The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team.
AJ Brau is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
I was raised by two kind and hard working parents whose lives revolved around their kids. My dad is an entrepreneur, technical product manager, and former software engineer. He’s also one of those people who can hold a conversation with an expert in just about any field. My mom is a successful real estate agent and has been involved in numerous non-profits, and community programs in Utah. She has a way of lifting everyone she comes in contact with, and is a master connector. My parents raised their girls to confidently pursue the opportunities given to them. They pushed me and my two younger sisters to dive as deep into our interests as possible, and they really pushed us to learn in the classroom and at home. My early passion was to create things. I would build things like go carts, remote control cars, and would take apart old four wheelers and household appliances, usually in search of parts for a project. When I was 8 or 9 my dad brought me home a tiny little laptop for my birthday. I remember being so excited that my dad wanted to teach me something new, especially something that he was so passionate about. He helped me install macromedia fireworks and macromedia flash (now adobe products), and while it was installing he told me about all the cool things I could build with them. I could cut my sisters and I out of photos and layer us on places around the world, I could create animated movies, and more. This is how I discovered the world of digital creation. The world immediately changed for me. I eventually got into building websites and software projects. One of these changed my life forever. We were on a family vacation at our favorite vacation spot. Lake Powell is a large reservoir upstream from the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. It’s a massive 100 mile long lake with over 96 canyons, and enough shoreline to cover the entire West Coast of the United States. 3 million people visit Lake Powell every year. On one of these trips I remember trying to use a combination of a paper map and google maps to find a place on the lake. I was frustrated that I didn’t have gps on the paper map, and I was frustrated that google maps didn’t have the detail I wanted on it. Google maps also stopped working when we lost service. I decided to solve this problem by developing an app for Lake Powell. It would be a simple map interface with all the information I wanted, none of what I didn’t, and it would show me my GPS location without needing any cell service. In summary, it ended up being pretty successful with over 10k paid downloads.
What did it take / how did you get started?
Life got busy and I tied a bow around that project and continued on with life, but the core problem that prompted me to build the Lake Powell app still nagged at me. It didn’t make sense that in order to create a map experience like the Lake Powell App, someone had to build and distribute a custom app. Besides, people don’t download location specific apps anymore. This is what led to the creation of Wander. Wander allows a destination to build, distribute, and update interactive map experiences across all platforms, online or offline, without writing a single line of code. 10 years later, I rebuilt the Lake Powell App on Wander in just under 5 minutes.
What does the future look like for you and your hustle?
Wander is out to change the way families and individuals discover and enjoy meaningful experiences together. We do this by connecting visitors to the destination through gorgeous interactive map experiences.
What drives / motivates you?
It’s a lot of things all in one. I don’t think the world is black and white. We as human beings put it that way because that’s all we can process. Things aren’t as categorizable as we’d like them to be. With that, I am driven and motivated by a lot of things, but I am very motivated by growth and creation. I enjoy improvement of character, growing and strengthening my relationships. Wealth is not a motivating factor for me, it is a nice positive externality. Wealth is a way to keep building and growing things I care about. Seeing an opportunity to solve a problem is growth for me. I couldn’t have guessed that one of my favorite things about building a company would be building relationships with so many people. A great mentor of mine told me once that starting a company is one of the most charitable things you can do. Everyone needs a job and a way to support themselves, and everyone needs to have a place to learn and grow professionally. Creating a company that fills those needs for people in a meaningful way drives me. I believe strongly in personal freedom, and in free market capitalism. I believe that progress is created when people make good choices when given freedom. At Wander we believe that through compassionate capitalism a lot of the world’s problems can be solved.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
I have talked multiple founders out of doing what I do. The biggest thing is if you start something and you’re miserable and you’re doing it for the financial benefit but you hate it, get out fast. It only gets harder. I can honestly say this is the happiest I've ever been in my life. I own my own schedule. I am happier now than when I worked part time, remotely. I'd say if you don’t dream of getting up early and working on what you’re working on then run fast and go get a great job. There are lots of better ways to make money that are more stable and less stressful than starting something on your own. Now if starting something is what you think about before bed, in the shower, or in the car, then that’s probably a good sign that you'll be able to sustain it. Also, make sure your family is taken care of before taking the plunge into starting something. If your family is miserable and not comfortable prior to starting something, it is unlikely that will change for a while and starting something only accelerates the challenges. So if that's the case, go get a good job or raise more money to fix that problem first. You do not want your family to be miserable because it’ll make you miserable. There are so many opportunities that making sure the timing is right financially and relationally should be prioritized. No amount of Financial success is worth losing your family.
What has been the hardest part of the hustle?
The hardest part is keeping a pulse on the team as the team grows. I had so many one-on -one contact with folks at the beginning and I really enjoyed that. I was involved in almost all conversations. That has and will continue to change though. As a fully remote team, making sure I stay in contact with my team and ensure that they know I appreciate them is my highest priority, but also my greatest current challenge.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
For a tech founder I recommend the book Inspired by Marty Cagan.
For a founder that has ADHD, Deep Work by Cal Newport is a fantastic resource.
The book Traction is a great operational book and is known to be the Entrepreneur's playbook.
Something i’ve really just started a year ago, even though I thought I was busy a year ago, well, I didn’t even know what that meant, but I strive to meet someone new everyday. Usually I reach out on Linkedin. I’ve learned so much about different topics it’s been amazing. I’ve learned a lot about data engineering, crypto, real estate, and even things like city planning and mtn bike trail building. Meeting a new person each day gives me a bigger picture of the world and makes me more innovative.
Side or full-time hustle?
List the founders
AJ Brau, Nate and Alexa ... and yes, Nate and Alex are married and no, I didn't introduce them to each other ... I met Nate in Junior High -- talking about ideas and politics, technology in English class. Alexa was my Japanese teacher when I was getting ready for my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Alexa serves as our CMO, and Nate is our CRO. They're awesome.
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
# of Employees?
4 full time engineers and 4 other employees
When did you start?
How much did it cost to launch?
About $80k, includes me working as an engineer.
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
Raised $200k from Angel investors in January of this year (5M Cap, SAFE note).
About to close a round of 1M this month at a 10M valuation (November 2021).
We'll close around $250k for the year.
Next year will be explosive growth. We're projecting $5M in ARR. We have about a 50% conversion rate. We have 10 referrals for each signed client and we have a massive pipeline. If we can get the product where it needs to be, we’ll hit those milestones. The demand necessary is overwhelmingly present.
Any call to action?
Come talk to someone at Wander. If you are somebody that resonates with what we’re doing or you see the world differently and love to create things and solving problems, if that's you and you don’t see a job description on our job board that fits you then send someone on Wander a connection request. Say: hey, this is my job description for Wander and this is how I could be most helpful. We'll get back to you because we hire talent first and job description second. It's worked out pretty well for us thus far.