though you have all your experience and knowledge, you don’t necessarily know what’s going to work in this new place. So if you have an idea, maybe you look around and you go, “Well, these people seem to all like to eat with their toes with the butter side down or whatever,” build a minimum viable product that’s going to help them do that and see what’s going to happen, see what type of feedback you get because you’re going to sacrifice that week of building and you just want to launch so that you can get feedback because you’re not in it to build a product in a week. You’re in it to build a product over a year, or five years or ten years. So if you can launch it with just the bare essentials, and then continually evolve that product or that service, then you’re in good shape.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! That was great actionable advice. You’ve given us great actionable content this entire interview, Jim, and we are all better for it. Give Fire Nation one parting piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Jim Belosic: I would say to all the wannabe entrepreneurs out there who haven’t started yet, just do it. There’s no time like today. Even if you can’t quit your day job, do it at night, do it on the weekends, until you reach our aha moment, which is wow, I’m making more money doing this than I was at my day job. For all of you entrepreneurs out there who have just started, listen to your customers. Make sure that you are continually and listening and seeing what’s best. Even if you are really adamant that a certain feature has to be done or this has to be done a certain way, if your customers tell you otherwise, you have to do what they tell you. So make sure that you have some sort of channel to keep in mind there.
Then finally, if you guys want to build custom apps for your Facebook page or your website or whatever – contest sweepstakes, collecting data, again, listening to your clientele and creating cool things that engage people – check out ShortStack.com. It’s totally free to try out. We have a free plan. You can use it forever. We try and be pretty reasonable. Our packages start at about 30 bucks a month.
John Lee Dumas: I love it. Thank you again, Jim. Fire Nation, we salute you.