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.
Cole Johnson is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Cole Johnson and I’m the founder of The Looma Project. I’m originally from Colorado, but moved to North Carolina in 2012 to attend UNC for my undergrad. Looma was founded during my time at Carolina (after another failed startup attempt), and I was fortunate enough to pursue it full-time after graduating.
Looma is premised on the belief that a growing number of consumers want to know the people and stories behind their products. We install tablets in grocery stores that connect shoppers to the makers of food and beverage brands via short, human-centric videos. We believe a fundamental shift is taking place in the world of advertising — a shift away from traditional TV commercials and toward more authentic, story-oriented content — and we want to be the market leader in marrying the art and the science of this new kind of advertising.
What did it take / how did you get started?
The problem is the distance between producer and consumer, which has grown increasingly wide the past few centuries (post-Industrial Revolution). This generation wants to close that gap, but the lack of transparency at moment of purchase makes it difficult to do so.
We got started with an idea and a very generous investor who put in $25k way before it made sense to do so. But he believed in me, and (hopefully) it’ll pay off.
What does the future look like for you and your hustle?
We’re in 210 stores today, but our footprint is pretty concentrated between a few regional retailers. Our primary focus is on diversifying our retail partnerships by expanding Loop™, our tablet network, nationally. We hope to be in 1,000 stores by 2022.
Our ultimate vision, though, is to build the world’s most insightful and actionable storytelling platform. As advertising shifts toward a more human-centric storytelling approach, Loop™ will fuel an underlying data model that offers insight into the stories — and the elements therein — that most influence purchasing behavior, enabling us to create impactful content across various channels.
What drives / motivates you?
My faith in Jesus is my primary source of motivation. Jesus teaches that all people are created with distinct gifts and talents, and that we are built to produce meaningful work — work whose ripples touch not only earth, but also heaven. This is why Looma exists to capture and share stories of people who love what they do. Our aim is to inspire meaningful, joyful work.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
Growing up a number of my friends played a game called “Bigger or Better.” The premise is simple: everyone starts with something small — perhaps a penny — and receives a fixed amount of time in which to trade that something small for something bigger or better, and in turn to trade the new item for something bigger or better still. Whoever comes back with the best item at the end of the fixed time period wins.
I’ve long thought startups are a lot like Bigger or Better. Particularly for someone starting something early in their career, it’s unlikely that you’re going to land a bunch of funding or a huge deal on day one, just as it’s unlikely that you’ll trade a penny for a car (might be a rumor, but I’ve heard someone came away from the game with a car). But with diligence and grit, you can make enough trades to build something really amazing. And the trades compound over time.
What has been the hardest part of the hustle?
The sheer number of no’s you have to endure — no’s from potential clients, no’s from potential employees, and no’s from potential investors. The yes / no ratio improves with traction, but you still have to endure a lot of no’s. It takes immense resilience.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
When it comes to sources of learning, I go deep, not wide. I read / listen to a lot of C.S. Lewis, Warren Buffett, and Invest Like the Best (Patrick O’Shaugnessy). Stratechery is a recent addition.
Side or full-time hustle? Full-time
List the founders Just Me
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle? 55-65
# of Employees? 20
When did you start? Sophomore year of college (2014)
How much did it cost to launch? $25k
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised? $100k pre-seed + $500k seed