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.
Carson Poole is up.
Who are you and what do you do? I'm a 20 year old NC State University computer science and business dropout. I grew up in Charlotte and spent all my time on learning things regardless of their putative benefit and meanwhile developed some valuable skills. I'm super interested in all things tech, like web development & machine learning, but I also have a history of finding interesting ways to make money. That led me to the startup scene.
What did it take / how did you get started? As I was going through high school and my first year at State, I latched onto different side projects that I saw an opportunity to make some money, and eventually this put me on people's radars. In December 2019 a friend introduced me to a guy running a company that I'll later describe, and he was looking for a cofounder CTO. From all of my previous work, he thought I'd be the right guy for the job, so he invited me to LA for a week to give it a trial run. We worked well together so I dropped out of State on January 1st and was on a flight to San Francisco on the 10th. We used a technique from the book "Four Steps to the Epiphany" (inspiration for "The Lean Startup") called Customer Discovery. We practically cold called restaurant owners to talk to them about their problems, so that we could find opportunities to solve. It turned out that restaurant owners universally had a set of unsolved, high value problems. They all have a very strong problem with the exorbitant fees that third party marketplaces like DoorDash, GrubHub, etc all charge. For context, they charge a minimum of 20% and max of 35% of small restaurants' top line revenue. However, this was only a symptom of a larger problem. The larger problem is that small businesses as a whole are being slowly strangled by large corporations who have powerful economies of scale. These small businesses can't compete with them in important areas like marketing, so these third party marketplaces swoop in acting like they're going to save the restaurants by promoting them, but in reality it commoditizes their entire value proposition. Restaurants are just a brandless box, placed against all of their competitors in a zero-friction loss of customers from one restaurant to another. Even more drastically, the restaurants can't even have a relationship with their customers, and thereby market to them, as the third parties don't share anything other than your first name. If we at Placepull do not provide a way for restaurants to effectively utilize and legitimately own their relationship with their customers, while doing so in a way that doesn't commoditize their business or erode its economics, independent restaurants as a whole will cease to exist entirely. Now at this point you're probably thinking our business is suffering from COVID, but in reality it's the perfect tailwind bringing us to where we need to go.
What does the future look like for you and your hustle? Since January, it's been my responsibility to build out and manage others building out the infrastructure to solve the problems we found, but that's taken a long time. On May 4th we finally got a product that we could, in good faith, give to customers we had been lining up in a waiting list. At that point we had 2 customers as early pilots. Today, the 16th, we now have 10 live customers, with 22 more on a short term waiting list. We've grown 5x in 10 days, and we, with a serious degree of certainty, expect to have grown 10x by our YCombinator interviews on the 26th. Growing 10x in 20 days is no small feat, and consequently we've experienced many growing pains throughout this process. However at our scale, we will need to start hiring more engineers and salespeople in order to maintain our growth rate. The problem isn't finding people to sell to though--it's getting the product to the customers that are dying for it. Also on that front, A players and value add investors, who have a track record and preferably experience in this field, will soon be needed to blitzscale more effectively.
What drives / motivates you?
What drives me is seeing the lives of the people we serve change as a result of using our product. We are saving their businesses and their livelihoods and they make that very clear to us.
David, a tex-mex restaurateur in LA, had $3800 in sales on Cinco de Mayo. We spent $30 on marketing and crashed his entire operation, having people waiting for two and a half hours for their food. On that day alone, we put well over a grand in his pocket that would've gone to DoorDash.
Sal, a pizzeria restaurateur in Florida, is doing $12k monthly and putting $4k into his pocket that would've gone to UberEats. 15% of his customers have AOL email addresses, and he has many repeat customers ordering once or twice a week.
Seeing stories like these (and these were two of our earliest. We've had a new restaurant do $2500 in their first 2 days) is what drives me first and foremost. I'm heavily motivated by results and impact.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
I would say that they should talk to people and find out what problems they truly have. Once you do that, and you don't invent problems that you imagine people having, it's incredibly simple to find a place to start a startup. The best part is people will literally tell you their exact problems if you ask. It doesn't take an interrogator to find out.
What has been the hardest part of the hustle?
The hardest part is certainly when you can't sleep and you're having stress induced panic attacks from all of the things that need to get done. And that's a common story I've heard from founders in the Valley. Nobody will tell you this upfront, and you won't believe the ones that do, but it's not anywhere remotely as glamorous as people make it out to be. About 90% of the time it feels horrible and it feels even worse when things start working in your favor on an objective scale.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
"The Four Steps To The Epiphany" is the best book to read if you want to figure out how to find and start a startup that will be successful. It's literally a step by step guide on how to successfully start and run a startup.
"The Lean Startup" is a great second act to this. It expands on a lot of the strategies given by the Four Steps.
"The Tim Ferriss Show" is a great podcast.
"The Knowledge Project" is another great podcast with phenomenal guests.
"Starting Greatness" is another great podcast that's much newer but has a few solid gold episodes.
In general, youtube is a very valuable resource. Just search for interesting people and you'll find interviews, fireside chats, debates, and more with a lot of very intelligent people.
Side or full-time hustle?
List the founders
Carson Poole @carsonpoole and Adam "Harry" Guild @harry
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
# of Employees?
3 full time, 3 more part time
When did you start?
How much did it cost to launch?
Because we valued time very heavily, $20-50k. Everything we've done could've been bootstrapped though.
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
Any call to action?
Reach out to me via twitter @carsonpoole or by email firstname.lastname@example.org if you're an A player looking for a job. Also if you're an investor with a strong track record who can add real value with expertise or experience, you're more than welcome to reach out as well.