Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there, I’m Peter Kozodoy - the co-Founder and CEO of Stradeso. Stradeso is a subscription service that produces your creative content - in 3 days or less, for unbeatably low prices - by connecting your projects directly to creatives with excess capacity, without the hassle of finding, hiring and managing them.
Our customers are VPs of marketing, entrepreneurs, consultants, and other agencies who want to get agency-level creative work at about one-tenth the cost of hiring an agency. In fact, with Stradeso, you don’t have to hire ANYONE!
Stradeso is a brand new launch and in beta for anyone who wants to give it a try. And although we’re starting from scratch now, it was born out of our first company - a multimillion-dollar, multinational, Inc.5000 marketing agency.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The savvy reader will be wondering why we created something that will put our agency out of business...but that was actually the point. After growing GEM Advertising from scratch to the Inc.5000 list, we realized that the agency business has a lot of headwinds working against it.
Today more than ever, marketers are under pressure to do more with less. And there are so many instances of agencies overcharging their clients for simple work, that ultimately we saw an opportunity kind of like Uber.
What Uber did was take advantage of excess capacity in the market. The creative industry is no different; there are TONS of talented writers and designers sitting around wondering how to get more work. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of customers who want brochures and logos and press releases done, but don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of finding, hiring, and managing freelancers or an agency.
But Stradeso connects those projects and creatives in real-time, just like Uber, so all you have to do is order what you want and it gets done and quality-checked by our network of pre-vetted creatives. So far, most of those creatives have been freelancers who are tired of spending most of their day getting new work and only some of their time doing what they love. But we’ve also spoken to other agency owners who think Stradeso would be a great way to keep their full-time employees busy when they’re in-between projects.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the beginning, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to build an MVS that we could test and validate our thinking. We were self-funding out of our agency, so we ultimately decided to string together a bunch of technologies that already existed, and use Zapier to connect everything up.
Now that we have a working model, we are sketching out the UI/UX of our own system. We’re fortunate because we have a full-service agency to back us up, which means we know how to brand, create content, develop web applications, and so on. So it definitely helped that we had spent 12 years building an agency before using that asset to get into our next venture.
Entrepreneurship is 10% about business, 100% about people, and 1,000% about the self.
But that, I think, is a great lesson, which is a lot like driving across the country. You don’t know what the road ahead looks like until you come up to it, and entrepreneurship is like that. We thought we were growing an agency until we looked at each other and said, hm, we think there’s a lot more opportunity doing something else...and so, we did.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as we think. That was super-true with Stradeso. We thought we’d have an MVS live by the start of Q1 of 2019. It took until the end of Q3!
Then, we’re building a marketplace, so we set about building both sides of the business -- creatives and members -- and we recognized early on that the creatives were the bottleneck.
With that in mind, we developed systems for recruiting creatives from sites like Indeed.com, and we now have over 2,000 waiting in the wings to get onto the platform. That’s been a pretty easy sell since we’re basically dropping paying gigs right into their lap.
The bottleneck lesson is an important one, though: Know where your bottleneck is, and devote energy to solving it. And although entrepreneurs always think “getting customers” is THE thing, sometimes it’s not...operations matter, too.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since Stradeso is essentially a B2B service, we’ve resisted the temptation to take a digital-first approach which I see most entrepreneurs doing (unfortunately). Instead, we designed killer business cards that are irresistible. We go to events, hand them out, and pretty soon we get people coming up to us, asking for our cards. The great thing about Stradeso is that any business can use it, so we are literally filling our calendar with chamber events, trade shows, industry conferences, and more to just start handing out cards as much as possible.
That kind of analog approach allows us to have sales conversations, which is something that Facebook ads leading to a sales page can’t give you. And with every conversation, we learn new things by how the prospects react and what they say, which helps us create better marketing messages over time.
We want to onboard a few hundred customers this way before even thinking about placing digital ads, except for a press release we’ll put out this fall.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
One of the reasons we launched Stradeso was that it is inherently scalable in a way that our agency could never be. As long as there are creatives with extra time and copywriting or graphic design projects to get done, Stradeso can handle as much revenue as it wants, at very stable margins.
My #1 tip to entrepreneurs is: get a mentor. It helps to have someone who’s been there and done that be able to tell you.
Plus, it can run on a skeleton crew, which was an important part of our asset-light strategy. In fact, at one of the Inc. 5000 conferences we went to, a fellow founder once told me he wants 1 employee for every $1,000,000 in revenue. At the time I thought he was crazy since our agency was so talent-heavy, but now I get it and we’ve tried to engineer Stradeso from the ground up to have these types of economics.
That’s something few entrepreneurs ever think about: Are you building the right business? Does it adhere to your lifestyle? Does it have inherently good economics? Not all businesses are created equal, and the first business taught us a lot about what we like and don’t like about being entrepreneurs.
The best part: We’re the boss, so we get to choose!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
There’s a lot of talks out there about “listen to your customer.” But the thing is, customers, lie.
For ten years we heard about how customers wanted quality marketing materials. But at the end of the day, it turns out that they were much more interested in “fast” and “cheap”, and THEN quality, coming in third. That’s an example of needing to read between the lines, and not just listen, but observe what customers are buying.
And that’s how we engineered Stradeso -- to be fast and inexpensive, and also have quality, but in that order.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
It’s amazing what can be built today using technologies and APIs that already exist. It really is a new frontier for tech entrepreneurs looking to build minimum viable solutions to test their assumptions before spending hundreds of thousands on developing a proprietary system.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m a big fan of Mike Michalowicz’s work. His books were there when I started my journey, and he continues to do a great job helping entrepreneurs make the complex simple. I also think The Obstacle Is The Way, by Ryan Holiday, should be required reading for any entrepreneur. Plus, Mike and Ryan are just good people.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Entrepreneurship is 10% about business, 100% about people, and 1,000% about the self. It’s a deeply personal journey, and if you’re not up for self-exploration, entrepreneurship is probably not for you.
My #1 tip is to get a mentor. Get a business coach. Get into a mastermind of other founders. It helps to have someone who’s been there and done that be able to tell you, hey, that won’t work, and here’s why...but you might want to try this.
Otherwise, it’s trial and error till the cows come home...and those cows take their sweet-ass time.
Where can we go to learn more?
We’ll be putting out TONS of content on social that’s geared towards helping entrepreneurs go to market, so follow us to keep in touch!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!